Beers, Brooklyn, Broadway, Buildings, Breakfast at Tiffany's. Read more
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  • Day 1

    Day 1 - Transatlantic

    November 4, 2023 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 12 °C

    New York, New York

    It’s been more than 14 years since Vicki and I last visited New York. We had an amazing time on that trip - discovered one of the world’s great megacities, we got engaged, we visited Coney Island, which was closed. After what’s been a pretty tough year, I really wanted to get away for my birthday, and could think of no better place to head to than the Big Apple.

    We’re staying at the same hotel we stayed in back in 2009 - Ace Hotel. Back then, it wasn’t even fully open. I’d spotted an online offer for a cheap room in Midtown, but the offer advised that the bar wasn’t open yet, there was no restaurant, breakfast would be a serve yourself affair in the one of the finished bedrooms. As a cost conscious traveller, the opportunity to grab a sub $100 room bang in the middle of Manhattan was too good to pass up. Things have moved on more than a little - Ace Hotel has thrived in the past decade, and our $100 per night budget from 2009 wouldn’t get us through the door these days. Really looking forward to seeing what the place is like in full flight.

    There are other things we’ll do again. There’s a great ferry tour around Manhattan called the Circle Line, which is as good a way of getting your bearings in New York as I’ve come across. We’ll head back up the venerable Empire State Building to the 86th floor observation deck where we got engaged (or, as Vicki has already labelled it, “To return to the scene of the crime.”)

    There are new experiences waiting for us as well. We barely spent any time in Brooklyn the last time we visited, and yet it has so much history and modern culture to offer. We’ll head up to Harlem, meander around the Upper West Side, and we’ll definitely visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, neither of which were completed the last time we were in town.

    There are crazy good food options to try. New York is about as multi-cultural a city as I’ve visited - definitely the equal of London. We’re even going for a Sunday Roast. There are some awesome bars we want to hit, and a cool new wave of US wine culture that we want to surf.

    More than anything though, we’re just happy to be travelling again.

    Day 1
    My alarm goes off slightly earlier than is strictly cool, and I’m immediately aware that it’s cold, windy and rainy. The week’s weather leading up to our departure has been atrocious. Storm force winds, torrential rain, floods, power cuts. The winds have happily died down, but the rains persist. Everything is pretty calm. Vicki’s work is not remotely as crazy as it has been at times over the past couple of years, and my work - well, let’s not get into that, as I've been advised throughout my life that it's not nice to brag.

    Our driver arrives just before 08:00, and we’re pretty much ready to go. We say goodbye to our beautiful boys, and hit the road. The weather is appalling. We aquaplane through some pretty deep standing water on a couple of occasions. I’m very happy that our driver, Andy, has a Range Rover. Things start to brighten as we approach Heathrow.

    The gods of air-miles have smiled on us. We’ve booked our entire trip with Virgin points, including an Upper Class seat on our way to New York. We breeze through the dedicated check in and security building. It takes exactly 26 minutes from leaving our car to settling in to a comfy chair in the Virgin Clubhouse, and deciding whether it’s Champagne or Prosecco, eggs on toast or a bacon roll. The team in the Clubhouse quickly recognise us for what we are - and bring us refills without being asked. Vicks wonders whether we’ll get cut-off at any point. I reply that, as with much in life, as long as you’re not behaving like a dick, you’ll probably be ok. There's even a little outdoor terrace on the roof of the lounge that offers an amazing view of Heathrow's west runway. We’re a little sad to leave our comfy cocoon, but it’s time to fly…

    Virgin’s new Upper Class suite on the Airbus A350 is awesome. So comfortable, well thought out. Flight time is around 8 hours, and we spend this variously eating, sleeping and drinking. Both of us sleep so well in fact that we wake up with just 25 minutes to go until landing. JFK is one of those airports that can be a nightmare to navigate through. We’re stunned then, when we arrive to the immigration desks to find the hall completely empty. Couple of minutes later, and we’re waiting for our luggage. Couple of minutes after that, our bags are on the carousel. From plane to cab in less than 30 minutes has gotta be something of record…

