Day four - Tuesday
I let the bloke have a lie in and go to investigate Broadway tickets. There are some red steps in Times Square where you get half price ones but I don't know what the deal is. The information guy says the tickets for the night time shows go on sale at 2pm - the queue opens at 1pm. Think I can't really be bothered queuing up for an hour and decide it's going to be best booking tickets online, which we do when we get back to the hotel.
Have a walk around the area and make the mistake of taking a leaflet from some guy from a place that buys gold. Suddenly I'm surrounded by a load of men saying "are you selling? I'll give you the best price" and similar things. Run away and back to the hotel.
Get the bloke out of bed and go to Central Park. The weather is amazing, as it has been all week. Freakishly warm - almost T-shirt weather. We have a great time walking round, watching squirrels, listening to singers, looking at monuments, people watching. We stumble on a photoshoot with loads of drag queens in ball gowns and get some amazing photos.
Have luck in the Boathouse. Gorgeous restaurant overlooking a little lake. Glad I booked it - the maitre d is turning people away who don't have reservation. We're seated on the wooden decking where we have a nice view across the water and people rowing in bashed up old boats. Food-wise, the crab cakes are amazing.
Afterwards we go for a drink in the waterside bar and the bloke throws bread into the lake so he can see the fish who come to the surface to feed. They are enormous, colorful carps, some of them at least half a metre long. The bloke wonders wistfully what would happen if he came back with a fishing rod.
We go on to strawberry fields - the moment opposite the Dakota, where John Lennon was shot dead. In every guide book it says it will always be frequented by someone playing a guitar and singing John Lennon songs. That's just what we find.
It's getting cold so we go back to the hotel for cocktails. Then it's a short walk to the Minskoff Theatre, where we take our seats to watch The Lion King. As a rule the bloke hates musicals, and as we enter, he's not sure if he'll enjoy it. But it's amazing. The costumes are so intricate and the music is really chilling. For me, it's great - I'm reliving all the stuff from the animation that I grew up with. The words from the script pop into my head before the actor says them, coming from a strange forgotten part of my brain.
But why did I not notice before that the only characters with an English accent are the evil death-plotting uncle Scar, and the comedy lackey bird servant Zazu?
Still buzzing from the performance we wanter back the hotel for yet more cocktails and food. We sit down in the restaurant and discover the room service menu is better so we leave and go back to our room to order something.
Day five - Wednesday
Wake up to the first day of bad weather. Raining a bit and grey skies. So instead of our planned trip to the statue of liberty we decide to go and check out China Town and little Italy.
China town is a bit of a let down. Guess we were expecting something a bit more like the one in London, with the golden arches and everything. Go into the buddhist temple at the end of Canal Street and light an incense stick and watch a bit of a religious service that's going on. The huge golden buddha in the temple is very impressive.
Go to the shop and buy matching jade charms for me and the bloke, featuring our animal signs. Mine - the monkey, his - the snake.
Have a real China town experience - buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag. All along Canal Street you'll see Chinese women asking you if you want to buy fake designer bags, Tiffany jewellery, rolexes, etc. If you say yes they'll take you off round the corner where you either go into another shop or meet a man who gives you a laminated card showing you the wares he's got for sale. You then tell him which one you want while he looks shiftily around him before going to get it for you.
That's exactly what we do, and it stresses the poor bloke out no end. "If this goes wrong, I'm going to be very upset with you," he tells me. It did feel like we were doing something really bad though, like we were buying drugs, or something.
The bloke is so nervous he even barters the guy up instead of down with the price. In the end I got it for 160 dollars, which might sound like a lot, but it's a good copy of an 1,500 euro bag, and it is real leather. The whole thing was a pretty funny experience which we laughed a lot about later.
After we both calm down a bit we go to check out a tattoo studio on Canal Street with Broadway and the bloke decides to get something done, an eight-pointed star. They tell us to come back at 6.00pm so we go to check out Mulberry Street and Little Italy
Get pizza at one of the traditional-looking little restaurants and then stop off for a drink at the Mulberry Street bar. it was a favorite with Frank Sinatra and has been used to shoot scenes for the Sopranos, Donnie Brasco and many other mafia-type films.
Back on Broadway we find an amazing t-shirt shop called Yellow Rat Bastard. It even has Tokidoki stuff. The bloke goes a bit mental and picks up about 21 t-shirts. Good job we brought two massive almost empty suitcases.
