Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grand Central, pastrami on rye & spectacular views

First stop this morning was Grand Central Station for breakfast. What a stunning building it is. Completely dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers, and apparently saved from the same fate by Jackie Onassis, you don't really realize until you enter the main hall how huge it is. The fascinating thing about the space though is how it absorbs sound and despite the high ceilings and marble cladding, it is quite a peaceful space, even at 9.30 on a weekday morning. The dining hall is a very democratic space with transients seeking shelter from the coldest morning of this winter, some snoozing in the comfortable armchairs, others rifling through the bins for recyclables and scraps. But there are also business men grabbing a coffee or, as at the table nextto mine, talking real estate and doing deals. And then of course there are the nosy tourists Luke me!! Last night at Bonnie's I bought a guide to NY markets and I wasted a subway travelling to Union Square where the best green market is except apparently not in the winter.

One of the highlights of the day came on the subway on the way up to Central Park. A Mariachi band jumped on at one stop, played a cheeky version of Guantanamera and jumped off at the next stop before I had time to pull out my wallet (& probably before they were thrown off!) Everyone in the crowded carriage studiously looked down, but it gave me the giggles!

Another highlight was Central Park. I entered at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onnasis Reservoir, which was stunning under its cover of snow and ice:

It was another of those spots I had read so much about, but which in 'person' exceeded all expectations. In the middle of this huuuge busy city there was only a handful of die-hard locals and determined tourists on the paths. It was quiet, white and peaceful. I walked down to the south-eastern corner, stopping to watch squirrels, a Mum taking her toddlers down a slope on a toboggan, a family building snowmen in the middle of a meadow,and ice-skaters on the pond and then bought a pretzel outside the gate opposite the Apple store & FAO Schwarz and started heading down towards Eisenberg's for lunch. (As an aside I have found the famed 'street food' of New York disappointing and pretty uninspiring. Perhaps I'm only seeing the 'touristy ones' and should get off the beaten track - or on Twitter - to find them).

After a stop at the Rockefeller Centre with its spectacular views and amazing concourses, I headed to Eisenberg's for lunch. This had been recommended by the New York Times food critic Sam Sifton as a spot for history buffs who wanted a taste of old-style New York diners. I sat down for the obligatory Pastrami on Rye and something called a chocolate egg cream which it turns out is not a milkshake but instead a combination of chocolate syrup, milk and soda water - not sure where the egg is.
I was amused to hear a local comment to the owner ( who I have discovered in this and other diners always stand at the door to meet and greet and seldom move from there) why it was busy. The answer 'that guy from the New York Times Sam something or other recommended it' My opinion of it? Meh. I think I could get better food elsewhere. The pastrami was a bit greasy and the rye bread was too skinny to hold it in. Pickles were good though. The sign outside the door said it all: 'Eisenberg's, you either get it or you don't'

Back on a subway after lunch to head back up to the Empire State Building observatory. The great thing about being in New York at this time is there have been no lines to get into any of the sights. The entry hall to the Empire State is huge and I can just imagine what the lines must be like to require that many acres of space and red velvet rope.
It was well worth the $30-odd to get this perspective on the city. As we got onto the lift for the 87 floor ride we were accompanied by the maroon liveried staff for a change of shift. These guys had balaclavas and gloves and scarves and some wise-ass guest said "where you headed? Alaska?" The guard's deadpan muffled response? "You'll get it" and boy did he get it, we all did. It was right before sunset and the wind chill factor must have made it several degrees below zero. I stayed up there until after the sun set and then went up to the 107th floor (enclosed) observatory for a final look around. Now I'm in the ever-present and reliable Starbucks warming up with a white chocolate macchiato and faster wireless than I have at the hotel. Tomorrow is apparently gong to be a wet one, so a day for the library, a couple of museums and another venture into Macy's. It's a tough job but someone's gotta do it.

Views from the Empire State

View from the Rockefeller
Lunch at Eisenberg's

No comments: