Welcome to the Big Apple - 28th June 2011
We're obliged to rise early in order to pack up and get ourselves ready for an early flight out of Edinburgh. Fortunately no trouble getting a taxi and the cabbie keeps us amused with friendly chit chat on our way to the Airport. Here we face the usual problems with self-check-in machines which are different in every airport where they exist. Our needs are extra complicated because we want boarding passes here in Edinburgh as well as at London Heathrow where we have a few hours to wait for our flight on to New York. Fortunately a British Airways guy appears and asks if we want any help. And after hassling around with our electronic tickets and passports he finally gets things right at the third try and the machine spits out four boarding passes. That takes care of both flight legs and hopefully the luggage handling gear will also play ball so that our bags also turn up New York tonight.

Both flights went smoothly but our main concerns relate to the limo driver who's supposed to meet our flight at JFK Airport. There's also the question about whether we'll be able to gain entry to the apartment we've rented in East Village NYC. We've had heaps of anxiety about each of these matters because there's been major hassles with both arrangements. So what happened??

Firstly our limo driver was not waiting for us in the pre-arranged location and secondly our phone was failing to shake hands with a local mobile network. We asked another limo driver for advice after explaining our situation. He was sympathetic but explained that he had driven down from Connecticut and didn't really know what the score was here in New York City. He then had a play around with our phone trying to call our limo company but had no luck. So then he whipped out his own phone and managed to place the call. And whilst he was explaining the problem to our limo company his fare walked out of the Customs Hall area and I ended up having to intercept the guy and tell tell him what was going on. Finally I said "kindly don't hassle your limo driver because he's trying to help me. Please just be patient because your driver is the only lifeline I have at this juncture!" In due course the phone is passed back to me and the limo company tells me my driver is now nearby and should arrive in about 10 minutes time. Big relief.... well  hopefully! Anyhow I then offered our good Samaritan from Connecticut five bucks for the phone call but he gracefully declines. I'll always remember his kindness.

In due course our limo driver arrives and he turns out to be a six foot, 400 pound African immigrent with REAL ATTITUDE. I think the limo company must have just chewed him out real good on the phone and now he's taking it out on us. He grabs our bags and charges off without ever looking behind to see whether we're with him or not. Actually we're running to keep up. We follow him into a parking station where he chucks our bags into some sort of huge black Mercedes SUV which looks almost as big as a Hummer. And when we get inside it absolutely REEKS of cigarette smoke so we're instantly gagging big time.

Well by now it's around 6.30pm and we're inching our way into Manhattan along a grid locked freeway in peak hour traffic. This doesn't improve our driver's mood and every so often he yanks the wheel and we take off into the suburbs searching for a way through before returning back  to the freeway and gridlock again. We're still gagging on old cigarette smoke but can't open the windows because it's like 35 degrees Celsius outside. It's truly HOT and quite a change after stepping out into chilly Scotland only this morning!!

Our apartment in this "walk-up" on East 5th St, East Village NYC

The biggest and best burger in East Village but "No thanks Paul" 

The owner of our apartment apparently lives miles away and because of our late arrival he mailed keys for the building's front door and the apartment door to us in Scotland. So now we've arrived at the address were really apprehensive as to what we'll have to do if the keys don't fit, especially as our phone still isn't working. We struggled up the really steep steps with our 80kg of luggage and after fiddling with the sloppy loose imprecise Yale lock I finally got the front door open. Great, now we don't have to be standing in this moderately seedy street as night falls. Our street facing apartment was immediately on our right after entering the building (see above) and had FOUR locks on the front door. Some looked obviously broken but two of them looked ok so which one would suit our key? Well our key would go into both the locks but neither could be turned. After lots of experimentation involving full insertion or 90% insertion, jiggling the key and sticking my tongue out first to the left, then the right, on both the top lock and the bottom lock, one of them suddenly opened and we were in. Hallelujah, what a relief !!

Lynn's first comment was "what a dump!". I said "hey, I spent days searching the web and looking at a hundred apartments in this part of NYC. And for $300 a night this is as good as it gets". Frankly although it was small and a little on the dark side it wasn't all that bad. Sure it didn't measure up to the sort of places we stayed in throughout Europe and the UK but this was New York City after all. My biggest worry was the heat. The little air conditioner in the lounge room didn't look up to cooling the whole apartment and it didn't. Fortunately we could seal that room off and that at least have one place where we could take refuge from the abnormally hot weather.

Lynn was totally done in and decided to hit the sack even though it was only about 8.00pm. I braved the street on my own with my wallet in the front pocket of my jeans and my right hand holding onto it like grim death. Look, the street was very dark and a little bit down market but it was my wish see the "real New York" so this location will hopefully be ideal.

Just 150 metres down the street and I came to busy 3rd Avenue with wall to wall middle class cafes and coffee shops, lots of coloured lights, streams of people and you know the kind of scene. I walked into a busy Thai cafe but they didn't want to give me their last remaining table because I was only a "party of one". Let's not get too picky about that screwy phrase because by this time I was very hungry and this party of one wanted to eat. After a bit of discussion I was offered a stool at a counter where I ordered a quart of Coke served with a kilo of ice. The air-conditioner in this cafe isn't really coping either! Suddenly two tables were vacated and having got over my initial New York nervousness I assertively told the hostess. "I'll be sitting over here". Eventually my admittedly inexpensive meal arrived and frankly folks, I should have gone to a different cafe. "C'est la vie". 

