Sunday, 29 May 2016

Back in the Peaks

Yesterday's route.
It's been just over a week since I got back from the Great North American Adventure now and my mind has already set to planning future trips - current possibilities are Slovenia and/or Ireland in September, followed by a return to New York next May. I'm planning to do the big 40 mile bike ride across all five boroughs of the city on closed roads, and may do what I planned to do this year by taking the train from Montreal to New York or vice versa, potentially with a stop in Vermont as Burlington is said to be quite a cool, cultural destination and, I think, well off the beaten track for tourists.
View over the Scenic Ladybower Dam.
It was back to work for me on Tuesday, followed by a three day bank holiday weekend. Surprisingly, Saturday dawned bright and clear with temperatures of around 15/16 degrees (59-61 Fahrenheit), so my first thought was to make the most of the weather and the extra day off to go on a bike ride. I started off by heading down Bole Hill Road at the back of where I live, as the road leads you very quickly downhill and into the green forestry that skirts the edge of the Peak District national park.
The bridge over Ladybower Dam, resulting in scenic views.
After a leisurely mile or two on Rivelin Valley Road, I came out on the A57 which leads directly into Bamford and is officially in national park territory. Within a few miles, the space really opens out and you're surrounded on all sides by country cottages, hilltop vistas and signs inviting you to stop off at farm shops in the vicinity. Tempting as the thought was I pushed on as I had no place to put anything - when on a 'proper' bike ride I always aim not to take a bag of any kind as it just impedes your performance and weighs you down, although a small bag on your back can be useful for carrying a pump plus a few spares if you don't have room in your jersey pockets.

The cycle-friendly path between Bamford and Hathersage.
You know you're really at the heart of the Peaks when you see the first Welcome to the Peak District sign. After about five miles on the A57 I came out at the bottom of the Snake pass, and turned left for Bamford and the spectacular view over the Ladybower dam. This is a reservoir filled with water over the top of what was once a scenic Derbyshire Village - I imagine there was some controversy over the decision to fill it in at the time. I stopped for a few photos and a snack and as I was leaving Bamford village I saw signs for both the Eroica Britannia vintage cycling festival and the Hope Valley beer and cider festival taking place just down the road at the Old Hall Hotel in Hope, the next village along.
A worthy (but impossible) distraction on this visit.
I was very tempted to stop off and have a drink by making a slight detour, especially as I'd incidentally broken my own festival glass from last year and wanted another one. However, beer and bikes don't mix and nor does carrying glass so I pushed on by turning left at the end of the main road in Bamford to head towards Hathersage, where I would turn off onto School Road and the scenic climb up and over The Dale. The road between Bamford and Hathersage is very good for cycling as it has both a wide cycle lane on each side and, if you prefer, a completely traffic free (and wide) path on the left hand side for use by pedestrians, horses and cyclists. I opted for the latter as there were no other users on the path so I was able to get up a good burst of speed whilst remaining perfectly safe in traffic free hands.

The not-too-steep but unceasing incline up and over The Dale.
My resilience was tested again as I approached Hathersage and turned left onto School Lane - by The Scotsman's Pack, a country pub and inn where I had been recommended to go previously, and had rooms available to stay in for between £60-80. I wasn't tempted by the rooms at this point (having only cycled 15 miles) but I would certainly have been happy to stop off in there for some coffee and a cake. Still, I'd brought all the sustenance I would need for the ride and continued up The Dale rather than on the main A625 into Sheffield for some scenic views and very little traffic. The Dale ascends at a fairly steady pace with an gradient of around 8% over 1.6 miles/2.6km, so provided you've an energy bar or some such before it's not too much of an effort.

