Well 2014 is finally upon us, I’m settling into my new flat in Berlin, but wanted to write up about our trip to the states. My sister wanted to visit some relatives in New York and despite being there so many times that all the tourist attractions have been completed (some twice!) we still bit the bullet and went over there.
Although in our last trip, we had visited Brooklyn, we spent this time walking around it a bit more. Williamsburg in particular has developed the last time we were there, and playing the “spot the hipster” game stopped being fun when our tallies got too high. We hadn’t been down to the Brooklyn Promenade before so we visited it for the awesome view of Manhattan’s skyline from a different perspective.
Like many other cities in the world, New York has also adopted the rent a bike scheme. I didn’t notice many people using them and perhaps that’s because the streets don’t have any dedicated space to them and the streets are busy enough with both tourists and other road traffic.
We scouted out a few art houses around the West Village. I loved how they had a massive place, only showing a few pieces whilst others couldn’t seem to have enough. I’m guessing that one piece purchased by someone would be enough to pay for the exorbitant rents.
Our last trips had us visiting post Christmas, so this time it was nice to see the Empire State building all lit up with festive colours, instead of the cycling colours they use to herald in the new year. We were lucky that the weather wasn’t too bad – a couple of days after we left New York had that massive snowstorm that cascaded into a backlog of planes around the country.
Finally we spent Christmas with our extended family (aunts, uncles and cousins) with the newest edition being a photogenic house cat going by the name of Cooper. I was surprised at how friendly the cat was to new people, not being particularly alarmist about us and also very interested in the camera.
We certainly ate a lot, shopped a bit and also took a trip out to Washington that I’ll write up as a separate post.
Apparently the most expensive musical ever to be produced on Broadway, Spiderman was one of those very hot tickets to get over the holiday season in New York. We ended up standing in line for rush tickets, those last minute tickets that the box office releases for the day, on what happened to be the coldest day in New York that we were there. -9 degrees Celcius with windchill, -18 degrees Celcius! We weren’t even the first people in line, when we started to queue and hour and a quarter before the box office opened. Between my sister and myself, we rotated our position in line to try to jump into the nearest warm cafe to defrost our limbs before cycling back.
Thank goodness they hadn’t sold out by the time that we got there and we ended up with some reasonable tickets for a cheap US$33 (right at the back) for 19:30 that evening. At least we still got a really good view of the stage, even if our seats came pre-filled with an additional seated cushion. I wasn’t expecting so much out of this musical. It is, after all, based after a comic book but I have to say it wasn’t the worst one that I’ve seen. The impressive use of the stage and theatre as well as the visuals was enchanting.
The much lauded aerial tricks grew a little weary, and the battle scene, super-cheesy (but appropriate) for the given genre. The music, developed by Bono, wouldn’t be exactly something I would describe as the pinnacle of his career, and the love interest Mary Jane seemed to outshine her main counterpart as the person with the strongest stage presence.
Would I see it again? Not for the US$100+ tickets most of them were going for, but for a more reasonable price, I would. I’m glad to say that I also didn’t fall asleep given how warm it was inside the theatre.
We are spoilt for choice in Britain with so many museums and art galleries providing free entrace to everything but some special exhibits. Hence, balking at the idea of paying to go to the Mususem of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. However my sister convinced me to go and (despite not being the biggest fan of most modern art displays).
At least, if anything, the MOMA is pretty good value also including entrance to their PS1 extension found in Long Island City, Queens. The MOMA contains about four or five floors of exhibits with plenty of rooms to walk around in. Just like most art places, unless you’re a huge fan of it, I think it’s best to go for the guided tour.
My sister found out about the very cool lecture tours conducted by a proper graduate student who talks about each of the pieces. They equipped us with modern listening devices, allowing the lecturer to speak with ease into their clip-on mike and hear her on our earpieces which we carried around. Given how popular the MOMA is and how many people somehow move in the way I really enjoyed this modern and particularly convenient touch. Our lecture took us on a “Changing Faces” tour of sculpture where we looked at pieces from multiple ages to see the progression. I liked the way that our lecturer/guide asked us on our thoughts even though she realised we didn’t really know that much about the artists or times. I liked the way that she was fine with our interpretations and comments on what we noticed most about each piece.
