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So, it was a while ago now since we returned to the UK but now that I have some time, I am determined to finish my trip blogs with 2 destinations to go NYC and Iceland.
If I don’t get it all down then too many of the events, sights and experiences will be forgotten by me and most definitely by Mark who has a sieve-like memory. It might be erratic and in an odd sequence, as I have random notes of things that happened but hopefully it will coherent.
I can’t remember the order of everything so the following is just general lists in various categories – mainly filled by restaurants and bars – sad but true!
New York, New York
So, let me start by telling you that New York is one of MY places. One of those places that I have some kind of strange affinity with. I love all the big sights and cliches but I’m also happy wandering about back streets on my own doing much of nothing.
I like going to unexplored neighbourhoods just to see what they are like. Up till now, I have only stayed on Manhattan but partly because it is freakishly expensive and also because I wanted to discover Brooklyn, we stayed this time on Long Island. The 3-week stay was probably the most expensive of our trip- on par with Hong Kong perhaps.
The location was good – in hipsterville itself Williamsburg, which kind of did my head in on the ‘hipstersness’ side of things but for convenience, you can’t beat it and is clearly why this was the first stop of people moving out of Manhattan. You can walk over the Williamsburg bridge and be on the Lower East Side in a leisurely half an hour (a gorgeous walk in the sunshine). I’m sure a brisk walk or a bike would knock it to nearer 15 minutes.
Or the subway takes you straight across, first stop my beloved East Village and onto lots of central stops like Union Square etc.
This brings me to an interesting (well to me) point. In other visits, I only used the subway once. How I ever got around New York without using the subway is beyond me. Seriously – how did I? I can’t even imagine as it is so ridiculous to get a cab and I never got a bus. It’s quite easy to walk long distances but still. The subway is brilliant. The buskers in Bedford Avenue are world class. Even in hot, humid August, the trains are air-conditioned beautifully. In fact, sometimes I couldn’t wait to get down there to cool off. It’s great people watching and above all, it’s cheap and convenient. It’s what the Tube should be and isn’t?
Plus – you certainly get some interesting characters. Doesn’t Mark look happy with his new friend?
There was one time that the people sat opposite me were like some kind of hyper Benetton add. There was a row of people of every colour, creed and style, but my fave was next to a skinny Asian punky girl was an enormous Rabi. Seriously – he was huge. Not fat – just a grand stature. And best of all he kept chuckling to himself. He tried to engage in conversation with the girl but she was having none of it – it is New York for goodness sake but that’s how I learned he was from out of town. And he continued to chuckle for the whole journey. I will never forget the gigantic chuckling Rabi!
An Airbnb fail
So with NYC being what it is, budget accommodation was going to be tricky. Not knowing Brooklyn properly or New Jersey, it was difficult to judge what was a good area to stay in. Although New Jersey is a great and a cheaper place to stay for popping into the city, I wanted somewhere with things going on first thing in the morning/last thing at night. I wanted a neighbourhood. Williamsburg was my ideal but I was doubtful we could get anything because of the price. I was looking on Airbnb which I love, will continue to use, but all in all, found that for New York city was a bad experience. I’m pretty sure for going there I would not use it again. First up, the search was a nightmare. Probably only 30% of the listings turned out to be proper, in that people had in the description that the dates available were for 2 weeks in May or something but didn’t put the proper dates or removed when the time had passed in so it appeared in the calendar. This made trawling through very tedious. Secondly, a huge number of people put the listing up but never respond to your inquiries. This wasn’t looking at short notice, I started looking about 6 months before. And because of how much someone in NYC can charge, the choices are not great. Tons of them are to sleep in the persons front room or behind a curtain, but you have to often look quite closely to notice that.
Anyhow, location wise the place we chose was undeniably great, everything else about it was not so great. The theory that just a room and a bed is all you need does not work out when you are staying somewhere for more than a few days (like 2 weeks!) and it is in the middle of the hottest month which no-one seems to be prepared for. I should have known when we turned up at the pre-arranged time to be told that the room wasn’t ready, that this girl, in her mid-20s who I will call just H, was not the hostess with the mostest. It was no bother for us. We dropped our bags off and went off to drop our rental car at La Guardia.
When we got back we got shown to the room in the dark basement flat (no problem with this as our flat in Brighton is a dark basement) but we soon realised that pictures cand don’t just fib they tell huge porky pies. The picture on Airbnb wasn’t wrong but gave the impression there was an actual front room. Not that we wanted to be sat around in the apartment all the time but somewhere to sit and have a drink and maybe eat, when we were on our own is what we were expecting.
