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It’s a long time since we’d left Europe and travelling further afield was well overdue. An invite from family to meet them on the Caribbean island of Aruba, spiralled into a 2-month trip, mostly to Costa Rica, by way of New York City, Aruba and Colombia. The theory being that to fly all the way over to the Americas, it seemed a waste not to see and do more while we were there. Costa Rica had always been high on the radar and seemed so close, so it would have been rude not to.
The simplest way to get to Aruba seemed to be via the USA, so having found some cheap flights from Barcelona to NYC, I knew I couldn’t not spend some time in one of my favourite cities.
It was early January and we had a little issue in that we had carry on luggage only and 95% of our trip would be in warm weather, so packing light for NYC meant layers and a fold away jacket. We were so lucky on our initial stay in the city as they were having, which for January in this neck of the woods, was a heatwave, with temperatures around 8/9 degrees Celsius. It was a little drizzly on occasion, with the odd icy wind, but on the whole, we were very lucky and able to do what I like to do best in New York – simply pound those streets.
The holy grail of NYC is decent, affordable accommodation and I had high hopes for the hotel I had found, Hotel Mimosa. This hotel was out of the main tourist areas, but close to my favourite areas – on the edge of China Town and Lower East Side. It was a little awkward to find in our midnight taxi, but it turned out to be the perfect hotel. Not too big, not too small, super friendly and helpful and 5 minutes to a couple of subways and walking distance to plenty of things. I wouldn’t recommend it to first timers, but for those comfortable with the city, it is a real gem. It’s in a fairly quiet, historical and atmospheric neighbourhood. Some really old skool shops, yet with the hipness of the east village creeping it’s way down. But not too much.
The hotel provided a fantastic (and long) list of nearby eateries, which was actually really useful, as things are a bit more laid back and things don’t spring out at you round these parts. In particular, we were happy with the location as it meant loads of amazing Asian food on our doorstep.
Literally across the road was an old-style Hong Kong dim sum place, 88 Palace. Up the escalators in the min mall opposite the hotel, this was a huge room filled with large round tables where you sit and wait to pick things off the trolleys, with a pot of complimentary (jasmine I believe) tea. It was splendourous in all it’s pink and gold glory and definitely a place for locals and family get-togethers. When you have finished your food, you need to get one of the staff who walks the shop floor to sign you off and then you go pay at the counter. We didn’t do this the first time and so lesson learned.
Though we arrived very late at night we thought we had enough time to try to get a bite to eat. A lot of the restaurants are open in the day only and having been travelling for a ridiculous amount of hours, we found their list very useful and located a cute little bar/restaurant 5 minutes up the road called Forgtmenot. Nice drinks in a cosy, almost tiki style place and a small but interesting menu. We very gratefully scoffed down some obviously house-made flatbreads and dip. Mark was also thrilled that while we were there they played an entire Prefab Sprout album.
What else is nearby:
Despite a few attempts we never managed to get into this place which had been recommended by a friend as it was always jam-packed. We did, however, on one failed attempt, pop next door to the Boys Don’t Cry bar which was quite a cool place – nice wine and beer and music.
This place does amazing Bun Cha. Which is basically a plate of crispy spring rolls, room temp rice vermicelli and sweet pork. I first had this in Hanoi and haven’t seen it outside of Vietnam so I was a very happy girl indeed. We had their pho another day, which was nice, but not my favourite. I know though if I had this place around the corner that I’d probably visit it every few days and work my way through lots of things I’d love on the menu. Once again Mark was pleased with the music choices when we were treated (!) to some Simply Red. I’m not if I’d put that on my pros list personally.
Little Canal Cafe
On the corner of the nearby Seward Park, we retreated to this place after trying out the funky 169 bar. This would usually be up my street but it was too packed and noisy for our tired bones. This little cafe, in contrast, was quiet and chilled and did a small but great selection of wine and craft beer. My only criticism would be that it was a bit chilly (why do these places run fans in winter) and they played way too much Bryan Ferry.
Wild goose chase around town
So I like to find some of the small, but interesting things to do in any city, and particularly NYC. It’s a great place to find cheap or free weird and wonderful things to do. I love the website Atlas Obscura and before visiting had accumulated a list of things that if we were nearby, we could swing by to see. Well, poor Mark – this went pretty wrong, but we had a nice healthy long walk and as it’s New York you always see some unexpected stuff along the way.
Law & Order steps
I love the show Law & Order – in any of its many forms. I was apoplectic with delight when I found out they’d filmed an episode of the UK one in the art deco flats we lived in Richmond. And last time we were here I dragged Mark on a self-created Law & Order tour of the city. I didn’t do that again, but the law courts with the steps that they spend so much time on, on the show, were pretty close to our hotel, so it seemed rude not to pop over there.
There were two things on our trail which failed miserably. Firstly the Mmuseumm – which is a tiny gallery of objects. We found the alley that was allegedly home, but it was not to be found. Secondly, I aimed for the city’s oldest man hole cover, which it turns out had been removed the year before.
My interesting tour mission was looking kind of miserable until, in Soho, we were successful in finding the Earth Room. An exhibition which has been around since 1977. You find a non-descript door, press the buzzer and head up to the second floor. It is indeed a room – or rather an apartment sized room – full of earth. I won’t show a picture as it’s one of those things you just have to experience. The smell is amazing.