    Traffic is heavy into the city, but we’re soon heading towards the Midtown/Queens tunnel, with the iconic midtown skyline in front of us - the Empire State, the Rockefeller and Chrysler buildings are all illuminated against the sky’s inky backdrop. We check into the Ace Hotel, and quickly realise that we are probably too old, or not cool enough (or realistically, a bit of a combo of the two…) for this place. There’s a DJ kicking out chunky tribal house in the lobby bar, a healthy cacophony of chatter. We dump (technical term) our stuff into our room, and head out in search of sustenance. We happen upon a cool little restaurant called Bazar, that combines Spanish and Mexican influences with some more traditional American dishes. Delicious. Food takes us down though. We womble back to the hotel, determined to make it to 9pm before we sleep. We briefly think about stopping for a drink in the lobby bar, but realise this is unnecessary. We’re both asleep by 21:30.

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  • Day 2

    Day 2 - Easy like a Sunday morning....

    November 5, 2023 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Mass confusion when we wake up. We’ve both been a bit wakey through the night as our bodies adjust to Eastern Time. At one point, I get up to use the bathroom, check my watch and it’s 02:30. What feels like hours later, I get up to use the bathroom, check my watch, and it’s 02:15. I’m utterly befuddled. It’s only when we’re both awake, that we deduce that daylight savings time ended overnight, and we’ve gained an hour in bed.

    Next up, we realise that it’s New York Marathon day. We’ve got a few bits planned for today, but decide we want to weave in some time supporting the runners. We head out in decent time - around 08:30, and stop in at a diner for breakfast. I adore these stereotypical American diners - they’re cheap, fast, and you know exactly what you’re going to get. Sustained, we walk further South, towards Washington Square Park. We spend some time lazing by the fountain, and watch a dance flash-mob type thing do their thing.

    We grab a subway up to the Upper East Side and walk a few blocks over to see the Marathon runners. The crowd is raucous in their support. The runners are a little muted compared to our experience of watching their London equivalents. There are certainly no fancy dress costumes on display. Perhaps that’s one of the things that only the ‘crazy Brits’ do…

    We have a reservation for a Sunday roast at 13:30, so head back down towards the Lower East Side. We’re a little early, so stop in at a really cool little bar called the Globe for a couple of pre-game sharpeners. Lunch is at the New York outpost of the Hawksmoor chain of steakhouses. We’ve had their beef roast a few times in London, and it’s always been astonishingly good. I have a Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew (Google if you’re unfamiliar - nectar of the shaky gods). Our roasts are good, but lack in a couple of places. The roast potato game is weak, but the fire roasted beef rump is sensational, and I’d quite like to take the bone marrow and Maderia gravy home to meet my family.

    After lunch, we waddle a ways up 5th Avenue, stop for a beer, then head up the Empire State Building. The views are as sensational as we remember them from 2009. We locate the scene of the crime, take some lovely photos, and bank some idyllic memories.

    We head to a Chelsea hotel for a couple of wines, but are largely distracted by looking for tickets for Pink’s show tonight at Madison Square Garden. We saw her in Hyde Park in July 2023 and were blown away. We knew she was playing in New York while we were here, but the resale value of tickets was insane - upwards of $1,000 for moderate view seats. We set ourselves a much MUCH more reasonable budget, and said we’d keep an eye as the gig got closer. With doors opening at 18:30, and the support act on at 19:30, we’re disheartened that tickets remain in the stratosphere. Suddenly a pair of tickets becomes available, and we snap them up. Quick refresh, out the door, and we’re over at Madison Square Garden just after 20:00. We catch the final song of the support act.

    Pink’s show is immense. Such a performer. The set is largely the same as our Hyde Park experience, but the sound, visuals, performance are all a cut above. It’s simply staggering. The gig finishes at 23:00. We stumble back to our hotel (about a 7 min walk), and fall into bed. It’s been a cracker of a day.

    In the battle of Irvines vs Sunday…

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  • Day 3

    Day 3 - Circle Line, Drinking Wine...