Go back to get the bloke's tattoo done. The guy who does it, Shay is an a great artist - his studio is full of painting of skulls which he's done himself. When the bloke takes his top off he spots his HR Giger tattoo (the artist behind the designs for Alien) and says he's also got some of his work tattooed. The bloke tells him about his favorite tattoo artist - Robert Hernandez, and shay pulls up his sleeve to show us a piece done by the man himself - a scary face.
While I watch the bloke get his done, decide I would like a tattoo, but don't know what. "Just make sure it's meaningful," says Shay. The noise of the tattoo gun is a bit unpleasant, but the bloke only winces a few times.
We tell Shay we're getting married next year, and he reveals he's also engaged. He's from Israel so is doing one wedding there and one in New York. We wish him a happy wedding and go to leave.
Before we do we're invited to the tattoo shop's Halloween party. One of the staff has got his septum pierced especially and he's going to paint himself red and stick horns and prosthetic fangs on so he can come as the devil. shame we're flying home on Halloween so will miss the fun. There are 30 bottles of white wine sitting on the till that they've just bought - looks like it's going to be an amazing party.
On the way out we check out the art gallery, where the tattooists display their paintings and sculptures. They're all so talented. Looking at shay's skull like demon things, it's clear he's been majorly influenced by Giger. My favorite though is a mixture of photography and painting - it's a little girl standing in front of a spooky house, and there's an evil old woman looking out of the window at her.
back at the hotel we have a few cocktails in the bar then go to check out the best burger in NYC. It's at the burger joint - a tiny diner behind a black curtain in the posh Parker Meridien Hotel. Queues can often be round the block for it apparently but we've left it until the end of the day (11.00pm) so we manage to get in and get a seat.
We order the works - burger with everything on it. It really is the best burger I've had in my life. I don't even like burgers really, but I eat every last morsel.
Day two - Sunday
Kind of hard to get the bloke out of the extremely comfy bed. We just miss breakfast and instead get room service. The bloke always says you can tell how good a hotel is by the quality and quantity of room service available, and this one rates pretty high by all accounts. I go for a smoked salmon omelette and some green tea (which is the nicest I have ever tasted) And the bloke gets the full American breakfast. He can't even finish it, and we realise we're going to have to get used to how big portions are here, and maybe order less.
We leave the hotel and have a quick walk to Times Square to check out how mental it is. Spend a lot of time looking up and going: "Wow!"
There's something really familiar about it all and I realise what it is - the sound! If you close your eyes you'll recognise it from a million movies. Traffic, both close and far away at the same time, sirens, New Yorkers chattering, feet on the pavement. It could only be the Big Apple.
We walk down Ninth Avenue all the way to Chelsea. Encounter our first (and only) New York nutter of the trip. A black guy who shouts at me to put my map away or he'll "fuck me up" or even "kill me". Like a true Englishwoman I pretend it's not happening and keep walking. A bit further down we see Ethan Hawk walking his scruffy little black dog, just like any other person would. No-one bothers him at all.
Have a look around Chelsea market, which must be great if you're a foodie, (it's nearly all food) but we're not that bothered. It is cool to see people eating massive lobsters at one stall though. After unsuccessfully trying to find two flea markets (both of which have moved) we go to the Apple store and the bloke splurges on an iPad. the shop assistant says he's had lots of Spaniards buying them. He sold 30 just to Spanish people yesterday.
Then it's on to Pastis for lunch. It's like an old worldy style French Bistro and again, the food is amazing. I'm not too hungry so I have a goats cheese salad and the bloke has some home made pasta. But the real treat is in the dessert. Our waitress recommends the cheese cake, and it's really out of the world. We finish with some digestive liqueurs which give us a bit of a glow.
Next, on to the High Line. It's an old decommissioned subway line which runs over the oh so trendy Meatpacking District. They've transformed it into a green space, with a wooden walkway and lots of flowers and plants. It's nice, but considering how lovely some of the countryside around Madrid is, we're not as impressed as we maybe should be. We're certainly not as impressed as the New Yorkers we see see exclaiming with excitement at the bees hopping from flower to flower. Or the ones furiously taking close up shots of the flowers on their camera phones.
