The City with the Same Name Twice (New York Travel Tips)

 

20170427_134240.jpg

At the end of April I flew out to New York, this was a big deal for me having developed a fear of planes and the fact I cannot get off them. New York is like a postcard of different films, I feel like I relate every bit I have seen to part of a film: the pond in Stewart Little, Grand Central from Madagascar, Midtown from Ghostbusters, Friends, Sex and the City, Night at the Museum… it is incredible how much you recognise.

Day 1: The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and some serious drizzle.

I wake up at 5 after not sleeping at all. By 7, when my friend is awake, we head out for breakfast and a meander down to Battery Park – which is a very long way. I tend to prefer walking when on holiday as it is easier to see things, but in hindsight, New York is little big to do this all the time.

It is miserable weather, which makes for dramatic pictures of the view and windy pictures of us, but we board the boat to the Statue of Liberty (we had pre-booked) and braved the weather. It was fascinating, but the real gem of the trip was the Ellis Island Museum. If you are not interested in going to Ellis Island, get that free Staten Island ferry which has a pretty good view of the statue.

20170425_105742

The Ellis Island museum is incredible, with such a rich history. Someone told me that you could feel the ghosts in that place, and I kind of agree – those walls have seen so much and the building is astonishing. I wish we had done the hard hat tour of the hospital wing, but we didn’t know it was available at the time.

We spend most of the day here before heading back out to the city and doing some more sightseeing. We go and see the Stock Exchange and aim towards the 9/11 memorial. We also stumble across the Federal Hall which is an unexpected gem – a small free museum about George Washington’s inauguration. Definitely worth a look if you are near Wall Street.

On our way to go and see the 9/11 memorial, it is raining so hard we can’t even get close. Before choosing to get the Subway back we dive into Century 21 and hide in the Westfield outside the Trade Center. We didn’t manage to see the memorial, unfortunately, so hopefully, we can go back another time. After a soggy subway ride and a quick traipse through Grand Central (gorgeous!), we have a rapid dinner at the first place we can find and head back to the hotel.

Day 2: Central Park and the Natural History Museum.

20170426_211852

After once again waking at 5 and waiting for my friend to wake up herself, we have breakfast at The Comfort Diner, which is a diner in midtown just off Lexington Ave. It’s pretty good value for money and was the first of many indulgent breakfasts in New York. We meander for the first part of the day, checking out Times Square and buying broadway tickets before heading uptown to Central Park and the Natural History Museum.

Central Park is stunning – massive! New York such an incredible example of city planning which you just don’t get in Europe; most cities in Europe have just expanded as necessity demanded and this is why most tourist spots are pretty close together. In America, things have been planned, space has been allocated, this park was designed – it is both baffling and awe-inspiring. Central Park has so many facets and we barely did half of it – there were parts where it felt like I was in a forest! I would love to go back on a nice day and just walk the whole thing.

I wish we had more time in the Natural History Museum – two hours was not enough. The planetarium is well worth it though, even if only to enjoy sitting down for a few moments. We saw the dinosaurs and had a quick zip around the other floors on our way to the exit. We also recognised some famous galleries from Night at the Museum, including the maoi statue in the Margaret Mead hall of Pacific Peoples which was so surrounded by tourists we didn’t manage to get close. That whole gallery, however, was fascinating.

We ended the day by seeing Amelie on Broadway at the Walter Kerr theatre after dinner at a Mexican Restaurant a few streets east of Broadway (I can’t remember the name unfortunately – it was really nice though and pretty good value). It was lovely and the rush tickets (only $40 each) were really good seats – we were right at the front but because the stage design was minimal I could see everything easily. It was very twee (not that I am massively surprised) and the songs were ok, but it was good fun and I enjoyed the experience.

Day 3: More Central Park, The Met, Chelsea and the High Line

As it is still raining we went to the Met, which is bigger than any museum I have ever been too – we barely did a quarter of it before we were exhausted and had to leave, I am desperate to go back and see more.

We walk across Central Park again and head behind the Natural History Museum by a few blocks to discover the best bagels ever at Bagels & Co, followed by insane ice cream and visiting Knitty City  – my friend is a big knitter; I am both bemused and charmed by this lovely shop.

We then get the subway to Chelsea, having learned our lesson on Monday. Chelsea is beautiful; we walk on the High Line then pop into Chelsea market (which is much smaller than I expected) before going to see the Friends building and Carrie’s stoop (it was too close not to go!). This is by far my favourite area of New York, if and when I go back I would like to stay down in the Chelsea/Greenwich village area or a few blocks back on the West Side of Central Park – might need a bigger budget for that though!

