Not much more to say really, other than the fact that I saw it on my Mate Tim Garratt’s blog and loved it so much I had to share it even further.
If you want to see how he did it, have a look here.
Our last day in New York and its our first free time since we arrived eight days ago and we’re flying through the night home tonight, giving back our five hour time difference in one six hour flying stroke. It’s a typical British Autumnal morning and I feel very much the Englishman in New York. Its dauntingly big and there’s too much to learn from in too short a time.
I wander up to the Wholefoods Market on the corner to buy my breakfast as I am up early and debating whether to take off on my own for the day or stick with the group. Wholefoods are the people that Tesco said they were taking on with their Fresh & Easy concept that they thought would capture the hearts and wallets of New Yorkers, but has so far, pretty much underwhelmed them.
Well, I have to report that having not seen the Kensington branch of Wholefoods, the one I saw on Second Avenue in New York was stunning. It looked welcoming, yet urban, the food looked beautiful and the staff members I spoke to were educated and interested, with one of the team on the till having spent time in the London Kensington store, helping with staff training. Can you imagine Tesco sending there checkout staff from Victoria centre being sent across to New York to show the Fresh & Easy staff how to be surly and cause unnecessary queues to wind people up in a hurry. Maybe they could just show them how they can tell customers that they can only use this queue if they’re buying Lottery, despite no-one else in the queue and people stacking the full length of the store at the self service tills?
Okay, that’s me being cynical and comparing the natural service culture we saw everywhere in the US. In the UK, we assume that it is insincere and below us to be polite, helpful and interested. We seem far more comfortable in being snotty or trying to catch our customers out than helping them enjoy their visit. This is a training issue we discussed an awful lot whilst we were away and whilst we don’t want ‘have a nice day’ all over the place, we do want to be able to deliver service staff who do just that – serve. It sounds simple, and it is in the US, but with a few notable exceptions, we make it look very difficult in the UK.
So after my early morning breakfast of orange juice and a parmesan breadstick (pretty healthy huh?), sitting in the park, next to the hotel, I watched the New York morning unfold before me.
There’s lots of honking, despite the signs threatening a $350 fine for anyone who does it and the driving is aggressive, the pace is hectic. It almost seems the opposite of how people behave when they get to work, or maybe those in cars are a different breed who never work in service positions? It’s a magical place to sit and absorb the atmosphere. I’m surrounded by New York Sparrows, (or their close relative, ‘cos I ain’t no ornothologist) and I share my bread with them and seem popular amongst them.
Back at the hotel, the others are gathering for the day and I decide to stick with the Sheriff and Adela as they are planning to go to Liberty Island. I know this is probably the cliché of all clichés, but I’ve never been and I wanted to take in another audio tour and see how the trip across compares to my favourite river trip – The Ferry across the Mersey.
The first stop is the Metro station at Lafayette and Broadway which we follow down to Bowling Green. This leads us onto Battery Park and our first view of the Statue of Liberty across the water. As we walk across the park, there is a huge damaged sphere in front of us.
At first the thought was that it had been vandalised, but when you read the sign in front of it, you begin to understand.
Again, the feelings of anger rise up at how this could have happened, but I love the Sphere’s symbolism. Its an even more powerful reminder than the slightly cold but informative hoardings at Ground Zero and its simplicity paints a far starker image in your mind than a display of what’s coming next could portray.
The boat trip with a full audio tour of Liberty Island and Ellis Island is $20 (about £12) which seems like good value. You then travel through a full airport security style search and scan, with everything X rayed and shoes, phone, cameras, belts ad even notebooks in the trays. Its something that is hard to begrudge as the symbolism of peace and liberty that the statue stands for is one that must be under constant terrorist threat.
The short boat ride across only stood out for the fact that it was a great place to photograph armpits and other people’s hands. It was like a class full of the worlds most enthusiastic school children with every hand up for most of the trip.
The silly thing about these shots, was that five minutes later when you landed, it was easy to get a much better image without the hands in the way and without the crowds around you.
