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Our first time New York and Washington DC

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May 11th, 2012, 12:57 PM
  #1
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Our first time New York and Washington DC

I have recently returned from my first trip to the USA, a week each in New York and Washington. My sincere thanks for all the advice I received from members of the Fodor’s community.

It was a trip to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We had a fabulous time in both cities. We pretty much did just touristy things, so there is very little new or insightful in what follows.

A brief summary:

Flew into JFK with BA, It took about 80 minutes to get through customs and border control, but nowhere near as difficult or confrontational as I had feared.

We took a taxi to the Upper East Side which was an experience (sudden lane changes, seemingly random selection of roads, systematic horn abuse, cutting through quite neighbourhoods to avoid congestion - probably all normal cabbie behaviour, but made me glad I wasn't having to drive)

We arrived in glorious weather, dropped off bags and set off to orientate ourselves. After a short walk we got to Central Park and found it so marvellous we just walked around for the next couple of hours until dusk.

I cannot emphasize how much I enjoyed the park, throughout our visit. I just loved the varied nature of different parts of the park, and that there seems something interesting around every corner. The Saturday evening because of the beautiful weather seemed really busy - hundreds of picnics, ballgames, family outings etc. happening everywhere.

As it approached 9pm, the 5 hour time difference started to take effect, and we didn't feel like finding a restaurant, so we got a takeaway pizza (indifferent) and some beer, and ate back at the apartment.
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May 11th, 2012, 01:03 PM
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Looking forward to reading your report. Yes, JFK is a nightmare to come thru customs. We try to avoid it whenever possible. And yes, crazy taxi drivers in NYC. They can give me a headache with all the jerky driving and lane changing. Glad u loved Central Park -- its an oasis in all the hecticness of the city itself.
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May 11th, 2012, 01:08 PM
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Sunday it rained fairly heavily, we walked up as far as 86th street, then through central park walking the wrong way round the reservoir (sorry - didn't see the signs until late) and puzzling how to cross one of the roads when it seemed there was a constant stream of runners , 20 abreast because of some sort of fun run.

We ended up eating brunch at Tarallucci E Vino which we enjoyed, particularly watching the families of seemingly every colour and nationality coming in for coffee and cake. On Leaving, I managed to inadvertantly upset my first New Yorker by attempting to take a photograph of a pretty dog tied up against a lamppost. This drew angry shouts and I was told off.

We carried on, meandering until we reached Lincoln Square then via Broadway down and across to Bryant Park. It was not that we planned on a long walk in the rain, just that everything was all so interesting. We stopped for a quick lunchtime drink in a nearby bar/restaurant while waiting for the library to open.

The children’s library was a surprise for my beloved who has always loved the work of AA Milne. We only stayed for about 10 minutes, but that was plenty to see the original Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and other toys that belonged to Christopher Robin. We then spent about an hour exploring the main library – a very impressive building.

Onwards to Grand Central Station which was another iconic building which we spent some time exploring, until the walking and previous days travel caught up with us. Tired, we bought our weekly travel passes, and took the subway back up to the UES.

Monday, we spent most of the day in the American Museum of Natural History, and I cannot praise it highly enough. If I lived anywhere within a couple of hours I would have signed up for membership, and could willingly have come back several times during our stay as there was just so much to see. I would go as far as to say this is the greatest museum I have ever visited.

There is only so much an average brain can take in, so we slipped out of the museum at lunchtime, buying soup from Soup stop, and eating in central park. We returned to the museum for another couple of hours before mental exhaustion set in.

Needing to do something without need of mental exertion, we decided to catch the subway down to Brooklyn, and walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge. This proved fun, although I managed to get us a little lost on the way and doubled back on myself several times before finding the pedestrian entrance.

It was quite dark, blustery and overcast but the walk was enjoyable, and the views very good. We walked back up from the bridge, through parts of China Town and Little Italy.

That night we ate at Vermicelli. It is difficult to make a comparison as this is the first time I have eaten Vietnamese food. We were impressed. The food was very tasty, and the waiter was particularly helpful, taking the time to explain to tourists who were obviously confused.
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May 11th, 2012, 06:28 PM
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Thanks for posting, we are headed to NYC and Washington DC later in the year so this is really interesting for me.

Keep up the good work, it's enjoyable reading.
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May 11th, 2012, 08:29 PM
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Enjoying your report! Looking forward to more...
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May 12th, 2012, 06:30 AM
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Hi willit,

I'm still thankful for your advice when I went to Southampton and Hampshire generally a few years back and wanted to read your trip report as soon as I saw your name as the author. I'm thoroughly enjoying your perspective on New York and looking forward to your thoughts on Washington, two cities I know very well this side of the pond. I love seeing things through "new eyes".

Best wishes, Daniel
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May 12th, 2012, 07:33 AM
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Wednesday
The actual day of our anniversary, but we had no firm plans.

We took our morning walk up towards 86th street and the subway station, and decided to stop for breakfast at Gracie Mews Diner. Diners presented a bit of a problem for me in that I am not used to them, am overwhelmed by the choices, and seem to frustrate waiters immensely because of this.

