A Festive Winter Visit in New York

A Festive Winter Visit in New York

Josephine Bacon

A Festive Winter Visit in New York

“If, like me, you visit New York for business or pleasure but can’t work out the best part of town in which to stay, let me share my discoveries with you. By far the most convenient part of New York is anywhere around Grand Central Station on 42nd Street, or south of it. Grand Central Station may be the only place in New York you’ll want to visit! The beaux-arts architecture is superb, a testament to early twentieth century prosperity. Of course, the fact that it is on such a grand scale has led to many calls from the City Fathers for its demolition. The Biltmore, the original hotel that was built on top of the station and was contemporaneous with it, has indeed been torn down and replaced by an all-glass Hyatt, now itself covered in scaffolding in the relentless pursuit of modernization. The Metropolitan Life skyscraper rears up just behind the Hyatt, so you can easily spot the semi-underground station from miles away by the huge ‘MET LIFE’ sign on the top.

The station itself has numerous stores as well as the Grand Central Market, a rather chichi gourmet market but with a good kitchen wares stall, and a huge food court, serving almost every kind of food from Cajun (just opened) to Kosher and including Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Gourmet Vegetarian. You can eat it at a marble table or you can lounge in one of the bright red leather sofas and gigantic armchairs that were part of the original decor. Best of all are the restrooms (toilets to you and me). New York is a city without public conveniences, so for those with weak bladders or small children, the cafes, museums and Grand Central are important places to stop.

Why stay downtown? Because that’s where all the good stuff is – the shopping! If you want to visit the occasional museum or restaurant uptown, just take the subway (forget cabs during the rush hour). In Grand Central Station (left), you will find the Subway Museum, a miniature version of the London Transport Museum, with subway souvenirs. Additional advantages are a post office in the same block, and the big shuttle buses to and from Newark and JFK airports which are much more convenient than taxis or Super Shuttle vans and only cost $15.00 per person one way. So when you want to go to the airport, you don’t need to book in advance, just take a taxi to the shuttle bus office on Park Avenue and buses leave every 20 minutes. My hotel, which was a right royal rip-off in every way (see below) wanted me to hire a limo to go one-way to JFK for $99.00!

Herald Square, at 32nd Street, is the Mecca for shoppers, the heart of the Garment District, although Mecca might be an inappropriate word because the Garment District is so Jewish it even has its own synagogue! All types of fashion store are here, from wholesale to retail, upmarket and designer to sleazy and spangly. My favorite is not Macys, which dominates Herald Square, but Conway, of which there are several branches in the neighborhood. Service is nonexistent and some of the stuff is really tacky but there are also incredible bargains and no one tries to hassle you.

My favorite hotel, the New Yorker, is just round the corner on Eighth Avenue. This skyscraper, originally the biggest hotel in New York, was once owned by the Moonies. Prices have shot up since it was taken over by the Ramada chain but the facilities have improved, there are still 1,000 bedrooms and the position is unbeatable. It is just a short walk to the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library and the central Post Office that is open 24/7. The Tick Tock diner next door, which belongs to the hotel, is a great place for a snack.

On my last trip, the New Yorker was full. The travel agency rebooked me without my permission to a hotel on Park Avenue, but I won’t mention the name because I was extremely unhappy with it. OK, so there was a massive TV wall screen and big pillows on the bed; but the only two facilities that make hotels across America my favorites in the world were absent, namely a coffee-maker and an ice machine. Woody Allen claims that California’s only contribution to civilization is being able to make a right-hand turn against the traffic lights. But the American hotel industry’s contribution to civilization is the ice machine. In every hotel on the continent – except the one I stayed in – you will find an ice bucket in your room and a machine on every second or third floor from which you can fill it to the brim for free. A coffee-maker in which you can boil water for a drink (I had a terrible cold while in the US – a hot drink was just what I needed) was the other vital facility missing from the room. There was not even a Yellow Pages, another essential feature for a hotel. Fortunately Times Square was not that far away.

But I digress. Further downtown in New York, Union Square at 16th and 17th streets has a farmer’s market every Wednesday with delicious organic produce (don’t buy anything uncooked if you intend to take it back to England, customs are a bit funny about raw steaks, organic vegetables, etc.).

Even further downtown still lie the Lower East Side, the Tenderloin and Hell’s Kitchen, the original immigrant neighborhoods, still a little run down but very picturesque and thus inevitably prey to gentrification by the artistic crowd who have more sense than money. The Museum of the Lower East Side is at 97 Orchard Street, where the numbered streets give way to those with real names. Over 10,000 people lived at that one address between the years 1870 and 1915. The landlord refused to put in individual toilets for each apartment when ordered to do so by the city in the 1930s, so he closed the upper part of the building (the downstairs part is still occupied by shops). The museum acquired it in its untouched condition and it is now a major tourist attraction. There are great places to eat round here, Ratners, the Second Avenue Deli and Katinka’s, a Russo-Polish restaurant, to name but a few. Canal Street, the Chinese section, has an amazing Chinese street market, probably the best outside Asia.

Colder than London this time of the year New York is in a festive (all right – commercial) mood. It’s really buzzing and you can skate in Central Park (above) or the Rockefeller Center (and other places too). With a choice of seven airlines from London fares are currently very competitive (a euphemism for cheap). Our thanks to NYC for the pictures.

http://www.nyctourist.com and http://www.nycvisit.com

Our contributor is Josephine Bacon, a London-based food writer and professional translator/interpreter who lived in California for four years and is in New York regularly.

http:// www.americanization.com

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COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning