Sunday, 12 April 2020

New York, The Big Apple, NYC

New York is, perhaps, the most recognisable city in the world. The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, Central Park, yellow taxis, and car horns. It's the backdrop for every form of media you can imagine.

That said, I hadn't come to see the sights. I have a fear of heights that negates many of the top attractions, and other than watching Madagascar and Night at the Museum I'd done very little research on what there was to do in The Big Apple. I had come solely to watch The New York Rangers. So it was nice to discover that our hotel was literally across the street from Madison Square Garden (I hadn't planned the trip). Which turned out to have added benefit; with nothing to do on our first evening, and desperately trying to stay awake until a reasonable hour, we decided that we'd also try to catch a New York Knicks game.

I have never had an interest in basketball. Coming from a hockey town, if Bracknell is anything at all, the NHL has always been on the radar. More generally the NFL seems to have been the primary of the 'Big Four' that managed to penetrate the UK market, and I've been involved with the MLB in my work, but The NBA has always been relegated to the fringes.

But at MSG I was mesmerised (or as mesmerised as it's possible to be after the best part of a twenty-hour day on the back of four hours sleep). The game was completely different from the one I had imagined. It wasn't just running from hoop to hoop, hitting everything they try. Instead, there were continuous set plays. Setting screen after screen as the ball was thrust between jerseys, looking for an open shot. The Knicks season had been over for a while before we visited, so it's not as if there was ever any tension. And they were never really in the game, against the much better Oklahoma City Thunder, at all, but I've been watching basketball almost non-stop since I've been home.

The Statue of Liberty (Probably don't need to caption this tbh)

Anyway, away from sports stadia there are, obviously, the key landmarks. Central Park may have been lacking some of its summer panache in early March, but it's incredible how quickly you lose the bustle of the city streets. The nearby American Museum of Natural History, with its impressive dinosaur collection and Easter Island head (you know, Dum Dum) more than killed a couple of hours. The Statue of Liberty is omnipresent in virtually every American production, but still an impressive sight. Perhaps more so is Ellis Island, oft-discussed but not nearly as ubiquitous on screen. Brooklyn Bridge is probably equally spectacular, but there's something that doesn't sit quite right about walking over a wooden boardwalk, forty metres in the air. I was concentrating more on getting to the other end than taking in my surroundings.

The 9/11 Memorial

It's redundant to say that the 9/11 memorial is a moving tribute. On the birthday of each victim, a white rose marks their name.

Grand Central Station

I'm sure you're meant to get a rush from the main concourse at Grand Central Station, but I'm not sure it quite lives up to the hype. I kept thinking back to the terminal at Milan Central, although it's true that there are no fascist undertones in New York. There's no doubt that it's a striking space, with stars and stripes hung high as always. Around the corner, there's The New York public library which can be worth a wander around, although as a quick google image will tell you there's really only a couple of points of interest inside.

Washington Square Park and its triumphal arch wouldn't be out of place in any European City. Plus it's the penultimate track on one of the seminal albums of my teen years (is it even about New York?), so there wasn't really a question about going. It's also where Impractical Jokers often shoot, so that's fun too. To digress slightly. DO Cookie Dough, just a street away, is the only thing in the entire trip that I would not bother going out your way for. Facebook videos may make it look great, but the reality doesn't quite match. Especially on a hot day with no water (that may partially be our fault).

'The Vessel'

From WSP it's a nice walk through Greenwich Village to the beginning of the High Line. The former railway line has been repurposed as an elevated, mile-and-a-half walkway through the West Side of Manhattan. Even on a weekday in March, it seems busy, and artificially warm given the glare from the buildings as you head toward Hudson Yards. At the end of the walk, 'The Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards' - which an awful name - are a good place to stop and refuel. There's also 'The Vessel', a forty-five-metre structure that widens as you go up. Safe to say, I stayed on the floor.

It's not just monuments that are famous in NYC - the food is a key part of its appeal. Central Perk may be fictitious, but you can still eat where Sally ended up getting carried away in Katz's Deli, or at Westway Diner where Seinfeld was 'born' - a show I'm sure it's criminal I haven't seen. You'll be hard-pressed to find a place without framed photos taken with famous clientele.

Honestly, this was too much after more muscles than I've ever had but it was v good

We didn't manage to pick up a hot dog on the side of the road, as my brother wished, but we still had pizza in Little Italy, where we sat next to a lady who lamented her connection Donald Trump, cocktails in Brooklyn, and just so many pancakes. A special shout out is reserved for Big Daddy's waffles. Light, fluffy, topped with chicken (if you want). I will also never forget Mexicue, on 5th Avenue. I need proper tacos in the UK.

Chelsea Market, too, deserves more than a mention. Home to numerous food outlets, it's a crime to only choose one. As big fans of Mexican, Los Tacos is a must, and a nice pizza slice from round the corner to help it all down. Hell, there's even an unnecessarily fancy Starbucks next door where I tried cannoli for the first time. Big fan. Not only that, but there are numerous shops to peruse. Pearl River Mart sells an excellent face mask collection for anyone whose skin hasn't fully recovered from the plane's atmosphere.

You really have to reserve more than a little time for shopping. The frankly oversized Macy's can take basically the whole day by itself if you wanted it to. I was dragged to the Glossier flagship store (thankfully I got some cute selfies out of it - they have a room). The adorable Strand bookshop (bookstore) proudly declares it stocks over eighteen miles of books, and it's always nice to browse classics you could never afford. Only issue is you need to have left plenty of space in your luggage when you end up coming back with a boxset of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

I think it goes without saying, but if your one reason for coming is hockey, make sure you pick a match they actually win. We managed to get to the NYR-NJD derby, and safe to say that did not happen. As an aside, how does it cost so much considering there are forty-one home games a season? At any rate, Rangers, 2-1 up after the opening period, conceded four times in the second, and couldn't bring it back in the final third. The only benefit of that being that it meant Shesterkin was pulled for Lundqvist. I can die saying I got to see The King in action.

I told myself I don't like New York, and it's true that in many respects I'm not a massive fan. It's loud, even being on the seventeenth floor didn't help much, it's busy, and it doesn't even smell particularly nice. Maybe it's just being on holiday that's great - that's certainly possible, but there is some charm to New York. The people in New York are nice. I'm pretty sure that goes against the conventional wisdom of New Yorkers, but it's true. The food is unreal, and there's always a thrill to end up somewhere you've only ever seen on the TV. I wouldn't like to live there, but maybe I'll go back again, even if it is just to see my two New York teams in action.