After working the summer of 2007 as an ice-cream girl at Hamleys toy shop, I needed a holiday. Karl and I had a week booked off but hadn’t decided where we should go. We sat on my bed on the Friday afternoon and worked our way through the last minute deals on all the websites that we could think of. I don’t recall how I found it, but I came across a Virgin Atlantic flight to New Yorkthat was just £219 return. I had visited New York three times before and I decided it was high time I went back.
I spent the rest of the day trying to convince Karl that he did, in fact, want to go to New York. Despite his protestations of beaches and heat, we booked and left for the USA on the Monday morning.
Our first night in New York was spent in the rather uninspiring Econo Lodge in Ozone Park. It was a motel with a reinforced glass shield between the intensely disinterested receptionist and us. The room smelt suspiciously damp and the TV was distinctly 1990s.
At least the pizza place across the road was open, and provided us with an enormous Hawaiian pizza with full pineapple rings on. Delicious!
The next day, we arrived at the nearest Subway stop with no change for the ticket machine. Luckily a nice, but rather rebellious guy, held the gate open for us with a cheery “Welcome to New York!” and we got our first ride for free.
We had to hit all the big tourist spots on our trip so we found ourselves running through Times Square, managing to get halfway across a very blustery Brooklyn Bridge and wandering around Central Park. We spent time in a lot of toy shops.
Working in Hamleys had obviously rubbed off on me. I wowed the magician who was demonstrating the Marvin’s Magic drawing board and Karl played with Lego for an awkwardly long time (or Legos as they are known Stateside).
The Empire State Building
At the Empire State Building, the second lift that takes you up to the observation deck, was broken. We had to puff our way up the last few floors to the 86th and the stunning views.
We got the audio tour as I’d never had the chance on previous visits. We picked our narrator, I think he was called Tony, who pointed things out in the most wonderful Brooklyn accent. Karl likes to spend rather a long time up tall buildings, which I find a little boring after a while. so at least I had something to listen to.
We visited Ground Zero, which was an excavated hole in ground. You could see the Subway train tracks running along one wall. It was really interesting to see the changes from the first time I had visited. The area was buzzing once again, but then it was almost exactly six years on.
Nearby, a park had a memorial built from pieces of metal, twisted and stretched. I’m not sure I’ll ever really get to grips with just how huge these towers were.
These were the heady days of $2 to£1 and so even though we were poor-ish students, we were living it up. Abercrombie and Fitch polo shirts for £14 a pop, if you insist. A pair of Levis for £20, yes please! A pair of Calvin Klein boxers for £10, you betcha! It also meant we could eat in some wonderfully overpriced tourist hotspots. I particularly enjoyed Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Shack on Times Square. Not for the food mind you, the prawns were greasy and a touch overdone, but for the brilliantly tacky theme. We now have one of these in London but it seemed such a novelty. To get the wait staff’s attention you flip the sign on your table from “Run, Forrest, Run” to “Stop Forrest, Stop”. There was a bench to sit on and take photos and merchandise galore.
Karl was 21 and I only 20, so when we ordered a couple of cocktails, (and after I did some excellent “Oh no, I left my ID in the hotel safe!” acting) the waitress informed us that unfortunately, she could only bring one cocktail to the table. Karl seemed suitably smug and so I ordered the frozen lemon children’s drink that came in my very own flashing souvenir glass. Suck on that Karl! (hang on, I meant just a sip).
We stayed in the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square on 8th Avenue. It was clearly a business hotel but the rooms were huge, for New York hotels, and the last minute price we found was excellent. It is very well located, near Time Square and Port Authority.
I had wanted to stay next to Times Square, partly to be in the centre of action, and partly because I knew it well after having stayed there with college twice. Being so close to all the theatres of Times Square, we managed to see three shows during the week by applying for rush tickets.
We got up in the morning, queued for tickets and went for a large, leisurely breakfast when we had secured them. We watched Legally Blonde (especially fab as this was the film I’d watched 3 times on the way home from New York on my first visit). On the fourth day, we saw Blue Man Group, obviously and we went to see a show that has become one of our all time favourites, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It’s a fantastic musical, intimate, intricate and very funny. We sat on school benches on the front row and I gazed up at the performers completely enthralled. I bought the music book, which I still have, and got the cast to sign it. I was in musical geek heaven.
During our last night, we woke up to a strange noise. A rusting was coming from somewhere in our room. Karl quickly deducted that it must be a rodent. We were staying next to laundry room and there is the old adage about never being more than this or that many meters from a rat in most big cities. In a state of undress we jumped about, trying to flush it out. We thought it was running between our shopping bags, but when we got up the courage to move them, the creature was nowhere to be seen. Silence resumed and we got back into bed unnerved but we slept nonetheless.
In the morning, I decided to treat myself to the Gu brownie that I’d saved from the flight over. It had been nibbled, wrapper and all. We took it downstairs to show the receptionist. He couldn’t understand why we hadn’t come down the night before. “It was 3:00 am and we were naked!” we cried in despair. As a goodwill gesture, they gave us a $40 voucher for the restaurant. There may have been rodents in the laundry room but this was a free meal, and there probably weren’t any in the kitchen, right? We gratefully accepted. I had a steak and a cheesecake and then it was time to come home.
Somehow that week, we didn’t argue, our first real test as a travelling pair had gone rather well. This one, I decided, may be a keeper.