Today Michael drags us out of bed at the ungodly hour of 07:30! New York is alive and it beckons.
The unit is warm and we are cloistered against the elements. We are awake for less than an hour when that white stuff that is hard water starts to flutter from the sky (Donna - that one is for you!) :-)
Yes, it is snowing!! Justly lightly and the flakes dissolve as they hit the much warmer sidewalk, BUT, we finally have snow. As the time passes, the snow gets heavier and the wind picks up, pushing and pulling the flurries in a whirlwind of busyness.
Michael suggests that we go to a diner for breakfast. We walk around the block to the opposite corner from where Michael lives. The Ritz Diner is open 24 hours and reminds us of the Cheers Bar. There is a long bar with stools on which sit the elevated covered cake stands containing pastries and muffins and high cakes. We are shown to a table and immediately served water which is nice. Then comes the menu. Gosh, where do we start?
Finally we decide that we will go the eggs and bacon and sausage path. Michael orders fried eggs, bacon and sausage and home fries. Michael (bro) and I go the poached eggs - me with ham, Michael with sausage and bacon. Michael does not want to spoil the surprise of the poached eggs and despite how many time he asks that they be served on toast, they come in a small cup on a saucer - who cares - they are some of the most perfect poached eggs I have ever eaten! Home fries are more like hash browns. Breakfast goes down a treat and we had not realised just how hungry we were!
Then off into the cold and into New York. We enter the subterranean world of the New York subway. This is a whole other world that never stops. Before long, we are on a train bound for down town. Thank goodness for the subway - this is one place where you can escape the unrelentless wind. The weather forecast is for 18 degrees (that is - 11 in our language) but the wind chill takes another 10 - 20 degrees off! My god, that wind makes it SO cold! My nose is frozen and Michael keeps making smart remarks about how Maria is cold (you are not the only one laughing at my discomfort Steph!)
We walked down to Times Square so that we can get photos before the craziness of tonight. Already there is plenty of evidence that today is not a normal day in the Apple. There are TV trailers lining the street, more tourists taking photos than we care to count and even more security and police than the tourists. The shaft down which that famous crystal ball falls tells the story. On TV it looks so large, but in reality, it is not. Almost anticlimactic! The ball is tiny! But the square is amazing and the advertising signage beams brash and flash! There are LCDs the size not seen before - there are even projections that occupy the entire side of buildings. And still the tourists come and click!!
And the temperature continues to drop. The snow has set in, the wind picks up and at time the snow is being pushed sideways. The snow begins to pile up on the railings of the fences and in undisturbed corners. We walk a little further in search of a 'red bus' tour. For the princely sum of $39 we can have the Down Town tour or for $49, we can have have a 3 day pass plus plus plus. But really, we are looking for an overview and to better get our bearings, and we opt for the one day pass.
Michael has explained the layout of New York streets and once you know, it is almost impossible to get lost as it is one big grid. Streets are numbered in one direction and the avenues run across them with 5th Avenue being the divider between east and west. Most streets are one way, alternating in direction. Easy once you know!
So off on our tour we go. We travel through the downtown area - up and down in and out with a guide providing an on going commentary explaining the development and redevelopment of many of the districts that we in Australia hear of, but never really understand - SoHo, NoHo, LoHo all refer to areas (south, north and lower) than Houston Street. Greenwich Village, Little Italy, Chinatown and TriBeCa. We pass through the financial district and the garment district (where, he tells us, you can always grab a real bargain from designers disposing of the last season's styles) Chelsea and Flatiron.
We see some of the most amazing architecture - new skyscrapers line up all in a row with city ordinances controlling the point to which they can extend into the sidewalk. But it is architecture of buildings past that really amaze. Nestled in between all those tall, glass and chrome, brick and stone buildings are the gems of days bygone - when there was a finesse that results in slight differences that make them unique so that they stand apart from all other edifices.
We alight at Battery Park where we would get a cruise out to the Statue of Liberty on a better day and from there walk to the Trinity Church that sits in front of where the Trade Towers once stood. Amazingly, despite all the debris and disaster of that event, not one hair, not one brick, not one paper fell on this site. Until you see it, you cannot absorb the enormity of this fact - I mean, it sits adjacent to the site and was totally untouched. Something there about the power of prayer or belief? Wall Street was next - just after the close of trade for the last day of the year. Michael tells us you could once go into the Stock Exchange, but since 911, it is blockaded and you can only observe the machinations of the greatest impact on the world economies from the outside of the building. They have wrapped the columns in fairy lights depicting the American Flag. There are still lots of Christmas trees and lights - it is still not the 12th day of Christmas after all. In deference to the many religions, you wish everyone Happy Holidays and not Happy Christmas! Somehow, not the same.
Finally over to Grand Central Station with its vast splendorous interior complete with the movement of the zodiac signs through the overhead sky of the ceiling. Although there are obviously thousands of people moving through the concourse, there is only muted noise. We sit and drink at Michael Jordans Bar watching the world pass us by and then also watch the Sony Christmas light show play out across the ceiling and the columns of this iconic setting - and all is right with the world!
We are feeling the effects of jet lag and so go back to Michaels where I crash and sleep from 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm when I am woken so that we can go out for dinner and to see the New Year in. We walk down a couple of blocks and obligingly wait our turn to hail a Yellow Cab. Down to Brother Jimmys - a typical New York Bar. Michael has promised us ribs NY style. The staff are all super friendly and seem to be all university students. Who cares, they are attentive to our every need. Most of the harder work is being done (as in most other establishments) by the Hispanics.
We start with Hush Puppies - balls of cornmeal slightly flavoured with chili and then crumbed and deep fried. They are served with Maple Butter and honestly, they need to be tried to be believed - they are D E L I C I O U S!! On to the ribs and we get two sides with them - brother Michael chooses coleslaw and green string beans, Michael opts for mash and baked beans (as if THEY are needed!) and I choose mashed potato and candied yams (sweet potato) with walnuts. Truly finger lickin' good - and no colonel in sight. All the while, we drink beers and Jamiesons, water and coffee with a shooter of Wild Turkey American Honey and Orange Juice thrown in at some point.
At 11:40 pm out they bring the plastic 2009 hats, the clackers and the hooters plus complimentary glasses of sparkling wine. Of course, I get the clacker - I mean, who in their right mind would give me a hooter??!!!! Am I not loud enough already!!
So in with the New Year. Thanks to all of you who texted and emailed us good wishes. And to all of you, wherever you are, may the 2009 year bring good health and happiness and enough wealth to keep the wolves from your door. May you share good times with those dear to you, and hopefully we might see some of you somewhere in Europe sometime in the coming year.