We got to New York on Friday afternoon, flying into La Guardia airport, in Queens. Instead of a cab we opted for a bus and subway to save some money which actually worked out to be a very easy way of getting to where we were staying although there were no lines directly South so we had to go through Manhattan. We picked up a weekly unlimited metro card for $30, a bargain given the amount of travelling around we would do that week. We met Margo at our AirBnB apartment in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, a clearly latino area with taco stands and central/south american football shirts being worn around the place (the World Cup is now on). It’s going to be a good base for the week, close to a subway station, an easy ride into Manhattan and close to what we want to see in Brooklyn. We went out for some sushi for dinner down the road, got caught in a rainstorm (flashbacks to New Orleans) and picked up some breakfast for the next day before turning in for the night. The night was noisy with our street being a real neighbourhood street – music playing, shouting across the street, kids playing outside our windows etc.
Our first morning began with a stroll around the neighbourhood and down to a farmers market which turned out to be little more than a few stalls selling things like kale chips and organic honey. No fruit and veg as we would have thought so we went off to the grocery store again to pick up some stuff for lunches. We are trying to be cheap and do one meal out a day, either lunch or dinner. With a packed lunch made we caught the subway into Manhattan to check out the visitors centre for what we might do here and have lunch in Central Park – an oasis of green in this concrete jungle. We walked to the park through Midtown along 7th Avenue which took us into and through Times Square. It was Saturday and seemed as though everyone was in the Park. The sun was out which clearly encouraged people and looking at a map there aren’t that may green spaces in New York to head to if you want some ‘green-time’. We had lunch reading our tourist leaflets and watching some amateur softball before going for a walk around and checking out various parts of the park. I had arranged to meet Ross, a friend I played 5-a-side football with in Melbourne, that afternoon as England were kicking off their World Cup campaign so later on we caught a bus back down to Midtown and made for the ‘Pig & Whistle’, one of the many British pubs catering to tourists here. We watched England lose against Italy then walked a short distance to Koreatown for, you guessed it, some tasty Korean food. We then called it a night knowing we had a week here to explore.
We had arranged to meet up with Ross and Bec again the next day in Williamsburg for brunch. We caught the subway there and had time to wander around before we met up. Williamsburg is a really nice neighbourhood, with shops and cafes much to our tastes. All the cafes were bursting with people ‘brunching’. We met for brunch at ‘St. Balmain’ which served up a delicious selection of brunch options and coffees. It was so nice to met up with people and have brunch, something we would do in Melbourne but travelling on a budget these things become a luxury. We parted company with Ross and Bec and proceeded on to a flea market by the East River which was mainly clothing and odds and ends but good fun. It was really heating up by this point and it seemed as though everyone in town was out and about enjoying the weather. We wanted to knock over a few things today so after a brief stroll around the market we caught the subway into Manhattan to check out the Highline. This is a section of reclaimed elevated railway track that has been turned into a park. It is a walkway above street-level lined with plants and trees and takes you through 20 or so city blocks. We ‘got on’ in Chelsea after having a look around the Chelsea Market and walked up to Midtown, getting off at 30th Street. Feeling parched and in need of a sit down we headed for a rooftop bar on Fifth Avenue Ross had told us about – ‘230 Fifth’. We had a cocktail each and admired the view of the Empire State Building right in front of us whilst sussing out some dinner options. Italian won the day and we made for the subway back downtown to West Village and a little place called ‘Risottoeria’ which had a full gluten-free menu. It was a day for Kirsty today, starting off with a GF granola at brunch followed by a dairy free ice-cream from a food truck and now a GF grilled panini. Have to say I didn’t do badly either although I did very much eat gluten and enjoy it. West Village seems like a really nice part of town, with the buildings smaller and more closely crammed together. It has a more neighbourhood feel than other areas of Manhatten we have seen. Being a Sunday evening and the sun out people were out and about enjoying themselves. Not quite ready for dinner we checked out Washington Park and a small part of Greenwich Village, which were lovely. There were people playing chess, a jazz band busking and a free movie showing being set up in the Washington Square – a hive of activity. Feeling hungry we then made for dinner, we both had grilled paninis at ‘Risottoeria’ and were not disappointed, very good. By now it was around 8pm and the sun was due to go down at half past. Being relatively close to the Staten Island Ferry we jumped on a bus towards the ferry terminal hopeful to get there in time to watch the sunset as we ‘ferried’ towards Staten Island. We made it and it was the perfect time to go with the sun just going down as we pulled out of Manhattan. Coming back all the lights were twinkling in the night sky. We did the return trip on this free ferry then jumped on the subway once more to head for home.