    November 6, 2023 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 11 °C

    Jet lag works for us again. We’re up and out by 08:30. We need to be over at Pier 83 on the Hudson by around 08:45, so stop at a bodega for a quick breakfast sandwich on our walk over. The Circle Line was one of our tourist highlights on our last trip - so we’re doing it again. Honestly, if you’re ever in New York, I cannot recommend it highly enough. As a way of seeing a huge chunk of New York, and particularly Manhattan, of getting your bearings, it can’t be beaten. It’s properly chilly this morning though - sunny, but cold. On the ferry, we’re definitely feeling the wind-chill. The views of downtown Manhattan are sensational, we have a fantastic sight of the Statue of Liberty. The tour then heads up the East River (which becomes the Harlem River) to the East of Manhattan. Heading under the Brooklyn Bridge is a bit of a moment. Looking West towards the Empire State and the Chrysler Building gives a fresh perspective. Further North, the ferry starts to turn Westwards back towards the Hudson. As we turn the corner, we see one of the most fascinating parts of New York - the Palisades. These are wild areas just North of the city, that have been protected by donations from some of the areas wealthiest families over the years - the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Stuyvesants. As a result, they are completely unspoilt - rocky bluffs rising 200m from the shores of the Hudson. It’s quite surreal…

    Back on dry land, we pick up the High Line - a park built along the route of an elevated train track. It had been due to open around the time we were last in New York, but had been delayed a little, so we missed it. It’s a fascinating oasis in the middle of one of the busiest cities on the planet. We walk 20 blocks to the south, passing fascinating native flora species. There are art installations, some incredible architecture to take in. At the southern end of the High Line, we take a walk through Greenwich village.

    We thoroughly deserve a drink, so stop at a bar called Tavern on Jane (it being on Jane Street). It’s an awesome little place. They have a sensational Chardonnay by the glass, some hugely random barflies, and a bartender called Johnny Pompadour, who regales us with stories of his life working behind New York bars over 5 decades. We plan to stop for one glass of wine, which quickly becomes 4. Acknowledging that we need to eat before anything else happens, we head to an amazing BBQ place called Mighty Quinn’s. The brisket is some of the best I’ve had. The mac and cheese deserves a place in the hall of fame. We congratulate ourselves on a) finding something to eat at our time of greatest need, and b) it being both banging and a bargain.

    We head further south into Greenwich Village, passing an utterly random Tardis sticking out of the side of a house. A few doors down, Vicki swoons in front of what was Carrie Bradshaw’s house in Sex and the City. Two blocks further down, we pause outside the apartment block used for exterior shots in Friends. We’re a coin toss between grabbing more drinks, and heading back to our hotel for a ‘rest.’ We opt for the latter, and start raiding the mini-bar, which in our hotel is a fulled sized Smeg fridge full of goodies. Neither of us is particularly hungry after our afternoon’s mighty meat feast. Instead, we hit the lobby bar for a couple of glasses of wine, and play some fairly amateur games of ‘Heads Up.’ We’re both pretty tuckered though, so are in bed and snoozing before 23:00…
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  • Day 4

    Day 4 - No, YOU'RE a dumbo

    November 7, 2023 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 14 °C

    Yes, on holiday - but I haven’t been able to leave completely behind the administration of my Dad’s estate. Two calls early this morning - including one from the coroner’s office to confirm the coroner has decided to open a full inquest into my Dad’s death. Amazing news to which to wake…

    We’re up and out in decent time, and walk over into the Murray Hill neighbourhood to have some breakfast. It sets us up for what is going to be a busy day. We take the downtown subway to the City Hall stop on the Manhattan side, and then walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s majestic, and such an iconic sight. Yesterday we sailed underneath it, while today we walk over it into Brooklyn. During the walk from one side to the other, we ruminate on some of the slightly forced acronyms and nicknames used for New York neighbourhoods. Some make good sense - SoHo stands for South of Houston Street. NoMad is an area North of Madison Avenue. Then things start to get a little tenuous - Tribeca is the triangle below Canal Street, NoLIta (yes, including the capitalisation) is the area North of Little Italy. Aaaaaaand, then you have DUMBO and RAMBO - which stand for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, and Right Around the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. And this isn’t just crazy tourist talk - all around North West Brooklyn, we see signs for new DUMBO buildings. It feels a bit of a stretch, to say the least…

    We didn’t spend much (any) real time in Brooklyn on our first visit together, so today is all about what this most populous borough of New York has to offer. Our first port of call is the building that was used for exterior shots in the utterly funny TV show Brooklyn 99 (are you spotting a theme here?). From there, we walk up to the famous mural of Biggie Smalls, commemorating this much loved and missed Brooklyn native. We catch a subway over to the Bushwick neighbourhood, and stop for an incredibly crucial beer.

