Normally I try not to attract a lot of attention to myself on my birthday. I'm not sure why but it makes me quite uncomfortable, and I dread asking people to do things in case they say no and I have to curl up in a ball for two weeks dealing with the rejection. But this year my mum really wanted to do something special, so Pete and I flew over to New York City to meet her, her husband and my grandparents for a week's vacationing in the big city. This was the third time I'd been, and forth at least for Pete, but mum had never been before, so we took the lot of them around the usual sights and did most of the things every visitor has on their list. We only missed off a few things, due to fatigue on my nan's part and thanks to a spot of snow. Frenzied on the media to be the biggest blizzard New York has seen in a good long while, it turned out to be just a bucketed flurry, and didn't cause too many problems for us. But boy, was it cold - took my face about three days to not feel like sandpaper again. Lesson learned, if you're heading out into the East Coast winds, cover any and all bare skin completely...
New York isn't really our usual choice for destination - too showy, too loud, and too full of idiots. But it is definitely interesting to be there, and there's so much to take in you almost get drunk on eye candy. My favourite part is always the architecture, particularly the older buildings. So much detail and craftsmanship went into those buildings, in a time when you couldn't exactly bust out your dremmel or your black and decker. Being so ornate and stunningly decorative, and yet dwarfed by hideously bland skyscrapers from the modern age. They feel so forgotten and everyday tucked away down side streets and behind signs for Rite-Aid. But that's progress, apparently...
The first day we arrived was so clear and crisp, a beautiful day and perfect for seeing the city. So we raced up to the Top of the Rock in order to take full advantage of the weather at its best. Our timing was actually perfect, because we got to see the sun set and the lights come on.
Tip: going to the top of the Empire State building is ok, but you can't see the most iconic building in the city, because you're on top of it. Go to the Top of the Rock instead, around an hour or so before sunset. There are three floors so it's less crowded and you can stay up there as long as you like, so you can catch the daytime and the nighttime scene, including the Empire State.
My nan struggles to keep up these days thanks to Parkinsons, so to alleviate her from a whole lot of walking around a very chilly city we opted for one of the bus top tours of Downtown. On previous visits we've traveled around on foot or using the subway, which is much better for our health and our wallets. But they're pretty good, and you can see all the things you need to in a much shorter space of time. I'm sorry Gray Line, I'm afraid I didn't plug in the free headphones you gave me to listen to the tour guide. But I had a lovely time regardless, and I'm sure any useful or otherwise information that I missed out on will not damage me too much.
Tip: The Grey Line service is the longest running and so in our opinion the best service to use for bus top sightseeing. They have more buses and you can catch either red or blue, which is handy when you're waiting in the cold. Try and sit at the very back because there is a gap in the plexiglass that covers you, so it's better for taking clear photographs if you stick your camera out.
We got off at the harbour and headed out to Ellis Island to go see the museum about Immigration. For those of you who, like me, were previously unaware of Ellis Island and its significance, it was where the immigrants first landed when the arrived in New York. Here they would be processed and given the thumbs up or thumbs down. The building has since been converted into a museum that documents immigration as far back as the 1500s. It's definitely an eye opener - the things we used to do to each other, it's a wonder there were any of us left to carry on the species... It's nice to be reminded that despite all the terrible things that still happen in this world, despicable acts of barbarous torture are at an all time low for the human race. Great work, everyone!
Tip: Ellis Island closes fairly early, and the last boat back to Manhattan is around 5.15pm. The same boat goes to Ellis Island and Liberty Island - where the statue of Liberty is. It can get pretty hectic up there though, and the boat definitely leans to one side as it goes past. If you prefer things a little quieter and stories of human suffering and depravity are not your thing, take a free trip on the Staten Island Ferry across and come straight back. You'll get a view of the Statue of Liberty - although further away than the Ellis Island boat - and a really great sight of the Manhattan skyline.
Monday is the big day - We sleep in a bit extra that morning, and I spend a little time opening the cards I brought with me from other family members. Mum and co came to the room with a bunch of flowers and some more goodies - the best of which were amazing fox shaped salt and pepper shakers and a couple fox and wolf head bowls ( actually egg cups, but I hate eggs... yes, I know they're good for me. It's so inconvenient to dislike them, believe me) from Quail Ceramics and some much needed thermal long johns from nan.
Mum had asked me in advance what I wanted to do for the day, and the answer was easy - something very low key, but that I really enjoy. If I were to pick a time in my life when I have been at my happiest, it would be layering the jam on thick atop a heavy mountain of clotted cream on a warm scone, enjoying a steaming pot of earl grey tea. With milk in it, etiquette be damned. So that's what we did - Afternoon tea at the Ritz- Carlton, on the corner of Central Park. By that time the snow was really carving through the city, but from our cosy nest of cakes, cups and a little champagne we happily watched the world go by in a gorgeous flurry of white.
The last part of my already wonderful and decadent birthday was a final present from my family - tickets to see Jersey Boys, a show I have been wanting to see for a long time. It was a lot of fun, and really gets you dancing in your seat. Just watch out for ignorant assholes who think that in the 24 hours they have been granted in a day, 15 minutes into the show is the right time to open up their blackberry and check their emails. Well, let's face it, smart decisions are not something you can really expect from someone who owns a blackberry...
Our final day started early - Mum and the rest of the family had to leave for their flight at 4am, so it was a teary farewell at the crack of before dawn. Our flight wasn't until the late evening, so after a little bit longer in bed we headed out to enjoy one last day in the city. Walking right down Broadway we visited my favourite building, the Flatiron. There's a great little shop nearby called Fishs Eddys that sells amazing ceramics and glassware, be sure to check it out if you're nearby.
New York City is definitely a weird and wonderful place. Despite not having enough time to get off the beaten track a bit more and find out a few secret gems, we had a really great time just soaking up the atmosphere of the place. It really is alive with a buzz that never really feels at rest. After a while it exhausts me, and I could never be there for more than a week or so at a time. Too busy, too lively and too big. I like the quiet life too much. That said, it is a bit addictive and you can't help but get swept up in it. Kind of like when you're at Disneyland - Everything seems so bizarre and larger than life, and it's all good fun but you'd go insane if you lived there.
No doubt we'll find ourselves back there one day, and maybe we can learn of a few new things to see and do that are a little more out of the ordinary. But for now I'm happy to be back in my own bed, in our quiet apartment next to the sea. On the West Coast, where it's much, much warmer.