Four Freedoms Park and a free afternoon

Day ten:  Wednesday March 16th:
The dawning of a new day brought with it my final twenty-four hours in New York.  It would perhaps be understandable to be overwhelmed by melancholy at such a prospect, a year of planning and anticipation boiled down to one last day, but I was brimming with excitement at the day ahead.  After all, what more could one want than another day in this city?

Perhaps my most vital goal on this radiant Wednesday morning was to fulfil my  year-long craving for an Ess-a-Bagel bagel; a craving which had intensified significantly since my earlier failure to get one.  I wandered hopefully up Third Ave to E 50th and felt fantastically relieved to see a clear sidewalk outside of the Ess-a-Bagel store.  Sure, the line inside was snaking towards the door, but that seemed much more manageable than my previous visit here.  So I waited it out, thinking of nothing but how that Everything bagel with cream cheese and pastrami would feel once it was in my hands and taste when it was finally in my mouth.  Needless to say it was worth the wait.  I wish I could say that I had savoured every bite – or even ordered another one – but that bagel lasted the proverbial New York minute.

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From there it was a gentle saunter up to the Roosevelt Island Tram on 60th St.  I would have to say this:  Flying at 36,000 feet caused me no worries.  Standing on the observation deck of the 1,776 foot One World Trade Center was thrilling.  But standing at the station watching this tram hang over the Queensboro Bridge?  I felt butterflies.  It’s a smooth ride though and minutes later I was standing on Roosevelt Island thinking how silly I was for even briefly feeling uncomfortable about that ride.  Here I enjoyed a relaxed stroll down to Four Freedoms Park at the tip of the island.  The view from down here was much the same as the one which I enjoyed on the first evening of my trip from Gantry Plaza State Park, but there’s a quaint peacefulness about this park, especially when you are looking across the river at a city bathed in sunshine.  The words spoken by Franklin Roosevelt on January 6, 1941 – etched in stone here – feel particularly pertinent now in 2016.  The more things change…

I returned to Manhattan on the tram and made my way towards First Avenue to check in for my 2.15 tour of the UN building.  One of my favourite parts of my trip occurred here when the guide performed the obligatory routine of asking where everybody has come from and a group of college girls from North Carolina literally swooned at my response.  That never gets old here.  The UN itself is as exquisite inside as it looked from across the river this morning.  There are so many rich artefacts to view here, though the true highlight of the tour is the ability to sit in the Security Council chamber.  So cool.

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The Empire State Building peeking out from behind the American Radiator Building

The rest of my afternoon was a blank canvas which I intended to paint with a self-guided stroll through some of the sights around Midtown before the true artistry would commence in some of my favourite bars later.  Not for the first time I went jacketless as the gradually lowering sun beat against the city streets.  I took a casual (sweaty) stroll down First Avenue to 38th St and continued along 38th to Fifth Avenue, where I stopped for a bottle of water (and deodorant – just in case!) and snapped some photographs of the multitude of landmarks in this metropolis.  Crossing over to Sixth I spent a little time in Bryant Park, where I enjoyed capturing the Chrysler Building from many angles.  Those gargoyles sparkled like diamonds in the dying embers of the day – and my time in New York.  I then took Madison, which was bustling with office workers escaping for the night, up to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I was pleased to see a little less scaffold here than last time and I was enticed inside for a look and some reflection.

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Times Square pre-sunset

After a walk around Rockefeller Plaza I decided to *cringe* brace Times Square for the almost mandatory look at the lights.  I loathe Times Square, honestly, and I learned last year that if you HAVE to see Times Square then – if possible – the absolute best time to see it is after last call at the last bar you visit, around 4am, when it is virtually deserted.  There’s something quite charming about it then.  But any other time of the day and it’s just a circus, as it was here.  But I made my way up the red Tkts steps nonetheless and took some photographs of this chaotic New York scene.  I think I’d read somewhere online that Times Square is best photographed in those last moments before sunset, as that is when the lights are best brought out, and that is a great tip.  I got some lovely pictures here before indulging in that other tourist must-do, the hot dog from the street vendor.  $7 for a hot dog?  Seriously??  $7 for a freakin’ hot dog!  I could probably have thrown that hot dog and hit a 99c pizza place with far superior offering for a fraction of the price.  Alas I begrudgingly parted with my cash and at least enjoyed the mustard.

I began my first night in New York City with a few beers at Alewife in Long Island City and the experience was so enjoyable that there was no way I could leave without making a return visit.  Jess, the barmaid, remembered me from that first night and was once again a charming host, asking me all about the days in between.  She seemed particularly enthusiastic about my photographs from the NYC subway tour.  I enjoyed several of the Hoppy Ending IPA, which I think was my favourite of all the beers I can remember sampling in New York, and another helping of those delicious wings.  Again, probably the best wings I ate on this trip.  The sauce had just the right kick.  Alas, I had one other bar I wanted to visit tonight and I had to say my farewells to Alewife.  Jess gave me a hug, I gave her a high five.  She asked me to say hi to the Oban Distillery (I had pointed out the bottle of my hometown whisky on the shelf behind her last Monday) and I told her I would see her in a year.  What a great bar.  The best in New York.

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Leaving Alewife I did something I had never done here before and went all the way into the Uptown subway station.  Fortunately I realised my mistake before I had the chance to compound it by getting on a train, and I crossed the street and into the Downtown station I wanted.  The lady behind the window was sympathetic of my drunken plight and opened the gate for me and it wasn’t long before I was on my way to Rattle N Hum.  Once again the barmaid, Rebecca, remembered me and I thanked her for her successful recommendation of Taproom No. 307.  We talked as I worked my way through their list of drafts.  She gave me a prototype of a beermat she’d been working on – it reads “You NEED beer!!  :-)” in biro – and as the bills dwindled in my wallet I ordered my last beer, with which I played Russian Roulette by asking her to select.  I remember the first couple of malty mouthfuls of this 2/3 pint beer…and the next thing I know is that I woke up in my bed at the Club Quarters.  To this day I have no recollection of leaving Rattle N Hum, no recollection of walking back to my hotel – although I do know that I walked home because my phone contains the evidence of a multitude of failed, blurry attempts at photographing various buildings – no recollection of even my last hour or so at the bar and, sadly, no recollection of saying goodbye to this charming barmaid.  I can only assume that was one hell of a beer she poured me.

Best tip today:  Bryant Park is a glorious picture taking spot.  You can get some great shots of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the absolutely beautiful American Radiator Building (there’s a gorgeous shot of it and the ESB almost cuddled together) as well as the New York Public Library and Grand Central closeby.  It’s great for a quick coffee stop and some people watching.

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