A Travellerspoint blog

The Big, Soggy Apple

And, by the way, where have all the gays gone?!

sunny 81 °F

Tabor Room, Incentra, 32, 8th Ave, Manhattan
Saturday 19th May

Luckily, the forecast that stated it was going to be raining the whole time on every day of our visit here, has been partly wrong. But today, it is tipping down again but, we were not discouraged and took our trip to Brooklyn.

But first, back to Wednesday. An untraumatic 4 minute drive took us to the Hertz car return depot at Chicago airport. The worst part of the journey was having to haul our heavy cases up the steps of the Hertz bus to the terminal and then again up 3 floors, up narrow steep steps to our room for four nights.

A smooth flight with a great view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, before we disappeared into the clouds somewhere over Eastern Michigan.


We were served a pretty good hot meal on the shortish flight. Bob had "steel cut" oatmeal (ie porridge) and John a nice omelette served with sausage and fresh fruit,


We'd booked a car online to take us from Newark airport to the bottom of 8th Avenue on Manhattan. The driver called while we were waiting for our bags but it was impossible to understand his English (something that has proved to be quite a common problem here!). John guessed that he wanted us to call when we had our bags. A text seemed to work better and we waited outside watching the chaos of treble/quadruple parked limos and private cars picking people up. A stretch limo pulled up and we could see the driver making a call. It was for us. Something we had NOT ordered (too embarrassing) nor paid for. No matter, we had a comfortable ride over toll bridges high over Jersey City and over the Hudson to one of our favourite places.


Incentra it's called and we've been staying here since 1981. On the edge of Greenwich Village in a double townhouse built in 1842. It was all very familiar. The same shops, and the same greasy spoon right next door! But The Village has now almost completely gentrified, with many shops selling posh clothes (from a stock of about 20 items) and other businesses aiming at a very up market clientele. Last time we noticed this, but this time it was driven home that this once very gay village is no longer so. Apparently, they've been forced out by the sky-high rents and now hang out in Chelsea. We're planning to check this out later, in the hope it may have stopped raining by then. (Update: nope, they're not in Chelsea either. Discussing this with the "weekend manager" here, it seems that the "Gay Village" is no more, with people integrating much more. This is good and bad. Good from the point of view acceptance and legality, but sad that the community spirit and that feeling of having a "special identity" has all-but disappeared).


Our limo partially blocking 8th Avenue

After we'd settled in, we decided to get out of the rain by visiting Bloomingdale's famous store, somewhere we'd not been before. First, having watched a video on how to do so, we kitted ourselves out with two 7-day passes for the public transport system. We are able to use these on the subway and buses. But OH, THE STAIRS! Escalators are few and far between (we've only found one) and, though there are elevators, they are either difficult to find, or out of order. So, on top of a lot of walking between subway stations etc, we have climbed an awful lot of stairs, not counting the ones back up to our room.


So, get this people, John's new belt, purchased at Phoenix Bootbarn: well, he bought a size too large. So a kind man in a leather shop in Wickenburg, AZ punched two extra holes. The last but one hole was just right. No way, with all this eating, would John use that last hole that he punched. Well, with all this exercise, that last hole is now in use!!

Thursday morning, we were early on parade for our pre-booked tour at the World Trade Center, 9/11 Memorial. This was a special tour before the museum and memorial is open to the public. We were kitted out with radio headphones so we could listen to the truly excellent guide who told us all about the horrors of that day. It was incredibly moving and so sad. It became clear that those public servants like firemen and police who died on that day almost had the easier option as their colleagues who spent days breathing in all the debris and fumes have been slowly dying from various ailments since, mainly lung complaints and a number of types of cancer.

We were told that the official view was that the 2nd tower was safe and people were told to return to their workplaces and those evacuating the building actually turned round and went back, probably to their death.

One story of a window cleaner and others trapped in an express lift between floors was one of many. But this was particularly striking. Between them they managed to use his squeegee to force open the elevator doors, only to find they were faced by a wall. But this was a screen wall and they started to chip away at it with the squeegee and their hands and fists. Eventually, they dug out a hole big enough to get out. They managed to make their way down the only safe staircase (which is pictured here) and survived.

If, Dear Readers, you get the opportunity to come here to New York, that tour is an absolute must. Book it online!


Every day, a yellow rose is placed on the tile of those whose birthday it is

When we emerged, emotionally wrung out, it had stopped raining, which cheered us up no end and we found a great place for a good value breakfast. It looked expensive and we almost didn't go in but were glad we did, as a full and very good breakfast was only $8.50. Now that's cheap for Manhattan, let alone Downtown in the Financial District.