The start of the scenic hiker's route up to Stanage Edge.
Still, I could feel it in my legs and was pleased to reach the summit for a quick breather, where a few cars were parked up near Stanage Edge for the climb up there. As I wasn't in hiking mode, I opted to just take a few minutes out before continuing on to where the road joins up with  the long straight drag into Sheffield that is Ringinglow Road. Rather than opting to stay on Ringinglow until the end and head home via Ecclesall Road, I opted to take the quieter option and made a left onto Hangram Lane which leads directly down into Fulwood village. This is a pleasant scenic ride which is mainly downhill but with a few twists and turns that make for a thrilling descent back into suburban Sheffield.
Good to see cycle parking at the bottom of Stanage Edge for those wishing to take a detour!
Once I'd joined up with Broomhill after the long straight section along Fulwood Road, I headed home via Crookes and along the streets I usually frequent on my way home from language classes late in the evening. It was a pleasant ride and one I would look to repeat (at least in part) in the near future. A possible option is to head out along the A57 as above, then turn right and all the way up Mortimer Road which brings you out near Bradfield and the amusingly named Wigtwizzle - it might be worth heading that way just for a gratuitous selfie under the 'Welcome to...' sign! In any case I had a near perfect ride in perfect weather and I find myself already awaiting the next one with great enthusiasm.

Overall stats for the ride.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sunset over the East River

Walking the High Line on the site of a former railway line - now a park.
As last night was our last night was did something pretty special to mark the occasion. Following dinner for a second time at the Polish place with my friend Brian, we made our way to the Wythe Hotel which I'd been recommended as a rooftop bar and as a great way to see the Manhattan skyline at sunset.

Flatiron Building, for once dappled in sunlight.
There was a small queue to get in but we were only waiting around 15 minutes and the result was absolutely worth it. Waiting for the lift attendant to take you up makes the experience feel exclusive and the crowd is a mixture of business types, hotel guests and private parties - plus a few excited tourists. Fortunately the mood was amiable and we got to the top at just the right time as the sunset was strikingly beautiful (photos speak for themselves).

Van Gogh's Starry Night on display at the Museum of Modern Art.
I'm definitely grateful for my friend's recommendation to see the place and would even consider staying here for a night or two in future. I don't imagine it's cheap to stay (although cheaper than the Plaza) but if you get one of the upper suites there's another, higher balcony overlooking the city from an even wider platform. Still, one for another time I think!

The sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art.
Yesterday was a glorious day and I was out in shorts and t-shirt thinking this must be but a taste of the searing New York summer that will hit the city in a month or two. It was an appropriate day to do the High Line, a former railway line turned into a walkway and public park. Interspersed with various art installations and forms of media it's an interesting project and an experiment that seems to have worked well. It was certainly very crowded when we walked along it.

The Manhattan skyline as seen at sunset from the Wythe Hotel. 
The end of the High Line brings you out in Chelsea, from where we made a beeline for Bleeker Street Records, around a 15 minute walk away in the West Vilage. We passed through Grove Street again on the way just to have another look at the Friends apartment building before heading on to the record shop.

Manhattan Skyline at dusk.
A quick rest for coffee and a doughnut and we headed down to South Ferry for a spot of lunch and to consider taking the Staten Island Ferry. In the end we decided against it as we had already done one ferry ride and would be taking another tomorrow. We headed back uptown instead to Rockefeller Centre and in my case the Museum of Modern Art. The museum is free on Fridays between 4 and 8pm (worth remembering) so I bought a very nice art print of Times Square in New York with a retro nod to Trans World Airlines flying above. It's a wonderful piece and it will look great one day when I have somewhere to put it. I had a swift 45 minute dash around the gallery itself (it deserves longer) and headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

One last hurrah for TImes Square at midnight.
As stated above dinner was had for a second time at the Polish restaurant Dziupla, following which it was a swift trip to the Wythe Hotel. It's safe to say that this entire trip has been amazing and it will definitely be hard to leave the city. There's a come down after every holiday but I think it's safe to say this will be the biggest one yet! Enjoying the sunset over the East River with a $10 bottle of Brooklyn lager was the perfect way to end the trip and a return to our starting point in Brooklyn just over a week ago.

Street art at Red Hook in Brooklyn. 
Our final morning dawned dull and drizzly and we made our way to Pier 11 in the Financial district near Wall Street and took the (free at weekends) water taxi to Ikea in Red Hook. I only had one goal in mind and that was buying Widow Jane whiskey (see below). This is high end whiskey but I had heard great things about it and was determined to bring a bottle back - the more expensive bottles ranged from $120-160 but I was happy to settle for the 10 year bourbon, which was the cheapest in the range at $44.