Half way down the High Line there's the imposing figure of the Standard - one of New York's trendiest new hotels. It looks pretty horrible from the outside but the rooms are meant to be amazing. We try to go for a drink in the rooftop bar but find it's shut on Sunday afternoons. Instead we have a drink in the main bar, which is full of poser types. I order a ginger rum cocktail that's so spicy I can hardly drink it.
We leave to watch the sunset over New Jersey from the High Line, but the bloke has a better plan. So we cross the road to the waterfront and walk down pier 54. We have a much better view from here of the sky slowly turning pink and purple, and there's no one else around. Only a man sitting reading and a boy and his dad throwing a baseball to each other.
Back to the hotel where the bloke plays on his iPad a bit before we go and check out The View - an amazing 360 degree rotating restaurant and bar 43 floors up in the Marriot Hotel, Times Square.
On the way there we see the famous 'Naked Cowboy'. An extremely buff man who goes out in his underpants (which have 'Naked Cowboy' emblazoned on the back of them, just so you know) cowboy boots and hat, and carrying his guitar. He sings songs, and with his guitar covering his crotch, he looks like he is, in fact in the nutty. There's a massive crowd around him, and he keeps stopping every few bars of his song to put his hands in the air and flex his muscles, posing for photos. Someone standing next to me says he makes 50 grand a month, but I can't see how, as I can't see anyone giving him money. I have seen him in some films and documentaries though, so maybe that's how he makes his mullah.
We take the scary super speed lifts to The View and are shown to some window-side seats. The whole thing has a tacky feel to it (sort of like how I imagine Vegas to be like) but it's just perfect. The bloke takes about a hundred pictures of all the buildings as we whir round at a snail's pace and we try to figure out what they all are. The cocktails are horrible and we make them last over an hour as we're too busy looking at everything to drink.
After we've been round a few times we go back to the hotel and get more room service. Too knackered to do anything else.
Day three - Monday
Actually manage to make it down for breakfast this time, and I have a melon with palma ham. for once the portion is not enormous and I don't feel uncomfortably full. We walk to the Rockefeller Centre to go to the Top of the Rock observation deck. I've booked 11am tickets. A few people have recommended it to me in place of the Empire State Building as the queues are shorter and you actually get the Empire State building in the view.
Up we go after walking though the little mini museum dedicated to Rockefeller. He was an interesting chap. He was a t-total oil magnate who hated art but he helped re-appeal prohibition and embossed some pretty impressive art collections. I think it was all down to the woman he married, Cessie Rockefeller - who was a bit of an art-loving free spirit.
The view from the top is very impressive. Like Sim City - doesn't look real. We ask ask a security guard where the Two Towers were and he sadly tells us "just to the right of the Empire State Building and all the way to the end".
After we've got enough photos we go back town and accidentally come out in the subway. Take another taxi to soho and seriously hit the shops. Lafayette street, Broadway, Spring Street. The bloke buys so much stuff in the G Star shop we can hardly carry it all. Decide to drop the bags back at the hotel before lunch.
On the way out we're stopped by a Kanye West-lookalike in the street holding a sign saying 'will rap for free'. He does a pretty good rap about New York and we give him a few dollars. He thanks us, explaining that he's saving up to buy his own studio. We wish him luck and leave.
in the taxi back the traffic is rammed. In Times Square we see a group of kids praising Jesus through the medium of breakdance. Doing headspins and shouting "Jesus! Praise the lord!" Very strange.
Lunch at Katz Diner. The place made famous in 'Where Harry Met Sally', where she fakes an orgasm sitting at one of their tables. We sit in the famous spot (which has a sign above it saying 'Where Harry Met Sally, hope you have what she had')
The place is so authentic. From the outside it looks pretty scruffy. When you go in the guy on the door gives you a blue ticket. Basically when you get something you give it to the guy at the counter serving you and he writes what you've had. then you pay at the end.
everyone in there is speaking Spanish so the bloke chats away to them. They're famous for their pastrami sandwiches so we get one each, plus a hotdog, just to try. Both are mouth-watering. But I don't quite manage to finish mine. on the walls are loads of pictures of famous people, the bloke even spots Bill Clinton. All with the mustached owner Katz, smiling his jollly head off.
We wander back to Soho and Noho to finish our shopping. We check the designer vintage store ING and the bloke gets an amazing Versace jacket for 200 dollars. I go visit Screaming Mimi's, a fantastic vintage shop with stuff from the 60s, 70s and 80s, while the bloke has a drink in the bar next door. It's happy hour so we both have a few before having a final walk down broadway to All Saints before calling it a day on the shopping front.
