Austinmer’s Statue of Liberty. As with it’s NY namesake, beautiful yet completely immobile.
Unacceptable. Take me to 5th Avenue
2 years gone by since the last US trip so I can’t wait to see how the world’s greatest superpower has flourished under President Hilary. Oh right.
It’s still been made great again right? That was the promise so we’ll kick off the US-dyssey in the 50th and newest state (not counting Oz) Hawaii - “birthplace” of the last pres - remember that guy? Proof that you really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
8 days of hello-ing and aloha-ing and whatever else you do there and then we’ll hopefully do something that eluded Captain Cook on his Hawaii holiday - a breathing departure.
Thence to Baltimore to visit the projects and various other tourist hotspots made famous on The Wire. Looking forward also to spending a few days with our ex-Austinmer neighbours Trish & Michael who are now Baltimorons (there must be nicer way of saying that)
Washington DC, Philadelphia (probably) and a week in NYC to close.
I won’t promise a daily blog but I’ll post photos when I can and add a few words when inspiration strikes
Austinmer’s Statue of Liberty. As with it’s NY namesake, beautiful yet completely immobile.
Unacceptable. Take me to 5th Avenue
So it’s not exactly Marty McFly in a Delorean but it’s sort of cool to leave Oz at 7pm and arrive in Hawaii the same day at 9am.
At 44 hours quite literally the longest day of our lives has been 19th September. And yes I appreciate that we pay it back on the way home (how will my life be complete without an October 12th?)
In any event, via car, train, plane, another plane and shuttle bus we eventually found paradise on the island of Kauai (apparently pronounced “Ka-Why”). Don’t know. Our trip not without incident I should say - most notably being detained for some time in Honolulu immigration for some sort of irregularity with Sophie’s passsport. We never really found out what it was about - can only assume it was the long arm of St Marys College issuing an Interpol alert for repeated behaviour infringements.
If you’ve seen it, Kauai was the setting for the George Clooney movie The Descendants and it’s gorgeous in a pacific idyll not yet trashed by commercialism sort of way. Chickens in the streets, plenty of very modest beachfront shacks etc. And spectacular volcanic mountains that make the Illawarra escarpment look insignificant and dull.
So kids straight into the pool, M cruising the local Safeway for specials, me checking out running routes. Some things don’t change even in paradise
Honolulu to Kauai
It’s called the Coconut Coast for unknown reasons
Exhibit A - well behaved offspring
Waipouli Beach Resort
Waipouli Beach Resort
Sophie (to waitress): I’ll have a hamburger please.
Waitress: How would you like that cooked?
Sophie: ahhh - normally?
One thing you’ve got to like about the US is their attention to service. The cynic in me says they’re just fishing for a good tip, but the service mentality is deeply cast and by and large you do leave a store/restaurant well satisfied - and with a “have a nice day”ringing in your ears. Auto-pilot maybe.
I digress. Hot today - and very humid as I discovered on a morning run. But stunningly gorgeous until perspiration blurred my vision and I pretty much dissolved into a pool of sweat. Note to self - get up earlier.
Family adventure today was a kayak up the Wapuli River and then a jungle hike to “Secret” waterfall. “Not so secret Waterfall” would be a more accurate name but so it goes. Still beautiful and a great place for a swim..
Back the way we came across streams, through the mud and Laura giving us all kayaking lessons (Do as I say not as I do). Leading us back to the fore-mentioned burger. Cooked to perfection - “normally”.
So I need to correct a little misinformation from day 1 post. The correct pronunciation of this island is actually kah-wye-ee, which is kind of what I thought before everyone started correcting me.
Not that it really matters - It turns out that almost no-one here understands anything we say anyway. I needed 4 attempts today to convey that I wanted to rent a bike. And this was in a bike rental shop! I’m not joking - “you want to rent a buck?” she kept asking. FFS. Why would anyone in a bike shop want to rent a buck?
