185. The Trip to New York

As promised, here is a description of my holiday in The Big Apple! In this episode I tell you what I did, what I saw and what it was like for me. You can read some vocabulary in the notes (not necessarily full sentences) that I’ve added below. There’s a slideshow of photos at the bottom if you fancy looking at that.

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Ambient music in the background – Bloom app by Brian Eno
This is an experiment to see how it sounds and how it affects the episode. I put music on in the background from time to time just to give episodes another element. This might make you fall asleep! I hope not. Well, if you do fall asleep we can blame the music and not me! The music is made using an app developed by Brian Eno. It’s a really clever app that allows you to compose ambient music that slowly loops and evolves over time.

Holiday Stories
People’s holiday stories can be boring, especially if they go to the beach.
People sometimes bore you with holiday photos, or even worse a long video of their holiday.

I certainly hope that this episode holds your attention. It should, because NYC is a very vibrant and interesting place and there are lots of things to say about it. You’ll also hear me using all kinds of phrases and vocabulary during the episode – the sort of language that is used to describe a holiday or a trip, or language for describing places and experiences, although I have not formally planned to teach you any specific items of vocabulary, we’ll just see what comes up.

So, let’s start.
I went in April, and that’s about 6 weeks ago. It’s still pretty fresh in my memory.

Times Square

Times Square

Context: I’ve lived in a few cities. London, Yokohama/Tokyo, Paris, Liverpool. I’ve also visited quite a few other cities, like Berlin, Barcelona, Milan, Rome, Oslo, Ho Chi Min City and others. Each city has its own unique atmosphere, story and appeal. New York though seems to be like the king of cities. I’ve never been to Moscow, Sao Paolo, Madrid, Prague, Seoul (except the airport) or many many other places. One day I would love to go. New York sticks in my imagination as the king of cities though. Perhaps it just has the best marketing – with all the movies and so on. But overall, New York seems to be the best example of a modern metropolis – a super-city.

Also, there are different levels of experience you can have when you visit a place. If you’ve lived there all your life, you’ll know one version of it. If you are a permanent resident, but you’ve lived in other places, you’ll have a different perspective, and if you’re just visiting as a tourist you’ll have another vision. As a tourist I realise I’m just scraping the surface really. The reality of living there must be quite different. I expect it can be a tough place to live just like anywhere else. NYC is know for being quite a stressful place for its residents, with the stereotype of the impatient New Yorkers who rush around, shouting “I’m walking here!” or desperately trying to get a cab, or arguing with someone in the street. Also, New York must hold lots of secrets for the people who know it well. The best places to go, the best food joints, the shortcuts though the streets, and the little tricks that you pick up regarding how to get by in the city. For example, in London you learn fairly quickly that you’re expected to do things in a certain way. Queueing etiquette, how to book a table, areas in town that you should avoid at certain times. So, as a tourist I was just scratching the surface. But NYC has a lot to offer to everyone – either permanent residents or temporary visitors. It’s a vast, sprawling place which has many faces. It’s pretty clear by now that I loved it and I think it’s incredible.

How does New York compare to the USA as a whole.

Why New York? Why not one of the other wonderful places in the world?

The flights
The in-flight entertainment
What it’s like being on a plane for about 7 hours. What are the difficulties and what are the joys?
I pissed off a stewardess and she ignored me forever after that.
They’re not so much there to serve you, but to dictate to you what you must do. She felt like Nurse Ratchet.
“I need you to turn that off for me please”
In-flight entertainment – Walther Mitty, All Is Lost – made me cry. Why do we get more emotional when we’re in the air?
Best and worst places to sit?
Fears about landings and take-offs?
Jerry Seinfeld – Airports & Flying (Seinfeld is the king of observational comedy and this is a classic routine about airports & flying.)