Someone needs to give out a “guide to diners” at the airport so bumpkin tourists like me know that ordering eggs on toast is not sufficient – you have to specify how many, exact cooking method, types of spread, type of bread etc, etc. otherwise you get a sigh followed by “do you want your toast white,brown,.wholewheat, rye, pumpernickel …. (goes on for 3 minutes) and I’m sitting there thinking “Toast, just toast”.

My beloved had a Mexican Frittata , which was delicious, but rather too hot for my taste.

Breakfast done, we set off for the Staten Island ferry. This is free, but would be worth paying for. The terminal was crowded, but we were entertained by a decent busking violinist
Nearly everybody on the mid morning ferry was a tourist, and the open air sections were crammed while inside there were rows and rows of empty seats.

On deck, it was a scrum – people barging others out of the way to get the best places for photographs, particularly when we approached the Statue of Liberty. On Staten Island we walked around the immediate neighbourhood, stopping to take pictures of Manhattan and to visit the simple but moving 9-11 monument. On the trip back the cold seemed to dissuade most people from standing at the bow, and I was able to take many pictures of the spectacular Manhattan skyline as we approached.

Heading back we decided as it was a special day, we would have a bit of a splurge. We had heard that the Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse on Grand Central was excellent, but it was closed for a private party. Looking in the guidebook we found that Uncle Jack’s steakhouse was highly regarded so we thought we would see if we could get a table.

I think this was one of the most memorable meals I have ever eaten, and for several reasons. We obviously did not fit into their normal clientèle, the well dressed but often loud and foul mouthed financial people sitting at the bar.
The front of house greeter looked at us although were were something the cat had dragged in, but relented and said she could probably find us something but only a high table near the bar (90 minutes later, when we left, there were only two other tables occupied, all others had remained empty during our stay).

If the maître de had worked a little harder he might have graduated from contemptuous to merely condescending (at times he bordered on the rude), although other waiting staff were all very pleasant.

I can also comfortably say that it was the most expensive meal I have ever eaten. What saved it from being an utter disaster? The food was exquisite; everything from the several varieties in the bread basket through to the desert. Our shared Porterhouse steak did cost more than our weekly grocery bill, but it was the most perfect piece of meat I have ever sampled. I wanted to pick up the remains and gnaw every last morsel from the bone (I didn’t ).

I had read that some NYC steakhouses have a reputation for brusque service, so maybe it is the norm and expected. I didn’t enjoy it and in a way it rather spoilt the occasion, but we won’t forget it easily.
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May 12th, 2012, 07:47 AM
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willet,

Good stuff and a pleasure to read - I'm in.
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May 12th, 2012, 09:49 AM
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Your description of the steakhouse is priceless!
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May 12th, 2012, 09:59 AM
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Great narrative, willie. Keep it coming!
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May 12th, 2012, 10:01 AM
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Apologies for my ijit autocorrect, willit.
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May 12th, 2012, 12:28 PM
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If they didn't get specifics they would get yelled out by the diner who wanted rye toast, dry when they just brought the usual white toast, buttered. And I can't imagine not being specific about how the eggs should be cooked....love scrambled despise over easy. I am enjoying your report but you don't expect the wait staff to read your mind, do you?
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May 13th, 2012, 05:42 AM
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denisea - sometimes attempts at humour don't work, and this was obvious one of them.

No of course I don't expect the staff to read my mind, I was trying to give the impression of being overwhelmed by the choices available.
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May 13th, 2012, 10:22 AM
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Thursday
Time for more culture, but first breakfast – the 3 star diner close to the apartment – I had corn beef hash and eggs (remembering this time around to ask specifically for eggs over easy and brown toast) , my beloved had pancakes with maple syrup and bacon (an abomination unto the Lord!).

There are many points of difference between Fodorites on opposite sides of the Atlantic, but I suspect we will reach agreement on gun control and socialised medicine before the thorny subject of breakfast.Such was the portion size , we decided we would walk downtown to exercise off some of the excess.

The Museum of Modern art wasn’t really on my list of “must sees”. I am a bit of a philistine with regard to art, but DB wanted to go.

It was surprisingly enjoyable, if only to look sideways at some of the pieces on display and try and work out quite why they were anything special.

A special mention of the interactive smart phone or tablet programs. I think this was the most impressive use of modern IT that I have seen. Limited wireless was free within the museum, and logging on to the MoMA site brought up an overall plan, then detailed floor maps with highlights listed. For many of the exhibits there were extensive discussions on the art, both in note for, or as audio files of artist/curator/expert pointing out facets of the work.

Returning to the philistine mode, these explanations often left me even more confused, and at some stages giggling at the profound statements made by these eminent people. Lacking a background or education in arts I often wonder if there is more than an element of “emperor’s new clothes” in some critiques.

We spent several hours in the museum and left in mid afternoon when it was becoming uncomfortably crowded. We were enjoying walking with no obvious destination, and after an hour or so, found ourselves back in little Italy again. We decided that as our take away pizza had been so disappointing, it was unfair to leave NY without trying a decent pizzeria, and got a table at Lombardi’s.

