New York & New England Trip 2005                 Main

Wed 8th June - New York City, Uptown

Up early again, and today was Karen's birthday, so we got out the carefully prepared and packed cards and gave them to her as she got ready. I promised her that we would try our best to get her a birthday horse and carriage ride around Central Park that day. Then we went down to the free bagel breakfast in the hotel. Again we stuffed ourselves, and planned out what we wanted to do that day. Having done downtown the previous day, we wanted to give Central Park, and the areas north of that a try, and perhaps get one of the tour buses to help our feet. This was our last full day in the city, and we didn't want to waste it.

We walked up to Times Square again, and looked for one of the tour bus ticket touts who frequent the area. We found one talking to a friend, but when he saw that we were interested in buying, he came over to us straight away. He tried to sell us the two day tour, which included downtown and uptown, but we explained we only had one more day in the city, so the Uptown tour would have to do. We made sure that the tickets (which came to about $100 in total) allowed us to hop on and off the buses as we liked, and checked the route went to the places we wanted to see.

The bus picked up from 48th St and 8th and since it was a nice day we went upstairs and had a great view of the streets as the bus headed north towards Central Park, along the same route we'd painfully hobbled the day before. The bus headed west as it got to the park and took us up to the Upper West Side.

The first stop we wanted to get off at was the Dakota Apartments on 72nd Street and the Strawberry Fields area of Central Park. This is where John Lennon lived the last years of his life, and it was on the corner of 72nd where he was shot and killed by a deranged fan in 1980. The area of the park across from the Dakota was named Strawberry Fields in honour of him. We got off the bus at the designated stop, and we walked in to see the Imagine memorial mosaic at the start of the walk. Most of the tourists seemed quite happy to take a photo of the shrine and walk out again, but I wanted to walk around the park, since this was Lennon's favourite route when he lived there. Once away from the crowd, the park itself was completely deserted, and we had a pleasant 20 minute looping walk back to the main gate. I took some photos of the Dakota building through the trees, and we settled down on a bench. It was one of the best parts of the trip for me. An oriental lady with a small dog passed us, and I'm sure she was very glad to be mistaken for Yoko Ono a lot! It wasn't her, though. Connor wanted a drink, so we walked a little way along 72nd until we found a newsagents and bought them drinks. We had a short wander around that very affluent part of the Upper Westside, which was so different again from any other area of NYC that we'd already visited, and after a while we walked back to the tour stop and waited for the bus to take us onto the next stop.

We got off next at the American Museum of Natural History, just up the park a little way. It had a very imposing neo-classical edifice, but was unfortunately not due to open until 10am, and since we'd been up early, it was still half an hour until then. The sun was scorching down already, so we joined the other early starters waiting across the road, sitting on the wall of the park in the shade. There was a bit of a crush at the door at 10am, and when we got inside we found out that there is no entrance fee, just a suggested donation, which would have come to $41 dollars for the four of us. The lady on the desk asked us how much we wanted to pay, and I was perplexed at why she didn't want to take the $41 off me, since it seemed a fairly reasonable amount to pay for four people. To make her feel better I gave her $40, and we went inside. The museum was huge, spread over several large floors, and the kids loved it, even though our feet were killing us by then, and we used every seat as an excuse to rest them. There are only so many stuffed varieties of falcon and penguin you can look at before they start to blur in your mind. About an hour into the visit, some local school parties arrived, and the place became a riot, so we made our escape, but not after Niamh had her traditional tumble down some steps on the way to the toilets.

Outside at the tour bus stop, it was getting rather busy as the day heated up, and by the time the next tour bus came along, it was packed to the gunnels. Upstairs there were only two seats, and we had to have the kids on my knee, which in the scorching heat was not so much fun. We had no more stops planned, our feet were killing us, and we just wanted to enjoy the rest of the tour from the top deck of the bus. The bus took us past some famous uptown landmarks such as Columbia University, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Grant's Tomb. It then moved northwards to Harlem, where we saw Bill Clinton's offices, the Apollo Theater and Harlem Market. We did consider getting off in Harlem, since we were told it was perfectly safe these days, but our feet precluded it, and we were afraid we wouldn't get back on any subsequent tour buses for lack of space. So we stayed on as the bus picked its way through the early afternoon traffic on the 'Museum Mile' down the east side of Central Park past the Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museums towards Fifth Avenue.