Then, with it still dry, we decided to do our customary trip on the Staten Island Ferry. We usually do it at dusk on the day we arrive but, as it was pouring with rain then, we had skipped that.

Of course, by Midday, it was inundated with tourists which seemed to upset some of the locals just trying to get home, or to work. But these boats are big enough to swallow up huge crowds of people. And we got some great views from the rear boarding deck. We had to get off and join the crowds waiting to come back, but it was all very civilised and quick. For a change, rather than go with the crowds to watch Lower Manhattan appear, we stayed at the back and watched the unusual view of Staten Is, Jersey and the Verrazano Bridge fade into the mist. We saw Queen Mary 2 tied up in the docks of Brooklyn. We're sure that passengers, who would have been told their destination was New York, would have been disappointed that they had not tied up on Manhattan like the QE2 used to.


Phew! What next? The Metropolitan Museum. A subway to Upper Eastside where posh people, and even posher dogs, dwell. Snooty concierges smoke outside the smart entrances to the billionaire-owned apartments. As we approach the Met, we see lines of tour buses and hoards of tourists which nearly drove us away again. But we persisted and quickly paid our $25 dollar, each, entrance fee and wandered away from the crowds to be amazed at the range of exhibits. We saw rows of Rodins, walls of Hoppers and others of his ilk, clutches of Faberge eggs, and battalions of pre-historic treasures, scary tribal masks and Graeco-Roman statues and artefacts.


By now we were beginning to flag so we asked Google Maps (without which our time here would have been much more difficult) to find us somewhere for dinner, and took a cross-town bus to an unpretentious diner on 2nd Avenue.

Now, this bus journey leads your chronicler to pause to relate how, on this trip, we have found New Yorkers to be much more friendly and helpful than before. At least, some of them have been. On the subway, Bob had a problem with his MTA card. He'd swiped it a 2nd time and was not let in. John was already through the vicious turnstile. A young lady going out, saw Bob's distress and swiped her card to let him in. Another example: we boarded the bus and looked to swipe our card by the driver, but there was no box to do so. Aah, a new system has come in on some bus lines and you have to swipe the card and take a ticket before boarding the bus. First of all, amazingly, the bus driver advised us what to do and waited patiently while we failed to manage to perform that simple operation. A kind lady, already on the bus, got off and showed us what to do. We all got back on and the smiling driver carried on. All sweetness and light!

In the diner, we got into deep conversation with the waiter who turned out to be Greek and had a house on Cephalonia, an island we had crossed on the way to Ithaca. He had moved with his parents when he was about one year old to New York and spent his whole life here, apart from the odd visit to Cephalonia to visit his family. We were puzzled by this as his accent was so strong that we had huge difficulties understanding him.

And we do hear Spanish conversation everywhere and feel quite at home as a result.


Yesterday we had a light breakfast at the Greasy Spoon next door (aka Bonbonniere, a posh name that just does not fit. It has been a greasy spoon since 1981 and has not changed one iota). We had booked a food tour of the Lower East Side, operated by the Tenement Museum which was set up to demonstrate the lifestyle and conditions that the various waves of immigrants have had to endure. We were led round various establishments, German, Jewish, Italian, Chinese & Hispanic and, at each stop, we were served by one of the two guides a sample of that particular ethnic food, from pretzels, to pickles, to salami, to dumplings, to cheese with something similar to quince jelly, to custard tarts and so on. Our fellow party members included a young guy from Madrid who was a chef and working on Bermuda, a party of Jewish ladies from California who were great fun until one of them tripped and fell quite badly and had to give up the tour, to a family whose son, from Indianapolis, had just graduated...... We were slightly disappointed that we did not enter most of the establishments but, on reflection, that would simply have not been practical.


This Jewish gentleman came up to our group and joined in the conversation about Kosher pickles. I asked him if he was a tailor. "Yes, of course". Well, unbelievably, we spoke to this man outside his shop at least 20 years ago. Unforgettable as he had bright ginger hair (now mostly grey). He had tried to sell us a suit, made to measure.

We returned to our room for a brief siesta, buying sandwiches from a deli on the way. These were for later as, next, we had another highlight of this trip: a concert of Russian music, including Tchaikovsky's 4th, at Carnegie Hall. The young Lithuanian female conductor was brilliant as was the Met Orchestra and after many calls, we were given an encore.