When all other communication fails a credit card normally works and so Soph and I found ourselves on a helicopter tour of the island (sure beats riding a buck!). Spectacular an understatement and below pics similarly don’t do justice. Slightly sad that the amazing Manawaiopuna Falls is now commonly known as ”Jurassic falls“ as a result of being featured in the movie, but the whole ride just stunning.
Also amazing is the range of climates on such a small island - about 50 km across. The dormant volcano (Mount Waialeale) at the centre of the island claims to be the wettest place on the planet getting soaked by 400 inches of rain a year (10,000mm - almost 10 times Syd) yet areas on the western leeward side are practically arid - less than 10 inches a year. Apparently Mark Twain called the Waimea Canyon (see pics) the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.
Or perhaps he was just trying to rent a bike
Na Pali coast
Just once in my life I’d like to drive away from a car rental company not feeling like I’ve been sodomised. Or charged twice the amount of the online quote due to “other fees & charges”. Or made to feel like a desperate gambler for declining the comprehensive insurance cover that “almost all of our customers take”. Talking about you Thrifty.
What I mean to say is we rented a car today to explore the bits of Kauai that are a little further afield. Soph and I had seen Waimea Canyon from the air but it was equally impressive from ground level. Per Twain (see yesterday) it’s the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and the similarities are striking. Only half the depth (900m v 1800m) but scale becomes hard to digest when it’s all so freaking huge.
Having reached “wow” saturation point we turned back to the south coast to visit Poipu Beach - a lovely little beach with decent snorkeling. Lots of fish about - especially once the kids brought out the fish food. Which was cool until the food was done and Soph copped a gentle nip on the finger from a still hungry bream(?). Fish taco revenge will be sweet.
Unfortunately we left it too late in the day to properly see the National Botanic Gardens (girls so devastated!) and the Sprouting Horn blowhole hardly in Kiama’s league - today at least. But a fabulously beautiful piece of coast.
Fish frenzy- snorkeling at Poipu
Sophie - shortly before getting finger nipped!
Waterfall schmaterfall. Another jaw dropping sight but waterfall-complacency has set in - sorry Wailu Falls - you deserved better.
Our next stop was the mountain of the Sleeping Giant. You need to squint a bit but you can sort of make him out in the above (like an Easter Island statue lying down). The story goes is that he protects Kauai and in days gone by when the island was under attack they’d set fire to the mountain to illuminate the sleeping giant as a deterrent.
Surprisingly our girls were undeterred from taking on the steep hike to the giant’s head (that’s his nose in the above pic) and the view at the top rewarded our very sweaty effort.
Fabulous scenery on the walk also - including an impressive stand of Norfolk Island pines. Although over here they’re called Cook Pines after the Captain who brought them here. They obviously thought naming a tree after the guy would alleviate guilty consciences for what they did to poor Jim.
This being our last day on Kauai I had another crack at renting bucks, er bikes with somewhat more success.
There’s a terrific bike trail running along the east coast - almost all flat. Which was great as one of my daughters (won’t say which but her name starts with L) has a habit of throwing bikes into the undergrowth on hills.
We were told to look out for Monk Seals. Not sure however what this strange creature was..
Sophie: “Why do we always get to the airport ridiculously early?”
Because you’re a Stanfield Soph. That’s what Stanfields do. All manner of things might have happened on the way to the airport - accidents, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis. Ok - they didn’t today (yet again) but you just never know when they will.
So farewell to Kauai today which was sad, but delighted to be rid of the fugliest car in existence (a Nissan Armada for the record).
A quiet travel day gives me a chance for a natural history interlude (sorry if boring - feel free to skip!). In geological terms, Hawaii is a new born. The oldest island Kauai is just 5 million years old, (Australia is 3800 million). So in terms of weathering, erosion, and evolution it’s got some catching up to do. So soils are still super rich - full of iron which really has just recently spewed out of the earth - which oxidises to a bright red when exposed to the air.
