New York – The town so nice they served hot buttered cider

Full set of images from NYC

New York, a sophisticated and interesting city, seemed even more modern and organised after a month in Cuba.  No more crumbling buildings and monotonous cuisine in the city where you can get great tasting food almost anywhere, anytime.

That said, our accommodation was way worse in New York.  After a while in Cuba you get used to paying $25 for a high-ceilinged room in a expansive house with a palm-filled courtyard.  In New York we literally had a room you could not swing a cat in (not that I tried).  Just one small double bed with no other furniture other than a mirror which turned up on the wall halfway through our stay, heating that didn’t work too well, classic grungy hostel bathrooms and noisy kids who yelled at each other all night.  For all that, we just jammed the ear plugs in and collapsed on to our bed after walking the city each day and most of the night, so it did the job.

New York has to be the best city for walking in the world.  There is something happening on every corner, food to replenish you on every block and before you know it you’ve walked from one end of Manhattan to the other and your lower back is screaming for mercy.  We were staying right next to Central Park so on our first morning we took a lovely stroll through the Autumn leaves on a beautiful sunny day.  The previous day had been the New York marathon so there were lots of people there with finishing medals taking a post-race stroll.  We also came across a woman who was still running the race with the aid of a walking frame and some burly guardian angels.  In true NYC fashion they had motivational music playing for her as she slowly made her way along the course.

The park also had a harp busker, melodic singers and ice skating which all set the mood perfectly for the Museum of Modern Art.  MOMA is like a best of for contemporary art with probably the best example from each artist and period that you could think of.  It is appropriately busy as well, almost jam packed on a Monday afternoon.  There was also a very cool design exhibit which had a lot of technology design (think infographics) which I was unaware had crossed from blogs to the gallery world.

We next tracked down a lunch place.  I had an awesome sandwich.  God they do good sandwiches.  It was not hot pastrami, instead a flame grilled steak (none of your fast food type steak here, a beautiful piece of meat) which was then thinly sliced and served in a bun with hot jus on the side.  Sarah had a big salad, and we we say big we really mean enormous.  Americans can’t seem to abide lettuce unless it’s in huge quantities with a nice dressing.

Then the walking continued, on to the elevated park downtown.  This is a fantastic initiative where an old elevated train track that was going to be pulled down was instead converted to a park.  The design is fantastic.  You stroll along above the traffic and catch scenic glimpses of the New York skyline.  It’s a very peaceful place amongst a busy city.  You can sit perched above the street watching the traffic flow by from specially designed viewing platforms.  It was a great way to spend twilight in the city.

Next we wandered on down through the meat packers district, which is now full of boutique shops, and tried to track down the 9/11 memorial.  When we finally got there it turns out that you need to book ahead because demand is so great.  When we finally got in the next day and showed our tickets to four different sets of security guards the memorials themselves were very fitting.  They have left the huge holes in the ground and turned them into waterfalls.  The noise of the water competes with the chaos of the city and anchors you in the place.  The water is cleansing and continuous.

Sarah fell in love in New York with hot buttered cider.  Strictly speaking this was my drink but I can see how you could be tempted.  Hot cider on a cool Autumn morning alone would be worth it, but when they but some butter in and sprinkle the hot butter froth with cinnamon you have a totally different and delicious beast on your hands.  Let’s face it, butter makes everything taste good.  We also had our mandatory slice of pizza which is about as tasty as fast food pizza gets.  Our biggest scam (they do happen in western cities as well) was a $9 slice of cheesecake in a Times Square cafe which we only went in to use the toilet.  Admittedly it was the size of my head but it didn’t go down so well about an hour after breakfast.  One night we went a bit upmarket and had a nice dinner in the west village which felt extraordinarily decadent.  We were going to a play nearby with a series of vignettes about gay marriage which was as entertaining as it sounds and featured among others the guy from Sex and the City who played the jazz double bass player Carrie dates briefly (Sarah Race can picture him I’m sure – he’s filled out a lot since then).

Occupy Wallstreet was interesting to wander through.  It seemed like a fairly random collection of people who just wanted to complain about something.  I’m sure there is a valid movement at the core but the rabble collected in the city was not coming across coherently at all.  Complaints we read varied from the ban on smoking to the use of recruitment agencies.

On our last morning we went to the public library to look at an amazing free exhibition featuring some of their treasures including the original Winnie the Pooh toys, a Gutenberg bible, notes from Malcolm X’s diary, a draft of the US constitution, notes from Virginia Woolfe’s diary, a draft of Borges’ writing. It was interesting to see the draft process from a lot of famous writers.

And with that we winged our way on the red eye to Iceland after an (as usual) thoroughly enjoyable stay in the Big Apple.

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