The kitchen had an oven, microwave and fridge but no work surface. The few times we tried to even have take-out food in there we ended up using the top of the washer to dish out.
The room had just a bed and a draw-less bedside table. Being used to living out of backpacks I managed to kinda organise things but most things had to ‘live’ on the floor which was awkward. There was no ceiling light just a lamp which gave off a dull light you could barely read by. The sheets on the bed were a bit scratchy, but so be it (I’ve since seen reviews that say that people thought she’d not even washed them for their stay – wouldn’t surprise me).
On the 2nd night, the bed fell to pieces. This probably had happened before as the slats were just lain across the bed/not nailed or screwed in. She was clueless about what to do. Fair enough – she was a youngish girl, these things can throw you. We had some gaffer tape we carried around for emergencies that we looped around as best we could. It never felt very sturdy so in addition, we positioned the backpacks across the room so they pushed against the bed, helping to keep the slats in place. This is how we stayed for the rest of the 3 weeks. Never any mention of dealing with it and with the next guest turning up not long after we left, I guess they had to deal with the same.
The linen wasn’t changed the whole time which wouldn’t normally bother me too much but the room was often like a sauna. She had an aircon unit which she liked to leave on when she was in, the problem being it pointed into the ‘front room’, the opposite direction to our bedroom with the pipe that blows out the hot air going out of the kitchen window. Unfortunately, our one source of air was the bedroom window which backed onto the kitchen window so the hot air blew into our room, heating it up. It was pretty unpleasant to spend time in this dark, hot humid bedroom so we tried to be out a lot of the time but that isn’t what we wanted – it was exhausting. It wasn’t an out and out dirty place but it wasn’t clean in the way that you clean it if you have guests coming, let alone paying guests. One day we had a couple of unwelcome dark, shady visitors. Now let me tell you, having travelled in all these exotic and unusual places on our trip – New York has the largest cockroaches. Size of freakin rats!!! Even that we took in our stride. We’re not complainy, fussy people and in the end we just wanted to leave. There would have been no point creating a fuss, if we ever did bring anything up with her it was usually met with a blank stare. We barely saw her which was a good thing, but that didn’t mean it was because she wasn’t there. She kept odd hours and we realised after a few days that where she slept was in an alcovy bit behind a curtain in the front room. We clearly had her bedroom. I’m not sure what she did for a living. She didn’t seem like she was holding down any kind of proper job. So when she was in, if you were in the front room it always felt a bit uncomfortable and half the time you weren’t sure if she was in or not so still felt uncomfortable. Not that we did anything in the rest of the house other than stand in the kitchen staring at each other wondering what to do. It was such a strange experience as I still can’t work out for the life of me what was going on with her. Surely it’s human nature that if someone comes to stay in your house you make sure the basics are there. There wasn’t even enough crockery. There were 2 mugs as I recall so if she’d had a drink and left the washing up in the sink (as she did often) we had to do her washing up to get the mug and often plates. I mean you can pick up mugs and plates at IKEA or a second-hand store for a couple of dollars. She can’t of exactly been poor living in Williamsburg in the first place and her expensive ready-made vegan food that sat around in the fridge wasn’t cheap. The fridge was fun – a huge thing but of course leaving one shelf for paying guests wouldn’t be the thing to do would it. It was full of stuff – she wasn’t sure what belonged to the previous guests she said. Some days we would come back to find her and her creepy boyfriend sat on the chez lounge watching things on the laptop. This was a tiny bit of furniture which was as much as a sofa as the flat had and was right inside the door so you’d walk straight in to find them draped over each other, him a shirtless, voiceless ape.
I mean this stuff isn’t rocket science. You clean your house, give people basic but clean things to use and make the best of what you’ve got – even a hook on the back of the bedroom door would have helped! And most of all you are courteous and considerate. Fat chance here!
I mean it was cheap – working out at probably 45 quid a night but you could stay in a hostel for less and at least they’d have some level of hospitality.