Widow Jane whiskey from the  Cacao Prieto distillery in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
I also bought some luxuriously packaged chocolate of coffee and sea salt flavour to try with the whiskey. After this it was a quick dinner in Manhattan before grabbing our bags from the hotel and making a bid for the airport. We're now back in the UK but I am already making plans to come back to New York next year - a return visit is most definitely a must!!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Cycling in Central Park / Making Friends in the West Village

Cool segregated cycle path facing the One World Trading Center.
I'm now two days behind with my blog simply due to seeing and doing so much in that time - typing on a tablet until 1 o'clock in the morning sometimes isn't the most fun thing in the world when you want to get some rest in the city that never sleeps! We changed hotel rooms yesterday as our original room was on the front and you could hear all the traffic, horns blaring and refuse trucks at 6am. The city may never sleep but I definitely need to! Anyway on to more interesting matters.

Retro taxi cab in the West Village.
First port of call yesterday was the Skyscraper Museum in the financial district. It may not sound like the most mesmerising place but it's certainly topical and has a notable model of the World Trade Center as it was. It didn't take long to do and as it's only small it wasn't long before I was off on the train to Christopher St - Sheridan Square station. This was a real fanboy moment for me as it's the nearest station to what was used as Monica's apartment building in the TV series Friends.

No need to explain where this is!
I'm pleased to say it looks exactly as it did in the TV show with the red and blue awning of the restaurant below (The little owl) being still in tact. The restaurant itself is small and quite expensive so I didn't hang around for coffee (unfortunately) but made my way to Bleeker Street with it's quirky shops and cafés as my first port of call in the West Village. It's literally just off from the long street you see so much in episodes of Friends with the twin towers at the end (now replaced by the One World Trade Center).

Postprandial pint at the Old Town Bar.
After having coffee in a cool café full of board games and looking in BookBook and Generation Records, I genuinely felt I'd been hanging out in the area where the six of them spent so much (fictional) time. After leaving the Village we headed to the hotel to rest up before dinner which was had at a nice enough restaurant on the West side of the city. We then went to the Old Town Bar which looks exactly the same as it did in the 1890's when it first opened and raised a glass to Father time.

Midnight art display on Times Square.
Our last outing of the day was to Times Square just before midnight, as every night at 11.57 the screens on the square change to show a different kind of artwork - this time it was flowers. It felt strange to be on Times Square at midnight and gave me a taste of what it must be like to be here on New Years Eve when the famous ball drops.

View of Central Park from the top of the Rockefeller Center.
As for today, the weather was bright and sunny for the most part so I did what I meant to do yesterday and ventured up 67 floors to the top of the Rockefeller Centre (known as Top of the Rock) to get clear views over Central Park, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty from on high. Whilst the entry fee is quite steep ($32) there are multiple viewing platforms, plenty of room and gaps in the glass walls for your camera so you can get unobstructed and clear photos of the city from above.

View of the Plaza Hotel from Central Park (as seen by Kevin in Home Alone 2).
The lift up is also pretty cool as it lurches upwards very fast (but doesn't seem to move). However when you set off the ceiling becomes clear and a colourful light show and music plays showing you the speed of the lift going up the elevator shaft. It's a nice touch and I think it's worth going up here rather than the Empire State which I hear is more crowded and more expensive.

In the luxurious lobby of the Plaza Hotel.
On the way back to grab Dad from the hotel (he didn't fancy the ascent up Rockefeller) I grabbed a wrap, donut and coffee for about $8 to fuel me up for a while. We walked to the Plaza Hotel on the edge of Central Park where I had another fanboy moment (Home Alone 2 anyone?). I felt completely underdressed in my shorts and t-shirt in there but nonetheless had a look around. It's a very posh building with nice shops and a food court and I harbour hopes of staying here at some point in the future (even if just for one night) - perhaps I should book in using my Dad's credit card?!