The pace on this street was so slow that it would honestly have been quicker to walk, if our feet had been up to it. The beating sun and lack of a breeze from the slow progress, combined with a lack of drinks made this section of the trip quite uncomfortable, and the tour guide was having a hard time thinking of anything useful to say, and was resorting to barrel-scraping such as 'Mary Tyler Moore used to have an apartment up there, once'. At one point, a fire truck with sirens blaring wanted past, but the traffic was so clogged that it took ages for people to get out of the way. Eventually, near the bottom of Central Park, we couldn't take it any more, and exited the bus across from the Plaza.

Luckily, the horses and carriages were there this time, so we asked one of the grooms how much a ride was. It sounded reasonable at $32 for a 20 minute trip round the park, but we were dying of thirst and starving so we said we'd go get some hot dogs and drinks and come back. He warned that the ASPCA usually come round when it got as hot as this, and forced them to stop taking rides, so if we wanted a ride we better hurry up. So we all had hot dogs from a street vendor and we bought several bottles of water and returned to the same groom and bought a ride. Just as we were settling down to start, an ASPCA cop car rolled up alongside and told the groom that this had to be his last ride of the day, since the temperature was too hot to keep the horses working. The other grooms with no passengers were already wandering away, and we realised this was why we hadn't seen any of them the day before when we were there. So we managed to grab the very last horse and carriage ride for that day, and we enjoyed a breezy 20 minute horse ride around Central Park with plenty of drinking water, to celebrate Karen's birthday.

By this time it was mid afternoon, and in a repeat of the previous day, we were 25 blocks north of the hotel, and had sore feet. But all was not lost. The bus tour uptown loop went all the way back down to 48th St, so we caught the tour bus once more outside the Plaza for the last leg of the loop back to Times Square. This time we passed the Naked Cowboy as he did his usual underpants act on one of the pointy corners of the Square, and we arived back at the tour stop we had started from early that morning. We walked down 8th Avenue for a change, and discovered a lot of eating places we'd missed. When we got to 34th Street, we were starving again and we decided to nip into a Wendys quite close to our hotel for something quick to eat. The place was really busy, and we sat upstairs and watched a lot of noisy NY schoolgirls shout at each other a lot while we ate our food.

Back at the hotel we rested our tired feet, and talked about all the places we'd been. We had one last evening left in NYC, and we still had to find out where the car rental place on west 40th St was, so we could go straight there in the morning to pick up the rental car we'd booked. After a bit of a rest, we headed back out once more, and after a few false starts, we found the Dollar car rental office above a street level car park. On the way back, I made the fatal mistake of looking at some cameras in a shop window, and the old man inside the shop spent the next twenty minutes trying to bargain with me into buying one of his digital cameras. I kept saying no, and he kept thinking I was being a tough customer, and dropping his price. The price he eventually settled on was very good, but I wasn't really looking to buy that day, and eventually he let us leave the shop with a NY wave of dismisal. We headed back to Times Square.

It was starting to get dark, and we crossed Times Square and took the kids into the big Toys R Us store. Inside was a full-sized ferris wheel, and the kids whined until we agreed to let them onto it, even though the tickets were very expensive. After a walk around all the areas of the store, we headed back out again onto the darkening streets, where the advertising looked very spectacular. Outside one of the tat souvenir shops, a tout asked me if I liked stand-up comedy, since there was a club just up the street. Of course I love stand-up, but we had the kids in tow, so we had to resign ourselves to leaving it until another time.

We had come up to Times Square to find somewhere to eat as well as see the sights, but we hadn't located anywhere yet. The kids were starting to get whiny and we were all hungry. So instead of more walking about aimlessly, we decided to go back to the chinese buffet place we'd found the night before. The kids had McDonalds again, and we took everything back to the room and ate while watching TV. We decided to go and have a last look at Macy's this time to buy some kids clothes we'd seen in the sale during our last trip.

When we got back to the hotel room, we packed up as much as we could in preparation for the next day's excitement, and leaving New York.