Sunday, 26 May 2013

New York ~ Part 2

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

I fell in love with Williamsburg as soon as I arrived. A total contrast to the glass skyscrapers and noise of Manhattan, it was nice to walk along streets where you could see the sky again (not just the tip of it!). After dumping the cases at the hotel I headed to the Brooklyn Art Library. Along the way I passed quirky shops and cafes and classic American cars. Artistic graffiti decorated building exteriors and there was a general mellow hipster vibe to the place, confirmed by my sighting of a group of people sitting playing music on top of a brightly painted bus.  

Hipsters on a bus
Funky car
NY Graffiti

My visit to the Brooklyn Art Library was one of my favourite parts of the trip. Multicoloured sketchbooks lined the shelves and vintage merchandise was dotted around the place. Large tables were set out in the centre of the room, allowing you to sit and browse through the sketchbooks, with chilled out music playing in the background. After being issued a library card (and checking if my sketchbook was there just now – it wasn’t – the 2013 ones still in the tour van heading to their next destination) I headed to a computer at the back where I scanned my card and chose a theme. The library assistant then brought me a sketchbook matching my chosen theme and a couple of random ones he thought I’d like. Gemma came back with me the next evening and we were given lots of sketchbooks to look through. I could have sat for hours browsing. Some of the artwork is truly amazing. You can see one of my favourites on the digital online library here: Niall Eccles amazing 'Things Found Under Car Seats'  (I also loved Rip Harrison's sketchbook but he doesn't appear to have digitised it- shame, as it was impressive!!)
Brooklyn Art Library
A selection of Sketchbooks

The cafes, restaurants and bars in Brooklyn have a lot of character and atmosphere. One of my favourite places was Gutter (which we spent ages trying to find after a tip off from one of Gemma’s work colleagues). This was a traditional American bar with a bowling alley attached through a glass screen. The guy behind the bar looked very American: long hair, red cap, black vest top revealing lots of tattoos.  We sat at the bar having a drink, waiting for our bowling number to pop up on a screen. The bowling was great fun (even although I lost) and the bowling shoes were so comfy (they didn’t rub my blisters) I was tempted to steal them to wear for the rest of the trip. 
Gutter Bar

Strict bowling rules
Gemma in action
Other highlights of Brooklyn: finding the most amazing traditional Italian restaurant behind our hotel – it was packed with families and looked like something out of the Godfather, ornate decoration, old fashioned pay phones on the walls when you walk in and the food was amazing!; walking through the Jewish part of town where everyone was in traditional dress – this was like going back in time; seeing the Manhattan skyline at dusk in the distance; browsing Sugartown Bookshop and walking to Greenpoint in search of Cafe Grumpy (from the tv series Girls). 

Jewish part of town

Manhattan skyline in the distance
If I return to New York I’d definitely stay in Brooklyn again – it’s cheaper than Manhattan (and easy enough to commute on the subway) and I loved the arty vibe.

My plan was to include a bit about the Greenwich Village walking tour in this post but I think I'll save that for another post...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

New York ~ Part 1

It's been a while since I've been on here. My last post was about the '50 Things’ project I signed up to through Art House Co-op and I can now tick off number 4 on the list: Plan an Overseas Trip, as I visited New York at the end of April. This was a bit of an unexpected holiday, which came about when one of my friends was asked to go here for a work trip and she suggested I join her for some of the time (she booked time off at the end so we could go sightseeing together). The timing of the trip meant I got to spend my birthday there – perfect!! We stayed in Brooklyn the last three nights, and our hotel was only a ten minute walk away from the Brooklyn Art Library, home of the Sketchbook Project (and Art House Co-op). Little did I know when I signed up to the project just before Christmas that in a matter of months I’d be sitting in the library browsing through other participants’ sketchbooks...but more of that later...

Empire State in the Sun
NYC at night

So where do I start trying to describe my New York experience? It all feels like a bit of a dream now as I had quite prolonged jet lag when I got back (which wasn’t helped by falling really ill about a week after my return) so I sort of feel like I’ve just woken up properly the past few days...
It felt like a total culture shock coming home which was probably a sign of how much I immersed myself into American culture. And I suppose when you’ve spent days walking around what sort of feels like a film set my litte hometown is bound to feel a bit ordinary...

