And now for something completely different: Darina proved that she’s very capable of thinking outside the box (and continent) when she surprised Kurt for his 60th birthday with a 10-day trip to New York City!
Citi bike, with 12,000 bikes and over 750 stations in NYC and New Jersey, was the plan. This rental option has the added advantage that you don’t have to worry about theft, parking, punctures or transatlantic transportation. The bikes themselves are sturdy, simple, 3-gear affairs with lights and carriers that work well in a city environment. They are designed for commuters, but Darina thought they could also be a novel way to explore the metropolis.
The sign-up process was completed on the internet in about 5 minutes and we picked up our first bikes on a $24 3-day pass just outside our accommodation in Harlem. We knew we had 30 minutes before having to return the bikes to a citi bike station or pay $4 for each additional 15 minutes.
Somewhere along the Hudson River Greenway, a dedicated pedestrian and cyclist trail, while admiring the skyline of New Jersey, we thought it should be time to dock the bikes. That’s when we discovered, we had already exceeded by 10 minutes and our first “fine” would be deducted from our credit cards!
As touring cyclists, it was a real challenge to come to grips with the idea that a pleasant ride would be interrupted by a telephone bleeping every 23 minutes and a frantic scramble to find a citi bike station! Kurt refused to comply until he had been charged 3 times! His language was colourful to say the least, but by using the useful citi bike app, it proved easy enough to locate a vacant spot.
After initial teething problems, we got into the groove and enjoyed the ride. We discovered that to get across the city in rush-hour traffic, the bike is the way to go. NYC has an extensive network of dedicated bike paths/greenways, bike lanes on city streets, and shared on-street city routes. Couriers and commuters make up the bulk of the cyclists, and motorists seem to be quite used to 2-wheeled traffic.
Probably the most typical routes for tourists would be along the Hudson River, East River, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square, which of course we did! Early spring in New York meant that there was snow just before we arrived but temperatures hit about 26°C while we were there.
Needless to say, NYC has also a lot to offer on foot, and with over 60 million tourists a year, you’ll never be alone!
The High Line is a former elevated railroad that served the meatpacking district, which has been converted into a linear park with wonderful views of mid-town. Start at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, grab a bite at Chelsea’s fusion cuisine market and stroll the high line to marvel at the mid-town real-estate boom.
Darina’s friend Joey from Japan days was the perfect walking tour guide of Brooklyn, leading us from viewpoints of Manhattan, past brownstone houses all the way to Dinosaur Bar-B-Q, where we had a leg and a tail accompanied by the best fried green tomatoes and corn bread ever!
Staten island was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan with cherry-blossom-lined streets, New-England-style wood-frame houses and picot fences. We were alone on South Beach, and the boardwalk, otherwise known as the Riviera of NYC, was very quiet off-season.
The amusement park on Coney Island was not yet open, and we enjoyed a ramble along the boardwalk before tucking into a delicious fish in one of the seafront restaurants.
Having heard that world-renowned Banksy had graced two walls in the neighbourhood, we went in search of street art, but found two distinct business models. The first piece depicting a robot with a spray can inspired the owner of the wall to invest $4,500 in a metal shutter to preserve it in the hope of a substantial collector’s offer.
The second one of a business man whipping families off a piece of land, presumably for development purposes, has been white-washed over and is manned by a security man shooing away Banksy pilgrims in a similar agressive fashion! The owner obviously feels that he has more to gain by selling the plot than Banksy’s pointed statement.
However, according to another Banksy work that Darina came across in Liverpool recently, owner number 2 may well be mistaken:
You can rob a bank and get away with 10 GRAND and serve 8 years…
or you can rob a Banksy and get away with a 100 grand and serve caviar!
Seventeen years after 9/11, the World Trade Centre complex at ground zero is a touching tribute to the victims of this horrific attack. The museum itself is a sobering and moving experience, with countless personal artefacts and heart-wrenching recordings from that fateful day.
Between jazz concerts, Broadway shows, and rooftop terraces we sampled a little of what the city that never sleeps has to offer. We also had a chance to surprise Darina’s nephew Sean and his partner Trudy.
Accommodation in the Big Apple is on the pricey side, no matter how you do it. Darina opted for a quiet Airbnb in Harlem with a delightful young family who were the perfect hosts and guides in this amazing city. Harlem itself has become quite the trendy neighborhood nowadays with numerous jazz bars and soul food joints pushing up real-estate prices on long-standing local residents.
Soul food describes hearty home-cooked dishes from America’s deep south, and soul food restaurants are still popular meeting places for African Americans. Dishes include southern fried chicken, pork ribs, sweet potatoes, corn, beans and greens. We noticed quite a similarity with dishes served in the Caribbean.
Street food is all the go with trucks selling everything from hot dogs, burgers and kebabs to elaborate rice dishes, curries and even lobster. Naturally, we also had to hit China town a couple of times for authentic eastern cuisine.
Many years ago in Ecuador, Kurt ordered a half stack of pancakes only to be served one miserable little lone pancake. Traumatised, he has been searching for a real full stack ever since.
So, the International House of Pancakes in Harlem was put to the test. Little did Kurt know that he would be confronted with the 55+ menu, detailing calories and healthy options, leaving him little option but to experience yet again, a half stack of pancakes!
On this surprise, the city took precedence over cycling. That said, there is a great cycling culture in NYC that would make it a fabulous starting/finishing point for a North America trip! Kurt’s countdown to retirement has begun!