Friday, January 13, 2012

NEW YORK : Where anything goes.

Sitting just one mile off the top of Long Island is the infamous Plum Island which is home to the Centre for Infectious Disease Control in the USA. It is famous not only because author Nelson DeMille wrote a book about the place but because of the secrecy surrounding the experiments which are conducted on animals in the facility We thought it strange that this sort of activity goes on so close to one of the most well heeled areas on the east coast. The other reason that this area is famous is because the treacherous body of water between the two Islands.The currents of Plum Gut rip through at unbelievable speeds, we came hurtling through here with the tide race doing over 12 knots, that’s on hell of a fast ride!

Leaving the somewhat laid-back atmosphere of The Hamptons and swapping it for  the frenetic pace of New York City was  quite a change and takes some adjustment, but we were certainly up to it and really looking forward to a few days checking out the Big Apple. Port Washington, a bay on the outskirts of the city, about 40 minutes from the city centre by train, would be our base. Other cruising friends had visited New York this way, so we had some tracks to follow, so to speak. Port Washington itself is a nice enough place, though as our focus was on NYC, we would  be catching  an early morning train  each day and returning in the dark, a bit like the rest of the commuters, so we didn’t really see a lot of Port Washington. That said, the town’s facilities were excellent and the locals, as they seem to be everywhere, were very helpful.

The train station at Port Washington was a good 20 minutes walk from the dock. As it was the end and start of the line it was pretty hard to get on or off  at the wrong stop and like a Swiss watch the trains  always ran on time. Conveniently, right near the station was a guy with a van, selling everything from juice to coffee and bagels, to assorted munchies. He did a good trade with the morning commuters who never seemed to have time to have  breakfast before they walked out the door, and it was ditto for us too as we couldn’t seem to get our breaky act together  before catching the 8am train.The major hub downtown was Penn Station and that’s where we got off in the morning and back on in the afternoon, it worked well but boy, was it busy. Once you got  to Penn station most people then take the subway to their final destination, this looked pretty daunting to us sailing folk, so we elected to walk, and walk, and walk. But it’s the best way to see things, take in the buzz of the place, people-watch and generally get the feel of what’s going on.

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So, where did we go? We started out by mooching down Fifth Avenue with it’s designer label stores,Saks,Bloomingdales,Hugo Boss, Armani, Cartier ,Tiffany & Co, just to name a few and they are all pretty big and impressive to say the least.Then it was a quick dash over to see the NBC studios , which was a popular attraction. People line up outside the studio where the Today show is filmed hoping to get on the TV in the background. Along  the way we had a gander at  the Rockefeller Centre and Radio City music hall. The timing worked out well as we also had to pick up a parcel of boat parts that Pete our friend back in Oz  had sent for us and they just happened to have been delivered to an office close by.

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No visit to NYC would be complete without taking in Central Park and also Times Square, vastly different experiences and  must-do items on the old bucket list. Central Park is large, it covers several blocks and  has it’s own zoo, not a very big  one mind you as it’s really more for the kids than the adults.The park has lots of pathways, several lakes, ice skating in winter, horse and carriage rides, row boats and about a million squirrels. To really see all of the park would take several hours, maybe a whole day, we  only spent a couple of hours there and  really enjoyed the open space atmosphere, along  with the hundreds of other people ambling  the tree lined paths or just lounging around on the grass. The park certainly has a relaxing feel to it and it’s a striking contrast to the frenetic pace and noise of the city.

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Next stop was Times Square, now what can we say about that? Well, it too has a zoo, only the inhabitants are humans, you sure see some weird sights and there is a constant ebb and flow of lots of people, many of them tourists, just soaking up the sights and sounds. There are just so many huge neon billboards, it’s difficult at times to comprehend all the messages being conveyed by the myriad of flashing signs, it’s almost like they are competing with each other to get your attention, and they cover a big area and adorn dozens of buildings.

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There is also a human element to the sights and sounds…enter the “Naked Cowboy”! We were feasting on a terrific sushi meal, people-watching through the full length windows of the Blue Fin restaurant, when out of nowhere comes this tall, good looking guy strumming a guitar, wearing a 10 gallon hat, riding boots and white briefs with “Naked Cowboy” emblazoned on his rump. Boy, did he get some attention, especially from the ladies. The Asian women in particular were lining up for photos with the “Cowboy” and he was gratefully accepting tips at a rapid rate. In between photos he would play his guitar and sing something loudly, we had no idea if he was talented or not as he was constantly interrupted by photo-seeking women, good work if you can get it!







And just to prove that this was not an urban myth Annie  had her photo taken with him too.                   

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After taking all this in for a while we headed downtown a few streets, only to bump into the “Naked Cowgirl”. Sadly, she was a little past her prime, didn’t appear to be invited to pose for photos and generally looked like she was out there just for something to do. In reality, she had a pretty tough act to follow after the “Cowboy”.