Similarly the fauna is still just getting started. Hawaii has just 2 native mammals - the Hawaiian Bat and the Monk Seal. Lots of introduced stuff also of course - pigs, deer, cows and chickens - which as mentioned earlier are ubiquitous in Kauai. On the streets, parks, shopping centre car parks, everywhere. Apparently pre 1992 this wasn’t the case but Hurricane Iniki changed all that causing mass coup outbreaks all over the island - and that chicken genie just won’t go back in the bottle.
Our Kauai guidebook states that “Kauai roosters are particularly stupid” which sounds kind of harsh. This view seemed to be based on their predilection for crowing round the clock, but given they’ve been on the run for 26 \240years now in spite of crowing 24x7, you’ve got to wonder who the stupid ones really are.
30 minute flight back to Honolulu and then into Waikiki. Gorgeous hotel right on the beach but this place feels crazy busy after Kauai. Still - sitting here drinking a cold beer by the pool with a very chilled guy on guitar singing covers - life’s pretty good.
Hotel Alohani pool
Fig tree - Waikiki Beach
“A hot one today - even for Hawaii” - our Uber driver informed us as he drove us to the start of the walk up the 760 foot Diamond Head crater.
Unphased by the heat and buoyed by recent family trek successes we commenced the hike at the most challenging possible time - midday, thereby notching up the sweat dial to 11. Team morale however was short-lived - J: “How you doing Soph?” S: “Hot. And I hate you for making me do this”. Ok then.
I’ve got to confess that the hike to the top peak (Leahi) was pretty tough in the conditions - we all sweated buckets, and not all members of the party agreed that the view justified the exertion. But - it was pretty awesome.
Also apparent from the peak looking back down is what a perfect crater it really is. My phone camera couldn’t do it justice but the below steal from Google shows it well
Tempted as I was to suggest moving on to the even more challenging Koko Head, the body language of the team suggested that this may be unwise - and so we retired to the hotel for a leisurely afternoon of relaxing and swimming. Even M took a dip in the surf - a blue moon event in blue Hawaii.
Duke Kahanamoku is a famous son of Hawaii - Olympic gold medallist, the guy who introduced surfing to the wider world, movie star, hero (once single handedly rescuing 8 people from a sinking boat), and then sheriff of Honolulu for 25 years.
For all that you get a massive statue on Waikiki Beach, and closer to our stomachs, a famous and most delicious restaurant named after you - thank you Duke!
I don’t ordinarily subscribe to “if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all”, so I’m kind of tempted to tee off on the limited joys of outlet mall shopping.
But I’ll just say this. If it turns out my godless notions are misguided and I am to be punished by a vengeful deity, and you’re wondering to what terrifying, painful, mind-numbing hell-hole I shall be banished, I suspect it will be Waikele Premium Outlet Mall.
On a brighter note (and yes - I really am scraping the barrel today!), check out these cool bromeliads- including a few pineapples growing in the Hyatt Regency foyer. Nice work God - are we cool?
One would have thought that yesterday’s outlet shopping experience would have satisfactorily scratched that retail spending itch, but one would be wrong.
So today like the gluttons for punishment that we (or just I?) are, we found ourselves at the Ala Moana Centre - a shopping mall about the size of a small city. After pretty much circumnavigating the thing looking for an entrance, we found our way in, and almost instantly I found myself looking for a way out. Truth be told - some retail success was achieved - at prices (I’m told) unheard of in Oz.
Reflections on Hawaii?
1. Expectations fulfilled. It’s a tourist mecca of course, but still a great experience.
2. We were mighty glad to have spent most of our time on Kauai - the natural wonders of islands like this are the real Hawaii that visitors to Waikiki miss out on.
3. Waikiki - I know some people who return ehere very year - and have been doing so for 20 years. I also know people who like the piano accordion. Some things you just can’t account for.
Next stop Baltimore - a night flight with a breakfast stopover in Dallas.