I’m sure there are great NYC hosts out there but this was a serious dud. Even if you are just doing it for the money – if you have no interest in other people’s need it’s not the thing for you. I regret not leaving her a worse Airbnb review but somehow I kept giving her the benefit of the doubt. If it was a couple of nights and wasn’t in the middle of summer, the downsides would be ignorable. My feedback that goes to Airbnb rather than be published was honest though and I even sent H a direct, unpublished message talking about the issue with the heat and the air con and the cockroaches. She didn’t bother replying and didn’t leave any feedback on us. That pretty much sums her up. Oddly she was very communicative and chatty and helpful in communication before our stay. You can usually take that as a good indicator of who you are staying with but sadly not this time. Again, I think the place wouldn’t have bothered us if it was a few nights and wasn’t the height of humid summer. It was just as the days went on and you were hot and tired and uncomfortable, things start to get to you. She was a ‘nice’ person but just away with the fairies and I would say not suited to hosting.
Anyhow, you live and learn and to be honest it is difficult to judge these things and we’d been pretty lucky up till now. I’m sure there are a few similar places in London where people are just taking the money without putting much effort in. Each to their own!
Welcome to Williamsburg
So we were very close to the Bedford Avenue subway entrance which is the heart of the Williamsburg scene. It’s a very funny place. It can get on your nerves sometimes with the amount of hipster-esque things and people but there is lots of nice things there and some bits of the old Brooklyn remain.
Mark used to walk around muttering ‘everyone’s different so they are the same’ which sums up things quite nicely. There is almost a uniform – particularly for the men, they really do look the same. And everyone either has a long skateboard or a french bulldog, or for double points, BOTH.
Other great things in Williamsburg, include the many Food Trucks – from vegan ice-cream to rendang. Great for cheap eats.
The local independent supermarket – I loved this place and would often pick up things to take home to eat. They had some vegan dumplings I was rather fond of.
The view from Williamsburg, a few streets back from Bedford Avenue is amazing and it is nice to just go down there and sit in the sun and look. We never got the ferry over but you could get it up to midtown and downtown somewhere as well.
On the weekend the famous vintage market is great but it’s kind of too perfect. You won’t ‘find’ cool things because everything is cool and priced as such. The food there is amazing as well. If you lived there you could kit out your place and your wardrobe quite nicely from here. It wasn’t all expensive you could get some old T-shirts reasonably priced. Cheaper than the many amazing but stupidly priced vintage shops scattered around Williamsburg itself.
Favourite things in Williamsburg
The hero of the hour. I loved this place. It sold kind of southern food but without the slop.
The Sunday brunch was barely eatable if you included the free soup or salad – huge!! And what a bargain – the lunchtime special which involved quarter of a chicken with a couple of sides (and soup or salad if you wanted) with a corn muffin was something like $10.
This was kind of the neighbourhood ish place I’d hope for in Brooklyn that didn’t cost much and have any pretentions. See the plate below – that’s just the side order!
Cribs Hot dogs
Oh My God!!! I’d heard about this place but didn’t think much of it before we went. You wouldn’t think much could be said of a hot dog joint but lordy these are good hot dogs. The BLT is my recommendation. Yum!!
Korean Mexican fusion?
That’s the kind of thing you get in Brooklyn. Sometimes it seems fun and innovative but often you really think just why?
Oh, you’ve got to love lunchtimes in the city – great deals to be had – especially in Williamsburg where lots of the monied are working in the daytime over on Manhattan. We had a great ramen at a quite famous Japanese place who’s usual prices are rather high.
Another great bar on Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg
Free pizza with your beer? Yes please.
Rosamundes – a bar that sells sausages – cooked and in a butchers stylee.
The first time we went they had Alf on the TVs constantly – what’s not to love?
Another former neighbourhood bar which has hipstered up but still has a nice atmosphere.
We spent a great night there feeing the jukebox. NYC does lots of jukeboxes!
One of the first places we went to was the Surf bar. This place doesn’t say much of anything. It’s not particularly hip or New Yorky but it’s just fun and nice to hang out in – especially in hot summer.
It was always going to appeal to me with it’s kitschy, beachy aesthetics. Lot’s of fairy lights, sand on the floor out in the large garden. Tasty seafood and good drinks. It was quite pricey but if you go to Williamsburg first time as a tourist and aren’t quite sure where to go/what to eat I think it’s a nice easy stop off.
The Funeral Lady bar
A bar which was possibly my favourite was on Bedford Avenue but as you moved further away from the ‘heart’. It was a kind of old fashioned bar with a very 80s feel, a large area in the middle for late night dancing and as we discovered on a later trip, big old Brooklyn bouncers on the door, who weren’t there to decide if you were cool enough to come in, but were good old fashioned bouncers, looking for trouble makers.
