What more could I write about New York City that you don’t already know? (Although I didn’t know that in addition to Soho there’s also a ‘Noho’). If you’re a fan, like me, of NYC sitcoms like Seinfeld and Sex and the City, you’re already privy to the diversity of some of NYC’s characters. Certainly there’s the ‘tourist must-dos’ (Empire State Building, Ground Zero, walking Brooklyn Bridge, etc) but for a weary sailor who’s travelled across oceans, just walking around this wealthy western city is interestingly rewarding enough.
From the exuberant inline skaters in Central Park, to the spontaneous a cappella outburst by African Americans on the subway; the nannies pushing prams, the abundance of dog-walkers; sidewalk buskers, book-sellers; bargain fruit sellers (1kg of blueberries for $3!!); old timers and young Wall Street wannabees, the broad spectrum of people in New York City makes this city unique.
Looking around don’t forget to look up. The architecture from the 1860s to 1940s is stunning and usually well cared for, at least from the view of the street walker.The gentrification of many areas have transformed some of the seedier areas into trendy neighbourhoods. Yes, NYC reminds me very much of Melbourne (particularly along Riverside Park on the Hudson), but it’s about a thousand times bigger than Melbourne, making Melbourne look like a country town.
We last visited New York in 1992 – back when NYC was known for its muggings, crime and seedy areas. I remember back then we were cautious about walking through Central Park! Nowadays the city is vibrant, safe to walk and filled with more families and less graffiti. Many agencies worked hard over the past twenty years to reduce crime, so much so that NYC is now considered one of the safest cities in the world now. I wonder what it will be like in another twenty years? We actually spoke to a New Yorker who said, surprisingly, that NYC has lost its appeal now that it’s filled with tourists and cashed-up middle-class professionals.
Our home for the duration of our stay is on a mooring at the W79th Street Boat Basin located on the Hudson River on the trendy upper west side. The Hudson River flows around 3knots at high and low tides so getting from the boat to the dock on windy days is almost as bad as going to sea in a dinghy. We wait for slack water where possible. There’s a few yachts here, including La Luna who arrived a couple of days after us. Further up river is an anchoring area for larger boats. The ‘marina’ is really a few wooden docks for boats with shallow drafts and a small office. The office is manned 24 hours a day and has basic facilities for travelling yachties. It’s a short walk to the 79th and Broadway Metro station where you can take a train just about anywhere. To make things easier for tourists, a $31 metro ticket allows unlimited bus/train travel for seven days.
Somewhere in Namibia my Olympus Tough camera died and I needed to replace it. I decided on another Olympus Tough as they are solid cameras and as I’d had these before I didn’t need to buy all the extra accessories. Taking the train to 34th/Penn St near Madison Square Gardens, then a short walk to 9th Avenue, the B&H store is the BIGGEST camera store I’ve ever seen! This place sells all things photographic (commercial and personal), computers, binoculars, gadgets, you name it. The store takes up a whole block. After I purchased my camera from a bloke named Schlomo, I had to drag Wayne away lest he get voluntarily trapped in there for hours. Luckily for me the bait was to take him to West Marine on 37th. Here we ordered a Waterways Guide to the Great Lakes which we will need to plan the rest of our trip.
Walking north through midtown we stopped for a picnic lunch at the NY Library, then ended up at the Rockefeller Centre, then made our way up 5th Avenue window shopping at all the expensive stores, stopping at Apple to use their free wifi, before entering the southern end of Central Park.
A stroll through the leafy Central Park on a Sunday is relaxing, but very busy. One thing about sailing is getting used to the infrequency of exercise. Although some miraculously manage to maintain their fit and flexible bodies, it’s not easy for most sailors, including me. After a couple of days of walking around our legs were very tired. Pedicabs are available at Central Park and will ride you through the park for $3.99 per minute (he would have to ride pretty fast to get my money’s worth!). At that rate my legs were suddenly feeling revitalised. Use ’em or lose ’em I say.
On a sunny Sunday New Yorkers were out in force in the park. Inline skating, volleyball, basketball, dancing, running, cycling – after sitting in offices all week New Yorkers release all that pent up tension into many entertaining and energy expending outdoor activities. While effervescent exhibitionists dressed in outrageous outfits skate around in a large circle to loud dance music, across from them are a troupe of ordinary people strutting their stuff and dancing with waving flags. Along the walk are a sequence of volleyball courts where a continuous game is played where anyone can join in. This, it seems, is how New Yorkers let off steam!
Through Riverside Park along the Hudson (rain or shine) are the joggers, bikers and dog walkers. The Boat Basin Cafe/Bar is right behind the ‘marina’ and often pumps out loud music in the evenings, particularly on sunny days when it is filled with the masses. I believe this is where the famous NYC Marathon starts.
Catching the subway east, we spent a few hours walking through Little Italy, Chinatown and the Jewish lower east side. Taking in the sights, we tasted cuisine from each sector – a savoury pastry from a Chinese bakery; a slice of pizza and a Cannoli (yum) from Little Italy, then made our way north passing the Eldridge Street Synagogue (the first eastern European synagogue) and the Angel Orensanz Centre (NYs oldest synagogue building) before passing Katz’s Delicatessen (‘When Harry met Sally’ fame) then along to famous Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery where we shared an apple knish (the knish was very knice!). Back on the subway we ended up at 42nd Street/Broadway and made our way through the throng of tourists gawking at the millions of electronic billboards and signs. We went back there one night to see the lights, and it was just as crazy. Besides food hawkers and Comedy Club ticket sellers, there’s also the Naked Cowboy (he was here 20 years ago!) and naked girls painted in colours of the USA flag selling their artwork for $5 a photo (they weren’t here 20 years ago!).
A stroll through Soho and the tree lined streets of Greenwich Village is a pleasant reprieve from the craziness of Times Square. Soho is the historic Cast Iron area where many beautifully restored cast iron facades exist. Greenwich Village really has a village feel with small shops, delicatessens and every day people doing every day things. Onto the site of the World Trade Center – Ground Zero -amassed with people all vying for a peek. I’m amazed that the destruction of the buildings was isolated to such a seemingly small area with many buildings nearby are still intact. The new One World Trade Building prominently looms over South Manhattan, although not as prominent as the previous twin towers.
One night a storm passed through New York and with a 3knot current and 30knot winds the boats on moorings were washed around and bucking for a few hours before it calmed down. We went to bed once it had calmed, but the next morning we noticed La Luna had moved up the river and there was a yellow mooring in the middle of the Hudson. Seems their mooring dragged and they ended up in the middle of the river! This incident could have been much worse, but luckily all was fine. It really isn’t a very good place to keep the boat.
We’ll be here a little while longer – still so much to see – but we need to get moving soon as we have a whole lot of other places to visit in the US of A.