Monday, 4 November 2013

NYC: So much to see, so little time

Two and a half days in the Big Apple

Times Square at night

We arrived in New York City on a Sunday morning after almost 30 hrs of travel and transit from Cape Town to JFK via Dubai. After making it through passport control without a hassle, we jumped in a yellow NYC taxi and headed to our Airbnb accommodation in Manhattan's East Village. The tiny New York apartment had interesting d├ęcor and an unfortunate proximity to the street noise.

By 10:30 we'd dropped our bags and were ready to explore. I had made plans to meet up with one of my high school friends who was in NYC working as an au pair, so we set off for Columbus circle near Central Park. Navigating the subway system proved remarkably easy, using a combination of Google maps and mobile apps. Our first stop was a Starbucks where I purchased a Pumpkin Spice latte, which turned out to be very orange and very sweet.

Once we'd met up with my friend, we bought some lunch at Whole Foods and headed into Central Park. While dodging horse-drawn carriages, we strolled past vendors selling magnets and artwork, entertainers blowing giant bubbles to the amusement of kids, a baseball field with a game in full swing and squirrels frolicking on the lawns. It was a beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon, the leaves only just starting to hint at the change in seasons, and New Yorkers were making the most of it. Entering from the South, we made it as far as the Bethesda Terrace before we turned around.

After we'd explored barely a fifth of Central Park, we headed off to Times Square to behold the madness. I scored a free coffee at a Starbucks on 5th Ave when I tried to purchase a latte with a $100 bill! We walked up and down fifth avenue, making a quick stop at McDonalds to use the restroom. We said goodbye to my friend and Nina and I ate dinner at a corner Asian restaurant before going to our Broadway show.

By the time Wicked was set to begin, we were just about ready to pass out from jetlag and pure exhaustion. I was certain I'd sleep through at least half the second act, but I my eyes were glued wide open. The sheer energy, stage design and quality of performance blew my mind. Needless to say, when the final round of applause died down the adrenaline rush that had kept me awake through 2hrs of stage magic died with it. I vaguely remember walking back towards Times Square and the dazzle of the bright lights and massive screens. I can't remember exactly how we made it back to our apartment in East Village but I assume the subway was involved.

NYC Culture
Monday morning dawned and I had a massive blister on one of my feet. Nina had big shopping plans so after breakfast we walked (ok, I limped) down towards the Lower East Side. Unfortunately, most of the stores were closed and were only to open at noon and we'd headed out at 9am! After lunch at the Fat Radish, a super hipster vegetarian joint, Nina and I parted ways with plans to meet up at the Staten Island Ferry later.

I jumped on a subway to Rockerfeller Center and purchased a ticket to ride the elevator to the Top of the Rock. Luckily I dodged the canned photo shoot in front of a backdrop of scaffolding suspended above the city ("smile, you're on your lunch break", "aaah, you're falling!"). The whole of Manhattan stretched out before me in all directions and I took a few obligatory selfies with the iconic backdrop of the island. It was surreal to be so far above the mad crowds with the general humdrum of the city only a faint murmur. The souvenir shops were filled with the generic keychains, mugs and t-shirt assortments. To make sure I'd make it to our Ferry appointment in time, I jumped back on a subway and headed downtown. 

Top of the Rock

I made it to the ferry for our rendezvous. When I got hold of Nina, she let me know that she'd been caught up with her shopping spree and wouldn't be making it. I headed into the general cattle bay for the ferry and waited to board. By this time my cellphone was in seriously dire battery straits so I switched to airplane mode. Once we'd been herded onto the ferry, I found a seat and we set off! The Staten Island Ferry is free and it provides great views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. I had to jostle many tourists and maneuver myself for the appropriate selfies and typical tourist shots.

Once back on the main island, I met up with Nina at our apartment where we met our host for the first time. Then we walked 14 blocks to dinner at a molecular gastronomy restaurant, wd~50. We both opted for the 13 course dinner, with a few alterations to the courses made to accommodate my gluten-free dining requirement. The food was definitely special and unusual - I just wish the servers would have talked about the techniques used without being prompted. The sea urchin tongues were really splendid, but my favourite was the sea scallops with ravioli. The key lime pie dessert was also fantastic, as was my 13th course - reduced cheesecake in a blueberry parcel.
High Line

On Tuesday morning, we headed out to Chelsea market. We arrived fairly early as this was our final day in NYC and we wanted to make the most of it. Unfortunately, this meant many of the places were not yet open. We grabbed some coffee and made our way to the High Line, a converted railway line that ran above ground and was suggested to us by our host. It's now a trendy and hip walkway with gardens and flowers, trellises and sculptures along the line for a good few blocks. It was pretty cool to walk above the city between the massive buildings. 

Then we set off for MoMA, NYC's Museum of Modern Art. Our host lent us his artsy museum card and we got in for free! We budgeted only an hour for the whole museum, so we went on a whirlwind tour of the six floors, covering an exhibition of Magritte, galleries filled with Van Goghs, Frieda Kahlos, Picassos and many others. The interactive displays in some of the sections were really cool. The artsy fix was a great way to end off our mad adventures in the Big Apple as we left for JFK. Next stop: Minneapolis.


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