Cycling in Central Park (sadly not Tom Boonen in front).
I left my Dad to roam the streets of Manhattan again as I rented a bike for an hour to make a circuit of Central Park. We've been on subway and foot the whole time since entering the city so it felt nice and freeing to be riding on traffic free roads in the middle of the city surrounded by greenery on all sides. I'm definitely not used to straight handlebars and pedals without cleats any more though!! Give me my own bike and cycle shoes any day.

Obligatory  photo with the bike in Central Park.
Had another Italian for dinner tonight and another look in The Strand bookshop on Broadway (where I saw early editions of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings for sale at $2500). I didn't buy them and after dinner we headed back to the hotel as my legs were definitely telling me they wanted a rest. The effort of both walking a lot and cycling round Central Park (without cleats!!) had taken it's toll.

Impressive subway art at 59 St station near the Plaza Hotel/Central Park.
Tomorrow is our last full day in the city and I'm hoping to fit in the Museum of Modern Art as well as a walk along the High Line. With luck I might also get to visit the 9/11 memorial museum, if I can get up early enough to get tickets. Now it's time for some well earned rest.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The liveable city?

Inside an old Subway car at the New York Transit Museum.
As I sit (or rather lay) writing this blog I wonder if New York is the kind of city I could call home. It's certainly very liveable, and exciting but it is very fast paced. In many ways it reminds me of London with it's iconic status, although on a much grander scale. It's easy to get around, clean and efficient and there are plenty of green spaces. Why would anyone ever need to leave?

Amusing advert featured in an old Subway car.
It's a valid question, of course in reality people would leave for many reasons. I imagine city life could be quite suffocating and it's always nice to get away somewhere different no matter how much you love it. I'm going off on a tangent again (been reading too many Monocle essays on the subject) so without further ado I'll move on to what I did (or didn't) do today.

9/11 memorial on the site of the old World Trade Center.
First stop was the New York Transit Museum which looks at history of the subway and bus systems. To most people I guess it would be kind of boring but the museum is built in a former disused subway station and explains how the transport authorities deal with things like freak weather, national crises etc. and also has a section on 9/11 showing sensitive pictures of stations that were crushed when the twin towers came down and maps of the system that were changed daily as the system became operational once again. It's a great place for enthusiasts but also for those wishing to get a different perspective on the city.

Names of victims inscribed on the sides of the 9/11 memorial.
The real gem comes on the second floor down however as a range of genuine subway cars from as far back as the 1920's are displayed on the tracks and you can wander in and out of them freely. The historic adverts in people particular are very charming (and amusing) and the phenomenon of seeing actual old fans in the subway cars instead of air conditioning will stay with me a long time, haha.
Dining out Polish style in Brooklyn.
After the museum we went to get our bags from the hotel in Brooklyn and transfered them across to our new hotel in Manhattan. Just down from Times Square, after checking in we made our way to Cortland Street station where the 9/11 memorial and museum is located. The memorial consists of two fountains placed exactly where the two towers were located. The fountains pour into an empty black pool with the names of all those who lost their lives inscribed on the sides of the memorial. It's a nice touch set against the backdrop of the new One World Trade Center and is considerably more thoughtful than if they'd just built over the old site.

Times Square again, this time at night.
Sadly the 9/11 museum was due to close early due to essential maintenance so we didn't get to go today, but will try again tomorrow or the next day. Instead, we made our way back on the subway to 23 Street to see the Flatiron building which due to the light wasn't in the best mood for photographs but was worth seeing anyway - possibly one to come back to later in the week.

The impressively illuminated Rockefeller Center at night.
I feel like I've been in the city for months (in a good way) so we hopped over on the subway again to Brooklyn, which is fast becoming our go-to area for sit down food. We found a really cool Polish place which was having its happy hour and got half price Polish dumplings as well as beer for $3(!). In these parts that's really good and as an added bonus the guy serving us at the bar was really cute haha. He'd moved here just a few weeks ago from California and had a really cool American accent, although I simply had to speak Polish with him and found out he's from Kraków.