We shared a fresh clam pizza without cheese , and it was excellent. On the walk down, we had seen Eileen’s special cheesecake shop, so that was desert sorted (Good, although I preferred the cheesecake at two little red hens). Bloated from too much food, and tired from walking we decided on an early evening.
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May 13th, 2012, 01:04 PM
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Wonderful willit! I agree with Daniel about how cool it is to read another person's reactions to favorite places.

More, please!
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May 14th, 2012, 12:44 PM
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Friday
Looking at my photographs, I see I have got my days confused. The afternoon pizza and cheesecake described as Thursday were actually the Friday. This explains a few things – mostly how I had managed to eat a giant pizza on the same day as the enormous breakfast – it didn’t happen – they were separated by a day.

Our last full day in New York, but we had very few plans. We decided on a pastrami sandwich from a nearby deli for breakfast, and ate it in Central park. It was a really pleasant morning, but I cannot really see what all the fuss is about regarding pastrami sandwiches.

We must have spent a couple of hours in the park, trying to find the nooks and crannies we had missed on previous trips.
While in the south of the park, there was a commotion – people shouting and looking at the sky. The Space shuttle was arriving in the city, and being flown around piggybacked on the modified Jumbo Jet. I only know this second hand – as I managed to miss it and only know because somebody rushed up and asked had I got any decent photos of the shuttle. I think this was the biggest disappointment of the trip.

We continued our walk, stopping off briefly at Macy’s – well it had to be done, but fortunately I am not married to a shopaholic. There followed a strange experience. As we walked away from the shop several large gentlemen, initially friendly, blocking my way and thrusting music CDs into my hand, then demanding I pay for them – suggesting $10 go. I wish I could say I resisted, but I took the cowards way out, and haggled them down to $5 – still shameful but I suppose they rely on the “prey’s” confusion and eagerness to get away. It wasn’t quite a mugging – plenty of people around, no threats issued, no bad or aggressive language, but I felt very intimidated.

After we got back to the apartment in the early evening, we tidied up, and packed up most of our stuff. I was restless, and wanted to try and get to the Empire State building. My beloved declined , pleading tiredness and not feeling too well, but suggested I go on my own.

The problem was that it was the first clear evening of the week, and seemed every tourist in New York wanted to go to the top of the ESB. I was told the queue for buying tickets was greater than an hour, the wait for the elevator nearer two and a half, and that I was very unlikely to get to the top until after midnight.

I briefly played with the idea of catching the Staten Island Ferry again, and trying for some long exposure photographs from the Island itself, but sense prevailed, and after pausing for 30 minutes in Bryant Park, I wandered back home.
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May 14th, 2012, 12:54 PM
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I'm surprised (and embarrassed for my country) that the CD guys were so aggressive.

Hope you finally got to top of ESB!
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May 14th, 2012, 01:13 PM
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Saturday brought the end of the NY portion of the trip. We awoke fairly early, showered, then cleaned up the apartment and finished packing.

We had both brought our large 60 litre backpacks figuring this would be the day when we needed them. While relatively mobile,

I couldn’t really plan to do much in the short time we had left, and lugging more than 40lbs of luggage on my back. We took the subway to 51st street, only to find that the planned change to the E train and on to Penn station wasn’t possible because of maintenance work.

Standing on the station discussing options for whether to get a cab, a large helpful voice belonging to a large helpful lady boomed out “you don wanna do that, you wanna go to grand central, take the shuttle to Times Square and catch the next train to 34th street” ... problem solved.

She typified my experience of New Yorkers – They might have a reputation for being rude, but I found them to be extremely helpful. If we ever took a map out and stood out of the way, it would normally be seconds before people offered help.

We reached the station with an hour to spare, claimed our tickets from the machines, and left New York without further
problems.

So some thoughts in summary, I wasn’t sure I wanted to come to New York, but I am so glad I did. I found it an incredibly vibrant, interesting city. I am not sure a lifetime would be enough to do everything. It is difficult for me to pick highlights as there were so many.

Some silly random moments: Sitting on the subway, watching the passengers on the seats opposite, my beloved whispered “it’s like a scene from the Anthropology section of the Natural History Museum” and it was – Eight people demonstrating Human diversity: A classic Nordic Blond Woman, A young African American Man, An Elderly Chinese woman with her granddaughter, A redheaded student who could have passed as the Irish stereotype and so it continued – they may well have been tourists, but I like to think they were all New Yorkers. Every race, creed, colour and language represented.


We were trying to sum up New York , and again I think my beloved described it best. “We only thought we lived in a city, but THIS is a city”. I know New Yorker’s think that theirs is the greatest city on Earth, they may well be correct.
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May 14th, 2012, 01:33 PM
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A few photos: http://tinyurl.com/cv2xjly
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May 14th, 2012, 02:11 PM
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Really enjoying your narrative and storytelling. Looking forward to your DC portion of the trip. Your photo's are great. I completely relate to the idea of being non plussed by the prospect of visiting a particular place and then being proven wrong and getting to say so.

BTW, that squirrel pictured about 10 rows down in your photo link totally had his eyes on your wallets. I am embarrassed for my country's squirrels.
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