Times Square
For the first three nights I stayed in Midtown, about a 5 minute walk from Times Square.  The New York Times building was just around the corner from my hotel and I didn't have to walk many blocks before the Empire State building came into view. The first time I walked through Times Square it was late afternoon and the atmosphere was electric – I found myself surrounded by ridiculously tall buildings with flashing advertising boards, neon signs, a spinning JVC Globe, people dressed as Batman, Spiderman, Elmo, Mickey and Minnie, a girl dressed in a white bikini with a guitar slung over her shoulder posing for photos, a man with a python snake wrapped around his neck, beggars wandering the streets with cardboard placards around their necks with the words: ‘I need money for booze and pot’. A crowd gathered in front of a massive screen, waving up at it as it took their photos and sprinkled their images across it. It was like stepping into an image of the future that you always see in films but never see in real life.  One afternoon on my way back to my hotel I was lucky enough to see two black boys playing the most amazing rock music ever beside the Times Square subway – one of them on drums, the other rocking out on his electric guitar. 

Outside Rockefeller Centre
On my birthday Gemma (thanks G!) treated me to a tour of the Rockefeller Centre, which included going to the top of the Observation Deck (or Top of the Rock as it’s known). Our tour guide was great – really knowledgeable and funny, and we got fast tracked to the observation deck. The lift to the top goes so fast your ears pop and images flash on the ceiling as music plays. The views across the city from Top of the Rock are amazing – we were there on a perfect clear day and could look straight across to the Empire State Building. After lunch we caught the free Staten Island Ferry which sails past the Statue of Liberty- it was nice to watch the skyline disappear as the ferry sailed out of the port. 

Top of the Rock

Later that day we headed to Washington Square Park which is in the Greenwich Village part of town. This was one of my favourite moments, sitting in the sun, people watching. A man sat playing tunes on a Grand Piano underneath the famous archway (which looks like a mini Arc de Triomphe), which added even more atmosphere to the park. 
Washington Square Park

One night for dinner we went to a traditional Diner called Tick Tock Diner, complete with booths and pictures of old cars and menus overflowing with options for burgers, milkshakes and pancakes. I sampled a very tasty burger with an amazing chocolate mousse cake for dessert.

We were pretty lucky with the weather when we were there, apart from the one day we had outdoor tours planned (when it rained all day!!). We went on a 2 hour bike tour of Central Park, looking a bit special in our helmets. We had a fun tour guide who kept it interesting (we were slightly worried that the seriously stoned boy directing us to our bikes was going to be our guide but thankfully not.)The Shakespeare Garden in Central Park is very pretty and I loved the atmospheric looking Belvedere Castle. We cycled round the whole park – a fantastic way to see it! 
Central Park
Shakespeare Garden, Central Park

That lunchtime we went to Joy Burger Bar in Greenwich Village. I loved this place as they gave you a card (as in from a deck of cards) as your order number then a Japanese woman would shout out ‘Six of hearts’ etc. when your order was ready. But she had a very strong Japanese accent so it sometimes took people a while to realise their order was being called. Favourite moment was her shouting out ‘Ace of Spades’ about ten times before anyone realised what she was saying. That afternoon we did a two hour walking tour of Greenwich Village. I’m going to do a separate post on that as I found that part of town really interesting. By the end of the tour I needed a seat. I loved New York, but it hated my feet. If you ever go... stock up on lots of blister pads (ordinary plasters won’t be good enough!!).

The High Line
The High Line
Other highlights were walking the High Line on our last day – this is a disused railway track that’s been converted into a type of public park – it sits elevated above the city and you can walk all the way along. We also did a tour of the Public Library ( I think we were both a bit too tired that morning to take in a lot of information) but the building was spectacular inside – marble staircases, ornate paintings, massive ceilings and reading rooms with hundreds and hundreds of books. It would be amazing spending the day here sitting reading (or writing!). I also visited the Museum of Modern Art. It was the first time I’ve been a bit impatient walking around an art gallery – there’s something about being in New York that makes you feel like you’re missing something if you spend too long indoors. If you ever go make sure you sit for a while in the Sculpture Garden on the ground floor and check out the gift shop!

Public Library
Sculpture Garden, MOMA

I got a taste of New York traffic when my taxi to Brooklyn was stuck on the Brooklyn Bridge for nearly an hour – quite a claustrophobic experience as I felt a bit caged in but I was excited to be heading to a new part of town....Williamsburg. I’ll save some of  my Brooklyn stories for my next post...