We have dinner reservations in La Esquina/The Corner, so I check to see where it is - it's back in Soho! that's three times in one day we've been back and forward to Soho - oops! But this place is supposed to be amazing so there's no way we're missing it.
We arrive at The Corner and it looks like a complete dive. A tiny diner with a red neon light above it. "Are we really eating here?" asks the bloke. We're early, so we have some mojitos in the bar next door.
It's finally time to go eat at 11.30pm (it's the only time we could get a reservation as the place is so popular and we left it late to book) but we're unsure where to go. there's a main entrance in the diner, and one round the corner. The security guard on the main entrance directs us to a girl holding a list and she ushers us down some stairs. A waitress takes us through a kitchen, where a load of Mexican guys say "hola", then past a whole wall of different types of tequila bottles, and onto the restaurant.
it's not what I was expecting. Sort of a mini club, with a DJ and even some people dancing. We're seated at a booth with a huge painting of a crying girl with 'niña triste' written under it. Little buckets hang above us from the ceiling and at the next table sits a cap wearing Dominican gangster type and his heavily made-up girlfriend.
Our waitress apologises for not speaking Spanish. She is Mexican, she says, but doesn't really speak the language. We order mushroom fajitas, chicken and meat tacos and pork ribs. it's all delicious.
In the taxi on the way home we get the giggles about something and seem to be really annoying the taxi driver. When the bloke gives him the money and asks "is that good?" he shouts: "No man, that is not good. You gave me a 10 cent tip. Not good." We apologize and give him a few extra dollars and make a swift exit.
"So this is what the inside of a stretch limo looks like," I said, taking in the fresh pine smell, cream leather seats, neon lit bar, mirrored surfaces and fountains of UV lights, subtly changing colour with every passing minute.
"It's tack-tactic, but I love it."
The bloke smiled and filled up my champagne glass. Outside Manhattan sped by, a sensory mess of colours and sounds at night. George Michael's 'Faith' came on the radio and I suddenly felt like I was having an out of body experience.
Had I overdosed on fun? possibly. It was the night before the end of our holiday and we were both on a complete high. Two hours earlier we'd spotted Al Pacino in the street, coming out of the theatre where he was appearing in The Merchant of Venice on Broadway. Five hours earlier we'd flown over the Statue of Liberty in a helicopter.
Then now, the limo ride. After the bloke had spotted the driver on the street and cheekily asked if we could rent it for an hour. I am never going to forget this, I thought as I gazed out the window across to the New Jersey skyline. This is just magic.
That was nearly the end of our trip. And it was full of moments like that which would make a thousand blog posts. Instead I wanted to write a blow-by-blow diary of what we did in short form. Largely so I can remember it, but also to help people going to the Big Apple who might be in search of ideas. My friend Ed did it, and it was invaluable to us. I realise that if you have no intention of going to New York (and I recommend you change your mind if that's the case) or if you've never been, you might not want to read it all, but hey, never mind. I know I'll have fun looking back over it at least when I come home after a crap day at work. Here goes…
Day one - Saturday
The day of my birthday but a horrible start to the holiday. Almost a non start, in fact. We arrive at the airport to find there's massive overbooking on the plane, and as we queue up a worker offers us 600 Euros to miss our flight and go on the next one. No way!
But when we check in we discover our travel agent has messed up and only checked the bloke in online, not me. So the bloke has a seat on the plane and I'm on the waiting list and probably won't be able to fly. The next plane they can guarantee us a seat on is 24 hours later and If we want to upgrade to business class on this one for a guaranteed seat it'll cost us 5,000 Euros!
Absolutely dejected we check in our bags anyway in the hope that someone might not turn up for the flight and tramp off to the gate, heads hanging low. All the time I'm getting happy birthday messages from people saying "enjoy New York" and I just want to scream.
Overbooking is completely legal though - with companies regularly selling 5-10% more seats than they have on the plane, on the assumption people won't turn up. Which I can sort of understand for short, cheaper, flights. But come on, if you've paid a grand, maybe more, would you really miss your flight?
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is absolutely make sure you check in online to avoid the same thing happening to you. It nearly ruined the start of our trip.
When we get to the gate there are about ten other people on standby, and my stomach just drops to my knees. There's no way we're getting on this plane. The lady at the desk asks everyone: "Are you all on the waiting list?" And the bloke says: "No I'm not, but I won't fly without her." The lady asks: "what's her name?" Then after we tell her, something magic happens - she says: "You can both go through".
