Travel diary: USA 2011


I have been toying with how to combine the photos I took whilst on holiday with the memoirs scribbled in a travel diary – then voila – I remembered the blog I have. The right place to start is the beginning – leaving Australia on a coldish Saturday morning in Sydney’s spring, bound for L.A.. But the places and experiences fresh in my mind were from the last week – spent living it up in New York. So backwards I will write.

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There is not one word I could ever rely on to fully describe New York – the things people tell you to expect are amplified by being there and finally experiencing first hand a town that dances to many different beats. Continuously.
I arrived into NY from Vermont after a short delay – meaning we landed at night-time rather than late afternoon. Stepping outside those airport doors I could feel the city thrum. At first a shock to the senses, as sounds and lights dazzle but you are quickly enticed into a world which will leave you changed forever.

Lucky me had found a cheap (by NY standards!) place to stay with someone in lower midtown (via airbnb.com) – in between the Empire State Building and Grand Central Station. The kind of place that I thought NY was all about – tall brick apartment blocks, smiling doormen (they would surely have some secret gossip to tell!!) and old slow lifts. What I got was just perfect – even had my own balcony and view over the busy street scape below.

37th Street looking west across Manhattan
Park Ave on a rainy morning

Even a view of the Empire State Building from my bedroom!

I had a full six days to pack as much of New York in as I could – and I was determined to check a few tourist things off my list (Empire State Building, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge etc.) as well as dig up a few surprises too. But probably the one thing that I did not expect to find (perhaps my ignorance shows here) was food – amazing food. I believe one email I sent back home at the time was titled “if only writing burnt calories…”; the challenge was not to stop at every single enticing store, street vendor or restaurant I passed before lunchtime came.
I have quite a few foody highlights (the few extra kilos I bought home were worth every bite!), sadly though my camera did not attend most of them! So, here in my recount words will have to be suffice to capture the memory.

Coffee seemed to be a mission some days – I mean, there’s coffee on every street corner but some of it tastes like dirt mixed with drain water. I am a little bit of a coffee snob (proper espresso shot latte thanks, none of this percolator rubbish!), so when my guide book mentioned “voted the best coffee in Manhattan” I was there. 71 Irving St Coffee and Tea Bar didn’t disappointΒ  – a basement cafe tucked away in downtown (near Union Square), open early and serving delicious coffee, breakfasts and bakes goods enough to get you going in the early morning. The croissant I had was just the right combination of flaki-ness and buttery indulgence…I think after this trip I will have to expand my foodie palate and visit France for a “proper” education in baked goods.
I even hiked 15 blocks along Broadway from Central Park one afternoon in search of a little shop highly rated – but couldn’t find it! Turns out it had moved, but I did find the best choc-chip cookies – fresh and still warm from the oven – so the trip was not a total disappointment.
I accidentally located the offices of Bluebottle Coffee Co. hiding away in the Rockefeller Centre – a these guys provided my coffee highlight from San Francisco – but could not locate where they actually sold their brew…turns out you need to head to Brooklyn and (summertime) downtown for your caffeine hit from these guys, which I highly rate.

Another coffee highlight was Le Pain Quotidien – it was my refuge on a rainy afternoon as I was scampering across Central Park from The Met to Broadway. I was expecting mediocre (a bakery chain…always hit or miss) but pleasantly excited as the staff were friendly – OK maybe a little happy to finally see a customer – and served up delicious hot coffee to go with my chia muffin.
To be honest, good coffee experiences were hard work finding – unless you were flush with inside information on where to head or eons of time to sample, sample, sample some more. I was excited to head into Think Coffee on Bleecker St – an excellent barrister in Vermont has worked here for some time and it came with a few recommendations – but alas, I obviously caught an ‘off’ day (or something). They were slow with takeaways, forgot my order and the milk was too hot to help the coffee sing. Oh well, you live and learn!
The last decent cup of brew I had in New York was a complete surprise – my final day I literally stumbled into Grounded in West Village, arms laden with shopping. It had just what you need for a late afternoon pick-me-up, with inviting decor, friendly staff and a big selection of organic and/or fair trade beverages available. Yep, gets my tick of approval.

But it wasn’t all about coffee all the time – I did leave the search for caffeine behind occasionally! The first full day exploring NY I got a little teeny bit lost (it didn’t get any better – I got on the subway the next day bound for downtown Manhattan, got off halfway to Coney Island!!) but a got type of getting lost – I have coined it the “productive” type…you kind of have a sense of where you are headed for one thing, and end up doing about 5 other things on the way!
But I got lost and found Chelsea – an artsy area full of galleries, up-market boutique shops and the glorious Chelsea Markets (the closest thing I could liken it to would be South Melbourne’s markets) fresh markets that have a more cultured, up-market appeal. There were more cupcakes than carrots, cuts of meat I have never seen, home-brew kits and all the spices you could ever want or need. You can grab something for lunch and sit down to admire the action or the art and history of the space (originally the Oreo Factory). I did sample Amy’s Bread (the first of two visits) for lunch – a delicious mini-baguet filled with fresh bocconcini, basil and tomato, before finishing with a cherry-soda scone!
Near Chelsea markets is the High Line – the ultimate in urban regeneration/renewal. A disused train line converted in 2006 into green space and pedestrian walkway that keeps you off the streets and gives you better views of the Manhattan world. Also good for people watching, especially on a sunny, late summer-feel afternoon.


Green oasis…

The newest section open near 30st – and the next piece to be “beautified”

Cross-town view up above the mayhem!

The quirkiness of NY came to meet me then – in two separate incidents. I inadvertently walked down the wrong street and got sucked into cartoon mania – turns out there was a three-day comic fest in progress. I felt out of place as I wasn’t under the age of 18, or wearing any face paint, glasses, costume or carrying (x) comic book! So I got out of there….as quick as I could.
The second bizarre one was as I meandered along Bleecher St perusing shops, restaurants, bakeries etc. At one stage I was surrounded by pink-wearing Lycra clad women marching for breast cancer awareness, then on the other side of the street was the “Occupy Wall St” march on it’s way to Times Square (with full police escort and marching band!!). Certainly not a quiet Saturday afternoon in East Village!

Bleecher St. East Village. Awesome!
Even the Lycra Avon ladies walking to raise money for breast cancer got a police escort!

Seriously, I think the number of police was unbelievable!

Wall St march

Markets at Union Square, not a bad start to the weekend…
Ended up here just about every day – shops, food, markets and central to everything else (oh, and my subway line)
Seriously, could lose a few hours in this area….

One of the many memorials for 9/11…quite moving

Chinatown vibe just next door to culture and cafes of East Village

Chinatown merges with Little Italy – talk about culture clash! But it works….

A quiet Grand Central Station – I was here before 9am on a Saturday; I take it everyone else is still asleep!

Looking a little more alive late in the day – the photos don’t do justice to the amazing grandeur of the ceiling especially at night, when the “stars” sparkle!

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