Sunday, December 03, 2006

A weekend in the Big Apple

"I want to be a part of it, in old New York"...

Ahh - the Big Apple never fails to dazzle. I was in the US for a work trip in early November and got to spend the weekend in Manhattan before heading down to Factiva's head office in Princeton, New Jersey.

I arrived late on a Friday night and stayed at the centrally located Hotel 31 for a couple of nights. As is typical of New York hotels, you get tiny little rooms unless you're prepared to spend BIG bucks! In any case, Hotel 31 was clean and comfortable and most importantly, reasonably close to the big sights like the Empire State Building and 5th Avenue.

With the US dollar losing ground against Sterling, New York is a shopper's paradise, and my mission seemed to be to single-handedly fuel the American economy for two days.

The country was a few days out from its mid-term elections, so campaign-mania pretty much dominated media coverage of every one of the 10,000 cable channels (ok, so that's an exaggeration, but there is nothing subtle about US election campaign advertising). That was mildly amusing for about an hour then simply got tedious...

With a five hour difference between my body and NY time, I got up really early to a perfect autumn day. The sky was cloudless, and it was a perfect opportunity to go up to the top of the Empire State Building. The queues were minimal, and instead of taking a couple of hours to get up to the observation deck as it did last time, I got up the top in 15 minutes. It's definitely worth going as early as possible to beat the crowds.

The view was stunning, and it was also worth paying for the self-paced audio tour to get a commentary of what I was actually looking at. The view from the top really puts the island into perspective. other than Hong Kong, I have never seen so many skyscrapers! I think it's the sheer scale of the city - the towering building and the interetsing shadows they cast, that amaze me the most about New York.

Shopping was next on my agenda, and I was desperate to get to Century 21 - a huge department store that many people had recommened. I've tried to get to Century 21 on two seperate previous visits to NY, and as a result of two unfortunate unscheduled shop closures, have never actually set foot in the place.

I jumped on the Metro and headed down to the Century 21 shop located just near Ground Zero. I never saw the twin towers when they were standing, but I've been to the Ground Zero site a couple of times, and I still feel physically sick when I walk around it. It's eerie - just to imagine what it would have been like to have seen the buildings, let alone the horror of seeing them go down, and all the carnage it caused. Ugh....makes me shudder.

Fortunately, Century 21 was open, and was packed with tourists and locals. As soon as I walked in the doors, I knew that it was worth seeing this place. There were floors and floors of clothes, accessories, bags, shoes and homewares that really demanded several weeks inspection as opposed to the few hours I could spare.

Ok - it was just a department store, but everything seemed so cheap, and there was just so much choice. The queues to the change rooms were truly horrific, so it was worth getting a good solid trolley full of clothes before investing the 25 minutes in the queue to try them on.

I left with several ahem...bags, and decided to dump it all back at the hotel before heading out for the next spree. Judging by the inquisitive looks I got on the Metro, I wondered if I had gone any way to my mission of supporting the US economy for a day. It felt like it.

The fabulous 5th avenue is always worth a stroll. I would love to know how much money is spent on that strip in a single day or year, given that some of the smaller pieces in Bvulgari or Tiffany & Co. would probably buy me a couple of flats in London. *sigh*.

Drooling aside, I passed the stunning Trump Tower and had a peak inside. I reckon the Starbucks on the mezzanine level of that building has it made. What a nice little earner. Much Donald Trump merchandise was available in the foyer - DT branded pens and cufflinks, shirts and books etc. It was an impressive building, but I don't know if I'd want Trump Tower branded all over myself....

Every shop I went into the rest of the day was packed, and the change rooms queues were infinitely long. It seems like everyone in the city was there to fuel the US econony as enthusiastically as I was.

I'd arranged to have dinner with a couple of friends, and we had a yummy meal uptown, at BlueChili, an Asian fusion place. The cocktails and food were particularly good, although it took a while to realise that one of the funky cascading water features was actually splashing off onto one of the nearby funky white seats, to form a funky shiny puddle that changed hues as the mood lights transitioned from red to green and blue. Noice!

The next day was packed with more shopping and a very long walk from the hotel up to Central Park. It was also the day of the famous New York marathon, so the helicopters and crowds were out in force.

It was a fab weekend! You've gotta love the vibrancy of New York - the brashness of the people, and their passion for bagels, bling and all things big!

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