We had a cup of coffee to see off the heavy rain and marvelled again at what exceptionally low prices they charge in these nationally controlled attractions. $1.50 (£0.89) for an almost nuclear strength 3/4 pint of coffee wouldn’t be seen at anything but the lowest of cafes in the UK, let alone with a captive audience on a cold wet island full of tourists.
The audio tour used the exact same digital system as the one at Alcatraz, but was far more dull. The single voice talking you through the history was informative at best, but turgid, if I’m honest. By the time we’d walked half way around the island, it was off and we were reading the signage, which had all the information anyway. But the view close up is perfect.
We had opted not to take the trip up the monument, which was good as the queue was huge and there was yet another scanning scrutiny. One of the previous blog commenters, Christine from Boston had been helpful in her recommendations and warned us that this was simply not worth the money or the queue, so we gladly took her advice.
So some statto facts about the statue itself. Its 305ft tall from the ground to the top of the flame and was completed in 1886 as a gift from the People of France. It was the tallest structure in the Eastern US when it was built as most of Lower Manhattan was only five stories until well into the 1920’s. She has a 35ft wide waist (like many other people in the US) and a 42ft right arm. Even her fingernail is the size of my forearm and she sees 3 million visitors per year to her very own island.
The ferry took us back via Ellis Island for a further (dull) audio tour and then back across to Battery Park.
Time was pressing on and we were leaving in a few hours, so we opted to walk back to the hotel along Broadway to take in some more of the atmosphere. A good three miles or so along a dead straight road, took in Wall Street. The signage is as we have all seen it, but the state of the roads and paths were awful. The police presence was massive and the crowds even more massive.
After collecting a late lunch in an immaculately clean and friendly salad bar, where you can choose what you want and pay by weight, we sat in one of the City parks and watched a group playing chess with a form of winner stays on. Quite a crowd gathered and you got the feeling that this was a regular haunt for city types and students alike. Black squirrels ran around us picking up scraps and the feeling was far more relaxed than any other place in New York I had seen.
The final walk took in the Bell of Hope and St Pauls Chapel, back at Ground Zero. The Bell was a gift from the Mayor of London to the people of New York and was created by the Whitechapel Foundry, who also cast Big Ben and the bell on Liberty Island. It is rung each 9/11 anniversary and was also rung after the Madrid bombings in 2004 and on July 7th 2005 after the Subway and bus bombings. It’s a very sombre reminder.
The chapel itself is where the firemen gathered and rested during the recovery mission after 9/11 itself. To most, it is the spiritual home of those who lost their lives.
It seems like a suitable place to sign off, on what was an incredible trip, full of learnings, stark reminders and world class attractions.
I honestly never thought that the US, would be my thing. I thought it would be too brash. Its big, yes, but it’s so full of genuine people who love our history, curtsey to our Sheriff and respect our country, its impossible to not end up feeling like you’re part of it.
In the words of King Arnie of California. I’ll be back.
Okay, now I know what jet Lag is and I am just recovering from the tiredness of the trip, with lots of catching up on sleep. Maybe four hours a day isn’t enough for me at my tender age?
So, we’ve just left the High Line, which was our last official duty and means that we have seen every site we said we would and more and now we were into ones that we thought could be useful, interesting or just personal favourites.
As we walked off the High Line, there was the most amazing car park contraption right down below us. These are prevalent in New York, but I have worked out some of the numbers and they seem to make an awful lot of sense for parking in a crowded city.
The site is only 30metres square and can house over 144 cars. The guideline is that you can park for as little as 30 minutes, but you need to give them around 20 minutes notice to leave, so they can have your car ready. But the parking charges are massively cheaper than anywhere else in New York. If you arrive before 8am, it only costs $14 for the day and $23 after 8am. This encourages people to beat the rush hour and save money.
The other lovely thing that the company who runs it called Edison Parkfast do, is tell the world about their long serving employees. I would imagine, in a normal parking business, a parking attendant would be a fairly transient employee, but whatever these people are doing to keep and motivate their staff is working, as they have over 40 sites around New York and have a very low staff turnover.
