My Mum has always said that there is a song for every occasion. As my Aer Lingus flight descended into New York City, I had a few to choose from. There was the classic Frank Sinatra – New York, New York. Or the alternative The Might be Giants – New York City, or the incredible Empire State of Mind, the list goes on… I chose the contemporary Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York.
This is my third trip to New York. I love this city. It’s a vibrant, busy and eclectic city that seems to breathe with its own rhythm. When Abby and I arrived, it was a hot summer’s day, the sun was out in full force and it was sweltering. We checked into our accommodation – what I am terming a Poshtel, Pod 39 is a hotel with a difference. We had a gorgeous wee room, complete with bunk beds and our own bathroom. The shower was hot and the wifi reached our bedroom. What more do you need when you have a city to explore? Pod 39 also has an amazing roof terrace. They have a Mexican restaurant up there, along with a fully stocked bar. Whilst we were awaiting our room to be prepared, we sat up there, enjoyed the sunshine and had a few drinks.
As we had arrived so late in the day, after a wee nap, our first port of call was to visit a long time friend of mine. Matt Lambert and I went to primary school together, kept up when he went to the boys school, opposite the girls school I went too and after. Matt and his wife, Barbara, opened the Musket Room in 2013, and I have long wanted to visit it. The Musket Room serves New Zealand fusion food. I have long drooled over the Instagram posts. Matt is something of a celebrity in New Zealand now. He is often flown out there to cook and my Mum sends me newspaper cuttings that refer to him as ‘celebrity chef Matt Lambert’.
We arrived at the restaurant and were shown to our seat. The service could not have been more attentive. We had a stream of people checking that we were ok, taking our drinks orders (we went for the NZ themed cocktails! Umm yes please!), and bringing us delish breads and butter. I had stated on the booking form that Abby is gluten free, and all care was taken with this. Different sauces were used for her meal and even gluten free bread provided.
We started with a delish Heirloom Tomato gazpacho – the flavours were delicate and it was just enough to have you thinking, wow, I am looking forward to the scallops! Speaking of which, these were incredible. Served in a glass dome filled with smoke, the flavours were incredible. I followed this with the duck, and finally the deconstructed pavlova. At which point, I could barely move, I was so full of this incredible food. During the meal, Matt popped up to say Hi, giving me a huge hug. Abby was impressed at how down to earth Matt is. He was busy, but when it came time for us to leave, we spent an hour or so catching up on our families, what was going on in our home town, what was going on in NYC and in London.
I think that we can all agree that Matt is a celeb – he has been on tele in the States a number of times, won Chopped and it seems all of NZ wants to eat his food – but Matt will always be the guy that I grew up with. Legend has it that when the Michelin committee called to tell him that he had been awarded a Michelin star, just four months after opening, he hung up on them as he thought it was one of his friends playing a joke. Before leaving there, we visited the herb garden and took some photos. Do yourself a favour, when in NYC, visit this restaurant. You will not be disappointed.
So nice to catch up with long time friends! Amazing after all these years… Food was incredible and service impeccable.A photo posted by Nicola (@niccakicca) on
The next day dawned, bright and sunny again. 25 degrees by the time that we left for the half hour walk to Time Square. Both Abby and I have visited NYC before, so this trip was not going to be about the major tourist attractions. We were both more interested in exploring neighbourhoods, and finding out more about what makes the city tick. There was one exception to this. I needed to visit Ellen’s Stardust Diner. You don’t interview to work here, you audition. This is where you can get a meal and a show. Highlights here included one of the waitresses singing Taylor Swift’s, Mean, where she let a young girl sing most of it for her. It was very cute. The staff are all stars in their own right, they are between Broadway shows, training for Broadway shows or waiting for their big breaks. I was recommended this diner by some close friends. I dragged Abby up here and we were not disappointed.
The food is reasonably priced, and is typical American diner fare. We both had omelettes and juice, and then sat back to enjoy the singing. All I can say, is that if you love Glee you will love this place. After breakfast we headed out to do some shopping – first stop Fossil – we both left with more than we intended, the staff were incredible and knowledgeable. We then wandered, heading towards the Rockerfeller Centre, where we visited the Lego store. I made Lego people for Sam, my nephew, whose birthday is coming up. He ended up with a man that looks a little like my Dad, one that looks like him and a zombie pirate. Whose birthday is complete without a zombie pirate? By then believe it or not, we were getting hungry – jet lag was playing havoc with our appetites.
We decided to walk from one end of the city to the other and head to Mozzarelli’s, home of the top rated gluten free pizza. I love walking around this city. There is never a chance of getting lost, due to the grid system, and there is always something happening. The sound of taxi drivers honking horns, road works, steam from the subway, tourists mingling with New Yorkers, it is just so vibrant. The pizza deserved its rating. This small pizzeria may not have a huge variety, but what they do have, is done incredibly well. Coupled with a root beer – omg I love root beer – it was a great lunch.