The first time we went in the lady behind the bar had me intrigued. She had the most fabulous Brooklyn accent and was telling us that they were having problems with the ‘waaader’ (read water) so would we mind using plastic cups. Us? Of course not. She seemed to take this as a sign that we were ok! We then pretended to talk to each other while really listening to her bitch about her parking ticket which she shouldn’t have got as the funeral directors pass was clearly showing on the dashboard. There was a funeral directors across the street and I guess both that and the bar were her family business. I love this! I can’t work out what this bar is called but it’s on the corner of Bedford and 5th.
The park at the far end of Bedford Avenue is interesting. It’s a bit rough and ready and I’m not sure I’d hang out there at night but there’s definitely some interesting goings-on. They apparently have free open-air cinema up there in the summer too.
On our short stroll we saw one of the most interesting cars I’ve ever seen and a great poster for a lost tree:
I heart the East Village:
The East Village is somewhere I utterly love and we found ourselves, wherever we’d been, time and again gravitating back there (it helped that it was one stop on the L train). Here is a list of some of my fave things.
This is an old fashioned bar, graffiti and bars out the front. Basic inside, run by a Russian grandmother – no idea if she is Lucy or not, but I like her. No nonsense. It’s always dark no matter what time of day and you can grab the local paper and get a good priced drink.
A diamond Vietnamese, on Mcdougal street.
The price of this place kept surprising me. Often with Vietnamese, the more kind of ‘ruff and ready’ a place looks, the better, but this one they’ve done in a kind of asian modern stylee which would make you think the prices are higher than they are. The food is just bloody amazing.
On the corner of Tomkins Square park – this place was fantastic. Massive bowls of prawn tempura udon at a great price!!
I could only look in longingly with my budget – but this place sells vintage specs and in the past, I have gotten some fantastic bits that even in my ‘sell everything to travel the world’ moments, I haven’t been able to part with.
Tompkins Square Park
I love this park. I always like to wander through and see what’s going on and we always stop to watch the dog parks – one for small dogs, one for all dogs.
In the summer they have lots of events on and they were coming to the end of that season. We stumbled upon an open-air screening of ‘O brother where art thou’ and before the film they had blue mountain style singers performing. Unfortunately, it had poured that day so the ground was soaking so we decided not to stick around to watch the film.
There’s something about this place though and I find wherever I am if I’m tired, or don’t know what to do with myself, or even just want to have a think – I tend to head to the park and the streets surrounding it.
Otto’s Shrunken Head
I do love a tiki bar so I headed over to find this one on the outer edges of the East Village. We didn’t go there enough in the end – I really liked it. It’s been around years and is a little bit divey and not ‘trendy’ so is full of interesting people. They have rockabilly and comedy nights and I can definitely recommend if you want an afternoon hideaway.
This is somewhere I like mainly for the kitschy decor. You can’t get enough leopardskin in your life, can you?
Elsewhere in NYC…
It’s the diner underneath the New Yorker hotel. We always go here and one of the few things in this crazy, busy centre I like.
They do good food. LOTS of it. It’s often got a lot of NYPD in there too. One time we saw someone called ‘Officer Squash’ and this always amuses us to say in an over exaggerated New York accent.
Art & MOMA
I’ve been to MOMA in other places but never got further than the museum shop at the New York one. It’s not the cheapest thing in the world to do so we decided to be good backpackers and go on the free night. Wednesday night I think it was. Wow – that’s popular. We joined a queue which looped right around the block. It actually didn’t take long to get in once they opened the doors but actually, I’m not sure if I’d recommend going here as a freebie. It was so popular/so busy and it’s kind of hard to enjoy a gallery with that many people about. Part of the experience should be to have a little peace and space to look at what you like. It’s a cool place though, particularly the courtyard garden.
Obviously just walking the streets you find a lot of art. Street art, galleries and unintentional art. One of the more interesting things we came across was a building where the whole front wall swung out onto the street to create the gallery.
This has gone up so quickly. I have never been to New York when the twin towers were there so I’ve never been able to imagine this site with something on it. It’s always been a massive hole/construction site to me – one tinged with horror and sadness of course. But now the freedom tower is built I get how much the towers meant to people because you can see it almost every neighbourhood and direction you go. It’s ever present, so I can only imagine how strange it must have been to live with those towers with such prominence on the street and building views from all over, to have that gone.
That said – I know there’s a spike on the top to make it tall but there’s something else – an antenna or something – which always looks messy and drove me a bit mad – felt it ruined the view that it should be – clean and standing tall. Not with some wonky wiring at the top.