Van Gogh's ear, formerly a swimming pool, at Rockefeller Centre.
We headed back to the hotel at this point for a breather as it had been a long day and Dad wanted a shower. After a brief respite however we took the chance to have our first proper nighttime outing which ended up being to Rockefeller Centre. It's a lot prettier than I'd imagined and has lots of cool water features, trees and lights so makes for lots of interesting photos. We made our way back to the hotel and saw the Empire State Building lit up in purple on top in honour of the Class of 2016 finishing school (I think). I bought some tasty looking food from the store next to our hotel - chicken and pasta for $7 but the chicken was only lukewarm when I got back so I left it. Don't want to be ill for the next few days exploration! Until tomorrow.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Book shopping on Broadway

Well it's safe to say today has been another truly amazing day. I am now officially hooked on the city and it's very easy to see why the city has the reputation it has. Best of all, when you're here all the amazing things just seem normal, you feel like a local and just like why haven't I been doing this all along? That's not to say other cities aren't great - even Sheffield where I live (which is much smaller) is a great place to live and has come a long way in the 21st century. Still, New York is at the very top of it's game and simply can't compare to other places.

Cool underground art at 36 St subway station.
Most of today was taken up by visiting the Ellis and Liberty Islands to see the Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, where many hundreds of thousands of people from all backgrounds and countries arrived in the city during the 20th century. It's a lengthy expedition, with constant crowds of people queueing up for tickets then an hours wait to go through airport style  security. It really is worth it though; it's very nature means you're not likely to do it again in a hurry and as such make the most of every moment.

Manhattan as seen from the Liberty/Ellis Island ferry.
Pedestal access tickets to the onsite museum are hard to come by unless you start early, and crown access tickets even harder (unless you take advantage of the ticket touts assaulting you in your way out of South Ferry subway station). Everyone has to go through security though and it was a sunny day, so we were happy enough to just wander round taking pictures through the throng before boarding the ferry again over to Ellis Island.

Not really sure what this is.
The views from the boat are tremendous, although tinged with sadness still as you note the twin towers missing from the skyline, lost to history. There's no time for sadness though as you head off the boat and into Ellis Island museum. The museum itself is fascinating and free to enter (though the ferry ticket to get here costs), but is quite time consuming. I bought a nice affordable book from the museum gift shop with stories from immigrants from all over the world from the early 20th century to the present day about their lives after arrival in America.

Statue of Liberty as seen from Ellis Island.
Back in Manhattan we had a cheeky snack of bacon cheese fries (delicious) before heading to the Strand bookshop on Broadway. Absolutely huge with (it's said) over 18 miles of books, a massive bibliophile (i.e. me) could spend hours in there. I didn't however but managed to find a copy of the beautiful hard cover book I'd seen previously about the  Grand Central Rail Terminal in the New York Transit Museum at Central station for an amazing $12.95 as compared to $50 in the museum. I was reeling in a positive way at the price so bought another small Taschen art book I'd had my eye on for $8.95 before making my escape, ever conscious of my increasing luggage weight.

The Strand bookstore on Broadway - this is a dangerous place.
Dinner was had in Brooklyn again, this time at a German style bierhalle. Currywurst, fries and a hofbrau dunkel for just under $20. Nice! We were pretty tired by this point so headed back to the hotel to settle down. Tomorrow we're moving our things over to our Manhattan-based hotel so it should be easier to explore upper Manhattan or just take a break in the middle of the day if necessary. I still need to see Central Park, Top of the rock, 9/11 Memorial museum, MoMA, Friend's house and so many other things in the next 5 days I don't know where to start.

Very cool good shop and deli in Brooklyn.
I still can't believe I'm so close to all these things and it's very easy to see why New Yorkers love their city. On the way back to the hotel I discovered an amazing food shop and deli in Williamsburg and picked up an artsy magazine in a bookstore known as The Brooklyn Rail which I'm going to sit and read now - critical perspectives on arts, politics and culture await! Time to get my hipster on - until tomorrow ;)

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Big Apple

Our first taste of Manhattan crossing the bridge on the subway.
Our first full day in the big city dawned bright and (reasonably clear). After breakfast I was very much torn by what to do first with so much choice around me. Should I explore Brooklyn first, or Manhattan? Given that it was so close, the temptation was there, but as we're based in Brooklyn for the first few days we decided to start here. Somewhat ironically, we had to take the subway to Union St 14 station in Manhattan before changing to the L line to cross back into Brooklyn for our first stop.