From here, we walked to the High Line. In my day job, I have done a lot of work around greening cities and clever ways of bringing parks back into the urban environment. Green walls, green rooves and new trees. But the king of these has to be the High Line. The High Line was once a derelict and disused railway line. Through the dedication of Friends of the High Line, it has been turned into a place of beauty and art. The sun was shining, it was about 3pm, and the High Line was full of a bustling crowd. There were kids playing in the water features to escape the heat. There were people lying on the sun loungers, there were tourists interacting with the Lego feature. And there were people like me, who were so impressed with the art and the scenery, that I wanted to take a photo of everything. The history of the railway is woven into park. There are places where you can still see the tracks. Or see them worked into the design of the railings.
There are numerous places where art has sprung up along the line, making the neighbourhood all the richer for its presence. Jetlag and the call of a nap finally dragged me from this place. I loved every second of it. Such a positive place. That night, after a refreshing nap, Abby and I headed down to The Comedy Cellar at Village Underground. This is an iconic comedy venue, we were lucky to be one of the last people to get tickets to this show. It’s a smallish space that is in the basement of the venue. This provides a really intimate atmosphere, where no one is too far from the performers. I love to laugh, so was ready to be impressed. And impressed I was. There were some big names that we saw for our $14. Michael Che was hilarious. His thoughts about how to fix the Syrian problem will forever have me in stitches.
Just when we thought that the show was coming to a close, a surprise guest was announced. Aziz Ansari took the stage. Aziz will be famous to those who have ever watched Parks and Recreation. If you have not watched this, and like me, you work in local government, drop what you are doing right now and get yourself to your Netflix account. You will not be disappointed. Aziz was beginning the promotion of his new book. If the comedy is anything to go by, this will be a hilarious book. It was a real treat to be here. Afterwards, we headed to the restaurant upstairs to have some dinner, and we spotted the stars doing the same. Once they had finished their meal, Abby had her photo taken with Michael! Exciting times.
Great set tonight @chethinks #flashison A photo posted by Abby Holden (@abbyholdenmusic) on
The next day was our last in NYC – we had a night flight to Vegas for the next leg of our trip. We got up early, and packed up. Our small room had been just perfect for our stay. Abby’s Dad happened to be in town, so as she headed off to meet him for lunch, I headed down to the World Trade Centre site. I have been to this site on all three of my trips, and each time has been completely different. The first time it was a pile of sad rubble. There were flowers and notes everywhere and I remember crying behind my sunglasses. We were visiting around Fathers Day and it was heart-breaking. The second time I visited, construction was underway. It was still a very sombre and sad place to be. This time could not have been more different. I was unaware that there was a parade for the American Woman’s Soccer team having won the World Cup that day. The site was abuzz with people. All wearing patriotic t-shirts and carrying flags. No one does patriotism like the Americans and it was so cool to see everyone supporting woman’s sport. Sadly, for me, this meant that there was really no hope of getting anywhere near the top of the Freedom tower or into the museum. It was blazing hot, so I walked around the site and listened to a band playing nearby.
It was very inspiring to see that the terrible events of September 11, had not been forgotten and that the site was sympathetic to it. I decided to head back to the High Line, hoping to walk the length of it before I needed to be back at the hotel.
This time, I got a bit waylaid. By the incredible Chelsea Market. I am so glad that I took this detour. What an incredible space. Full of fresh produce, independent stores and interesting art. In keeping with the flavour of the neighbourhood, there are art pieces everywhere, kind of like Easter eggs for those who want to scour the market for them. My favourite part of this market was the makers area. There were a number of gorgeous stalls selling handmade jewellery, handbags and other amazing knick-knacks. I did some shopping here too, compiling a charm necklace for my flatmate, from Brooklyn Charm.
It was time to get out in the sunshine again, and this time I found the source of the High Line. There was a covered market here, selling merchandise about the High Line, but also there were other stalls there as well. I grabbed myself a Peoples Pop, as it was by now well over 30 degrees. These are handmade daily and have amazing seasonal flavours such as apple and blueberry. I devoured this as I walked down the High Line. I saw even more amazing things on this day. I stood with my feet in the water, as it was baking hot. I walked through the tree covered walk way and marvelled that I was still in the middle of the city. As I took photos I thought about how lucky I was at this exact moment, and how it was likely that I would revisit this city a number of times in my lifetime.
Later that day, as I caught the subway out to JFK, I was sad to be leaving this amazing city. I have always found America really welcoming, the service incredible and despite there being over 8 million people in NYC, that people are polite, and that there are still places to have timeout. I have had three very different visits to New York, and I am sure that my next one will be completely different as well. This is part of the beauty of such a diverse and large city. Long may it continue.
Photos: Nicola Whyte
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