TriBeCa & Meat Packing District
I’d never been properly to these areas before so I wanted to have a wander about. This is all about ‘I’ you notice. Well Mark does like New York but it’s my obsession and I make the plans and drag him around. I got stuck on a crazy island for many months so he can traipse around New York with me for a couple of weeks!
Anyhow, I found the areas had some nice old character mixed in with a bit of sterility. I find Soho, though pretty, to be very sterile and it holds no interest for me and these places tinged on that. A bit too cleaned up with quite bland galleries and restaurants.
The architecture of the Meat Packing District is gorgeous though and you can think back to decades-old movies or cop shows where they are interviewing someone hanging a whole pig in a freezer (it was always a pig wasn’t it?) – they’re still the same buildings – gorgeously restored. I just wished they filled it with things that were a little bit more eclectic. Sometimes I think part of New York will over stylise themselves!
We got onto the Highline, which is a park-like walk setup on an old disused railway line which opened a few years back. I’d been dying to see it and it wasn’t wildy exciting but is definitely worth a go. Certain points your walking through not so interesting buildings but then you get a view or a sight that makes it worth it. Particularly the further north you got.
The Williamsburg bridge
Everyone raves about walking over the Brooklyn Bridge which I’m sure is great but frankly, there’s nothing much when you arrive there, other than the view back over and the point you go over on the Manhattan side isn’t very interesting either. The Williamsburg bridge hooks up too more interesting places with a lot more going on. It’s not only a nice walk if you fancy it but it’s a convenient link.
It takes you to the lower east side where if you head north you find some of the best restaurants, bars and shops.
After we’d walked the bridge, we were practically on the doorstep of one of another of my faves – Schillers lounge which has interiors to die for. Not sumptuous – but it has somehow been preserved in time and you have original tiles, mirrors and especially amazing is the bathrooms downstairs.
And they do a very good bloody mary too!!
You can’t not love Central Park. This was the great advantage to going in the summer to be able to spend a long (if hot and tiring) time in the park. I wanted to go to areas I hadn’t been to before so decided to start in the top eastern corner. This meant getting the subway to the edge of Harlem. This is a very different area to the bottom easter corner. Mark was a little disconcerted when we got out of the subway and I tried to find my barings to get to the park. He was even more concerned when we had a huge guy trying to hustle us for some money as he’d just got out of the hospital because he’d hit his head !?! He did act like he’d had a blow to the nonce!
Anyhow – it made us realise how huge the park is. It took forever to make our way down but it was really interesting. The difference in the type of people and what they were doing as you made your way down was a surprise. And there are all kinds of little things to find along the way. The huge lake/pond in the middle is huge.
During this trip and another we made to spend a couple of hours here, we finally found the iconic poets walk, watched some baseball, watched some amazing roller skating which I think goes on every weekend in the summer. And people watched – a lot! Watching some of the portrait artists was funny – there were some great artists but the likeness to the person they were actually drawing? Way off – hilariously so!
It’s a cliche, it’s a tourist trap but it’s also a great place with great beer and great atmosphere that is not to be missed.
The oldest bar in NYC – probably. The best – it’s certainly up there. Sawdust on the floor and you can buy two beers at a time – go for a light and dark.
It is the best. It just is!!
Trailer Park Lounge
Mark gets dragged here every time but I have to – it’s like a place of workship for kitsch lovers. Buy your beer in a can, order some mac n cheese and just look around you… heaven!!
We were introduced to this on an east to west pub crawl we got taken on on our first visit together (thanks cousin Andrew) and I couldn’t remember its name but stumbled across it again in Greenwich village. It’s a perfect bar. A little bit funky, but not too much – doing its own thing.
Fabulously central to all things good and great people watching. There was an eccentrically dressed crazy guy who looked like he was about to beat on people but actually was chasing after people who were dropping litter and shaming them. Good for him!!
You always have to end up at Washington Square Park!
West side story
We hit the Hudson on the west side for the first time. It’s funny to see Jersey sat over the other side. It always seems to much further away than Brooklyn – like it’s another world almost. A walk north, ending up by Chelsea pier, was interesting having never been there before and nice and quiet but unless I was after some peace and space I probably wouldn’t rush to go back over there again. Though I can see it’s the appeal for the owners of upscale homes in the West Village – somewhere to go chill or run, with few tourists.
