As I write, I am in Miami for 3 days, and apologise I’m so far behind with my posts – the thrill of New York was just too too much for me to spend a lot of time online. (Sorry, Babe!)
I can report, though, that Dubai Airport is like the love child between a transport hub and Times Square and (think: huge neon signs and bodies everywhere). After my usual shower in the airport lounge to stay fresh, it was off to New York. The joy of Emirates Business Class includes a fancy transfer at either end, and at JFK I stepped into a Lincoln Town Car with mini water bottles for the very quick drive into Manhattan. In a modern miracle, I arrived in the West Village a mere 1 hour 20 mins after the plane touched down and the Homeland Security guy didn’t ask a single question about my visit to Iran. Next time, it’s Cuba!
After a coffee with the owner of my hotel, I was off to The Place for breakfast and one of the best coffees in Manhattan (not surprisingly the manager is Australian). As an aside, I once contributed to a newspaper a full page and a half of tips for travellers to New York, only to have the only one being picked up to be this comment on how coffees in Manhattan are notoriously crap – see here. It caused a huge online reaction, with all these people saying “Noooo don’t go to Starbucks, there IS good coffee in New York, and then they proceed to name a couple of obscure places, which just proved my point. Although New York coffee has a long, long way to go, it IS improving.
At lunchtime, it was a jaunt up to Central Park for a hot dog with Joc and a relax before some speed shopping at Bloomingdales. Here’s something most people don’t know: Central Park is totally man-made (ie landscaped). There used to be buildings (mainly for the lower classes and immigrants) and swamps there before the decision to create a park erupted, and the rises, falls, water, bridges, everything are all laid out exactly as planned. It is truly a masterpiece of epic proportion.
Once I thought about what I needed to do in New York, it wasn’t long before I figured out my time would need to be managed to within an inch of its life: between the clothes shopping (Bloomingdales with some extras at Macy’s), shoe shopping (Soho), gadgets (iPod speakers at Macy’s), sneakers (Times Square), and a gruelling round of some of New York’s best restaurants, this would require some serious discipline. But I was up to it.
I had to fit in dinners at old favourites Gramercy Tavern and The Union Square Cafe and – my new favourite – Daniel (on the same day as we dined there, it was announced as the 8th best restaurant in the world with a bullet), a glorious 8 course sensation with the most impeccable service I’d ever enjoyed. If you want to know about great service, in this place if you drop your napkin, before you even realise it’s on the ground, a guy will be passing you a fresh napkin with tongs from a silver platter. Or when you ask where the bathroom is, they want to escort you there themselves (I dashed there alone after getting directions; even I felt a personal escort was a tad much). Or when they place the plates onto the table, one waiter per plate, who then look at each other and, with a flourish, simultaneously swoop it down onto the table. Imagine the rehearsals for all that!
I resisted the “touristy” stuff (I am waay too much of a local to hit the Empire State (Top of the Rock is much less crowded with great views) or the Statue of Liberty (if you really need close photos, take the free Staten Island Ferry right past the statue) but did go all the way up to Cloisters up around 180th street (we are talking nearly the top of Manhattan here) with Joc in a fancy black car. Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum, holding the museum’s medieval collection, but most interestingly it’s all displayed in a gorgeous old castle-like building with great gardens and views of the Hudson River. We had the car for 3 hours so spent the rest of the time just driving around, checking out New York’s lively streets, something I love doing.
I was too lazy to organise myself Broadway tickets, even though Denzel Washington is there right now, plus Kristen Chenoweth, who you would know if you arlove either Wicked (she was the original Glinda, and appears on the cast album) or The West Wing fan (she’s the hilarious pixie-like press adviser who falls in love with Leo McGarry right before both he and the actor playing him die) or are otherwise a Broadway addict.
My new favourite thing about New York is “my neighbourhood”: the West Village. I stay on the same street that Anna Wintour of Vogue /Devil Wears Prada fame (and spotted her dashing from her house to her car in January this year), and just a block or 2 from Sarah-Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. The West Village is a magical, stylish yet homey, antidote to New York’s frenzied pace, although it’s only a few subway stops from the frenetic Times Square, mid town or Lower Manhattan. Full to the brim with charming brownstones, lovely restaurants and fashion shops, to me it’s what New York is all about. Its only flaw is being so far from Central Park, the breathtaking heart of the city.
It’s essentially the West part of Greenwich Village, with such classics as the Whitehorse Tavern (where, among other things that you can read about here, Dylan Thomas downed his last drink before heading home to cark it), the trendy Meatpacking District, and the wonderful Chelsea Market on 9th Avenue at 15th Street, where you can get the gorgeous semolina, sultana and fennel bread from Amy’s Breads plus your fill of other tasty gourmet treats or meals.
I like to wander around and pretend I’m a local (which entails breezing past the famous Magnolia Bakery – of Sex & the City cupcake fame – treating it like the tourist stop it is), and knowing all the nifty local places to go, like the great and inexpensive Middle Eastern restaurant, Moustache, on Bedford Street. For some too cool for school jazz, head to the Village Vanguard on 7th Avenue, and if it’s some home-based entertainment you’re after, The Pleasure Chest is just a few doors away.
If you think I ADOOOOORRRRE New York, you are dead right. Always have (well, ever since I was 15 when I became obsessed with the place, which at my age is pretty much always), and always will.
The funniest experience was when I ventured to the West Village Post Office, famous amongst locals for its bizarre and terrible service, although the locals love it anyhow. The place is, I am certain, staffed by the US Postal Service rejects and misfits. First, I had my mandatory celeb sighting when Sandra Bernhart walked in. I haven’t liked her stage persona, but she was all charm and good humour at the post office, so I’m happy to change my opinion of her. I had a pile of clothes (mine and some newly purchased Baby Gap stuff for my upcoming nephew, due in September), boots, books, a beautiful inlaid chess board that I bought in Iran and some other general stuff. It began with the negotiation with the dude behind the counter to work out what size boxes I needed. Luckily I didn’t need to buy tape, as they provide “Priority” tape (did you know there’s no sea mail anymore, so I had to send it Priority? At least it arrives within 7-10 days). As I was packing up the boxes, a woman behind the counter calls out to me “Don’t leave that tape there!” Huh?? I was still using it: “Do you mean when I’m finished?” “Yes, don’t you leave that tape there.” OK, lady, settle down.
When it came to the customs form, the big question was: what will the return address be? Made no sense to use a US address, so I asked Tape Lady what I should do, and she says to put my Aussie address down. Three long customs forms and three boxes and three labels later, I line up again with my guy and he starts to process them. No doubt you’ve already guessed that he informs me that the return address needs to be in the US, right? I explain that Tape Lady gave me these instructions and he shakes his head. Midway through his sloooooow processing, Joc calls and she’s in Chinatown at our appointed lunch venue. I tell the guy I have a friend waiting. He says “Please step out of the line while you re-complete the forms so I can serve other people”. No way, buddy. I tell him that I am going to complete the forms and pass them to him one by one and, not wanting to physically move me, he gives in.
A full hour after I arrive there, the job is done, but not before Tape Lady yells “Did you return that tape?”.