Diamond Head Beach lookout (morning run)
Ala Moana Cente
Returning on the trolley bus from AMC
30 hours no sleep and we truly are entering zombie apocalypse. Evening flight Honolulu to Dallas (what an amazing airport even if I’m still unsure if it was real or a dream), a couple of hours stopover and then another flight to Baltimore. Maryland.
Gotta hate it when the flight has almost closed, there’s a spare seat next to you so you’re just thinking about that extra space, and at the very last minute someone rushes on. And not just an anyone, but an anythree. Am I entitled to a 50% refund on that half a seat I didn’t get to occupy?
Too many episodes of The Wire had me expecting a Baltimore somewhat different to the real thing. No doubt that alternate reality does exist, but its definitely not uniform - in fact the area where Michael and Trish live is very nice - not dissimilar to Sydney’s Rocks area.
Fabulous to see our Austinmer neighbour Michael. Who by the way is not a Baltimoron (see post #1) but a Baltimorean - aha. A good walk around the neighbourhood, dinner at a local pub, a few reds and lots of catching up. Everyone shattered though - early to bed and let our body clocks adjust
Henderson’s Wharf, Baltimore
Baltimore / Washington DC
Fans of the most excellent HBO series The Wire might have a pre-conceived perception of Baltimore. I did - it almost stopped me coming here. Visions of the “projects” and drug corners overseen by ruthless gangs may well exist in this city - but not everywhere in the city.
Michael was my guide for a run around Baltimore early this morning (fabulous weather btw - 26 and cloudless). Great to explore the waterfront where thousands of boats happily dock in Chesapeake Bay for now - but in a few short months are likely to be iced in.
Our main course today however was a trip an hour south to Washington DC to visit the many icons from countless movies & TV shows - Lincoln Memorial, Reflection Pool, MLK and Washington memorials, Capitol Hill, White House etc. All fabulous and cause for reflection on what a phenomenon this country is - and how farcical the current presidential situation has become. Truth truly has become stranger than fiction.
Back to Baltimore this evening to watch the relentless police helicopter patrols (perhaps The Wire not so far-fetched!) but more importantly experience a local specialty - crab - of which a dozen quickly passed under our mallets and into our tummies.
Everyone exhausted but fulfilled after an excellent day
Reflection Pool - Washington DC
Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial
Girls on a scooter - White House
Baltimore crab fest
One would be forgiven for thinking that Baltimore (population 600,000) is the capital of Maryland - or “Merilen” as seems to be the accepted pronunciation.
But no - it’s actually Annapolis, population 40,000. It’s a beautiful little town on Chesapeake Bay - full of boats (known as “America’s sailing capital“), cobblestone streets and English looking houses and shops, Home also to the US Naval Academy so full of ”handsome but not hot” sailors (according to Laura) and on yet another sunny and warm day, lots of sightseers enjoying the picturesque town.
Returning to Baltimore in the afternoon we split on gender lines with Trish and the girls having some girl time and Michael and I heading to the baseball to drink beer and eat hot dogs. Oh - and also watch some baseball as the Baltimore Orioles surprisingly beat the Houston Astros. A very rare treat indeed for the home fans.
Maryland State House - Annapolis
Baltimore Orioles v Houston Astros
Baltimore / Washington
Another cracking day greeted us in Baltimore. As did the giant crab outside our hotel...
Today was a return to Washington DC to visit a few of her fantastic museums. We’ve seriously underestimated the time required to properly visit DC - 2 half days is about 5 full days short.
James Smithson was a 19th century British scientist who despite never having visited the US bequeathed his entire estate of $500,000 (1835 money) to the establishment in Washington of an institution for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge amongst men”. And so the Smithsonian Institute was founded which now maintains 19 museums and galleries containing 156 million items - “the nation’s attic” as it is fondly known.
Time was our enemy today so we kicked off with a way too hasty visit to the National Air and Space Museum. Highlights being the Spirit of St Louis, loads of space rockets and the Wright Brothers exhibit.
Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St Louis
Laura and our return flight plane from NY
The other great find in DC has been the rentable electric scooters. Same concept as the Sydney share bikes except they don’t all get thrown in the harbour. A big hit with the kids
Next stop was the confronting but superbly presented Holocaust Museum. No photos of this one, but it is remarkable and made a deep emotional impression on all of us.
Last stop (the day just disappeared from us) was the National Gallery of Art. Laura was most underwhelmed by the only Da Vinci in North America (so was I tbh) but the French Impressionists always a hit. Kind of satisfying \240for the girls to recognise in a Monet the Japanese bridge at Giverny and say “hey - I’ve been there!”
Less satisfying was to be reminded by Manet of the King Charles Cavalier they’re dearly missing.
And so back to Baltimore on the MARC train for our last night with Michael & Trish. Wish we had more time here but Philly and NYC are calling.
Baltimore to Philadelphia
It was a US Civil War crash course for all of us today as we rented a car and travelled west from Baltimore into West Maryland. With not more than one of the family even seeming to know which side triumphed, it was a steep learning curve.
Monocacy (“Mon-okasee”) was our first stop which had a small but excellent museum giving an overview of the war and the particular battle at Monocacy. This battle is significant in that it marked the final attempted incursion into the north by the Confederates. Whilst the battle was won by the south, the Union troops - outnumbered 15,000 to 6,600 sufficiently delayed the Confederates to enable reinforcements to arrive and prevent Washington from falling. So it’s now seen as a major strategic victory of sorts for the north.
All dressed up and no-one to fight. Except Laura.
Monocacy field of battle
Abe delivers Civil War 101
From Monocacy we made a very quick stop at Gettysburg - a more famous battlefield of course (and about 1000 times as many tourists) and scene of Lincoln’s momentous address. At just 271 words it’s proof that a great speech doesn’t need to be a long one.
From there we turned north east passing through beautful rural country - countless cornfields and barns, and thenthe Amish towns of Bird in Hand and Intercourse (it really is hard to say that one without sniggering - let alone asking a stranger where to find it!!).
And yes - the Amish really do exist - not just in a Harrison Ford movie. And they really do have long beards and ride around in horse drawn buggies singing “tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1699”. Well maybe not that last bit.
And for a quarter you can feed their goats.
Another couple of hours and we found ourselves in Philadelphia - birthplace of American independence - and really big chairs.
Dicing with Danger on the Delaware
Yet another sunny and warm one - this time in the city of brotherly love (Philos - beloved + Adelphos - brother). No excuses not to get out for an early morning run-explore..
Ben Franklin bridge at sunrise
Philly is seriously rich in history - particularly for its role in America’s independence so it was another crash history lesson on a 2 hour guided tour of the old city.
Elfreth‘s Alley - oldest residential street in the US
It was in Philly that representatives of the original colonies came together for a little independence scheming in the wake of the Boston Tea Party and the poms generally behaving like prats. Getting all the colonies on board for revolution was critical - hence the below flag.
Almost everything ever done in Philly seems to get accredited to Benjamin Franklin. Founder of hospitals, libraries, universities, prolific inventor, and one of signatories to the Independence Declaration. An impressive CV.
George Washington also did some pretty impressive stuff. Including sitting in a chair later to be sat in by Sophie Stanfield.
Having worked up a good appetite we headed to Reading Terminal Market - the oldest Farmers Market in the US (this place has a lot of claims along these lines!).
A Philly culinary specialty we’ve been continually reminded since arriving in the US are “cheese steaks”. I’ve sort of been too scared to ask - is it a steak with cheese, or a slab of cheese so big it’s like steak? Turns out to be more like shredded meat inside a bread roll with melted cheese. And rather tasty too.
Whilst M and L investigated whether Philly shops are different to shops anywhere else, Soph and I visited the very good Museum of the American Revolution.
Sophie Stanfield with boat (above).