    We’re then taking part in a street art walking tour. I read about this a few months back, and thought it would be a great way to spend a couple of hours. I’m not disappointed. Some of the artwork on display is staggering. Such talent. Some is celebratory in its style, some are a form of shrine. Others are classical ‘tag’ based art, and others again are dedicated to the queer population of New York, which has had such a home in this borough. We’re blown away by some of the murals on display. I only hope my photos can do it justice. We spend a little time with Leia, who is on what appears to be some kind of foreign exchange programme from Germany, and is currently painting one of the walls in the neighbourhood. It’s 15:00 by the time we’re finished, and we’re both ravenous. The bar we stopped in at earlier apparently serves one of the best burgers in Brooklyn. We decide to test this for ourselves. It’s good, really good.

    Refuelled, we meander back to Manhattan via a couple of happy hours, a drugstore, a Whole Foods market, a wine emporium. Dinner is served in our room, as we’re both knackered after another 20km walking day. Vicks claims she’s not going to sleep, she’s just resting her face. She slumbers maybe 20 seconds later. The time is 21:25. I am not far behind…
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  • Day 5

    Day 5 - Party like it’s yer birthday...

    November 8, 2023 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 7 °C

    I’m not that big on birthdays. I’ve never really felt like it’s much more than just another day. I’m definitely not afraid of the number getting bigger - I’ve just never had that much appetite for celebrating the day. As a result, we’ve got a fairly low key day planned. Some mooching around 5th Avenue and the Diamond District, a walk in the park, dinner.

    We kick things off with a walk down Lexington Avenue to see the Chrysler Building - that most beautiful of Art Deco skyscrapers. It’s relatively small by modern standards, and is increasingly difficult to see from other parts of town, as much larger (and uglier) buildings have sprouted around it. As we walk past it, the frosty November sun is glinting off the metallic roof. Stunning…

    We wander over to 5th Avenue, and the Rockefeller Centre. The Christmas Ice Rink is up and running, but the Christmas Tree isn’t due until later this week. We head up to the Rock Observatory, and spend a while taking a fresh look from 300m of the New York skyline. The Empire State has a special place in our hearts, but I’m not sure that I don’t prefer the view from the Rockefeller. For a start, there’s an amazing view of the Empire State itself. There’s also a jaw-dropping perspective over Central Park, plush with reds and browns of Autumn. We stop in briefly at Trump Tower so that I may piss on it.

    From there, it’s time for refreshment, so we rest our weary feet in the Champagne Bar at the storied Plaza Hotel. Deciding that our wallets won’t survive the battering of a second, third and fourth round, we head to the West to McGee’s Irish Pub, the inspiration for the TV show How I Met Your Mother - a favourite of both of ours. A couple of beers later, and we’re both getting peckish. Just around the corner is a speakeasy style burger joint, imaginatively called Burger Joint. Anthony Bourdain declared it his favourite burger in New York City. It’s good. It’s really, really good. Is it the best in the city? That’s gonna be down to personal preference. Whisper it, but we both think the flavour profile of the burger we had over in Brooklyn yesterday is better. Still, it’s a fun place to hang out for a while, and recharge our batteries. We head North into Central Park. It is COLD today - bright and sunny, but cold. We meander via the Carousel, walk past the Wollman’s Ice Rink, take a left over to the Tavern on the Green - which is sadly shut today. We stop in at a coffee shop in the centre of the park, and (drumroll please) each have a coffee. Disgusted with ourselves, we exit the park into the Upper West Side, passing the Dakota Building where John Lennon was so brutally murdered, and find ourselves an Irish dive bar, that’s pretty busy for 15:00 on a Wednesday afternoon.

