I don’t remember if I flew Virgin Atlantic before, but aside from an annoying silver box that was installed on every isle seat on their plane that heavily invaded my personal leg space, the fight wasn’t too bad. The pilot got us to the Big Apple smoothly and ahead of time, the attendants were accommodating (and British! I still think Brits have the best customer service) and my meal was pleasantly edible. The entertainment system may have been a throwback to the 90’s, but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of my movie selection: “A Streetcat named Bob”.
We arrived in New York at noon. BabeDoll welcomed us in the arrivals hall with a smile on her face and immediately offered her condolences: apparently sometime while I was cruising at 30,000 feet, my dad’s brother passed away from heart failure 😢. Needless to say, hearing this caught me off guard and left me in a rather weird disposition, but I chose to bottle up any thoughts and emotions until I could properly and privately address them later on that day.
Babedoll drove us though the streets of Manhattan straight to our AirBnB in Union Square, and already the excitement of being back in one of my favourite cities in the world took hold of me. Our AirBnB was pretty good for the £107 per person/night price tag – it was clean, well equipped, centrally located and generously sized for 3 people. Sure the two bedrooms in the bottom floor could have doubled as sauna’s, but nothing that open windows and electric fans couldn’t fix. So we dropped of our suitcases in our respective bedrooms and immediately went for lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant called Mandolino Pizzeria. The Carbonara I had was tasty and authentically made with eggs and Guanciale (although the meat was probably 90% fat) and Maurice announced that his Pizza was a hit, so we were off to a good culinary start (Mattias did complain about his Risotto, but I expected no less from the Swede)!
After we popped across the street for a coffee at Everyman Espresso (a good albeit too fruity a coffee for the rather specific and particular tastebuds of Maurice Huellein and Liam Escario) and did a bit shopping for house provisions at our local Food Emporium grocery (where a carton of milk would set you back 5 bucks), we soaked in all that was New York by walking up Broadway all the way up to Times Square. It was the first time for the boys in New York, so I thought it only necessary for them to walk through the iconic streets of Broadway, Times Square and 5th Avenue and soak in all the neon lights along the way. After nearly two hours of walking, we took the tube back to Union Square and had wine and tapas at Mi Garba Tuscan Wine Bar (which had so much promise – if only all of their wines didn’t taste second rate).
Our first full day started with our hunt for the perfect coffee. Next on our list of local coffee shops to try was a place called “Think Coffee”, but it didn’t even warrant walking through the door as Maurice dismissed it immediately upon inspection through the glass window (“Not artisanal enough”, he said). So we settled for a nearby hole in the wall cafe called “Le Cafe Coffee”. Despite them being a specialist establishment, Maurice thought that this time his coffee was too strong/burnt and concluded we still didn’t strike coffee gold.
The day radiated with sun, so we decided to walk the high line – a 1.45 mile aerial greenway built on a disused New York railroad line. We walked through the whole elevated park, starting on West Side Yard on 34th, through Chelsea and ending in the Meatpacking district. A strategic place to finish our 1 hour walk, as the wonderful Chelsea Market – one of NYC’s best food markets – was located right there. We surveyed all the food options at the market and choose to eat at “Friedman’s Lunch” due to their tasty looking brunch menu. My plate was a feast for the eyes and tasted divine; definitely a place to come back to. We then walked through Bleeker Street (Greenwich Village), Nolita, Litle Italy and then took the train to the South Ferry station where we took the Staten Island Ferry to see Lady Liberty. I think I got to appreciate how much nicer North of Little Italy (Nolita) is in comparison to Little Italy (which is more of a haven for tourists than anything authentic). We had dinner at Chefs Club – where the food and wine didn’t disappoint.
Monday morning. The search for our local coffee was a lost cause before we even took a sip of it: the barista thought a double espresso had three shots and that the beans where from upstate New York. Her incompetency aside, the coffee wasn’t bad, albeit a bit too smooth it bordered on boring. With caffeine pumping in our veins, we did a walking tour of the financial district with an energetic and enthusiastic guide called D, who spoke five languages and seemed to have either lived in or visited every country in the world. In three hours, he talked and walked us through Bowling Green, Battery Park, Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, St Paul’s Church and the 9/11 Memorial. I love walking tours – they give meaning to streets and buildings that would otherwise be just bricks and mortar.