We then headed towards the American Museum of Natural History, which shows the sheer scale of Manhattan Island as it took absolutely ages on the metro to get there. We walked past the Dakota on the edge of Central Park. This apartment building was built in 1880 and seems to be famous for the famous people who have lived or still live in it. It’s also infamous as the place where John Lennon was shot and killed in 1980.
Just across the road is the Strawberry Fields memorial, which is remarkable for being so unremarkable. It looks to me like its just a small sign at the side of the path, but maybe I missed the rest.
I was far more impressed with the signage of a very enterprising tramp, who had decided to pursue a policy of honesty in advertising. His simple, clear appeal had people queuing up to have their picture taken at his side (whilst he remained firmly asleep) and almost everyone who did this left him a dollar or two. I guess he only wakes up to pocket the cash and slope off for a beer or two.
The American Museum of Natural History is huge. Really huge. And seriously impressive as a space. You can guess the scale of the exhibitions by the scale of the reception area.
There are again, the names of loads of benefactors above the door and throughout the introductory signage, from individuals at one end to Toyota at the other. Whatever we do in Nottingham, we have to find a way to harness the businesses of our region to need to be involved for the kudos they can draw from the association. Without wishing to bang the same cliché out again, they are only going to do this, if what we do is world class!
One of the pride of place exhibits out there is the Willamette Meteorite, which looks like a big lump of pitted metal until you start hearing some of the facts about it.
It weighs 15.5 tons and was formed over 15 billion years ago which is quite a long time, even by universe standards. This piece was bought by the benefactor 100 years ago for $20,000 (around £5,000 then), which seems like a lot until you hear that last year, a piece that weighed just 30lb sold for $1m (around £600k).
The Planetarium, was one of my favourite things of the whole trip, but as with others, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures to show you – and they probably wouldn’t do justice to the panoramic nature of the display.
It was exceptional, right down to the vibrating seats, the beautiful way that our planets history was explained in Layman’s terms by the voiceover of Whoopi Goldberg. A world class voiceover, certainly helps with a world class attraction.
And some of the lovely little cameo pieces around the place are weighing scales, set into the floor, that give you your weight on different planets.
At this point I was feeling a bit of a podge, but was quite reassured to see I had lost around 12 stone, but would need to move to the moon to realise this terrific weight loss. A move to the Sun, would be far more tricky. Partly because it is very hot there but also because my weight would increase 134 fold. I may need some new trousers in order to avoid embarrassment.
Still more to come, but I’ll add that as soon as I can and finally end with my conclusions in a few days.
Sorry, I’m a bit behind, but I’m now at home, at my desk and writing furiously to catch up on all the things we have seen and learned on the last leg of our mammoth trip across the USA.
Our last official day is in New York, and to say I am feeling tired would be something of an understatement. If I was sitting at home with a few days in New York ahead of me, I would be so excited I’d be jumping around like a loon. When you have done six straight 18 hour days ad averaged four to five hours sleep a night, it seems more like hard work.
So, choose your attitude. Look at New York and all its attractions with an open mind. There’s almost too much here to see, but there was one that we all agreed was a real winner and that’s the Highline Project. This is a regeneration project that we could directly learn from and bring to Nottingham. More of that shortly.
I’ll talk you through the day as to how it panned out ad show you some of the sights I saw along the way. In New York alone, I took over 250 shots, so I can only hope to get a brief flavour of the scale and excitement of the city. Oh, and by the way, it does sleep. On our way back from Top of the Rocks yesterday, we tried about three bars to get a drink at around 12ish and they were all closing, so we gave up and went back to the hotel which hasn’t got a bar in it either.
Another early start saw us walking toward Ground Zero. I wanted to see this, not out of some morbid curiosity, but to understand the scale of the redevelopment and see what they had done with the signage and information around the site, in order to be able to compare it with how we convey information to the public during development and building works.
First stop was to admire in original Chopper parked up in the heart of SoHo (South Houston), near the hotel. It was lovely to see a bit of seventies Nottingham, alive and well in the heart of New York’s vibrant centre.
