Times Square and other New York Oddities by The Old Fogies

Almost every visitor to New York will find themselves in Times Square which is the main entertainment centre and tourist destination in Midtown Manhattan at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Americans with their natural modesty sometimes refer to Times Square as “the heart of The Great White Way”, “The Crossroads of the World” or “The Center of the Universe”. It is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, attracting an estimated 50 million visitors annually.

The location was originally known as Longacre Square, Times Square was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters there. It is not really a square but made up of a couple of triangles. For decades, the square had reputation as a dangerous and seedy neighbourhood until the area was cleaned up in the 1990s. It now has a large police presence all around the clock.

Times Square is a neon wonderland with lots of billboards and advertisements all around the area. It attracts a strange assortment of street performers who dress up in a variety of costumes. For some reason there is a large section of red stairs which leads to nowhere and seems to function as seating where people watch the thousands of people walking past.

Nearby is a statue of George M. Cohan of Yankee Doodle Dandy fame. There are a number of attractions like the ABC’s Times Square Studios, where Good Morning America is broadcast live and plenty of bars, restaurants and retail outlets.

Times Square is one of those places that you feel that you should visit but as soon as you have been there, you think why did I bother !

Away from the craziness of Times Square, we thought we would point you towards some other attractions that were much more enjoyable.

Grand Central Terminal or Grand Central is one of the most famous railway stations in the United States, its distinctive architecture attracts over 20 million visitors a year excluding train and subway passengers. The enormous Main Concourse is the centre of Grand Central and is 275 ft (84 m) long by 120 ft (37 m) wide by 125 ft (38 m) high.

The concourse has an elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling created in 1912, it features various constellations. Underneath the Main Concourse is the The Dining Concourse which has seating and lounge areas, surrounded by restaurants. The terminal has 44 platforms which means the station is always busy but well worth visiting.

Lincoln Center  for the Performing Arts is a large complex of buildings in the Lincoln Square area of Manhattan, the complex is home to the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet and the New York City Opera.

Whilst many people come to the many events, we were fascinated by the Lincoln Center Revson fountain. The original Revson Fountain was built in 1964 and when it was first built, it was the most technologically advanced fountain ever constructed in New York. It was updated in 2009 and provides one of the best free shows in New York, the jets are individually controlled and can create vertical water explosions from 6 inches and 40 feet in height. We sat near the fountain mesmerised by the various complex routines for ages, eating a tasty ice cream and enjoying the surroundings.

Across from the Lincoln Center was Hippo Ballerina, part of an art installation by Danish sculptor Bjørn Okholm Skaarup.

Annoyances

Like any major city, New York has its fair share of annoyances although the large police presence in Manhattan dispels many of the myths of it being a dangerous destination.

Generally near to the main tourist areas are groups of people trying to sell you bus tours or other attractions, they generally take no for an answer but by the twentieth time it gets a little tedious. Occasionally people do try sell you CDs or other things but a firm no is usually all you need to get rid of their attention.

If you like wandering around the streets, there is some ‘Good News’ and ‘Bad News’. The good news is that you are unlikely to get lost, the city had a grid system that means as long as you know the avenue and street you can pinpoint where you are. The bad news is that the grid systems means that you are forever crossing the road at the crossing areas. This becomes slow and laborious especially on a hot day and if you do not wait for go sign beware, the NYPD do have regular clampdowns on jay walkers.

New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude and brusque, we noticed this more on public transport where the staff were often less than helpful. Generally staff in various establishments were the same as many other large cities, although it did help to have a sense of humour because New Yorkers do like a joke at times.

An example of New Yorker’s sense of humour was a occasion when Mrs Nice was adjusting my trousers at the back, three workmen on the sidewalk shouted out ‘Get a room’ leaving Mrs Nice with a bright red face from the embarrassment.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to New York

There was a slight delay to our flight from San Francisco to New York and we arrived in the evening at Newark Airport. We used the Airtrain and then the New Jersey transit train to arrive in Manhattan. The train staff collected our ticket, tore them and put them in a holder in the seat in front, only to collect them later. This bizarre behaviour was compounded by their less than friendly behaviour to the few passengers on the train.