My hand is shaking as I give her my ticket and I can feel everyone else just hating me to the back of my head as we walk down the tunnel towards the plane. I feel sorry for them but insanely happy. Now we're going to enjoy this even more because we nearly lost the first 24 hours of our holiday.
Seven hours, and a few glasses of cava later, we finally get to JFK airport, 4.30pm (we took off at 2.00pm Spanish time). On TV screens as we walk to the passport control Sarah Palin is giving a speech, or rather a screech. She clatters through it like a combine harvester going over cobbles. "you deserve more than Washington is giving you." How can anyone believe her when she sounds like a parrot being strangled? A voice comes over the loudspeaker announcing where we can pick up our suitcases. But instead of a bored monosyllabic tone, he practically sings it: "luggage is on wheel nuuuumber TWO!" America is going to be different.
I get nervous being interviewed by the policeman on the passport control and my hand is shaking slightly when they scan my fingerprints. Don't know why - I've obviously done nothing wrong. Then I'm through but the bloke is led away after his interview and I start to panic. It turns out he has the a very similar name to an international narcotics trafficker and they just had to double check it wasn't him.
We're taken on the hour long trip to the hotel by our Spanish-speaking travel agent representative Martin, who gives us lots of tips about New York. Forget Spanish time, try and stay awake till at least 10pm this evening to beat the jet lag, drink the tap water, tip 10% or a dollar a drink etc etc.
Then before we know it we're at the hotel. We had originally booked to stay at the Waldorf Astoria, but decided to change shortly after back in Madrid as it looked a bit old and stuffy - like staying in a museum. We decided on the Intercontinental Times Square after consulting Trip Advisor, which placed it at number 43 out of the some 3,000 hotels listed in New York.
Glad we did. It was brand new - only opened in the summer and had the same sort of vibe going on as the Hoxton Hotel (our favorite place to stay in London) but more upmarket. Same sort of feng shui decor, all dark woods and metal which a cool restaurant and bar with a cosy fireplace. The air con was always on full blast in the entrance though, which was a bit weird.
After telling the guy who checked us in it was my birthday and we'd recently got engaged, we cheekily ask for an upgrade. He says they'll sort us out if we join the hotel's loyalty scheme. so we promptly do so and got put in a deluxe room. Enormous bed with the best mattress ever, duck feather pillows, waterfall shower, and an inward facing room so nice and quiet. We unpack our stuff and chill out for a little while, watch some American TV. A celeb news program shocks me as the reporting is anything but impartial. They're crucifying Lindsay Lohan for failing a drugs test. "This is a disgrace. It was COCAINE! How can she avoid prison again?"
We put on our glad rags and get a taxi to Morimoto - New York's top rated Japanese restaurant according to Trip Advisor. I would agree with them. The whole thing was amazing. the venue is a work of art, with eye-catching light features and beautiful furniture, and the toilets were space age - with jets of water that came out that you could control the direction and strength of.
And the people watching was amazing. Girls who looked like they'd stepped right out of vogue, with skyscraper heels and their equally polished boyfriends, old rich ladies dripping in diamonds and funky types. One girl came in wearing an enormous fluffy hat with pom palms. she didn't take it off for one minute even though she must have been boiling. Then there was a couple of cyber goths who were clearly made for each other. Her blue spikily eye make up covered half her face while the boy had long black hair, but had shaved his hairline back and his eyebrows off. they looked like they could have been in some goth rock band.
Oh and of course there was the food. We went for the seven course tasting menu with the alcohol accompaniment. I would recommend you sell a kidney and do the same.. though I couldn't manage to drink everything they brought out. With every course you got a half glass of wine or champagne or sake, which perfectly complimented the course on the table. It was out of this world. the bloke, who doesn't even like Japanese food said it was the best food he's ever eaten.
Highlights included the salmon tartar (above), the amazing sushi course (with barracuda and yellow tail) and the main event - curried lobster and wagyu beef - it just melted in your mouth. Somehow the staff knew it was my birthday (well I had been telling anyone who would listen) so they stuck a candle and a 'happy birthday' chocolate which the dessert course, which was a nice touch.
So full we could hardly walk we jumped in a taxi back to the hotel, thinking we'd really started the holiday off on a high.