New Reviews

New York

Lots to do and see but there is a down side

Always busy but plagued by costumed bods looking for a tip to be in a picture

Let’s get one thing clear right away. I enjoyed New York but I don’t love New York. What’s more, I don’t subscribe to the hype of: “New York, New York, so good they named it twice.” Sorry.

Why am I not bowled over? Simple, there are other cities in the world I’ve visited which have more substance.

For example, New York is hot on buildings we’ve all seen in the movies but not buildings steeped in history. It is also interesting to know that a film star bought a flat overlooking the Hudson for $4.5m and never stayed there, only using the pad for her clothes before selling the apartment. Hardly, however, significant in world history.

Let’s not dwell on the negatives like the bags of litter on main streets, the smell from the sewers, the poor signage on the subway (locals helped us out, thankfully)and the hoards of people walking over the Brooklyn Bridge who made the whole exercise a chore, particularly those who stopped suddenly to take a selfie! However, the view from the Brooklyn side towards New York makes the trip worthwhile and the riverside walkway is a place to sit, ponder and to enjoy. We hopped on the ferry to Wall Street – minutes only for $6 – and it was worth it to avoid that bridge walk.

Oh, I also forgot the costumed bods who make life hell in Times Square (pictured above and shot with fisheye lens). If you stop they sidle up looking for a tip for a photograph. The square itself - even by day – is vibrant. We headed there one morning after watching Good Morning America only to see an outside broadcast taking place. It was fascinating and the bubbly, blonde – no surprise there –  presenter and her crew provided a master class in whipping up the crowd.

Positives are plenty. The City Sightseeing New York bus trip – well worth the money – provided a marker. Don’t miss the night bus, which highlights a memorable view of Manhattan.

Another positive is the Staten Island ferry (its free) which took us right past the surprisingly small Statue of Liberty (P.S: go on first if you want to get to the side to take pictures, if you don’t then you won’t as one side is packed, so much so I feared the boat would list).

Central Park on a sunny day is a great get out from the crowds, and do venture to Strawberry Fields. Grand Central Station is a gem with no litter in sight and Ground Zero is moving, a touching tribute to those who lost their lives. Sadly, there are those among us who treated it as a tourist attraction, not a memorial, but it takes all kinds.

We also ventured out of town to Coney Island – much mentioned in movies – after a recommend from two Swiss visitors we met. The subway fare was $11, brilliant value. You step back in time when you leave the station and walk a short distance the Boardwalk. We were fortunate as it was a superb day and we wandered miles, fuelled by an excellent Funnel Cake from Paul’s Daughter, one of the many seafont cafes. The pier at Coney Island was  haven for local fishermen and people wishing to chill out, some playing chess or listening to music. One man was tuned into the sounds of Glenn Miller. That was appropriate for the setting.

We also walked miles in New York. China Town had atmosphere but Little Italy, well we didn’t stay long, and we didn’t venture into the impressive UN Building. The bus tour also took us into Harlem. There, as the bus moved slowly down Malcolm X Boulevard, a guide with a wicked sense of humour enlightened us to the history of the area. It has had an infamous past.

Another – we switched buses – took us into The Bronx, the home of many movie and show business stars. Yes, The Yankee Stadium was on the route and most of us got of the bus to take pictures.

Would it surprise you to learn that nobody put their hand up to stop the bus and get off in Harlem or The Bronx?

Entertainment explodes at dusk in New York. Broadway is a magnet and the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, was a 20-minute walk for us. We took in a New York Rangers game. The presentation was powerful, the fans reaction to a goal infectious but the constant presence of a waiter taking order of beer and pizza or hot dogs from people in the posh seats – they were not cheap – was a total turn off. I wanted to watch the game.

We also wanted to buy stuff to take back so wandered into Macey’s. What a let down, we expected so much more, and Bloomingdale’s may also be famous but it was also disappointing.

Would I go back? Only to watch sports events like the New York Nicks or Mets or Giants or Yankees or even soccer – Frank Lampard (ex-Chelsea and England) plays there – and I’d love to go back to The Garden to watch another Rangers game.

Otherwise, there are other cities around the world and in the US to visit. One other thing. Food. We were not disappointed. Our deal at The Belvedere on West 48th Street (comfortable with helpful staff but a tad dated) did not include breakfast. No need. We went to nearby Smith’s Hell’s Kitchen Bar one morning – full breakfast for just over $17, good value – and picked up food from the store on the corner (well-stocked with helpful staff) or sandwich bars on other days.

Around the corner was the up-market Brasserie Athenee at 300 West 46th Street. Superior quality of breakfast and improved surroundings but double the price.

We made a massive mistake by leaving a visit to Patzeria Family and Friends – not the best name – on West 48th Street until the final night. It was superb and if you are in New York we recommend a visit.

Next door, was a quality Mexican called Sombrero and hugely enjoyed brunch is the excellent Pershing Square Café opposite Grand Central. The fried eggs, steak (medium rare) and fluffy potatoes with as much coffee as you could drink plus fruit juice was reasonable and beautifully presented. Pam’s eggs benedict was perfect.

We also enjoyed lunch in a well-appointed Brazilian restaurant at 684 Broadway where our fresh Peru Prosciutti sandwich and Tacos had bags of flavour without being overpowering.

Local food stops included American burgers at Empire Diner at 210 Tenth Avenue, friendly waiter an good burger, if a bit cold, with tasty fries – also coldish.

Finally, I can’t let go without mentioning the shambles which is Newark International Airport and the Airport Shuttle bus service.

After standing in line waiting for our summons on arrival we were allowed entry to the USA. Then we walked towards the departures area and asked for assistance. I’ve no idea where the Shuttle is said the blazered official.

So we waited and waited and eventually went over to the desk only to be given a number. We were eventually called and guided to the Shuttle by the same lady who supposedly knew nothing. We decided – after hearing how unreliable the Shuttle was – to take a Yellow cab back to the airport. It was hair-raising but we got there, heaven knows how.

One there, we had to unpack a case which was 3lbs over, despite the fact that it was for he two of us, it is the case weight which counts, nothing else, then stood in a queue to go through passport and then another melee for bags checks. Total time? More than two hours from arrival at the airport, lucky we came early.

By then we were tired, hungry and keen to get on the plane. However, we had a wait so wanted a coffee and a burger. They had to be ordered via tablet. I queued for a tablet, then got a number, then queued to pick up the burger and then had to pay by either credit card or cash at other machines. I also ordered a beer and asked for a receipt. She emailed it to me in Scotland. Get me out of here!