My wife Julie, my son Ben and I have just returned from an exhilarating short trip to New York, during which we stayed in the heart of Manhattan and sampled many of the festive delights the city offers in the run-up to Christmas.
We had flown from Heathrow on Friday 20th with Virgin Atlantic, arriving mid-afternoon at JFK and catching a yellow cab into the heart of the city.
We were staying at the Hampton Inn Hotel on West 41st, a very short walk from the lights and huge advertising screens of Times Square. True to form it was not long before I was caught up in a street performance with dancers from the Bronx! More surprisingly, I found an AFC Bournemouth shirt for sale in a nearby sports store. Who would have anticipated that a few years ago?
The following morning we caught a subway downtown to Greenwich Village and walked through the streets to Washington Square and Lower Manhattan. A quick cab ride later and we were queuing at the south tip to pass through security (a soon-to-be familiar experience) and the ferry to Liberty Island.
The weather was crisp and the views from the island proved a classic introduction to the famous skyline. Patches of snow lay on the ground to remind us of the cold snap the city had undergone earlier in the week. Following a walk around the base of the landmark, we boarded the ferry once more and cruised to Ellis Island and toured the museum detailing its historic past as the USA’s immigration control in the 19th century.
Upon our return to the mainland we walked, via a nourishing local deli, to the site of the 9/11 memorial and the moving tribute to those who perished in 2001. I had visited the Twin Towers in 1984 and remembered being on the 110th floor roof in the sunshine all those years ago.
On the Sunday morning (day two), we travelled to 51st Street and Broadway and the site of Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where we met the NYC TV and Movie Coach Tour. This was a two-hour trip around sites of notable film and TV locations, including where scenes of Home Alone 2, Spider-Man, Friends, Ghostbusters and many others had been recorded.
At the end of the tour, we made our way to midtown and had lunch and a beer (for the sum of $99.95) at Bill’s Bar & Burger restaurant on West 51st Street. The t-shirts for sale in the basement raised a smile with their message ‘Exercise? I thought you said extra fries!’
We then visited one of the must-see landmarks in that part of town, the Empire State Building, where – following a swift lift journey upwards – we stood outside and enjoyed the always-impressive view over the city and beyond as the sun set in the distance.
On the way back, after a visit to a sports bar, we took in the night-time scenes of 42nd Street and spotted that the latest Star Wars film was playing at the Regal Cinema in 4Dx. Two hours and twenty-two minutes later, we had certainly had enough of the rocking seats, sprays of water, rushes of air and mock punches in the back during fight scenes!
On Monday 23rd I had arranged to drop into the office of the American Federation of Musicians on West 48th Street, and we met up with Karen Fisher, Financial Vice- President, and Maria DiPasquale, Comms and Marketing Associate, of the Local 802 AFM. We had an interesting conversation about the latest initiatives in London by the MU and the issues facing musicians on Broadway. After thanking the pair for their excellent hospitality, we walked up to Central Park and enjoyed a hot chocolate in the Christmas Market next to Columbus Circle.
We then strolled up the west side of the Park bathed in the winter sun, until we reached the Dakota Building and the John Lennon memorial. Turning eastwards, we then took photos of the frozen lake, and walked to the ice rink on the south side. Ben and Julie took to the ice, with differing results(!)
We then walked down 5th Avenue, taking in the luxury shops such as Saks and its memorable festive light show, to the Rockefeller Center and its famous Christmas tree. It was particularly crowded here, so we didn’t linger and we entered the building enjoying a cocktail in the Rock Center Cafe next to the ice rink, prior to taking the lift up to the ‘Top of the Rock’ on the 67th floor and marvelling at more night-time sights of the city. A nightcap at Gleason’s Tavern (West 41st Street) rounded off the day smoothly.
Tuesday morning, our last day, meant we were keen to make the most of our remaining hours and we walked to Bryant Square, via Grand Central Station and its Shake Shack, plus visited the amazing lobby of the Chrysler Building. We just had time to visit Madame Tussaud’s before checking out and taking a private car to the airport.
We were in good time for our flight and appreciated the relative calm of the airport lounges, prior to taking off at 6.30pm. A smooth six-hour trip followed and we arrived wearily at Heathrow early on Christmas Day.
A memorable few days!