Walks Past – New York, February 2006

In February 2006, I had some business to attend in New York. Since my wife’s birthday is that month, the timing worked perfectly for her to fly in on a Friday just as my meetings ended, so that we could spend the weekend in the city and celebrate in style.

I had been working in mid town so we were staying in a hotel just east of Grand Central Station, I think around 43rd & 2nd Avenue. That central location meant we could explore the whole of Manhattan on foot – downtown, midtown, and uptown were all reachable and all tempting destinations. This was my first visit to NYC and I was looking forward to exploring.

That first day, the Friday, was a lovely winter’s day, positively warm at maybe 5-10 C, and since my wife arrived around noon just as my meetings finished, we listened to our hunger pangs and headed straight off downtown.

First stop was a little Japanese restaurant for sushi to keep us going. While every city these days seems to have sushi restaurants, in NY it was different. The bustle and hustle of the city meant that everything was fresh, delicious, and quick. It was a great way to enjoy a meal while leaving plenty of time for sightseeing.

We set off south on Park Avenue and just wandered, holding hands in the sun and window shopping as we went. Every block seemed to offer a view of an iconic building or landmark – the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building.

Soon we came to Gramercy Park and I thought of the jazz artists I’ve loved who recorded for the Gramercy record label. Continuing on to Union Square, it struck us that we were getting close to Greenwich Village. We had fun pointing out places that had appeared in movies or TV shows we’d seen over the years – oh look the Friends building! – and of course by 2006, the Village was well gentrified compared to the 60’s when Dylan hung out, but just like visiting St. Germain in Paris and thinking of Sartre, wandering the streets was an immersion into cultural history.

After a stop for coffee and more exploring, we stumbled upon a quaint French restaurant that looked perfect for dinner, authentic without being pretentious. I don’t think the restaurant is there any more but I do recall the meal being wonderful, and the wine even better, fuelling us for another day of exploring on Saturday.

That day was my wife’s birthday, and it was an even more glorious New York warm winter’s day – sunny blue skies and about a springlike feel at 10-12C. The sunshine and warmth pointed our feet north towards Central Park. Walking up 5th Avenue, we passed more landmarks and icons – the FAO Schwarz toy store, Rockefeller Center, the Park Plaza hotel, and the Sherman Monument at the entrance to Central Park.

Entering the park was to enter another world. I’d always heard about the magic of the park in the way it formed a green oasis within the city, and wandering the paths I could finally understand it. Outside, cars honked and buses roared. Inside birds whistled and children shouted. Strolling the paths we turned and twisted and followed our noses to find ourselves at the Boathouse just in time for a late lunch. It was such gorgeous weather we had to sit outside, and drinking a glass of wine we thought we were in mid-spring.

After that relaxing stop, it was a lazy stroll back to midtown amongst the brownstones of the Upper East Side and down along Madison Avenue. The shopping was oh so tempting, and it was Ann’s birthday after all, so by the time we reached the hotel we were shopped out and knackered enough for a nap. We woke up famished and were very ready for dinner that night at a hopping Italian place in the Upper West Side near Columbia University. We celebrated and thought we’d ended our weekend in NY on a perfect note.

And then, surprise! Winter returned overnight with a howl and blast and 50+ cm of snow. By the time we awoke that Sunday morning and looked out, it was obvious that we weren’t flying anywhere that day. We checked with the airline to see about flights on the Monday, and then asked ourselves what we could with a grown-up city snow-day.

While we did have winter coats, hats, and gloves, we didn’t have boots and the snow was knee-deep at least. Still, if we wanted to embrace NY then we had to act like New Yorkers and just get on with it. We braved the blizzard and headed for Grand Central Station, thinking we could at least take a train somewhere. To our surprise, we walked in to find a lovely little market tucked into the back of the building that was open despite the storm, and sniffing about we soon found the makings of a picnic lunch along with a bottle of wine to keep out the chill. We slogged through the snow back to the hotel and settled down to watch a bit of the Winter Olympics while enjoying our feast – an unexpected treat.

By Mockba1_1999, CC BY 2.5, Link

By early evening, the snow finally slowed and the sidewalks were more or less cleared so taking one last NYC walk, we slushed up 2nd Avenue and soon found a cosy little Italian restaurant straight out of the 70’s, complete with red velvet wallpaper and candles in wine bottles. There were only a handful of customers on what would normally have been a busy Sunday night, so the staff showered us with attention and free tiramisu. It was one of the best and most memorable meals we’ve ever had – a bonus night out to complete an extended weekend that had offered sunshine and snow, parks and Park Avenue, icons and ice cream, and walks to remember.