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Sunday, July 28, 2013

New York, New York–we love you!

What an amazing city!  We’ve had our first bite of the Big Apple and we’re addicted.  Sure, it’s a crazy place – big, brash, totally in your face, noisy and exhausting but that’s all part of its intoxicating charm.  We loved this rough and tumble city although we’re glad we don’t live there.  It was great to retire to Bandit each night.

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Given that we’d never intended to visit New York – initial plans were to leave Bandit in Georgia and head to the UK for summer – it was a pretty fantastic feeling to see that oh so familiar Manhattan skyline emerge from the Atlantic morning mist after a night at sea.  And motoring past the Statue of Liberty put us on a real high.

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We’d met up with fellow Kiwi cruisers Mark and Amanda on Balvenie just off Cape May and did the overnight sail together up the coast to New York.  This was very handy as it meant we could take photos of each other with those landmarks in the background – much easier than launching the tender and trying to do it ourselves.

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Our first venture ashore left us feeling distinctly overwhelmed and disorientated – Manhattan is massive and there is just so much to see. Our bikes were great -  they allowed us to cover more ground .  One of our first explorations was through leafy Central Park, an 800 acre green oasis in the heart of this chaotic city.

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We spent our first two nights at anchor in the swift flowing Hudson River at the foot of 79th St- in the heart of the city and just a stone’s throw from one of many entrances to Central Park.  It just happened to be the one where the Dakota building is with the John Lennon Strawberry Fields memorial nearby. 

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Feeling unfazed by New York traffic we headed down 5th Ave to Times Square but our blaze attitude didn’t last long!  It was a hair raising ride with crazy taxi drivers, ignorant limos and double parked service vehicles so we sought avenues with cycle lanes – far more relaxing.  The Times Square area is huge and needed to be explored on foot so we tied the bikes to a lamppost - much to the amusement of a policewoman who came over for a chat and insisted we take her photo. She was intrigued we had come by yacht. 

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After two rolly days and nights we decided to head for a more peaceful anchorage.  The Hudson is very busy with lots of boat wake and confusing current and we couldn’t relax leaving Bandit so we headed up the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge to Port Washington.  It was amazing motoring past those landmarks  – the new World Trade Centre, the Empire State, the Chrysler, Trump Towers, United Nations and Riker Prison.DSC_2549P7100122

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Port Washington had free moorings and we felt far more comfortable leaving Bandit knowing she was secure, especially with afternoon thunderstorms whipping up strong winds.  The Long Island Railway had frequent trains right into Penn Station and we spent several more days in New York City just soaking up the sights.  Once rush hour was over we’d get the 9pm train back, returning to Bandit exhausted but exhilarated.  

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We spent a whole day exploring gorgeous Greenwich Village, Chelsea and the wonderful Meatpacker’s Area – where derelict warehouses have been turned into stunning boutiques (think Gucci), upmarket cafes and restaurants.  Quite by chance we stumbled across the Chelsea Market which used to be the old Oreo (biscuit) factory.  Today it’s full of fantastic shops that foodies like us adore –  fabulous Italian supplies, a fish market, upmarket greengrocer, baker, specialty kitchen shops and even a spice shop!  It was here we found a cafe serving the best coffee we’d had in New York…bliss!  Two hours later we emerged to get back on track and walk the High Line, a disused railway track now planted with wildflowers, trees and shrubs that gives a great view over the Hudson and city streets.  It’s a great place to wander and locals seem to hangout at the cafes and restaurants or lounge on the wooden seats.

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Greenwich Village was every bit as eclectic as we expected – full of arty and musical types doing all kinds of things…even playing grand pianos!  We just sat and absorbed the wonderful goings on from a central spot in Washington Square Park.  The quaint leafy streets in the village are very neighbourly with small parks where locals push children in strollers, sunbathe or walk dogs.  It feels far removed from the hectic hurly burly of nearby 5th Ave.

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Heading back to Penn Station on our trusty bikes we stumbled onto a film shoot.  After a bit of eavesdropping we discovered the “stars” were Matt McConaghey and Scarlett Johanssen being directed by Martin Scorsese.  Internet research showed it was an advertisement for Italian designers Dolce and Gabbana.  It was fascinating to stand and watch the goings on.

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We’d read Ground Zero and Wall St were “must dos” but to be honest, we found both a little underwhelming.  Sure, we saw a few chaps in their embossed jackets standing outside the New York Stock Exchange smoking…but that was about it.  Not the hustle and bustle we expected in one of the world’s busiest financial centres. Maybe we’ve watched too many Wall St movies!

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As for Ground Zero, to visit the memorials you needed to book online and bring printed tickets so that was out.  We’d seen some fairly moving memorabilia at the Newseum in Washington (relics from the site including cellphones and shoes) and some graphic film footage so decided to leave it at that.  It was wonderful to stand beneath the towering  new world trade tower and see America not capitulating to terrorism but rebuilding and moving on.

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Of course a visit to New York would not be complete without a trip up the Empire State Building, spending time at the Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim and we did all that.  The Met was overwhelming first visit – it’s massive!  So we returned for a second day which meant we got to see everything we wanted to.  Highlights were the wonderful displays of armour including two of Henry V111’s suits, the brilliant Punk exhibition featuring couture as well as street fashion from the punk era (Vivienne Westwood to Versace), the art and the Egyptian Collection including an entire temple from Luxor.   

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We also visited Frick House and that proved very special.  To see so many classic works of art (Rembrandt, Constable, Turner) in what was a private home, well a mansion really, was astonishing.  Henry Frick made his money in steel in the late 1800s and amassed a mind boggling fortune which he poured into his art collection.  He then left his 5th Ave home and the entire collection as a museum.

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And then there are the shops… no trip to New York City would be complete without a little retail therapy.  So Saks 5th Ave it was and wouldn’t you know it – they had a sale on.  Of course we did Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman and dozens of other shops as well…and yes, following the philosophy of good cruising friends who told us years ago we should always leave a little bit of cash on each island we visit – we left a bit on Manhattan.

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We LOVE the big apple….so much so we’re planning to return and spend more time on our way back down the east coast.

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