30 Nations to United Nations

Trip Start May 28, 2006
1
162
Trip End May 17, 2007


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Flag of United States  , New York
Monday, May 14, 2007

We'd had to get to the airport in Guayaquil early in the morning and so by the time we'd spent several hours kicking our heels in Florida and then taking the onward flight to JFK, it was getting pretty late. We'd decided to take the train into Manhattan and arrived in Grand Central Station just as the heavens opened - so we were expecting to have to wait forever for a cab, but we walked a few hundred metres away from the crowds and managed to catch one straight away.

We got the driver to take us down to West 10th Street to the appartment we'd be living in for the last few days of our trip. Bonnie, our host, was hanging out of the window as we pulled up and legged it down the stairs to help us with our bags. For the five or so days we were in the Big Apple we were going to live like true New Yorkers thanks to Bonnie, a long standing family friend, who'd given us the use of her Greenwich Village studio as a wedding present. We climbed the three flights and got shown around our new home, before heading out to the 24 hour diner around the corner for some much needed midnight supper.

We had a lovely lie in the next day and only made it out to meet up with our university friend Hamish who's now working in the city. He walked across from his appartment on Hudson and Spring and we walked down the street to catch up with Bonnie at her bookshop. She runs a secondhand cookbook store and so like a good foodie she recommended a fantastic Italian place for brunch nearby. We were lucky enough to get a table for three without having to wait for ages and tucked into eggs benedict and perfectly cooked steak.

As the weather was so nice after we'd eaten we took a walk - first we ticked off some household chores for Hamish and then we strolled up to his appartment. I was already in love with New York again, but visiting our friend's flat was enough to confrm that I would love to live out here if we get an opportunity in the future. His place was really nice, but after a cool drink we set out to walk along the Hudson down to the tip of Manhattan. We stopped for a drink or two as the sun was setting and then hunted down a Japanese restaurant for the best sushi since Japan in November.

Bonnie sets her own hours in the shop and so when she offered to take us on a culinary tour of the Lower East Side on her day off on Monday we couldn't believe our luck. Suitably warned by my mum and sister who took the tour in January, Jim and I didn't eat too much breakfast before we met up as we wanted to be able to sample all the delights along the way.

As I write this the tour is not available commercially, but it really ought to be. Bonnie's family is New Jersey Jewish and the culinary heritage her parents and community bequeathed her is extraordinary. Our first stop was Yonah Schimmel's Knishes bakery on East Houston. These things are yummy - like kosher cheese and onion pasties, but quite dense so we just shared the one between us.

From there we moved onto Russ & Daughters - a beautiful deli a few doors along. We sampled some wonderful smoked fish (that reminds Bonnie of her childhood) and browsed the shelves as Bonnie filled the shop owners in on our amazing trip. The next stop was very welcome although maybe a little out of place - Il Laboratorio de Gelato. The chilli chocolate flavour was stunning, the delayed kick was incredible, although it did overshadow some of the tamer flavours.

So after ice-cream what would you choose to eat next? Pickles of course! Just along Orchard Street in the heart of the old garment district we came across Guss's Pickles. I'm not sure whether Guss was the man we met or not, but he and his mum were what you think of as typical New Yorkers - chatty and a bit cheeky. We bought several different types of gerkhins and some pickled tomatoes. We also got chatting to a couple of other out-of-towners - a couple on holiday from Florida, who couldn't believe that Bonnie was a local - they said she was far too friendly to live in Manhattan!

So now our culinary tour is beginning to sound a bit like a pregnant woman's list of cravings, but don't worry it doesn't stop here. After the pickles our next two stops were for baked goods - bialys (like denser biegels, without the holes in them) at Kossar's Bakery on Grand and mohn (poppy seed) cakes and other delicacies on Grand and Broadway. By this stage we were inevitably feeling quite full so we browsed through the stalls in the Essex Street covered market, only stopping to buy cheese. We still haven't had enough of that after our prolonged stay in Asia - the greasy tasteless stuff they try and pass off as cheese in south America is really no substitute!

Our last stop on the tour was at a place that Bonnie has only recently rediscovered - she used to be brought to the Economy Candy store on Rivington as a child, but had no idea where it was, until she stumbled across it while out walking with a friend. This place is amazing - somewhere Willy Wonka woud feel right at home. I went crazy filling a little basket with everything from licorice to chewing gum and even a cool old-skool t-shirt. After all this walking and eating we decided we needed a sit down so we found a small Italian place in the middle of China Town for a well deserved drink.

Now it may surprise you, but after all that eating we still decided to meet Bonnie for dinner that evening. After she'd taken Floppy for a walk and we'd dumped all the goodies and freshened up, we went for food in a nice Asian fusion restaurant near her shop. It was lovely and relaxing hanging out in her neighbourhood and so nice wandering back to the appartment very full and slightly tipsy.