George Washington with boat (below). On his way across the Delaware to battle the German mercenary Hessians at Trenton in 1776. Almost everything in this picture (based on a famous painting of course) has been shown to be incorrect but so it goes...
And that was about as much history we could absorb in one day.
Philadelphia to New York
A late checkout gave everyone a chance for some last minute Philly free time. M & Soph made a beeline for the shops, I checked out a couple of Old City sites, and Laura took the opportunity to recharge her temperamental batteries.
Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell was constructed in England in 1751 but the very first time it was rung in Philly developed a serious crack. Despite being re-smelt and various attempts to fix, the crack grew steadily worse. And then some bright spark decided to ring it continuously on George Washington’s birthday, and that completely stuffed it so they took it down and you’d think that would be that.
Except the Bell was inscribed with words from Leviticus 25:10 “proclaim Liberty throughout all the lands and the inhabitants thereof”. And so with 4 million(!) US inhabitants still enslaved, the Liberty Bell became a symbol for all of those for whom liberty did not exist. Even after the abolition of slavery, the bell continued to hold great significance for the women’s suffrage movement and civil rights activists.
Just across the road from the Bell is Independence Hall - where parliament sat until Washington DC was selected as the national capitol, but more significantly the room in which both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed.
The same Declaration by the way that said in 1776 that “all men are created equal...with certain unalieable rights...including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Slavery continued for another 89 years.
Travelling from Philly to NY by train (2 hours) costs about $US108 pp. The bus is $9. And so:
Exiting Philly on the Ben Franklin bridge.
So a few hours later (including Uber ride at the other end) we were entrenched in our new digs in Jersey City. NJ wasn’t our first choice accommodation but we’re very happy with the apartment and location. Short walk to the station and a vibrant local culture. And cool street art - if a little bleak given the Statue of Liberty is just down the street a little..
And some excellent vistas across the river to Manhattan
Everyone looking forward to exploring NYC tomorrow
Phew! This place is exhausting. I’m hardly the first to make this observation, but NY is just go-go-go. And then go some more. Take a breather people! Surely not everything is so urgent?
Being on the tourist trail doesn’t help, but even away from the icons there’s just a constant throng of people, of noise, of rush. At the end of today all 4 of us staggered back into the apartment and flopped on the couch - spent and relieved to have found a sanctuary from the crowds.
All that said, NY is truly fantastic. So much to see and do that even in a week here we’ll only scratch the surface. Access to Manhattan from here (Jersey City) is surprisingly quick and easy - we’re 5 mins walk from the nearest station, and then 10 min train in. The big time thief is queues - at least 45 mins waiting time for Empire State Building, but the Manhattan views are breathtaking.
Completed in 1931 the ESB was the tallest building in the world up until 1970 - which is pretty remarkable. It also once again (briefly) became the tallest building in NY following the fall of the twin towers in 2001. Records aside it’s about as majestic as a skyscraper can be - maybe not quite so asthetic as the nearby Chrysler building, but a NY icon.
When in New York, do as the New Yorkers do. Hot dog and pretzel time.
Unsurprisingly a walk across the also iconic Brooklyn Bridge was no remedy for escaping the masses but at least no queues involved. A wonder of engineering then (1883) and now - with each of the many thousands of metal cables made up of 19 strands, each of which is composed of 276 wires. To dispel doubts over the bridge’s stability, PT Barnum / Hugh Jackman led a procession of 21 elephants across the bridge in 1884.
Our final destination today was the World Trade Centre 9/11 memorial and exhibition. I had been reticent about going to this but it’s been done fantastically well. No shortage of patriotic red white and blue, but the full chain of events are explained in detail, and hearing the back stories of some of the 3,000 victims is heart-breaking.
9/11 Reflection Pool
New York - midtown
A New York day goes quick. All the rush rush, throw in a few subway trips, a bit of walking here and there, a couple of attractions (+ queue time) and all of a sudden it’s 6pm. It doesn’t help of course when you only leave the apartment at 10.15am but that’s a whole other gripe.