After our lunch at Sweet Green, we walked across Brooklyn Bridge and explored DUMBO. I remembered DUMO being a lot more trendy and interesting, instead we failed to find anything worth being in DUMBO for so decided to break for an afternoon coffee at Bluestone Lane. One thing we did find though was amazing Pizza, as our dinner at Juliana’s Pizzeria revealed. Later that evening I went wine tasting at Campagnie des Vines, a wine bar that had a special tasting evening where a collector showcased several of his French and Californian wines from his cellar. Of the ten wines that I tasted, I thought that only two were good. The rest were either past its best, off or uninteresting. The wines in New York weren’t rocking my world so far.
Tuesday was a gloomy day in more ways than one. I started the day with a trip to my local Cooper USPS branch to pick up the Star Wars items I ordered from eBay and chose to be held for pickup. When I got there though, it turned out they only had three of the six items I had ordered and the rest were marked as “Return to Sender” because the destination address that the AirBnB host gave me was (apparently) invalid. Moreover, they said there was no way for me to stop or intercept this as my items were all in a delivery van and wouldn’t pass through a sorting office until it gets back to my sender. Needless to say, that made me grumpy for the remainder of the day. If that wasn’t enough, it was also raining and I was starting to feel like I was developing a man-flu.
So I tried to cast the great disaster of my undelivered parcels aside and enjoy the day. We completely skipped our morning coffee ritual as Maurice lost faith in all our local café’s and took the subway to Central Station to visit NY’s most famous station and top up on our collection of selfies. We stumbled on a really nice market in the station that I hadn’t discovered before. It was stocked with lots of fresh bread, cheese, coffee, teas and cute little knick knacks. After taking in all that we could, we got our morning fix of caffeine (Maurice was livid with the fact that his has way too much milk) and proceeded to the Met Museum.
We all made a generous donation of $1 to the Museum and spent most of our time at the Egyptian exhibition. It’s a massive museum, and I had no intention really of seeing much more than this in fear of my brain exploding from information overload (that and I was still annoyed that my Star Wars parcels were returned to sender so wasn’t all in the present moment). By 4pm we saw enough and decided to go home to change into our jackets for our night of jazz at the Blue Note. I got an alert just as we were heading home that my three missing packages had just arrived at the Copper USPS branch (they must have seen my request for these to be held there when trying to locate the address of the sender to send it back to). Needless to say, I popped into the post office for the third time that day to see if they had in fact arrived there AND THEY HAD! So the world wasn’t going to end and I could finally enjoy the rest of my day. Happy times!!!
We suited and booted, took a cab to the Blue Note as it was raining fat cats and hot dogs, had a quick dinner at a little Asian rice bowl restaurant near the venue and spent the rest o the night listening to the fabulous Duke Ellington Orchestra.
We thought we would do a bit of shopping on Wednesday so I started the morning with a trip down to the nearest TK Maxx (called TJ Maxx in America) to check out their suitcases. The last time I was in New York, I saw a great suitcase somewhere in Nolita/Soho for around $50 and regretted not buying it, so I was on a mission to get one this time around. I got the tip from Maurice to look in TK Maxx as they stock quality suitcases in rock bottom prices, and after visiting the branch near Union Square I doubted I would find a better value one anywhere else in Manhattan. Happy with my find, I hopped on the next A-Train to Nolita where I met Maurice and Mattias for a bit of a wander and window shopping around the area. We went to a designer belt store I read about online where they make custom belts to suit the modern man. Lo and behold, after only 10 minutes of walking into the store, Maurice walked out with a new brown leather belt from Milan and a broad smile on his face (because “You’re never fully dressed without a smile”).
That must have been enough shopping for us because we wasted no more time and decided to visit the Nintendo store near Times Square – where people queue from 11 o’clock in the morning in hope to get their hands on a Nintendo Switch when they go on Sale in store at 3pm! I had half considered buying a Switch in the US to avail of the £50 cheaper price tag, but quickly abandoned the idea in lieu of the queues and the fact that the warranty on their units don’t extend to Europe. So instead, we walked passed the overpriced Nintendo merchandise and tried out all the Switch games that were available to play (which also reinforced the fact that I shouldn’t buy a Switch yet as I still haven’t played a game on their console that I like).