I’d wanted to stay in Brooklyn and explore it for the first time but actually, I found it quite difficult to suss out what to do at certain times and often ended up just heading to Manhattan. I probably would have just ticked off each neighbourhood to walk around aimlessly, but I was driving Mark mad with having no real ‘end destination’ on such excursions. Here are some of the things we did/places we discovered in Brooklyn, outside of our local Williamsburg.
I have always wanted to go to Coney Island but I’ve never been around in the summer. It’s so iconic for it’s retro funfair – there’s a soundtrack in my head whenever I see pictures. It’s a bit of hike down there on a pretty slow train, but going mid week it was pretty quiet. This was good so as to avoid hoards of kids and the noise that brings, but it did mean there wasn’t a lot going on there.
I guess to compare Coney Island to somewhere in the UK it would be Blackpool or Brighton Pier. Old fashioned beachside fun.
We started our trip rather badly as it was lunchtime and we’d not eaten so hastily made a stop at Applebee’s. I’ve never been to one before and it’s unlikely I will again. The first person you see as you walk in is ….. first impression officer. The food was not great and not cheap either. I think if you went with their ridiculous ‘stuff your face’ type deals it would work out cheaper. I was gutted we didn’t hold out and go to somewhere with a bit more characters.
The fair area is separated into a couple of areas, the larger rides and an area for smaller kids with cuter rides. It’s got a proper old skool style and is a visual treat for sure.
I, of course, had a go on Zoltar (as per Big), but unfortunately (or fortunately probably more likely) I have remained in my 30s.
There are some icon structures such as the parachute, the Cyclone and big wheel. The cyclone is still shut from the storms but even without storm damage I don’t think I’d have the guts to go on it – it is proper ricketty!!
The take-away food looked great – wish we hadn’t eaten in god awful Applebees first. We did partake of rather amazing ice creams before we left though.
We went down to Brighton beach (well we had to didn’t we) in the Russian area known as little Odessa. It was a funny place. Quite a lot of angry Russian drunks hanging about and then some interesting bars/restaurants.
We hung for a little bit in Tatianas – a large seafront restaurant with a nightclub downstairs which looked very interesting. I think it’s the kind of club where you really don’t want to mess with the management!!
The Transit Museum
This was something I fancied as I’ve always found the idea of old tube/subway stations interesting. I’d love to see some of the abandoned ones, but this is the closest I can get as the museum is set in a disused station – Court station.
I flippin loved this place. I don’t know what this says about me, but I thought it was fab. There are tons of old carriages from the different eras – complete with posters and ads from the time which were quite fascinating.
We also got to pretend to drive things and go through turnstiles rather pointlessly.
There was a video room which was showing the full Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ video and a short doco as it was filmed at the subway station that we’d come into the area in.
Brooklyn Heights isn’t really a destination in itself but it’s nice to have a wander around. The buildings are so iconic and have a host of amazing former residents. We had a very NYC moment when we were approached by a Rabi asking for directions as we stood outside the apartment block that was home to Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe. Just up the road was Truman Capote’s former home and Moonstruck was filmed around there.
Mark didn’t know what Moonstruck was. WTF?
On the river side of the area it, of course, has great views of Manhattan. It is very quiet and I can imagine it’s ideal for (rich) families for convenience as well as style.
Caroll gardens/the canal ways
Caroll gardens is a really nice, pretty area. It kind of reminded me of parts of Hove. It’s quite and nice but still with plenty of things around.
The strangest thing was the canal – a very peaceful place to go that you can imagine only a few short years ago, before restoration, it being dodgy as!
I think if I stayed again for a while, I’d like to be based here.
This is another semi gentrified area which has some nice restaurants and bars – a good stop off if you’ve been to the Transport museum as otherwise there’s not much nice around that area. I can recommend the Thai food at HopHap.
Under the Brooklyn Bridge
There is a park under the Brooklyn bridge which in the summer shows outdoor screenings of various movies.
The weather wasn’t great the day we were there. We had a wander around the area known as Dumbo but there’s not really anything there.
There’s a restaurant around there which we had a few drinks in which was full of character. The Old Fulton restaurant was once Italian owned I think and is now Russian owned I think. The decor is luxurious and a bit barmy and it has a fab atmosphere and mix of clientele. Rich beautiful kids, bikers, old geezers. So if you are round there and not sure where to go, I’d give it a go.
There was less open than prob previously I think – the famous river cafe is closed due to damage from the storm.
We got to watch a latino band filming a music video which was v funny as they were dancing to no music!!