We then stopped of at a really grungy looking bar for breakfast called the Cupping Room cafe, which comes highly recommended from friends and having eaten there, it again proves (as did John’s Pizzeria) that in New York at least, appearance can be very deceptive. The food was absolutely gorgeous.
I had the oddest breakfast ever of a Mexican Omelette, which came filled with Sour Cream, Tomato Salsa, red pepper, sliced bacon and loads of Chilli spiciness. It also came with the best cup of coffee I have had so far in the entire trip, fresh bread, juice and a mass of home fries. These are a really rough cut potato quarter that are fried (so chips in effect) and gorgeous. A bit slobby for breakfast but on our two meal a day regime, it set me up for the whole of the rest of the day.
We walked on, heading south west and having to zig zag through the gridded road layout. New York is actually very easy to walk around once you work out the system, but the scale is awesome. There are 10m people who work on Manhattan Island. It’s massive. Taking on a walk from one end to the other is a good two to three hour challenge. If you can cope with the walking, there’s loads to see on the way. You can even learn to Cha Cha, by following the simple step-by-step guide that I saw on the floor by a shop called Kate Spade.
A few minutes later we arrived at Ground Zero. You can’t really get over the scale of the hole between the buildings. Not in terms of the hole in the ground, but the sheer scale of footprint the buildings sat on. It is actually three times the size of our own market square at 65,000 square metres and our own square is the biggest in the UK.
I found it a terribly sad place to be. The police presence was extraordinary, with a double line of cars outside a building at one corner of the site and cameras everywhere.
I felt a huge sense of outrage at how the lives of 3,000 people could have been taken so brutally, when they were just going to work. The amount of materials posted everywhere offering help and advice to anyone involved or affected, shows how raw it still must be for many and the sense of sadness that hangs over the place is impossible not to feel.
And then, as we were leaving the site, it got worse. Right in front of us were a group of men with diggers, still involved in the site’s excavation in preparation for the new tower and memorial fountains, pulling out twisted metal and loading it into lorries for removal. This must be an unbelievably grim task for those involved, but one that has to happen for the nation to grieve and move on.
I found it very difficult to simply turn my back and walk away, but being in a group with a timetable to work to, I had to. I had been deeply affected by what I saw and what I felt. I had already decided to return the next day, in my own time, to spend some time in St Paul’s Chapel, the spiritual home of the 9/11 workers and survivors. More of this tomorrow.
We then walked on to Chelsea market, a fairly new development of retail and restaurants made from the former new York Biscuit Company factories and bakeries. This has been imaginatively and beautifully restored and has become a vibrant little centre with tourists and locals mingling throughout.
We stopped for a drink at Ronnybrooks dairy. They present as a really homely Mom and Pop milk bar hailing from the time of theFonz and the 50’s.
My drink of choice was a Lemonata. It’s a sort of lemon and mint ice crush drink that is lovely and refreshing and made in front of you using the juice from fresh lemons and squashed up mint leaves.
Suitably refreshed, it was off to the High Line, which had been sold to us as a concept that would be one of the highlights of our trip.
You can see from the entrance to one end of it that its still work in progress, but it is already a hugely popular park with the people of the city. In the few weeks since it opened on June 8th, it has already had a million visitors walking, sitting and resting along its lengths.
The management of the site is by the New York Parks Department. Their officers, have the power of arrest, but they’re still happy to stop and talk and told us about how well received the whole project had been and how little trouble they actually have to deal with on a daily basis. Again, it is immaculate, with not a spot of litter anywhere.
The design of the signs and the humour they imply is excellent and must be one of the reasons it is being so well looked after.
There are some lovely architectural touches. My favourite was an area that was built over an old railway bridge, where a tiered seating arrangement had turned the streets of New York into a theatre. People were sitting having drinks and sandwiches watching the world go by with the window on the world as a giant screen.
The whole thing is currently only around 1/2 mile long, but they are working on the next sections, which could open up another 1 1/2 miles. The quality of the finishing was superb. Detailing, as good or better than anything I have ever seen in the UK and the overall feel of the site was chilled and brilliant.
If we could create this in our city, we would be onto a winner.