Warning. This is a bit of a long one. Suggest reading when you’ve got 10 minutes. Promise this will be the longest blog I write. I did spend two weeks in NYC.
I shipped my motorbike to New York versus other eastern ports, as I wanted to start my road trip in the City that has held my fascination for the same reasons as the millions of other visitors who come here each year. The feeling of being in a metropolitan space, which no other city in the world can occupy simply captivates the visiting onlooker. The modern grandeur of the city with its skyscraper skyline, its harbour and bridges, shops, cabs, subway and diverse populace with their relentless pace is an allure for this simple European….. And, luckily on this trip I was able to spend just over two weeks seeing the city and actually hanging out with many New Yorkers.
The trip kicked off with a flight on which I was bumped up to business class. What a great start. On the cab ride into the city, one feels a strange familiarisation as you past signs for the FDR, the Bronx, and Staten Island, places you know but have never been to before as a casual visitor. I stayed with my good friends Sean and Sara in their apartment close to Battery Gardens. I met Sean when he worked for GE in The Netherlands – brudtha’s with different mothers. Also, like most Irish, I have some family in the US – NY and Chicago. It was great to meet my first cousin John again as I hadn’t seen him since I was twenty and Trish and Jackie (my Dad’s cousin) since I was five! Great nights with all of them but more of that later. As they all worked during the day, I got to know the city better.
Actually, I got to know Manhattan better. Yes – I limited my trip to this part of the archipelago. I was there for only two weeks after all. Visited most of the tourist sights – via a harbour tour and a sightseeing bus tour (visited The Empire State previously). Both are great for a whistlestop tour but I got a better sense of the city from walking around and taking the subway. After a couple of days I got over the first-timer experience of craning my neck as I said WOW while looking vertically upwards at the skyscrapers. My shins did take a bruising as I bumped into numerous fire hydrants, that only seem to be there to annoy the hapless visitor.
Another day, I went for a late morning jog east along the river from Battery almost to the Intrepid (old navy ship). Didn’t quite make my usual 10K run as the combination the heat and the aftermath of the previous night forced me to turn back early. Nonetheless it was great to run along the river and see Ellis Island, Fulton Station, the Irish Famine memorial, nannies in the playground (no Swedish au pairs) and the huge Colgate sign (sorry P&G but this shabby sign needs to be replaced). As I was staying in the Battery Park area, I got to see Wall Street, Broadway, The Stock Exchange, Ground Zero, Rockerfella Plaza almost every day. I also got to know the city better as a result of my decision to buy some motorbike equipment in the US rather than at home. On the mistaken belief that it would be easier and cheaper State side. Overall, I spent three days between looking for stores, visiting and buying my stat nav, clothes and fitting the gps. In the end, what I saved in currency I certainly spent on shoe leather, subway and taxi fare. Although a pain at times, I was on chill mode and in end I got to know the city better and I got the coolest motorbike jacket I’ve ever seen. Triumph retro antique look. I even got the subway to 179 (Queens) and a bus back to Manhattan.
As I became more familiar with the City I began to recognise the Irish and Dutch influence more readily. The Irish presence being more visible through the proliferation of Irish pubs, accents and descendants. Proudly, there was one street named Jack Dempsey (my Grandfather’s name which he shared with a 1920’s heavy weight champion). On the other hand, the Dutch presence was somewhat more subtle via the historical impact of the founding colonists. Kind of fits in with respective stereotypes of both nations.
Where the names of places are homage to a Dutch past – the three boroughs Harlem (Haarlem), Brooklyn (Breukelen), The Bronx (Jonas Bronck), New Amsterdam (Justice Building by City Hall), New Utrecht etc. Even the orange of the Staten Island Ferry owes to the Dutch influence here. Furthermore, there are many buildings (see Stone Street photos), which resemble the Canal Houses of Amsterdam. While noticing the symbols of The Netherlands in Manhattan I noticed a sense of bi-national pride in myself . Moreover, I realised that on introduction I’d often say I’m Irish but have spent the last decade in The Netherlands. Perhaps not too surprising given that I spent exactly half my adult life in that great country (NL).
By a pure stroke of good luck, two of my good friends from The Netherlands happened to be in NYC at the same time. Like me, both in the US for a journey of their own. Suzanne a KLM stewardess was on a one day lay over and was determined to tackle the Manhattan shoe stores. The night prior to which we had a great BBQ on Sean and Sara’s balcony that overlooks the river from the 24th floor. Whilst Nikki came for a semester as part of her postgraduate law degree. Great to visit Nikki’s university and help her with the apartment. I kind of felt like a big brother and have forgiven her for the father figure reference (Nikki – I’m only nine years older).
Other memorable daytime events include going to Yankee Stadium with Sean, which despite not being able to scalp tickets at reasonable prices was worth the journey as we watched the game in the famous bar Billy’s. Here the barmaids are only cute Puerto Rican girls whose fluorescent white smiles and revealing cleavage help to run up the bar tab. Another Sunday was occupied with a trip to Coney Island however that deserves a whole blog to itself. Extraordinary day!
Even simple things seem great when you’re a tourist becoming an informed visitor. Lunch with Jackie and Trish in Stuyvesant (one of the City’s first Dutch Administrators) and a lone lunch of street vendor shish kebab were enjoyable. The latter of which reminds me of a tragic hot dog story during the Wall Street crash……
As you can imagine with such busy days, the nights where pretty chilled. A couple of nice dinners and home in time to watch Law and Order. Yeh right! Guess you thought I’d never get there! Of course it would be criminal to be in NYC for two weeks and not need a couple of Advil the morning after the night(s) before. Sessions included copious amounts of loud mouth soup on Stone Street, Cassidy’s, Vinyl, pub-crawl in the East Village where Dave (who manages one of my cousin John’s restaurants) had the crazy idea of doing shots of Jameson. Drinks in The W – never a bad idea. But a new one for me. A bar that only served pints of cocktails. Seemed like a good idea at the time but the next morning I wished my cocktail of choice wasn’t the Long Island Ice Tea……
The first big hitter night was on my first Saturday night. After work (Sean obviously) drinks, W, Little Italy and back to Paul and Emily’s apartment. Although I’d shared a table with them at Sean and Sara’s wedding they didn’t really say much that day. I heard afterward that they had just started dating. However that night, the banter, shots and stories ricocheted from all angles, as did the pool shots. I always hold any guy who has a pool table in their house in high esteem. Paul – rose to higher echelons when I noticed he ordered beige pool table cloth to match his sofa. Classy. Next time I’m over we’ll play again – 2-0 to me I believe. Success with the business plan mate. Also good that Rory, a buddy of my Amsterdam flatmate Peter, dropped over. As it happened it was eve of his 35th birthday. Q – Absinthe. I passed.
Another night included a small Dempsey family reunion with John, Jackie and Trish in Vinyl; started with Margaritas and ended with…. actually cannot remember. BTW John’s has a group of restaurants and bars – check out Vinyl, Dos Caminos and Hells Kitchen, etc. Good food, fair prices, friendly service and ambience. Surprisingly, there were no Club nights on this trip as we generally started early in the evening and were ready for the hay early doors.
After over two weeks in a city that I could potentially see myself living in for a few years in the future I was itching to hit the road and start my motorbike trip.
Thanks for a great kick start to my road trip Sean, Sara, Nikki, John, Jackie and Trish.