Today’s rough itinerary was Manhattan’s mid town - the stretch from about 34th to 59th streets. The epicentre of this is the horribly garish, impossibly crowded and generally unpleasant Times Square. Yes - I’m a bah-humbug. I know.
It would appear every NY tourist visits Times Square and so the place is plagued by spruikers. A hot dog costs double what it does 10 streets away, and queues come ang go in all directions for discounted show tickets or whatever else is going on. “ComCon” (Comic Convention) is in town this week so there are also countless costumed fanatics everywhere.
Soph at Times Square
Significantly greater pleasures were to be found in nearby streets - Bryant Park being a quaint almost Parisian park, the NY public library with its wondrous marble lobby and vaulted ceilings, and the most stunning of all and (according to some) the favourite building of NY locals - Grand Central Terminal.
Grand Central Terminal
Today being overcast with a little rain it was a good day to catch a Broadway matinee so after successfully negotiating the queue bedlam of Times Square we had a great afternoon enjoying Kinky Boots.
Manhattan is flat but after the show it was all downhill. I persuaded the family to walk from 45th st to 23rd st to check out the Highline (elevated railway converted to garden) only to discover it was closed today. Oops - sorry team. Another day.
New York - Uptown
And so our progression up Manhattan continued with a visit to a couple of the sites further uptown.
The Lincoln Centre is a complex of performance venues known for its architecture and acoustics. For us is it will be forever known as the place where we had a family tantrum, somebody’s bladder almost burst and I got stung for crappy overpriced coffee (even more so than usual). So let no more be said of the Lincoln Center.
The antidote for all this restlessness was clearly some exercise - cue a most enjoyable bike ride around Central Park.
Central Park is huge - 843 acres and is a welcome respite in this concrete and glass jungle. No shortage of people in the Park either of course, but the greenery and water are a much needed chill-pill for both residents and tourists.
The remainder of the day we devoted to the remarkable Natural History Museum. I thought London’s NHM was fantastic, but this possibly tops it. We spent 3 hours here - hopelessly lost for about 2.5hrs of that - but with so much to see everywhere it didn’t really matter.
It did irk slightly though when for about the 7th time we asked for directions to a particular exhibit and ended up somewhere completely different. Museum folk have either a distorted sense of humour or direction. Possibly both.
Natural History Museum
I lied (or was lied to) when I said that the remainder of the day was devoted to the museum. There is apparently always time to go shopping, which somehow found a way into our lives whilst changing trains at the World Trade Centre. The silver lining was another chance to ogle the stunning station architecture.
New York - The Met, Central Park 2
Unbeknown to us until this morning, today was a public holiday - Christopher Columbus Day. Yep - a holiday for the blundering buffoon who crashed into America believing it to be the East Indies, enslaved and diseased the indigenous population and died still believing he had discovered a new passage to the Indies. He can’t even be credited with being the first European to “discover” America - the Viking Leif Eriksen beat him to that by 500 years.
Some of the more enlightened US states have changed the day to Indigenous Day - something our own lawmakers may wish to ponder. But not NY (lots of proud Italians here) who recognise the day with a parade up 5th Avenue. So it goes.
In dangerous proximity to the parade is the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) with an envious collection of old and new masters. We squeezed in a couple of hours here first up - adults delighted but children a little less so. Museum-fatigue has set in.
So how do I change the channel?
Not having really properly explored the interior of Central Park yesterday we enjoyed a walk through the park on our way to the zoo.
Central Park Zoo is small - however is beautifully presented and sensibly focusses on showing a small number of animals well rather than a mish mash of lots. And certainly no dancing lion called Alex per the movie Madagascar. But the penguins, grizzly bears, red pandas and sea lions were hits with us.