The film on that night was Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Many people’s idea of heaven but I’m not keen and add to that the bad view and poor weather we didn’t make it the whole way through and left early.
It was dark by then and we did manage to get lost trying to find the nearest subway. Brooklyn isn’t really the most fun place to get lost. I didn’t admit to Mark that I was a little concerned (I never do when this kind of thing happens!).
But we found our way, in the end, thanks to some helpful students!
It’s a great view day and night over to Manhattan and looking at the bridge so worth going over there but the lack of nearby subway means needing a little planning.
NYC Budget Traveler Tips:
Ferry cross the Hudson
It’s a classic tip on any budget NYC itinerary but it’s a good one. The Staten Island Ferry is free and you get great views not only of the Status of Liberty but also of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the newly resurgent Staten Island. I also found the journey itself was interesting in terms of people watching. This is people’s commute. It’s a funny old, oddly relaxing experience.
NYC is amazing for the best, most expensive food in the world but also for cheap eats. You just need to be careful and think about where you are/what you are having but it’s all there. I thought we’d eat mainly street food and eat at home but eating out was quite easy if you plan – just keep your eye on restaurants/cafes as you pass them so u can come back if they are a bargain.
You can go looking for things in New York but more often than not the most interesting things you will stumble upon.
Just walk the streets – try out different neighbourhoods – it’s amazing the things you find. Impromptu hug givers, tree huggers (yes I have seen both), street parties, exhibitions and hidden treasures.
You also often stumble on tv or movie sets. I don’t think I’ve ever been to NYC without coming across some tv/movie trailers. This time around they were filming in 2 places I like – Mc Sorleys – famously the oldest pub in NYC and a tourist trap to an extent but such a great place – I’ll talk about it further later on.
They were completely closed for filming which we were rather miffed about as we were headed there. The other place was the Borgeous Pig which is a great, atmospheric fondue restaurant which was out of our budget this time around. Who knows what they were filming in there – a cosy couple restaurant scene I would imagine – it’s deep reds and twinkling lights would work well for that.
You always come across the most interesting things by accident – it is the NYC law!
My mini Law and Order tour
I love the series Law and Order – be it original, SVU, Criminal Intent, LA, UK – all of them. And there’s barely an episode I haven’t watched because if it’s on I’ll put it on. I like it as background and I find it oddly relaxing. What I found on the trip that apart from poss Cuba -every country seems to shows Law & Order. I guess because there’s so many of them and they sell them cheaply – but I’ve never been far away when we’ve had TVs. Anyhow, I wanted to go to a few places related to it – the famous court steps, police plaza and the street named after Jerry Orbach from the original (RIP!). So I dragged Mark around some more but didn’t go too far afield in my quest. Both the court (easter lower Manhattan) and the road (on the upper west side) took me to areas I’ve never been to before.
The subway between Williamsburg and East Village is a cool ride.
You get the most amazing buskers on this route (we met an incredible english guy who told us he made a good amount of money there).
You also get the kids who do kind of break-ish dancing involving hanging off the train poles and doing various acrobatics who then just politely hand the hat around.
This is a very peaceful park on the upper west side which goes on forever and mainly has locals so a different kind of people watching.
For people who like cheesy movies – the bit at the end of ‘You’ve got mail’ was filmed here.
On the subway in Brooklyn, you’d get the drivers talking to you about the journey and the stops. Mark and I were gleefully on our journey one time to have the most fabulously shouty female train driver with the epitome of Brooklyn accents. It really is the little things.
See the (grim) sites
You probably can’t spend a lot of time in NYC without seeing some gross things.
There was the guy on a kind of wheelchair who was also an alcoholic or druggy and his ‘lovely’ mates clearly couldn’t be bothered to help him pull his pants back on after he last went to the toilet. That arse was on show for all to see and they were all oblivious.
There was another delightful lady we encountered, who we smelled before we saw. A very hot, humid day on the subway and the smell hit us and as we turned to see what it was we saw an opened shopping bag laid on the floor with large chunks of faeces falling out onto the platform. She was particularly special. Obviously, she has a hideous life but it was puzzling that someone who lives in the subway could be so huge. I guess the excess in NYC allows even the homeless to be obese. Sad stories all round.
Alice’s empty tea cup
Alice’s tea cup, on the upper west side, should have worked but apart from a bit of interesting decor and chirpy ‘boy’ staff, it was over-priced and underwhelming. Everything that NY can get wrong sometimes. Go full on or don’t bother!