Later that evening we caught up with Joe, who we’d met in Block Island on our way north a few months earlier, he and his brother had given  us a lift when we were hitching from town back to the boat on a rather inclement arvo.  Our rendezvous with him was to be at Grand Central Station…now that is a real railway station! Bordering on chaotic at times, it’s impressive to see the volume of human traffic the station and it’s buildings can handle. We  really enjoyed catching up and shooting the breeze with Joe at one of his favorite bars across the street.


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Earlier in the day he had kindly arranged  tickets for us  to visit the 911 memorial site. Our previous visit to this site many years ago, saw us over 100 stories up on the observation deck of one of the towers, this time would it be a vastly different experience. Joe is very well connected in NYC. Tickets usually have to be  booked online at least a month in advance for a nominated entry time, so we were very lucky indeed. Joe directed us to the subway line to get us to the 911 site and after waiting a little while at the memorial entrance, our allocated time was 6pm, we were escorted into what is a brilliant memorial to the more than 3,000 lives lost on that fateful day. The footprint of each of the fallen towers is now a reflecting pool, each with a pool within a pool in the centre and with a continuous cascade of water around the edges.

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The name of every victim is inscribed on  the plaques which surround each pool’s edge. It was very emotional and honestly you would have to have ice in your veins not to get a lump in your throat and feel the hairs tingle on  the back of your your neck, it was that touching. Alongside the memorials we saw the new Freedom Tower taking shape. It’s  an amazing, stunning piece of architecture  sporting the biggest USA flag you can imagine. By the time we left darkness was falling across the city of New York  and the lighting effect on the site was brilliant and added to the moment. It is actually a little emotional recalling the visit as I write this, so be sure you make the effort to  go there if you ever have the chance.

On our next day in the city we headed to the bottom end of Manhattan and wandered along the sea front, past the buildings of Wall Street and through the South Street Seaport, which is full of eateries and humming with tour ferries and tourists. Annie was on  a  bit of a mission that day to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s a classic structure, pretty old but brilliantly designed, there  were even signs up by the pylons explaining about the fascinating construction of this well known landmark. We were not the only ones keen to walk the bridge, there were probably a couple of thousand overall, joggers, mums and dads and plenty of groups walking for cause and even as the rain began to tumble down it was still worth the effort. Annie walked more than halfway across, a fair trek really considering that the heavens had opened, and she had no raincoat.

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With our tummies grumbling at a low roar from the bridge,  we headed towards Chinatown, it was way past nosebag time.The place was really pumping when we got there and just like Chinatowns the world over, there were people scurrying in every direction. After asking for some directions to a good restaurant we headed to a popular place that specialized in Yum Cha, and that was exactly what we had had in mind. It was a big restaurant, like real big, and things happened fast. We were seated, offered hot towels, Chinese tea, food from the buffet, food from the  trolleys and then the trolleys just kept coming, it was like the wagons were circling. More food, more tea and finally the bill, and it all happened in  an almost record breaking  45 minutes. That was exactly what we were looking for as the day was getting on and there was more to see.. The food was very authentic, after all there are a lot of Chinese living in New York these days. It was tasty and well prepared. Next time we’re in the neighborhood we will  most definitely go back.

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Next stop was Little Italy. Yes, we were rather hungry that day (we’d done an awful lot of walking) and hey what a combo, a Chinese appetizer and  then an Italian main course, does it get any better?? Finding just the right restaurant proved to be an elusive goal, there were just so many of them. After cruising up and down, and up and down again, we finally settled on a busy little place that spilled out on to the sidewalk. I can’t recall exactly what we ate, but I’d put money on it that Annie had some sort of veal dish and Liam, spaghetti marinara, but whatever it was it was very Italian especially the Tiramisu that I  remember  we scoffed down for dessert. There was lots of noise, loud Italian voices and attentive waiters dashing about. At the end of our meal the waiters even gave Liam a lovely Peroni beer glass which he had so been admiring the whole time. He loves his beer glasses. After  having spent time recently in the quieter places like The Hamptons, New York City, Chinatown and Little Italy provided us with precisely what we were looking for, some terrific dining amongst vibrant settings, we loved it there.


We spent 3 days commuting by train from Port Washington and were really quite exhausted after that. No doubt there was more to see but we felt we had taken in enough of the Big Apple to truly get a sense of the place. It was not our first visit to New York, on our previous visit many years before we’d  been to both the Chrysler and the Empire State Buildings and many  of the other famous landmarks, so we didn’t feel the need to see and do everything again, but what we did see and do was tremendous, definitely one of the highlights of the USA east coast.

As we left the New York area and sailed for one last time along the East River we looked fondly at the lights of this great city and the beautiful lady who watches over it, the Stature of Liberty. We were now ready to head south to the Chesapeake Bay area, Annapolis in particular, so it was time to start checking the weather forecasts and get ready for the 3 day trip ahead, and it was looking like the ride south would be a good one.

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Cruising notes: Formalities: Once you have checked in with New York CBP you don’t need to each time you move. Supermarkets: Port Washington has an excellent Stop & Shop and there is a West Marine just near the supermarket. There is a dinghy dock across from the supermarket,  it’s to the left of the main town dock.Transport : Trains run from Port Washington every half hour to Penn Station, $10 each way.

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