New York - Harlem, Highline & Rockefeller
Harlem, notoriously dangerous during the 70s to mid 90s, has been supposedly gentrified now. The fact that walking tours happen here at all now \240speaks volumes for the changes, but it retains a certain edginess that means you’re never feeling quite comfortable. Being part of a large all white walking group in an all black neighbourhood makes it a little tricky to blend in.
We did however have a fantastic local guide who over a couple of hours walked us around notable Harlem sites - all of which involved either religion, music or food.
Harlem Community Garden
$3m for a Harlem Brownstone?
Back to midtown, and while the girls squeezed in a little more shopping I finally made it down to the Highline - a 1.5 mile stretch of elevated freight railway saved from demolition in the 90s and converted into a garden / walkway.
I had seen and heard so much about this and I wasn’t disappointed - what they’ve done is remarkable.
Meeting up again in Broadway we still had time for another show (Mean Girls) - I wasn’t quite the target demographic for this one either but still very very good
And then a night view of NY from the top of the Rockefeller building.
A very late one by our standards - after midnight by the time we got home. But this being NY it never stops - subways still crowded, sirens wailing, music blasting....
New York - Tiffany’s, Central Park 3, Battery Park, not quite Statue of Liberty
Readers may recall that back in Kauai (seems like forever ago) it was just Soph and I that did the helicopter trip. The quid pro quo was that Laura & M would go to the Broadway show Hamilton, but baulking at the $1,000 a head price, this was exchanged for a breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Tifffany’s (on 5th Ave of course) run a very chic little cafe with a month waiting list, but getting lucky on a last minute cancellation, Mum & daughter snagged a table at short notice. Making one young lady just a tad happy.
Almost throwing a spanner into the works was the most accommodating Tiffany’s waiter offering to make it a table for 4 when seeing Sophie and I, but a dagger look from L made it clear we weren’t invited (“you weren’t dressed appropriately” she later informed us).
So banished to Central Park were Soph and I - discrimination is alive and well in NYC.
Having supped with high society M and L did us the favour of their company for the afternoon- heading downtown to the lower tip of Manhattan at Battery Park. Best laid plans of men & mice - we had intended to ferry across to the Statue of Liberty but had left our run too late - last ferry was already full.
So to the delight of our children who have grown to just love walking (“oh please Daddy - can’t we just walk instead of Uber?” - yeah right) it was an adorable stroll around the waterfront to the ferry and then back across the Hudson to Jersey.
Freedom Tower (One World Trade Centre) from the waterfront
Are we there yet? Rest break at Wagner Park
Manhattan from the Hudson
Manhattan from the Hudson - with head alignment
And that was our last full day in NY. For some a couple too many, for one another, not enough. Time to pack...
New York, Home
And so all things come to an end. A half day before checkout and heading to the airport gives enough time to visit one final NY icon - Statue of Liberty.
After being blessed by the weather gods for the entire trip, they turned on us on the last day - at least giving Laura the chance to demonstrate that even rain ponchos can be fashionable. Hmm - maybe.
Catching a ferry from the Liberty Park (on the Jersey side - one benefit of staying in NJ!) we first visited Ellis Island - the immigration processing centre through which over 12 million people passed between 1892 and 1954. By all accounts the polar opposite of our Nauru strategy - not only were people welcomed but the lobby made deliberately grand to create a favourable first impression on the new arrivals.
And then to the Statue herself. A gift from the French, it came uninstalled causing all sorts of IKEA type construction issues upon arrival. Including a pedestal - for which a public appeal was successfully completed with 120,000 people contributing - most less than a dollar.
The girls were a little surprised that the statue isn’t taller (it is 93 metres from ground to torch) but even on a grey day it’s an impressive sight with the torch in her right hand, the Declaration of Independence in her left and broken chains at her feet.
And so aside from the bedlam of traffic and airports, Lady Liberty was our final view of NY and the US. Until next time.
A fun and interesting trip - although the girls would have preferred more of the former and less of the latter. There’s only so many museums and galleries that teenagers can stomach. But the whole world can’t be Disneyland and theme parks.