We've visited New York a couple of times before, so on Tuesday we decided to prioritise taking advantage of the weak dollar and to do some shopping instead of sightseeing. I had a wonderful time in the bargin store Century 21, although I'm not sure it was Jim's idea of heaven. We also made stops at Macy's (definitely rates above Bloomingdale's for customer service in our book), Gap, H&M and the Apple Store - we had fun shopping although it was difficult to restock our wardrobes after a year - I mean we've been living in sturdy shoes and combats for 12 months, it's difficult to imagine having anything else to choose from.

Despite all the shopping, we had quite a leisurely day, but we did have to race to get back to the appartment and change into our new outfits, before meeting some more friends for dinner. It's hard to believe that our university friend Anna, and her husband Mark, have been in the Big Apple for over two and a half years now. While we've managed to catch up on a couple of occasions back in Blighty, we were looking forward to chatting over dinner.

We met in Mid Town and Anna took us to a very cool cocktail bar, hidden above a Korean restaurant. The sort of place you see in Sex and The City, but could never find without a local (rather like when we visited the now-famous APT in the Meat Packing district several years ago with our friend Gus, it was so cool then that even he wasn't sure we were in the right apartment block when we rang the bell!). After some alcoholic refreshments and hearing all about Mark's plans to resign from his job the following day so they can both move back to London (yippee!), we walked the short distance to the restaurant. Again we enjoyed some great food and crawled into bed quite happily after walking the short distance back to West 10th Street.

Wednesday was our final day in the city and the last full day of our year long trip! It's difficult to come to terms with it being over so imminently and inevitably we both feel as if we could have spent far longer here - and longer on the road altogether. Over the course of our travels we passed through 30 countries (ok so we're counting North Korea here too, even though we only technically stepped into the country for a few minutes in the negoiation room of the joint UN / North Korean administered Demilitarised Zone!) and so where better to end our trip than at the United Nations?

We didn't even know you could visit the UN until someone suggested that we might like to try and recreate scenes from the film The Interpreter with Nicole Kidman. So we made our way up town and joined the queues of school children for security. While we were waiting to buy our tickets we got chatting to a postman from Brooklyn who was entranced by our travels. His incredulity about some of the places we visited was further enhanced by the temporary photo exhibition on display in the lobby. The nearest montage was made of pictures of Turkmenistan - we told him we'd been there and you could almost see his mind working on how much it would cost to send a postcard there.

The tour was interesting and we got to see a few of the committee rooms, have our picture taken in the main conference hall and ogle a few of the presents awarded from different countries around the world, including a particularly un-PC large ivory carving from China (apparently that was given before the trade ban). After having a look around we went down to the basement and sent some postcards with special UN stamps from the special United Nations post office.

Our final touristy-thing in New York was a trip to the Top of the Rock. We've climbed the Empire State building before and Jim visited the Twin Towers, but neither of us had climbed the newly refurbished Rockerfeller Centre. It was quite a cool experience - you walk through an area with lots of history of the building - newspaper cuttings give the context of the Wall Street crash - and we posed for a mock-up of that famous black and white photo of workmen eating their lunch precariously balanced on a steel gurder hundreds of metres above street level.

Then we got in the lift - as soon as the doors closed we were treated to an audio visual history of the Radio City Musical Hall which was housed in the tower when it opened. The views when we reached the top were great, although the glass visors and art deco style pillars made photographs quite difficult. one thing we could see clearly was the Empire State building - really stunning. Another thing that was beginning to become clear was that a storm was brewing on the horizon.

We grabbed some lunch and then walked across to Anna and Mark's appartment for a cup of tea. Their place is a two bedroom penthouse half way up Central Park, with great views of the Hudson River. We also had great views of the storm - we abandoned the idea of a walk through the park and stayed put and had a cuppa instead. When the rain finally eased off the three of us (Mark was still in work, trying to resign!) ventured out as we still had a few more things to buy.

We swung by Macy's and Anna gave me the thumbs up on a dress I'd be undecided about and then she took us to the runners' shop Jack Rabbit. We both wanted new trainers and much to everyone's amusement we tried some on and ran on the treadmill - I pretty much knew what I wanted, but Jim was horrified to find that he doesn't look as good jogging as he thought he did!

We waved goodbye to Anna outside the shop and had to sprint back to the appartment - we were late for our final dinner with Bonnie. We picked her up at the shop and wandered along to a Mexican restaurant nearby. We had a lovely meal, but we were both aware that the taxi was going to arrive very early the next morning, so we really needed to get back and try to squeeze all our new purchases into our backpacks. We said a fond farewell to Bonnie and Floppy and walked back to the apartment for the last time. Tonight was our last night in a foreign country!
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