Where not to go
Brooklyn can definitely change block by block and after getting off at one subway station we went in the wrong direction and not so much ended up in a rough location, more one were you offered a bit of a shocking insight. This area had a bunch of buildings grouped near each other which meant there were some interesting characters hanging around. The US equivalent of the job centre and social services (whatever they are called over there). And just up the road was a tower block detention centre. Bit of an eye opener, just from going a couple of blocks in the wrong direction.
Say what now?
Why does everyone have to shout their conversations? Why? Why!?!?
The Ugly but Inevitable
Everything changes and you’ve got to wait
First time into the East Village and I was looking forward to brunch, bloody mary and all at Life, on the corner at Tompkins Square Park.
This is the cafe that features in the musical/movie Rent as is was frequented by the writer back in the 80s when the East Village was a grim, yet arty haunt. We had ended up going here not because of it’s association but because it was a couple of blocks from where we had stayed in New York on a previous trip (now there’s a place I can highly recommend the New York Bed and Coffee (http://www.bedandcoffee.com/) has arty room and shares bathrooms with a few other people on each floor. It’s fantastic! Anyhow, the brunch at this place was amazing and we were gutted to have found it had gone. Asking in the uber-trendy coffee house next door, apparently one day it just shut unexpectedly and that was that. It is the nature of New York, ever changing, but it is a bit gutting. You don’t want the less fancy places to go but nowhere is safe. The great bar Nice Guy Eddy (or something like that) which used to be opposite Katz Deli on the lower east side is now literally a trendy wine bar. New York does character well but it also does bland well and I noticed walking around that a lot of some of my favourite areas have gotten quite boring.
My biggest annoyance – bars or restaurants that had no sign with their name on the front as they are too cool for school and if you want to know you will find out. Their interiors are taken back to brick with the dippest lighting they can manage so you can’t even see in to try to work out who they are and what they do.
As for the queuing thing that is so loved in New York. Forget it. I don’t care how good your food is, I’m not queuing and especially not if there’s a chance I can’t get in and if I do it’s over-crowded. The queuing itself is half the being seen and I really can’t think of any bigger waste of your life.
I might have really, really wanted to try a Cronut (a fancy bakery in Greenwich Village have created this which is a cross breed of a croissant and a doughnut), but I’m not going to go there at 8 am and queue for an hour. I went in at 3 pm and they’d sold out 6 hours previously.
There’s tons of good food to be had in the world. It shouldn’t involve hype.
I tend to tick Time Square off once per trip but it’s not somewhere I really like to go. I’m not into shows so other than that it holds no interest to me. Mark does love a bit of Ripleys but we’ve done that one before. There’s a two-headed cow from Wiveliscombe, Devon in the entrance and I remember on a previous trip, the guy outside trying to get people in told me it was from ‘Wivel-scom’ until I corrected him about the pronunciation. Obnoxious? Moi?
Falling into a festival
We turned down a street on 5th Avenue and saw there was a little Brazilian festival going on, so we walked through it only to find at the far end it was actually a full-on celebration with people like sardines trying to watch something on stage. The crowd was huge and intense and we literally got trapped and struggled to make it out together. I can handle crowds but I think when you’re not expecting it, it can be a tad full on.
But then falling upon things randomly occurring is what makes NYC so exciting.
Alcohol and a jukebox brings people together
We had a very odd but definitely fun night in the East Village one day when we decide to partake of the jukebox as is our like and due to our choices got chatting to a couple who were on their first date. They were really nice but I think they weren’t into each other in a romantic way so we had more fun the 4 of us putting on some ‘interesting’ tunes. Lot’s of guilty pleasures – oh yes – even Celine Dion. Then another guy who was with his friends, cottoned on to this and applauding are good bad taste, joined in by putting on Jennifer Rush ‘I am your lady’. Epic!!
Too cool for skool
Williamsburg was v funny as the staff in half the places were away with the fairies. Obviously, none of them were ‘real’ waiters – they would all be artists, in a band, directors, photographers or whatever. But in a city that prides itself on service, it could be hilariously bad here. We didn’t care as we were in a rush and had been in countries where service isn’t a big deal ever! I think Bad Burger was a prime example. Food was fine but the guy working there was a total space cadet. But I kind of liked it. It added to the vibe. Reminded me of the film Clerks.
So that’s it really. Not a blog that makes much sense but I had to get all those memories and moments down and as it’s one of the most photographable places in the world, we got some great shots.