After the tour lasting about an hour, we walked around the rest of the exhibits. One of the “live” art pieces was a piano played from the inside as they crawl around the floor. Not quite sure what it was really trying to send as a message but entertaining when watching the crowds move with the piano from a bird’s eye view on the upper floors. I also realised walking around that I noticed many exhibits I’d seen in both London’s Tate Modern and Paris’ Pompidou Centre.
Apparently being someone in the mood for tours, we ended up on another one, this time at Madison Square Gardens for their All Access Tour. Madison Square Gardens is a place with a long rich history with New York, home to the New York Knicks (Knickerbockers), and the New York Rangers. It’s also played host to a lot of great concerts and performances throughout the years, including the famous Marilyn Monroe, “Happy Birthday Mr President” song.
The first part of the tour brings us to one of the handful of restaurants for exclusive (i.e. corporate) members where they forced us to watch a video about the history of Madison Square Garden, considering it’s past all the way up to the current incarnation of the venue. This video truly disappointed me particularly since our tour only lasted about forty minutes and the video took up a good fifteen of them. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was a free tour, but considering that it cost US$17 each, it totally wasn’t worth it. I expect a pretty decent tour guide, enthusiastic about it, instead getting a guide that looked like Stephen Merchant (both disappointing not him and not particularly funny) that took us around, gave us the short spiel about an area, and then stood there far too long in awkward silence. We at least got to sit rinkside watching one of the ice hockey games that school kids play before the main players hit the ice for the evening.
Based on our experience, I’d have to recommend people avoid this tour, and instead, simply pay for a ticket to see something worthwhile inside the venue instead. It’ll give you pretty much the same experience, and I’m sure that you can find a video about the history of the square on youtube or something.
A couple of days ago, my sister and I went along to the NBC Studio Tour (or the NBC Tour Experience). Both of us had never taken it before, so we thought we’d do it while we had a spare day. The tour starts off in second floor of the NBC shop, where we had to pick up our prepurchased tickets from a counter. Since it’s still just after New Years, the entire store was heaving with people, but it’s one of those things you have to get used to.
The first thing that you do on the tour is sit and watch a video about the NBC studios. It felt a little cattle-class-ish, standing in the tiny corrals lining up for the auditorium, but it seemed like the only way they could really keep pumping tours through every fifteen minutes (what a money-spinner it is!). With two tour guides (ours were young girls who apparently work as pages normally), the group is then brought through security and then to different floors around the building to see how some of the NBC shows get put together.
I think we first visited the site of where they do their nightly news, and pointed out some of the more unusual aspects to it, like the refrigerated air pumped into the room to keep the temperature reasonable when all the camera lights are on. We also go to see the set of (currently) Conan O’Brien’s late night show, that is actually tiny and then the set of Saturday Night Live. The tour finished off with a photo opportunity (and more money making opportunity for NBC), behind a news desk, where a couple of people also got to simulate showcasing the weather and telling the news for the evening.
I can’t say that it was the best tour in the world, and I think that it would have been made much more interesting had we been able to meet someone who worked on a show there. For US$23.25 each, I wouldn’t really think about doing it again.
Getting to Boston from New York was pretty easy with the Fung Wah bus, one of a handful that depart from Manhattan’s Chinatown. Costing only $15 each way, we boarded a comfortable large bus each way. We had read about the smaller shuttle buses, the small, uncomfortable ones you’d imagine you might hire for a short trip or see frequently at airports and such and fortunately we didn’t get any of them in their fleet.
The ride itself was pretty smooth despite heavy snow falling on our way back. Total travel time was just over four hours to Boston but obviously subject to whatever traffic lies between the two cities.
With the measly price that they charge, it’s a bargain that makes you wonder why you might pay for anything else.
After spending my first Christmas in London, I find myself back in New York visiting family and friends. Christmas ended up the same as what one would be at home with plenty of movies, food and family, which this year we ended up skype-ing in via webcam. Our virtual family gathering was great fun and made me realist how I don’t really miss the hear or humidity at this time of year in Australia.
Having done most tourist attractions in New York, this year my sister and I had a trip planned to visit Boston. I can’t wait for that because I had so many great memories of the city when I visited it, now, seven years ago.