Day 3 began with some chores and a visit to the laundromat down the road. This being New York there are places to do your laundry everywhere, I don’t think many people actually own a washing machine here. With this and breakfast out of the way we caught the subway to Park Slopes, an upmarket area of Brooklyn with brownstone houses and parks. The houses are definitely larger here and there is a sense of wealth with wide tree lined streets and lots of pram-pushing nannies around the park. The park here is Prospect Park and we think actually nicer than Central Park in that it’s quieter, has larger green spaces and denser wooded areas. It feels more like a country park than a city park. We walked through the park and found a spot to have our packed lunch by a boating pond (no boats though). Once through the park we thought we’d go to the Brooklyn Museum but alas it is shut on Mondays so instead we walked down Franklin Street to check out some vintage stores but not before a coffee and free wifi stop. Franklin Street is a street lined with cafes, bars and shops, all seemingly to our tastes so we enjoyed this street and Kirsty added some dresses to her wardrobe in ‘Rosebud Vintage’. Walking around this area, Crown Heights, we stopped in at a gluten-free bakery for a cup-cake and muffin before jumping back on the subway and heading towards Brooklyn Bridge. It was afternoon by this point and we thought just a quick stroll across the bridge then subway back to our abode in Bushwick for a home-cooked meal. Well, it was rush hourly by this point so the bridge was full of tourists and commuters making their way either East-West or West-East. The walkway across the bridge is elevated and you could see the traffic jammed up below. You get amazing views over Manhattan from the bridge and up the East River seeing the other spans across the water. Kirsty got a bit excited when she saw a Collingwood (AFL) player on the bridge and slapped what she thought was me on the shoulder to tell me only to realise it was a total stranger. The slap did have some force but the random guy was nice enough to shrug it off. We went home via the grocery store so we could create another cheap pasta meal at home to keep the budget within reason.
We were up at the crack of dawn (almost) today to try and get some tickets for a Broadway show. They keep around 30 tickets back for some shows which you can line up for on the day of the show. We got there around 8am and waited at the head of the queue until 10am when the box office opened. We got our tickets for ‘Pippin’, winner of the Tony for best musical in 2013, and went on our way. We went for a wander down Fifth Avenue, home to all the luxury brands and also one of the busier streets in NYC. Walking down this street we saw the New York Library, before ending up at Madison Square Park for a breather. We were after somewhere to sit on the grass and eat our leftover pasta lunch but there was no space here so we headed a bit further South for Washington Square where we found a patch to lie down and nibble on some pasta. We had booked a free walking tour in the afternoon of ‘alternative New York’ which took us through the East Village and into the Lower East Side. The tour was about music, riots, immigration and ethnic enclaves in this area of New York and it was fascinating. The guide had a great knowledge of the city and we learned about the punk movement, local artists and the way the areas have changed over the years from a ghetto where the police wouldn’t go into to a highly desirable area. These free tours are only free if you think the guide didn’t deserve any money. They make there money on tips and generally you would pay $20 for a paid tour. So, you can do these tours for around half the price and everyone is still happy. On the tour I spied somewhere with an oyster happy hour 5-7pm so once the tour was done we made our way back to the ‘Summit Bar’ in the Lower East Side after a quick drink at ‘Bar Virage’ to get out of the heat. Summit Bar was a lovely bar with half a dozen oysters for $7.50 (I left these to Kirsty) and cocktails for $6 so we stayed there for one before having the rest of our pasta for dinner in Tompkins Square Park, a place 20 years ago where you would not have gone for fear of stabbing of worse. Full and a bit bored of pasta we then made for our showing of Pippin. Our seats were right at the front, with a partially restricted view but at around 20% the cost of full price tickets we were fine with this! We could still see 95% of the action and of course could hear the actors singing. Being at the front meant that we were often those that they made eye contact with which got a little awkward at times. I think Kirsty got spat on by a boisterous singer at one point. We loved the show, without going into the storyline it’s a musical with acrobatics which has singing, dancing, circus acts and comedy. Not quite ready for home, we had a nightcap at the ‘Pig & Whistle’ before catching the subway back to our abode in Brooklyn.
