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Saturday, May 25, 2013 : New York City

 

It is our second full day in New York City and jet lag is gradually becoming an old story. After breakfast and a Skype conversation with the family, we leave our hotel and find that the weather forecast was right. It's raining. Bad luck ...


The Bowling Green Charging Bull

The Bowling Green Charging Bull

 

We go back to the Bowling Green Charging Bull for a photo session. It is still packed, and we patiently wait for our turn. We then take the subway. After Lower Manhattan yesterday, we intend to spend this day visiting the Midtown, the middle part of the island.

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Grand Central Terminal, Manhattan

Grand Central Terminal, an outstanding restoration

 

We exit the subway directly inside Grand Central Terminal, by far the largest train terminal in New York City. Not bad, for a station that only handles suburban and regional trains.

 

I had already visited Grand Central Terminal in 1979. Since then, a few years before its Centennial in 2013, the terminal has been thoroughly restored, and the result is outstanding. Americans are real experts, when it's time to turn historical landmarks into witnesses of a glorious past.

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Grand Central Terminal, Manhattan

Grand Central Terminal, seen from outside

 

After spending some time inside the terminal, we exit on East 42nd Street. Without too much surprise, the exterior of the building is on par with the interior. The granite façades have been thoroughly cleansed and the building, which I remembered as very dark, is back to its original grey, beautifully emphasizing its greco-roman columns and features.

 

Then, full of hope and in good spirits, we walk down East 42nd Street, toward the United Nations headquarters, on the banks of the East River.

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United Nations, the Sphere within the Sphere

United Nations, the Sphere within the Sphere

 

And it's the day's big disappointment.

 

The General Assembly is not in session. The famous multicolored flags are not flying, and the plaza looks dull on a wet day under the grey sky. We walk around the campus, but the buildings look in dire need of repairs. Is it a way for the United Nations to send a message to their donors ?

 

We proceed anyway and, after clearing the ubiquitous security gates, end up entering the back of the General Assembly building. After enquiry, it makes sense that the main visitor lobby is almost deserted. All guided tours have been sold out for the day, and we will not be able to obtain anything more.

 

But the shops are open.

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United Nations flag, recovered in Baghdad after the 2003 attack

United Nations flag, recovered in Baghdad after the 2003 attack

 

After visiting the place of worship, accessible to all religions since it does not bear the sign of any, we take some pictures, including the one above, of the badly torn flag that was recovered in Baghdad after the 2003 attack, and we leave the United Nations.

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Chrysler Building, Manhattan

Chrysler Building

 

Back up 42nd Street, we quickly take a picture of the Chrysler Building, with its slightly out-of-time Art Deco features, since it was completed in 1930.

 

The Chrysler Building never actually belonged to the Chrysler company. It has not been opened for visits since 1945.

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New York Public Library

New York Public Library, 5th Avenue

 

We are now walking down Fifth Avenue, passing before New York Public Library. Can you recognize it ? Yes, it is the one that can be seen in the film "The Day After Tomorrow".

 

A few more blocks, and we are in front of the Empire State Building.

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Empire State Building, ticket to 86th floor observation deck

Empire State Building, ticket to the 86th floor observation deck

 

Our New York Passes grant us access to the 86th floor observation deck.

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Empire State Building, ticket to the 102th floor observation deck

Empire State Building, ticket to the 102th floor observation deck

 

We take the extra for the 102nd floor observation deck.

 

A screen displays an excellent visibility, despite a very cloudy sky. We take a chance and, after getting our tickets at the booths, we take the lift, first to the 80th floor, then to the 86th.

 

It is the end of May. I can't help thinking about the tremendous wait times on a sunny day in high summer, priority pass or not !

 

Both exterior observation decks are battered by a stiff wind which we hope, without sweating too much about it, that it will clear the sky.

 

We take the audioguide, highly detailed, almost mandatory. Too bad for Marie, it is only available in English.

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Lower Manhattan, seen from the Empire State Building

Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center, from the Empire State Building

 

The screen in the lobby was right, visibility is quite clear, although the sky is badly overcast. We take many pictures of New York City on all sides.

 

Let's begin with this view to the South, Lower Manhattan and Freedom Tower, now officially known as One World Trade Center. It has now been New York City's highest buiding for a few months.

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East Side, from the Empire State Building

The East Side, the Met Life , the Chrysler, the United Nations

 

We take all our time to walk around the deck. We are now facing North-East, the East River, the United Nations, the Chrysler Building and the Met Life Building, formerly known as the Pam Am Building. Well, that was in the times when Pan American, Lindbergh's employer, was still in existence.

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Hudson River, George Washington Bridge, Central Park, seen from the Empire State Building

Hudson River, George Washington Bridge, Central Park, from the Empire State Building

 

We are now facing Northwest, and we can see Central Park, the Upper West Side, the Hudson Valley, George Washington Bridge and New Jersey.

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The Flatiron, 5th Avenue and Broadway, seen from the Empire State Building

The Flatiron, 5th Avenue and Broadway

 

We have now walked the full lap around the observation deck. Back on the South side, we take a few minutes to watch the famous Flatiron Building, at the corner of Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Built in 1902, this building is one of the oldest in New York City with a steel structure.

 

A small park stands at the opposite corner. There is only one Flatiron Building.

 

Your observation skills are not betraying you, some parts of Broadway have really been given back to pedestrians. In New York City, this was still unthinkable not so long ago. Thank you, Mr. Bloomberg !