    After a couple of hours rest back at the Ace Hotel, accompanied by a bottle of Laurent Perrier Rosé for the birthday boy, we head out for dinner at one of David Burke’s restaurants. We had dinner at one of his places in 2009 to celebrate our engagement, and the style, mood and food are all reminiscent of that meal. Lobster dumplings, an incredible Burrata salad, a stunning scallop and corn dish, and a squid ink pasta for the ages - YUM. They restaurant provides us with a stuffed penguin to help celebrate my birthday - a big help.

    It’s getting late - or at least, it’s after 21:00, and we’re getting tired. We head back to the hotel for a final glass of wine, and collapse into bed.
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  • Day 6

    Day 6 - Stop Spreading the News...

    November 9, 2023 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    We’re both really tuckered this morning. I’ve been awake since 05:00, and Vicki’s had quite a restless night. Check-out is noon, so we decide to take our time getting packed up and checked out before heading downtown for a few hours ahead of our cab to the airport. We have amazing sandwiches at a diner in the financial district for lunch, then head to the 9/11 Memorial. It stops us in our tracks. You can’t get away from 9/11 in New York - if for no other reason than pretty much wherever you are in the city you’ll see 1 World Trade Centre/The Freedom Tower right at the South end of Manhattan. More than that though, there’s a sobriety about 9/11 that pervades - a quiet recollection that demands respect. When we visited New York in 2009, Ground Zero was a wasteland, fenced off from public view. Now, there are amazing and yet heartbreaking monuments to the towers, the thousands of people that died in their destruction. The footprint of each tower has been replaced with a water feature, and a bronze cast around the outside is engraved with the name of every single person that died in the terrorist attacks. Actually - not every single person - for understandable reasons, the Memorial doesn’t provide remembrance for the terrorists involved in perpetrating the attacks. It’s a staggering monument to the evil of humankind. We both well up.

    Our jauntiness balloon is somewhat deflated, so we take a walk through the financial district, and pitch up at a brilliant bar called the Dead Rabbit, which has one of the biggest collections of whisky that I've seen. Some wine/Guinness and a brilliant American Malt Whisky later, and we’re feeling a little recovered. It’s a quick subway ride back to our Ace Hotel to grab our bags, and we wile away an hour (Happy, happily..) in the Lobby Bar waiting for our cab to speed us to the airport.

    ‘Speed us’ was apparently a misnomer of the worst kind. The drive between JFK and Midtown can be done in as few as 25 minutes. On Saturday evening when we arrived into JFK, it was shade under an hour. On a Thursday afternoon, the trip to JFK takes 1h30m. Just nose to tail most of the way. The slow crawl gives me some time to reflect on New York…

    I love it. It remains one of my very favourite cities on the planet. SO much to do, SO much to see, SO many great places to eat and hang out.
    It is wildly expensive for a British traveller. Hotel accommodation in Manhattan is off-the-chain pricey. Eating and drinking out are painful at times. Happy Hours are out there, but not the opportunity for bargain boozing that we’ve seen in Nevada and California in recent years.
    We still feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface, but we’ve definitely got more under the skin of this behemoth of a city. We spent more time in neighbourhood dive bars, the boozy life-blood of the city. We ate in more neighbourhood diners, we experienced rather than saw the city.
    We’ll be back for sure - and I suspect in far fewer than the 14 years since our last visit.

    JFK is, well, JFK. Queues abound, and the TSA teams are their usual cheery selves. We grow a little frustrated at our slow progress, but honestly, leaving the US typically feels like this. We park up in a wine bar for some last minute Chardonnay. Our flight is a little delayed leaving, but after a quick feed, we’re both asleep pretty quickly.
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  • Day 7

    Day 7 - Home. Meh.

    November 10, 2023 in England ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    We make up most of the flight delay en-route, as the jet stream powers us along. We’ve both managed to sleep for a few hours - not a given on these routes out of North Eastern USA. We arrive into Heathrow to lashings of rain. YUM. We both manage to doze in the cab home. We’re greeted at the front door by our two tubby tabbies, and relax into a day of snoozing…Read more