We somewhat overpacked for this trip so after some decisions we both had some stuff to jettison and send back to UK where it would wait for us. So, we started the day at the Post Office and a very helpful lady who advised us on how best to do this and we left $100 poorer and with a cheese-steak recommendation for Philadelphia. There are so many wonderful museums and galleries here but on a budget we couldn’t afford them all, or 3 even (the big ones cost $25 each. We opted to go to MOMA today (Museum of Modern Art) and glad we did. The price tag of $25 did seem a little steep and to be honest still does after seeing it but their collection is astounding. What they have enables them to chart the progress of modern and contemporary art from the early 1900’s to modern day. All the big names were displayed there and perhaps their most famous piece, ‘Starry Night’ by Van Gogh was proudly on display and attracted the biggest crowd. For lunch Kirsty had read about a place in Chinatown that had a gluten-free menu so we headed there for some dim sum. ‘Nom Wah’ came through with the goods and we left rather full finding our way back to Broadway to enter a couple of lotteries for shows that night. This is the other cheap way to get tickets. Some shows will give you the chance to put your name into a hat which they then take around 20 names out of to buy tickets for under $40 (list price is over $150 generally). We tried our luck at ‘Book of Mormon’ and a new one called ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ but failed on both occasions. There were around 100 for ‘Mormon’ and at ‘Hedwig’ there would have been maybe 200 people so low odds but worth the time and effort. We thought we might do the same tomorrow. We hadn’t seen much of Greenwich Village so we then decided to head there for a drink at one of the many Happy Hours (these seem to be all over town and last most of the day, until 7/8pm). We found a nice place called ‘Sweetwater Social’ and had a couple of drinks before heading to ‘Bareburger’ where Kirsty could get her gluten-free burger fix. I had some chips and deep-fried pickles; a couple of snacks, as we were meeting Ross and Bec that night at a bar that did chicken wings. ‘Bareburger’ was good, a small chain of burger restaurants that cater for all kinds of allergies and sensitivities (vegan, lactose, gluten etc.). That night we met up with Ross and Bec for a few drinks at ‘Bar 515’ along Third Avenue and sampled some New York style chicken wings (10 for $2.50). Couldn’t believe how cheap they were and good too. It’s been so nice to have people to meet up with for a drink and chat in this city.
We decided to explore around Greenwich Village and Soho today and set off on the subway for this area. It was cooler today which helped our walking around. We explored Noho, Soho (North and South of Houston respectively), Greenwich Village, East and West Village and Nolita (North of little Italy, I think). The streets around here are nice for wandering, kind of similar I thought to Covent Garden and Soho in London with cobbled streets, trees, cafes, restaurants, boutique shops and bars. We spent a few hours walking around, sampling some bacon chocolate on the way (yes, that’s right!). It was good and gave me an idea of my own for when we return (bacon dipped chocolate). Just writing his down so I remember when I get to the UK, I’m sure anyone reading these will think I’m mad. There is a New York speciality that I was dubious of as it is only a sandwich but I sampled one anyway – a Reuben sandwich (basically, hot corned beef, sauerkraut, cheese and pickle mayonnaise on rye bread). I had one at ‘Katz’s Delicatessan’ and it was delicious – so glad Kirsty made me try one. On the way into the Deli you get a ticket which you aren’t allowed out without. You order and eat your sandwich then line up to pay with your marked ticket and exit. A novel response to a busy lunch rush but it seems for work well. With my sandwich success out of the way we wandered some more and ended up at a pizzeria called ‘Keste Pizza’ for Kirsty’s lunch. I had my sandwich earlier and she had her sights set on a gluten-free pizza. I tried a bit and it was good, the best answer to a traditional base I have sampled in my limited GF experience. We then made for Broadway and the two lotteries we tried the other day – ‘Book of Mormon’ and ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’. Beforehand we watched the England-Uruguay game in a pub and watched England effectively get knocked out of the World Cup. This was followed by not winning in the two lotteries so you could say it was an unsuccessful afternoon but expectantly so. With one last evening in New York we set off for the Lower East Side where we had found a bar (’Summit Bar’) the other day with a decent happy hour cocktail list and half price oysters so we had a couple of cocktails each and Kirsty slurped down a dozen oysters for a low low price of $30 all up. They do an awesome cocktail there called a ‘John Lee Hooker’ – Bourbon, Scotch, Orange Bitters and Beer – this was my favourite, Not really hungry enough for dinner we just ate some of Kirsty’s leftover pizza in Tompkins Square Park which our tour took us through the other day and then found a dairy and gluten-free ice-cream place for a sundae and an egg-cream. An egg-cream is a classic Jewish New York drink and consists of milk (soy in this case), chocolate sauce and soda water all mixed together. It sounds disgusting but is actually very good and worth the risk to try one. On the way home I got a 99 cent slice of pizza to round off our day of food sampling in New York.