The not so hidden, hidden Holocaust memorial
On the corner of a building on the edge of Madison Square Park is a representation of Auschwitz
When we walked up to the zoo area of Central Park, we ended up in an area where it’s mostly living space and there’s not an awful outside of interest, but it’s always worth a wander. We ended up coming out by the impressive Hudson university buildings. We popped into a student art exhibition which had this amazing doll sculpture. A close inspection shows the floor was covered in little babies and the doll girls were pregnant. Impactful.
The City Reliquary, Brooklyn
Having previously spent a month staying in Williamsburg we are quite fond of popping over the Brooklyn side of the city. I’d had big plans to finally make it out to Corona park to see the remnants of the World Trade Fair, especially as I’d had a recommendation for a great dumpling place nearby. However, I was having some boring back problems so wasn’t sure the long trek would help. Instead, we ventured to a new destination in a familiar neighbourhood. The City Reliquary is a not-for-profit community museum which has been saving New York related bits and pieces over the years and offers a chance to visit for $7 which of course goes back into the project. It’s small, in just a couple of rooms and I think not everything they have is on display so some stuff is circulated and they also have a display of a local individuals collection which changes from time to time. When we were there it was a confetti related collection. Much more fascinating than it sounds, trust me! It’s the kind of place I could happily come back to on every visit as there are little things to read and it’s just my kind of place – a bit like my church I suppose.
As we were in Williamsburg, we quickly had a pop around to see what was new/what hadn’t changed. A dive bar disappeared here, a new mural there.
And although the original is in the East Village, we can’t come to Williamsburg without going to the first Criff Dog we ever tried. Fabulous as ever. While we were there the tv showed the full B-52s Rock Lobster video – which at over 4 minutes was a treat. If you’ve never experienced it, give it a go. I recently read an article, possibly a myth, about how John Lennon hadn’t touched a guitar in 4 years, but then upon hearing Rock Lobster at a Bermuda disco, he was inspired to, with Yoko (I admire Yoko so back off haters), get back in the game!
Let it glow
Much to my delight and Mark’s ba humbug horror, with it being January, there were still remnants of the Christmas season throughout the city.
The Bryant Park ice rink is much more fun to watch than the Rockafella one in my opinion. And the little displays of Xmas magic everywhere warmed you up on those cold days. NYC does Christmas, and winter for that matter, really well.
The great thing about New York is that you can split your time equally between discovering new and wonderous things and going back to revisit beloved favourites. Here are some of the things we do on every visit:
Tik Tok Diner
This diner in the amazing New Yorker art deco hotel is not in my favourite area – being next to Penn Station in the crazy busy midtown, but we do like to grab a breakfast here. It’s been renovated since our last visit but it’s simple American grub always hits the spot and handily we had to buy train tickets next door in Penn station to get the train to Newark Airport (which can highly recommend if your flight in the middle of the day btw). It’s a pretty touristy joint and no mistaking. There was a rodeo show of some kind in Madison Square Gardens just around the corner, so while we were eating on the next table there were a bunch of very southern fellows, or rather cowboys, with enormous stetsons, who all said grace before eatings. Interesting people watching for us Europeans.
One of those places which claims to be New York’s oldest pub and who cares if it is or is not – it’s great. You order dark or light beer or as we always do – both! It’s usually packed and you sometimes have to be brave and search the back to get a table. It has sawdust floors and walls covered with genuine memorabilia (unlike the usual faux stuff) and will have both tourists and New Yorkers. While we were this time there was a massive table of exhuberant NYFD guys. Normally a bunch of loud macho fellas would put me off and they were adorable and was impressed watching the beer wizard server carrying 20 glasses to their table in one go – no tray!!! Someone on another table was celebrating their birthday so they guys heartily sang (or shouted) along to wish them a happy birthday.
There are not many parts of Central Park that I haven’t wondered at this point, but there’s always some. One area that I’d kind of intentionally not been to was the zoo. I don’t agree with most zoos and particularly city zoos are notorious for not having the appropriate space for the animals they display. I’m pretty ignorant on what kind of animals are held in the zoo these days, though I’ve seen depressing images from previous decades. So I was never going to go to the zoo, but I decided to head to the general area and appreciated the design and architecture and appreciating it from a time when I guess they didn’t know any better. Animal cruelty aside it’s a rather jolly, playfully designed area. I can imagine there was a lot of pride in it the time it was created.
All roads lead to the East Village
Well, at least they do for us. This being our favourite area, we invariably end up here when out on a wander. Particularly if we are tired and in need of a sit-down! When the weather is nice you can sit in Tompkins Square Park and people watch. When it’s colder there are plenty of cafes and bars to hunker down in. I may have shed a little tear upon finding that there is now a Starbucks on the corner here. I know it’s how it works but urgh!!!! To add to the disappointment – there’s a no-frills bar, Lucy’s, next to Tompkins Square Park, run by an older (Russian I believe) lady, which we rather like. But this wasn’t open at any point we came to the village. Am just hoping that it’s shut for a vacation, but there’s no stopping New York city gentrification, so it might be gone forever. Luckily another favourite oddly slightly cowboy-themed bar down the road is still there. Doc Holliday’s – still resplendent in it’s slightly divey, neighbourhood style.
I am always happy in New York. I am happy to eat, to drink, to walk, to watch, to hear, to be. I was not disappointed this time round, if a little chilly at times.