Then it was back out in the street where I found a mini market and bought the essential ingredients for tomorrow's breakfast. Back at our apartment I wrestled with the locks again, put the groceries in the fridge, dropped down on my bed and slept like a log for eight hours which is fully two to three hours more than normal for me..

The fountain in Washington Square Park

Buskers in Washington Square Park

I'd had some extensive correspondence and Skype calls with Greg, an expatriate Aussie school teacher living and teaching in New York. He'd helped us a lot with advice and orientation info. We'd arranged to shout lunch for Greg and his American girlfriend Christine, at a bistro place in East Village. We hit it off with this couple rather well and it turned out that Christine was an Art Teacher who had done a Masters degree in Renaissance Art. We apparently showed the right amount of interest and she suggested meeting us next day uptown at the world famous Frick Museum where she'd show us around. Lynn and I quickly agreed and got all the necessary info about what subway train to catch, where to board and where to disembark.

We were actually eating our lunch in an outside section of the bistro and our table was physically on the edge of the sidewalk. This meant that beggars kept hitting us up for for cash handouts which was off-putting for us but it really shocked Christine. I think she was a bit embarrassed for our sakes. "This kind of thing never happens uptown" she said. "Maybe they can't afford the fare uptown", says I, "besides, the drugs and booze would be much cheaper down here in East Village. Sorry folks I've never been able to resist a mildly amusing riposte but Christine smiled and it didn't do any damage. Frankly I wasn't too surprised as I have previously  encountered lots of beggars during visits to other North American cities far less challenged than New York. I well remember there being heaps of panhandlers in Seattle Washington and also in Ottawa, Canada's National Capital, no less.

We were serenaded by this 80 year old busker

Letting their hair down in Washington Square Park fountain

After lunch Lynn and I went for a long walk which included Washington Square Park. There were lots of people in the park enjoying some respite from heat under the shade trees or fooling around under a big decorative fountain. We did pretty much the same although we didn't get into the fountain. It was pleasant to vege out in the shade and do a little people watching. We then strolled home by an indirect route through Greenwich Village which was full of classy restaurants and also has some amazing deli's and other specialty food shops. I was knocked out by the butcher shops with six month old dry hung beef, coffee retailers with 20 or more large sacks of roasted coffee beans from around the world, an oyster merchant who had big stacks of oysters from 15 different places in the 48 States plus Canada and Alaska. And so on and so forth. For a serious foodie like me it was absolute paradise but with so little time in New York I couldn't really take advantage of it.  Walking on we did find a very good supermarket, bought provisions for the rest of our stay and finally arrived home totally exhausted with feet throbbing big time.

So I'm standing behind this young lady waiting for my portrait.....

The snack van beside our local subway station entrance

Next morning we walked to the Astor Place subway entrance as directed, eventually worked out how the ticketing machine worked (we're country hicks after all) and asked around as to what platform we needed for an Uptown journey. Before long we were taking our first trip on the New York subway system and it all seemed very civilized just after the morning peak hour.

We take our first ride down in the New York subway

Subway buskers taking a break between brackets

Don't rely on this guy in any Emergency Subway Evacuation!

I bet this nice bicycle won't be still here this afternoon !!

Lynn gives her aching feet a rest whilst waiting for the next train

Famous Frick Museum on Park Avenue opposite Central Park

In due course we met up with Greg and Christine and the latter became our guide throughout the Frick Museum. What a wonderful building and what treasures they have on exhibition. Christine was marvellous and daringly opinionated. "Now this is a 18th century oil painting by etc etc which the Frick bought last last year for over a half million. The critics love him but for my money, frankly it's crap!". Christine made it all come alive. She seemed to know about most of the artists, their history and the background to many of their works. She made everything come alive and we really enjoyed our visit.

There are some major major works hung in the Frick Museum

Rooms have a luxuriously serene ambience with wonderful lighting

Indoor garden and fountain in the
Frick Museum

Rococo period room inside the Frick Museum

Leaving  the Frick Museum we walk over to Central Park. This was a "must see" for us for a whole lot of reasons. I had toyed with the idea of renting a horse and carriage and given the heat this now seemed like an excellent idea compared  to hoofing it around the park under the blazing sun. However no sooner had we entered the park than a pedicab driver accosted us. He had a very engaging manner and soon convinced us that a horse and carriage was too expensive and poor value. He offered us a 20 minute pedicab tour for $80 but when I said this was too much for a mere 20 minute tour he countered with an offer of $100 for a one hour tour. We eventually accepted and set off.

We sign up for a one hour pedicab tour of Central Park

A living statue guy poses for a photo with this Mexican family

The pedicab tour method turned out to be a great way to tour the park and our guide was pleasant, intelligent and knowledgably with a good sense of humour. He told us that he was peddling as a summer job to save some money before entering an acting school. He had a science degree from a Turkish University but acting was his passion and he had come to New York to study. Go figure!

There's much more to show and tell so please click the button immediately below which will take you to the next page. We'll grab ourselves a much needed cold drink and then look forward to joining you there.

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