We emerged to the lights of "Broadway", though most of the theatres are scattered throughout the district, and then had great difficulty finding the correct entrance to the subway and the '3 Train'. John asked a large black lady who turned out to be a bag lady. She was most helpful and pointed us in the right direction. No wonder we couldn't find it, as there was only a tiny sign and it looked just like another shop entrance. Another few hundred steps to climb to get up to 7th Avenue and a pleasant walk back to our room on 8th Avenue (oh no, those narrow steps to climb too!) to devour our delicious sandwiches and climb happily in to bed for another episode of our 3rd Paul Temple adventure.


We had nothing specific planned for today but we wanted to explore Brooklyn. After a late-ish breakfast in our Greasy Spoon which was packed to the steamed-up windows, we took the Q train to a random point in Brooklyn near Prospect Park. There we found the barriers still up for the half marathon which had been held earlier. And by the park an interesting "farmers" market. It poured with rain the whole time but we wandered the treelined streets of brownstones and gasped at the prices in "realtors" windows. We had a pleasant coffee in a local coffeeshop and then boarded what turned out to be the wrong bus to get back to a suitable subway station. The windows were steamed up and the bus was full of noisy Haitian kids (yesterday, an area in Flatbush was declared Little Haiti). The map on John's phone eventually showed us that the bus was not going where we wanted to, so we quickly got off, almost at the point where we had started. A short walk found us at the subway station where we took a packed and and uncomfortable 'Q Train' over Manhattan Bridge (what a view) back to 7th Avenue and the 'L Train' back to 8th Avenue, using the elevators at both stations to save at least some of the stairs. (We have yet to get the 'A Train'!)


Spot the "deliberate" mistake

We are now packing for our flight back to Madrid tomorrow (Sunday), which is late afternoon. We booked a car for 2.30 and we have just learned we can keep our room until then as it is not booked for tomorrow night. That is a huge bonus as, otherwise, we would have had to "camp out" in the very small lounge next door. As it is, we can have a good breakfast and wander, possibly to watch the loons at Washington Square, assuming they still perform on Sunday mornings. Bob says it has stopped raining, almost, so we will now go and do a bit more exploring and look for a non-posh place for dinner in nearby Chelsea. There are still plenty of them out there (diners that is....).

Stop press (Sunday):- Just back from a walk to Washington Square where the loons used to gather on a Sunday morning. A noted lack of loons, though there were one or two, but, on the way back, we were pleased to see the Stonewall bar is still going as is the big gay bar opposite. Also quite a sprinkling of regal young men, so all is not lost. Yet!


Posted by Johnash 10:37 Archived in USA

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N.Y on my bucket list, hopefully next year. Should have been this year for my sister's 50th but can't cos of her new job!. I can imagine trade centre being very emotional as just the thought and images make my hairs stand. Such a shame the sun wasn't cracking the sidewalks for you but at least you still managed to get out and about. Have a safe trip back x

by Antonia

Love NY
and hours spent in MOMA

by Fred Monk

You two definitely could be guides for visitors to NYC!! Loved all your descriptions and photos. Have a safe trip home and enjoy starting the planning for 2020!!!

by Linda

You've sure had a lot of amazing different experiences, & covered a great deal of ground (& water) in a few days! Rest easy on your flight across 'the Pond' tonight & safe home tomorrow.

by Ian T.

Thoroughly enjoyed 'revisiting' NY. Thanks for the super photos.

by Annie B

I have loved all your descriptions and pictures of your travels, you have seen so many interesting places, BUT, your description and pictures of the Twin Towers has touched my heart, I remember that day like it was yesterday, and could never go to see it, we watched it go down, that was heart rending enough, but we will always remember the lives lost and the senselessness of it all. Safe journey home guys.xx

by Margaret and Dennis

The trip has flown past for us,don't know about you. Can't work out how you find the time to post those wonderful educational blogs. Louise and family are visiting New York in July we are sure she will be following the latest.

by Brien kessler

Loved reading all about NYC, it's an amazing city and you know it so well. The 9/11 memorial is something we would love to visit. A memorable and to a fantastic trip. Thanks for taking us with you again and safe journey home x

by Sue and Gordon

A fab end - just a shame about the weather. I hadn't appreciated that the 9/11 museum was so large. Fly safe - tired arms!!

by Maggie P

It is a shame that you are coming back so soon as we have thoroughly enjoyed your illuminating descriptions of your trip. It is like reading a good novel where you can't wait to turn the next page. Great pictures and a wonderful way with words. Terrific. See you in October.

by Phil & Catherine

You brought back many memories form a trip to NYC last year especially the 9, 11 Memorial Museum and the feeling you get when visiting.

by Mike Cooke

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