All aboard for the Brooklyn Brewery tour.
This was to be the Brooklyn Brewery, which I had tried to book on a tour for a few weeks before my arrival into the city, but unfortunately they had sold out for the week I was here. Happily, they also offer free tours at weekends for which no reservations are allowed, but you just turn up and take your chances - luckily, we had no problems doing so. As we arrived just after the last tour had left we had plenty of time so we had a beer from the bar in the brewery itself: $5 for a delicious Greenmarket wheat beer in my case.
The famous Wythe Hotel. Drinks planned here later in the week on the rooftop bar!
As the tour itself had been free instead of $14 I also treated myself to one of the breweries big bottles, Local number 2 with European malt and hops, Belgian dark sugar and raw wildflower honey from a New York family farm. At 9% ABV it is definitely a thing to be savoured. After leaving the brewery we headed to Rough Trade Records, a cool CD and vinyl shop with some vintage Otis Redding on vinyl as well as a cool release by a band called Eagulls - released by a Brooklyn based record label I thought I was onto a winner after hearing it on the listening post...until I discovered the band were from Leeds in Yorkshire - d'oh!

The amazing Grand Central rail terminal.
Next up we took a brief stroll down to Bushwick Inlet Park on the riverside for a view across into Manhattan. Sadly it was somewhat windy and cold at this point and overcast conditions meant the photos weren't the best. We headed back to the subway station to cross back over into Manhattan, where we changed trains to explore Grand Central railway terminus. As the starting point for many commuter trains headed north of the city it remains a fantastically beautiful building and with a range of shops and historic features inside.

The historic clock over the information booth in Grand Central.
We had a quick coffee and a snack from Café Grumpy (made me laugh) in the station then headed outside to just roam the streets for a while. We headed north along Fifth Avenue and came out at Bryant Park, a pleasantly green leafy spot with a random collection of chairs and books outside where you could just sit and read. We headed over the road and came across a Japanese bookstore selling all manner of books on Japanese culture, fiction etc in a range of languages. Somehow I wasn't at all surprised to see this in New York!

The attractive Bryant Park just off Fifth Avenue.
After leafing through the shelves for a while we left the shop and meandered over to Times Square, which came up on us before we knew it. I was pleased to walk the streets a little, as you see and do more than is possible below ground. Given we're currently based in Brooklyn, we've no choice but to rely on the subway, although this is an experience in itself and doesn't take too long to get to places if you plan your route. Still, New York is very much a walking city and if you group sights together there's no reason you can't spend an entire day without ever getting a train if you put your mind to it.

The famous Times Square approaching dusk.
Veering off track there, anyway Times Square isn't quite what I thought. It's certainly very impressive, and full of  tourists, but somehow felt different to how I expected. I can't put it any other way, but suffice it to say it's cooler in the evening as it starts to get dark and the light show comes into it's own. I bought a nice canvassy print in a cardboard frame from a Russian guy for $2 (hopefully with no links to the Mafia) - there were loads of them making it hard to choose but I settled on a print showing all the shows on display in the square. It's my hope to see something off (or on) Broadway later in the week, possibly Arthur Miller's The Crucible (hello Sheffield!) at the Walter Kerr theatre.

Museum and gift shop dedicated to Hershey's in Times Square.
Time was marching on so we headed back into Brooklyn for dinner. We had planned to eat at Łomżynianka, a Polish restaurant in Williamsburg. Sadly it had closed down when we got there, so we had clearly been misled by Google. Nonetheless we chose a cosy, candlelit bar called All's well where I had delicious gnocchi in a cheese sauce with asparagus and a lager from another local outfit Six point brewing. Following on this we went to the hotel to retire. It's now 8 minutes to midnight so time for some sleep ready for another hectic day of exploring tomorrow!