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Empire State Building, seen from 5th Avenue

Empire State Building, seen from 5th Avenue

 

After the visit, we cross the avenue to take this picture of the complete Empire State Building. I remember parking my car here a few years ago. Nowadays, it is probably unthinkable.

 

We are now going to walk Fifth Avenue up to Central Park, about 25 blocks. Of course, we will make a few stops along the way.

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Rockefeller Center, New York

Rockefeller Center

 

Our first stop is at the Rockefeller Center, where we visit Top of the Rock, another viewpoint from the tip of a skyscraper. Another one, you said ? This one is not as high as the Empire State Building but, since it is closer to Central Park, it gives a much better view of it.

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Top of the Rock, New York

Top of the Rock

 

This attraction is also on the New York Pass list, hence my warm endorsement.

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Central Park, seen from Top of the Rock

Central Park, seen from Top of the Rock

 

We are only a few blocks away from Central Park, the largest lung in Manhattan, a carefully preserved green oasis in the midst of skyscrapers.

 

Beyond Central Park, the sight takes us up to Harlem, the Yankee Stadium, the Bronx, and the Hudson Valley on our left.

 

After coming here again and again, I can tell that New York City is definitely one of those cities I cannot possibly grow tired of.

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Empire State Building and One World Trade Center, seen from Top of the Rock

Empire State Building and One World Trade Center

 

Of course, we walk the full circle of the observation deck at Top of the Rock. On the south side, we take our time to appreciate the near perfect alignment of Empire State Building and One World Trade Center.

 

We swear it, next time the weather will be absolutely fine, and we will have really bright pictures to show.

 

After Top of the Rock, we walk up Fifth Avenue. We stop for a while at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, undergoing renovation and almost invisible behind its scaffolds. We also take a quick picture of Trump Tower, a rather farty building.

 

Meanwhile, we can see a few old half-timbered houses, with bas-reliefs on their façades. I do not know whether those historical landmarks were recently renovated. In any case I had never noticed them.

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Central Park, south side

Central Park, south side

 

We cross the square in front of Plaza Hotel, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South. The Beatles and I have had drinks at the bar near the lobby, though not at the same time.

 

A little further, and on the opposite side, is The Pierre, one of the most beautiful (and expensive !) hotels in New York City. Further again is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and further still and on the other side of the avenue is the Guggenheim Museum. Both are absolutely beautiful, though very different.

 

We have chosen another way. We cross Central Park's south end, toward Columbus Circle and the Upper West Side.

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Theodore Roosevelt equestrian statue in front of the American Historical Society Museum, New York

Theodore Roosevelt equestrian statue

 

We exit Central Park on Eighth Avenue, which is called here Central Park West. We walk it up about 20 blocks, looking for the Dakota Building, John Lennon's residence and where he lost his life.

 

It is raining quite heavily again. We walk by Strawberry Fields, John Lennon's memorial in Central Park, and in front of the Dakota Building, without seeing it. Realizing our mistake, we walk back, and we find shelter in the New York Historical Society museum. We are not losing our time, we visit a very interesting exhibition about New York City and its inhabitants' role in WWII.

 

On the square, just in front of the American Museum of Natural History, we notice President Theodore Roosevelt's equestrian statue.

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Dakota Building entrance, West 72nd Street, New York

Dakota Building entrance, West 72nd Street

 

We finally find the Dakota Building at the corner of West 72nd Street and Central Park West. The doorkeeper politely tells me that yes, John used to live here, that his widow Yoko still lives in the neighborhood, and he shows me the exact place where Mark Chapman shot the two bullets that took John's life.

 

The lanterns that burn even in the light of day are not, as one could think, a tribute to John but mere ornaments of the building.

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New York City subway

New York City subway

 

Marie is beginning to feel the weight of all those miles on foot, so we take the subway to Times Square.

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Saturday night in Times Square, New York City

Times Square

 

Times Square is where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue. It is not exactly an outsize square, like Trafalgar Square in London or Place de la Concorde in Paris. What's more, flanked by buildings looking a bit like Grand Canyon, the square itself seems kind of narrow. But if you like neons, frenzy and unusual characters, I invite you to spend some time there. You will come for the famous Coke sign or the scrolling news, you will stay, perhaps, for the homeless people with the most delirious signs you can imagine.

 

And, as anyone knows, you will find more than one opportunity to quench you thirst for records, by maxing out all your credit limits in the shortest amount of time.

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Me between two cops in New York City

Although it looks I have been busted, I have not !

 

Times Square has its own police station, opposite the famous Coke sign. Although the cops are not just a tourist attraction but real policemen, they happily lend themselves to the tourist game of getting shot, well, pictured, between two big guys. We have a brief chat :


  • Is it legal, to get shot between two cops ?
  • Yes, Sir.
  • And after that, you're busting me ?
  • No, Sir. Have a nice visit, Sir !

 

Big thanks to them for their good spirits, their cool and their sense of humor.

 

We then make a short diversion to Hotel Paramount (it is no longer called Century) on 46th Street, dear to my heart because we slept there on my first two trips to New York City. It has been thoroughly remodeled by Philippe Starck, the famous designer, in his own specific style.

 

And we take the subway again.

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Vintage emergency ladder, New York City

Vintage emergency ladder

 

While walking randomly near our hotel, we are surprised to see this vintage emergency ladder with its counterweight. A long time ago, all buildings in New York City had them, they have now become quite rare.

 

This has been a very busy day. Our podometer app displays 9.5 miles, no less !

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