Arriving in America
Views of cars from the air. Big American cars.
Immigration – long queue, quite strict staff (I need you to turn off that cell phone! – Sir! Put the cell phone away! I’m turning it off. You don’t need to turn it off, just put it in your paaackit. etc)
Made jokes with the immigration officer guy. “Is he with you?” “No” Do you have children sir. “Not as far as I know” “Now would be a weird time to find out”…
Arriving in the airport – the first thing that hit us – the smell of french fries, and ketchup. That was the first smell. We took the train – quite loud and aggressive announcements to put bags up, but we couldn’t.
People were immediately friendly and helpful.
We got off at the wrong stop and ended up in New Jersey.
Arrived in Penn station finally – in the middle of Manhattan. Classic New York. Big buildings, yellow cabs, Madison Square Garden. Lots of people.
Everything is BIG!
Buildings, cars and PEOPLE.
Some people seem to be kind of square in shape.
Some classic NYC accents – train staff, police officers, a girl who helped us buy train tickets.
Cab ride to our neighbourhood. Looking out the window at the skyscrapers.
TV in the back of the cab.
Dropped off in our neighbourhood – lower East side. Clinton Street.
Quite downmarket & a bit rough, but very cool and hip. It felt safe, and very trendy. Organic cafes serving bagels and good coffee.
It felt like 100 movies and TV shows.
We were pretty knackered when we arrived.
We unpacked and then discovered the area a bit.

Katz Deli
The first thing we did was go to a place called Katz Delicatessen, which is a famous place for several reasons. 1. It has featured in a few films, notably “When Harry Met Sally”. 2. The food is amazing, particularly the pastrami sandwich. Massive amounts, really delicious. Just what the doctor ordered.
The place was amazing. Super friendly service. Full of locals.

Sesame Street vibe.
Flea market.
Brownstones. Stoops.
Cops taping off an area with yellow police lines. NYPD Blue?
Ate lunch on steps listening to soulful house music blaring out of a speaker in the market, while a bearded hipster mended fixie bikes and mixed-race families let their kids run around and dance to the music. It was cool and hipsterish, but really it was a good atmosphere with a community spirit.
It reminded me of London – but a massive London on steroids.
Some areas were similar. Brooklyn felt a bit like South London, or the trendy parts of East London. Soho felt exactly like Soho, but massive. Times Square was like Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus, but much bigger. Parts of Broadway felt like Oxford Street, but, yes, much bigger.
Everything is bigger – have I already said that?
Food portions & drinks – which is convenient because you can always order the small size.
Drink bottles are about 25% bigger than back home.
We walked back from Brooklyn to Manhattan via Williamsburg, which is a super-cool area full of very trendy people and hipster shops and cafes etc. It was very sunny and hot. On the way back we stopped near the river to rest. There was a large open area with a sports field, grass, and bars with big barbecues outside. Lots of people were drinking and eating in the sun, and there was an amazing view of the Manhattan skyline across the river in front of us.
We kept walking and came across a latin bar that was playing loud Salsa music, and loads of people were drinking and dancing outside the bar. This was just on a street corner near the Williamsburg bridge. It was about 6pm. I realised how multicultural the place is. There’s a large latin community and it’s reflected int he music. In fact, New York is famous for its diverse music. There’s the afro-American thing, the latin thing, disco and hip hop, a Caribbean influence, a jazz tradition, funk & soul music and also a folk and rock music tradition. It all combines to create a pretty brilliant melting pot. One of the cool things was to listen to music coming out of people’s cars. All of it sounded good.
The street where we stayed – cars blaring out music.
Took a taxi over Williamsburg Bridge.

Skyscraper district
The cool things about skyscrapers or big buildings that are on the skyline (and Mt Fuji in Japan) is that you see them from lots of different angles in the city. You can be walking around any part of New York and you’ll catch the Empire Stage Building or the Chrysler Building from a new angle and it immediately gives that area a kind of distinction. It happens in London now too. You can see The Shard from the north, south, east and west.
We took the subway to the central part of town and just walked around with our jaws on the floor. Amazing buildings towering above us.
I expected to see Spiderman flying between the buildings or something. We made our way to the Rockefeller Plaza and took a lift way up to the top. The Top of the Rock as it’s called. There’s an amazing view from up there. You can see the entire city and all the skyscrapers. Don’t go up the Empire State because you can’t see The Empire State Building, which is one of the coolest buildings in the city.