We aim back towards midtown, stopping to sit in a park in Greenwich village for a few moments before heading north to Union Square. By pure accident we have dinner at an NYU student bar – it is pretty rowdy for 7pm on a Thursday night! Students will be students I suppose…. And so endeth the third day.

20170427_153958

Day 4: Finally some sun, the Empire State, shopping and home

Our final day dawns and we can finally head up the Empire State now that the weather is less rubbish. Tip: get there before 11, we got there about 10 and there were plenty of people but the line never stopped moving. When we left about an hour later the line was around the block! It is a cool experience; obviously, if you go up the Rockefeller you can see the Empire State in the skyline but I am quite glad we did the full NY experience with the Empire State – apparently, there was originally going to be a dirigible mooring post! And it was built in less than a year – insane! The view is pretty good, but I’m not sure it is worth going all the way to the top as you get two viewing points anyway and there isn’t a lot of difference in them.

We then do some mooching and shopping. Macy’s is my favourite store so far,  I hit up Sephora with a serious budget (America is expensive! And I kept forgetting to add the tax on in my mind…). We went into Saks and touched absolutely nothing, and we had a look round Tiffany’s – the people in there were very nice and very tolerant of us having a look around despite the fact we could obviously afford nothing. It indulged my desire to have a Breakfast at Tiffany’s moment anyway.

After having dragged my poor friend around New York the night before in search of Dough Doughnuts (only to find it closed) we eventually manage to locate a different Dough in a small food market next to Grand Central – honestly, they’re just giant doughnuts, not that amazing but perhaps I was too tired to appreciate it. This area of Grand Central was amazing though, it had such fantastic vibe (it reminded me a little of Boxpark in Shoreditch) and the food was quick, cheap and hot (all sorely needed) it was simply a great place to people watch. We grabbed a bite to eat here on the way back to Penn too.

20170428_104356

So that was New York, it was such a good trip and I highly recommend going if you haven’t been. I can’t wait to go back and I can’t wait to travel somewhere new – my next goal is to travel somewhere alone. I’m thinking a weekend break in Europe – perhaps Amsterdam? Does anyone have any suggestions or tips for travelling alone for the first time?

Personal challenges

My New Year’s Resolution this year was to challenge myself to at least one thing every month.Whilst I was slow getting started in January, February has been better and my life is slowly getting busier again with work, with my social life and with my own desire to improve myself. So in order to keep myself accountable and to keep track of how I am doing, here are the challenges I have done in the past month and a half.

 

new_york_city_view

Spoiler!

 


Challenge 1: Drive and park on my own. 

I am new to driving, having only just passed in November after years of struggling. Driving on my own has been a very different experience and it has taken me a while to get used to it. It might sound like a silly one, but I was pretty proud of myself for taking ownership and getting myself somewhere and back.

Challenge 2: Join a new exercise class.

Aerial Yoga! It’s so much fun! My resolution was to go to a new exercise class since I know I always enjoy it, and when I saw this class I couldn’t resist having a go. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone, it is so liberating the hang upside down and to know I have the strength to do a flip – it’s great for the core too. Love it!

Challenge 3: Book a trip abroad. 

This was a tricky one, and I know here will be people out there who think I am mad for being so scared about this. The fact of the matter is that I hate things which are beyond my control, and change, even if only a change of place for a week or so, is always a little out of your control. That’s probably why it is so important you do it.

So, I finally plucked up the courage to book a trip to New York. I am very excited about it, but also a little nervous: it’s a long way! I am going with a friend this time, but my next challenge would be to take a trip alone before the year is out; I think if I can get over my worry of it I would really enjoy it. For now, this adventure is big enough!

If any of you have any suggestions on what to do/where to eat in New York please leave me a comment – I would love extra suggestions and would love to know I have some support in this. (Sidenote: if anyone who reads this likes makeup I have a list a mile long for Sephora and the US drugstores so suggestions in this area welcome also. We have booked a checked bag for the flight home…)

So those are my achievements in the past month, I have many more challenges to work on but I don’t want to put them out there until I have done them. It feels a little like I would jinx them. Let me know what you thought of this post – if it was silly or interesting, or if you have any personal challenges you are working on.

A Literary Summer: Travels Around Some of the UK’s Literary Heritage Sites

This summer we started a project I have been wanting to do since I was a starry-eyed fourteen-year-old girl, crushing on the Byronic heroes of the Gothic Novels: a literary tour of Britain.

This desire has only been extended since my literature degree, here is a quick overview of the places I have been (So far!)



Haworth, Yorkshire, home of the Brontes.

Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth, Yorkshire

This was my mecca and has been since I fell in love with Mr Rochester at age 14 (so, he keeps his ex-wife in the attic…we all make mistakes). I have a strange affinity with Charlotte Bronte, and the description of Jane being ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’ is always something which has struck a melancholic teenage chord with me and all told, I had to go and visit my idol (side note: yes, I know she’s dead).

The museum is a series of exhibitions in the house where the Brontes were born and died (most of them), the main attraction is the sofa where Emily died (died! how morbid…) but the overall exhibition was really interesting. Seeing the rooms they grew up in and the attitude they were surrounded by was fascinating, and has only made me admire Charlotte’s tenacity even more. The exhibition was mostly Charlotte-themed, possibly because she was the child who lasted the longest but also it is, I believe, a bicentenary celebration this year. There was a specific room set up about Charlotte which included some of her clothes (she was tiny!), her writing desk, and a pair of her spectacles but the exhibition permeated the museum, showing different, fascinating facets of her life. It was absolutely incredible, just historically, to see the type of stature someone had in the mid 19th century, interestingly, at the Jane Austen museum it was apparently obvious the Austens were much bigger in height and in size, but we concluded this was likely due to nutrition more than anything.

I did think the town went a little overboard on their plaques, including displaying one on the local pub which explained how Branwell had drunk there, an affliction he later died from, closely followed by the apothecary over the road with a plaque showing that this is where Branwell got his Opium. You can hardly blame them for squeezing every last drop of the Bronte experience though. I would also recommend you bring your walking boots and head out over the moors to find one of the many ruins they believe inspired Wuthering Heights, we didn’t get the chance and I’m already planning a trip back up there to find Heathcliff…

Rating: 9/10, would visit again.

Chawton, Hampshire, Home of Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s House Museum Chawton, Hampshire

Despite also being poor, it is clear the Austen’s benefitted from wealthy family members which the Brontes simply did not have. Having seen both the Austen museum in Bath, and Stoneleigh Abbey (where the Austen’s stayed with relatives for a short while) it is clear the Austen managed to live comfortably if not wealthily. As mentioned above, this was most abundant in the stature of the girls, but beyond this the house was fascinating, filled with relics of some of Jane’s most famous work.

The major highlight was seeing Jane’s writing table, a sight I have to admit filled me with creative inspiration. The museum was mostly about all of the Austen’s and there were some rooms linked to her brothers and their naval career, whilst some might find this interesting I must admit I found it a little dull. Around the museum was illustrations from the different editions of her books which were lovely to look at. As with all literary museums seemingly, there was a dress up area and I couldn’t resist becoming Jane for just a moment. This was accompanied by the woman helping with the dressing up informing us that the trend in the Regency period was to have the neckline cut so low, it only just covered your nipples….

The Museum was lovely, but be warned – Chawton, like Haworth is a tourist trap with very limited and expensive eateries so you might want to stop elsewhere, but it is darling and I would return. Like the Bronte museum and seemingly many other heritage attractions, tickets seem to be 12-month returns making the trip much better value (depending on where you live I suppose).

9/10 for literary lovers, and I would probably recommend this one over the other Austen houses, though if you can visit the other places, such as Bath, Stoneleigh and Winchester, I would try and get the whole experience.

Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, home of Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Grave, Stratford Upon Avon Holy Trinity Church “Cursed be he that moves my bones”

Finally, a trip to the father of playwrighting, ol Bill. I have been to Stratford many times before, and because of that, this time I didn’t bother going into the Birthplace Trust properties (though they are excellent and I would highly recommend them), this time however I managed to go and see Shakespeare’s grave, something I have been meaning to do for ages.

This is another experience I found remarkably moving, his grave lies in a small church and a £3 entrance fee is asked for getting into the grave. The nice thing about that is, it quickly becomes clear from conversing with the volunteers that that small donation is for the upkeep of the church and the money can be seen in the works made to keep the church upright – indeed, last time I visited it was shut for necessary refurbishment. It has a bit more of a homely feel in some ways than the bigger properties in town, and there was something quite soothing about it. There are a few information stands when you go in, but at the back the main event is the graves of Shakespeare and his family, along with the birth and death registers and the font they believe he was baptised in.

Possibly because the day was so quiet, it did feel like a religious experience – though for me it was more to do with seeing Shakespeare’s grave rather than being in a church – but along with all of the other trips on this holiday I felt that it had an affect on me and visiting the sites of these great British writers has given me a boost to begin my own writing again.

As always, 10/10.

So, kind of a soppy roundup, but if you are an aspiring writer, or just interested in British writing, these are all fantastic places to visit. Next on the list is the Keats House, and finding Wordsworth in the Lake District. Do you have any recommendations?

Links:
https://www.bronte.org.uk/
http://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/
http://www.stratford-upon-avon.org/