We had Lunch at Urban Space Market (next to Grand Central Station) and ate some extra-sweet cookies from a speciality cookie store called Schmackary’s (which Maurice proclaimed had nothing on his grandmothers cookies). We then popped into the two story Midtown Comic Store where I bought the first volume of the latest Superman reboot, swung by the New York Pubic Library to re-live the Ghostbusters opening scene and jumped on the subway to get to our Mets game in the evening. It was about 10 years since the last time I saw a baseball game in New York (the Yankees with my sis), and I almost forgot just how boring the game was. We left after 7 innings when the Mets where down 6 to 1 and the last exciting thing that happened in 30 minutes were the ground staff firing free t-shirts into the audience..
The next day, my man flu was out in full force. I picked up a Green Ginger Nurse smoothie on the way to Honey House, the latest café that took the lead in Maurice’s hunt for the perfect cup of coffee (not a difficult feat considering the previous contenders). We then thought we’d take in a bit more culture and headed to the Natural History museum to check out the planetarium and dinosaur exhibition (which were both fabulous). The dinosaur fossil collection boasts to be one of the greatest in the world – and I definitely haven’t seen a better one myself!
You can’t visit New York and not have any bagels, so our next stop was to visit Cafe Lalo just around the corner to have some. It was my third time there and I think I’ll venture somewhere new next time. It wasn’t that my salmon and creme cheese bagel wasn’t delicious, only that I think I’ve milked that café enough for a while. And despite all of us being full from our lunch, we still trekked 10 blocks south to try the famous cookies from Le Vain bakery – a recommendation from Babedoll and acclaimed all over Manhattan as the best cookies in town (and definitely one of the best cookies I tried anyway).
That evening, we had an appointment to go up to the One World Observatory and thought we’d also visit the Rainbow Room after for a cocktail. So our first order of business was to go home to dress to impress and then we made our way to the financial district. When we got to the building though, we were told that there was Zero visibility on the top so we changed our tickets for the next day. We wondered what to do next, and having dressed for the occasion, we hopelessly thought that the Rainbow Room (being 40 stories lower) would have good visibility and made our way back up to Times Square. After a great meal in Aria Wine Bar in Hells Kitchen, we went to the Rainbow Room, only to find that it was closed for a special function (and overheard that there was 0 visibility anyway). So, we decided to spend the rest of the evening having a couple of drinks in a bar back in hells kitchen.
Friday brought the Sun and 26 degrees of lovely warmth – a great day for cycling around Central Park. So after buying my Saturday matinee Groundhog day tickets at TKTS early in the morning, I met the boys in a bike rental shop near the park and spent the next three hours cycling around the park and basking in the good weather. And, to add to the already great day we were having, we found our diamond in the rough of a coffee shop near 72nd station (a tiny cafe called Box Kite Coffee). So great coffee does exist in NYC and we found it! Readers take note.
The day ended with the beautiful views from the one world observatory, followed by tapas and wine at Amada.
Last day in New York 😟… I tried to pack in (pun unintended) as much as I could so I started the day picking up my suitcase from TJ Maxx and lovingly ensuring all my Star Wars toys were protectively packed for the long journey home. We then met Babedoll and her boyfriend at Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen for lunch and to say farewell. Not the best market in town, but it was near the theatre where Groundhog Day was being run so it worked well for me.
I loved the show!!! The whole production was done in such a creative and artistic way (reminded me of how they did ‘An American in Paris’), the lead was excellent (think of a cross between a sarcastic Jim Carrey and a baritone singer) and I thought the show was well written/directed. It’s shows like these that make me want to see a musical every month… something I always intend to do in London but never quite get around to doing as often as I’d like. Note to self: get better at this!
And, following a great Broadway musical to see me off, it was time to head back to London so Maurice, Mattias and I picked up at the flat and, after a series of rather stressful and unfortunate events that involved switching to the wrong train and trying to re-route via trains that were closed due weekend works, we arrived at JFK airport and made our way home. Two small bottles of Malbec to go with my beef bourguignon is all that it took to wipe me out for most of the flight.
I, and my Star Wars toys, arrived safe and sound back in London. I’ve said it every time I visited New York and I’ll say it again, see you soon!