We arrived at Penn Station and found our way to the exit to make our way to the hotel, thankfully the hotel was a relatively short walk along Seventh Avenue. The sidewalks were crowded and the heat and car fumes did not make for a pleasant walk. Eventually we arrived at the hotel and were grateful that the room was at the back of the building meaning it was relatively quiet. The next day, we decided to take a relatively relaxed day before some serious sightseeing. We took a walk up to Central Park which is often known as New York’s ‘backyard’ and is a large 843 acre park which took 16 years to create in the mid 19th century. The park is an attractive mixture of greenery and water features with a number of buildings dotted around the park. The Central Park Zoo occupies one corner before walking around the Sheep Meadow brings you to the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace. We stopped at Boathouse for a bite to eat before making our way to Belvedere Castle which is a 19th century stone castle that gives visitors great views over the park. Walking down the side of Central Park West, we stopped at the Dakota Building before walking into Strawberry Fields which was created by Yoko Ono. After the 10th rendition of ‘Imagine’ by the buskers in the gardens we decided was time to leave and visit the nearby Lincoln Center.  The Lincoln Center is a large cultural complex that houses an array of venues for The Metropolitan Opera, New York Ballet and New York Philharmonic. It is also a great place to people watch around the spectacular and entertaining fountain. The next place on our itinerary was the United Nations Building which involved walking to the east side of Manhattan. Walking past the famous store of Bloomingdales, we began to come across roads blocked off and groups of police standing around. A bit further on groups of demonstrators lined the street and we realised that the area around the United Nations was in lockdown due to the General Assembly of the United Nations taking place. In the evening we began to explore the madness around the area around Times Square, which is not really a square but is where a number of roads meet. This is also the Broadway Theatre district and where a lot of television shows are recorded.   Before we set out on our trip, we had purchased a New York Pass because virtually nothing in New York is free and it would enable us to be fast tracked at some of the busier attractions. The pass is not cheap but does provide a wide range of attractions, tours and cruises for your money. However it does need a certain amount of planning to make sure that you get the most out of the card and therefore the next day we decided to concentrate on the Downtown area. We took the Metro down to the World Trade Center to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It is only when you visit the site, that you fully understand the scale of the disaster, outside two large memorial pools sit in the footprints of where the towers stand and inside the human stories are told in a restrained and sensitive way. The new One World Trade Center, the tallest building in New York stands like a sentinel above the site. From the Center, we walked down past Wall Street to Battery Park where you get your tickets and catch the ferry over to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The ticket offices are in Castle Clinton and then it’s a case of joining the queues and going through tight security before boarding the ferry for the short ride across to Liberty Island. By this time the heat of the midday sun was approaching 85 degrees and many travellers were beginning to feel the strain. However the cool breeze from the water was most welcome as we made our way to the Island. The Statue of Liberty is one of the most famous statues in the world and with clear blue skies looked magnificent as we approached the jetty. Close up to the statue, you have some idea of its enormous scale being 305 feet tall and weighing 200 tons. From Liberty Island you can return back to Manhattan or take another ferry to Ellis Island. Fascinated by the story of Ellis Island, we took the ferry across to one of the symbols of America’s immigrant heritage. Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island was the arrival point for over 12 million people, the Museum gives some insight into their experience of landing in America.Over the next few days, we enjoyed great views of Manhattan from the Top of the Rock in the Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building. Had a cultural fix at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Had a bus trip around Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca and Harlem. Went shopping at Macy’s, Bloomingdales and looked around some of the various markets.

One of the highlights off the usual tourist path is a visit the Grand Central Station, the vast terminal is one of the great public spaces in New York with its vaulted ceiling full of moving constellations.

The abiding smell of New York is the food from the various street kiosks and car fumes as the gridlocked streets are full of taxis and other vehicles. New York is not a place for enjoyable stroll, the grid system is great for locating where you are but the endless crossing of the junctions becomes tiresome after a while. It often says in guidebooks that you are more likely to be in a road accident rather than being mugged in New York and crossing the road is a major undertaking with police patrols at many places to enable traffic to keep moving.

The high temperatures when we were visiting did mean that walking the main thoroughfares with crowds of people were not particularly enjoyable and being stopped every few yards by people selling bus tours and other rides got quite irritating. Whether it was the hot weather or not, people could be quite brusque in shops and restaurants but if you are open to having a conversation with a local, they often would show the famous New York sense of humour.

Both our first impressions of New York were not exactly favourable but after a few days, you do begin to understand some of the ways of the city and it grows on you. We both thought it would be nice to revisit to explore more of the city away from the main attractions.  

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.