I bought some shoes.
“Sneakers” as they call them in the states. In NY everyone wears sneakers.
I don’t know why they call them that.
I don’t think anyone’s using them for sneaking. (Walking quietly, like a robber)
It’s not like everyone in New York is going “Shhh! You’ve got to walk quietly! This is New York! don’t make too much noise!”
In the UK we call them “trainers”. I don’t know what I’m training for. Maybe to get some better shoes.
“Sports shoes” although I’m pretty sure I won’t be doing any sport. Probably the opposite of sport – just standing around & drinking.
Customer service culture.
Everything is massive.
Big salads.
You can just buy a small anything. Small drink, small coffee, small salad.

Metropolitan Opera House
Madame Butterfly. Amazing visuals. Beautiful opera house – art deco design. Modern, but classic. Lovely open space and some chic New Yorkers in the audience. The stage is big and it was well used in the production. It was directed by Anthony Minghella – a British director who directed The English Patient, Cold Mountain etc. His films seem to tell similar stories – lovers who are separated by large distances and who live with the impossible hope of reuniting with their lovers. Madame Butterfly tells a story like this. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed by the story, and the script was pretty awful in my opinion. Maybe it’s because it’s a translation from Italian, and because it’s opera. It’s a different medium, not like cinema. Perhaps it’s not about the script, but about the visuals, and the singing. It’s probably more impressive in Italian. Anyway, I found the script and story to be pretty cheesy, and pretty stupid in fact. I don’t mean to be a philistine or anything, but let’s have a quick look at the story. It’s mainly the characters who I don’t like, I think. I fail to see the romance in it, and instead I just see people being really irresponsible. Story…

Sunny, then snowing and freezing! (It seems that the weather is pretty variable everywhere these days)
Freezing our asses off, and hiding in a meatball bar – drinking beer and eating spaghetti & meatballs while a small storm raged outside. Bliss!

Madison Square Garden & The Basketball Game
The Chicago Bulls vs The New York Knicks.
Amazing American Entertainment. The good and the bad. The food, the constant entertainment. Is it just an excuse to eat hot dogs?

Central Park
It’s like Hyde Park really, but bigger. The combination of the skyline and the greenery is very appealing. It makes you think of all kinds of Hollywood films. It also makes me think of John Lennon and Yoko Ono walking around in the late 1970s. We saw the disco dancers and roller skaters, and the other performers. It’s very crowded and full of tourists.

Other Highlights
The Comedy Cellar + Seeing Louis CK!

The Highline
Wall Street
Wholefoods Supermarkets
Getting fit from walking
Old buildings – it must get very cold
Classy restaurant in Soho

The McKittrick Hotel & “Sleep No More”
It was a surprise.
This turned out to be one of the strangest and mysterious experiences I’ve had for a long time.
The McKittrick Hotel is a 6 or 7 storey building which has been converted into a bar on one floor, and the rest of the floors have been taken over by a theatre company from London called “PunchDrunk”. They’ve converted all these rooms on all these floors (about 100 rooms) into an elaborate and interactive theatre space. Every evening a performance takes place within this space, and you as the audience can just walk around, exploring the space, investigating rooms, and there is a whole performance also going on around you. Sometimes you see performers, sometimes you follow them around from room to room observing the action from inside the space. The closest thing I could compare it to, was a computer game such as Resident Evil 2, or other suspenseful horror mystery games.
Go through the experience from the beginning – that may be the best way to explain it.
Queue up – normal restaurant or night club in New York.
When you enter – you leave your coats, and a silent woman gives you a playing card. I got number 13, and my girlfriend got a different card. Then we walked into a corridor and it was really dark. We laughed a bit at this because the illusion was beginning. We walked up stairs and into a bar, but it was like a scene from Twin Peaks. There was a girl singing a jazz tune, and people in 1920s costumes standing at the bar. The place was dark and smokey and it felt like Twin Peaks or some American noir thriller. I expected to see Jessica Rabbit at any moment. We got some drinks and waited. Every now and then a man in a tuxedo with a posh British accent would call out numbers, and groups of people would disappear out of the room…
Click here to visit the website for Sleep No More at The McKittrick Hotel.

New York Slideshow