Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Number Of The Beast

See? Even Satan, the dark lord himself, has found a home in New York! Good on ya big lad!

It's also an ideal picture for me to post here in celebration of the 666th page-load on this blog. Many thanks to all the fellow bloggers and friends who made this possible! :)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Beauty And The Beast

Arguably our biggest mistake was to make the trek from West 34th Street right down to Pier 83 on West 42nd Street & 12th Avenue, amid the hottest period we had yet to experience in New York. I can still remember my aggravated annoyance at making the undeniably ludicrous decision to wear black jeans on that day. In light of this, Mrs H decided that silence was the best policy, but soon diffused the situation by buying me a nice ice cold Sprite from the beverage vendor on the pier-side.

Our primary reason for making the trip on this occasion was to provide a dummy run for our evening out on the World Yacht Cruise the following day. I also had to enquire as to the situation regarding attire. The website insisted that all gentlemen were required to wear a dinner jacket and tie for the evening. As I appear to be going off topic, I’ll cover this Cruise later on in the week...

Whilst sat down in the only shaded area available, we could see the U.S.S. Intrepid and various Liberty Tours around the Hudson. However, there was one attraction that caught our eye. It was a high speed boat ride aboard ‘The Beast’. With glaring teeth on it’s livery and promising the best sights and sounds of the Hudson, this seemed to be the one to do.

We paid for our tickets and lined up. After what seemed like an age (due to the lack of shelter) we were finally greeted by a gentleman who went by the name of Mad Dog. He was your typical theme park attraction over-acting buffoon which I happen to love. After a flurry of gags to warm up the crowd (as if we needed that in the 90 degree sun!) we were asked to undergo a compulsory photograph before boarding the boat. We later discovered that this was not for security reasons but a thinly veiled ruse to encourage you to buy it as a souvenir.

Getting on board was an attraction in itself. It may have been a glorious day but the floating decks to get to the boat were moving in all directions. Eventually we made it on board and decided to head for the front to gain the best view. The seats were populated very quickly and after some more comedy from Mad Dog and his assistant Wild Thing, who appeared out of nowhere, we were on our way.

Sitting at the front of the boat, in hindsight, may not have been the best decision. With me being 6’ 3” and Wild Thing commentating about two foot away, I bore the brunt of some of his material. I was mocked as a running joke regarding my holding on of the handrail during the entire ride!

We jetted down the Hudson at around 45mph and it took my breath away. This initiated a mini-disaster as my right contact lens made friends with a minute piece of grit thrown up by the water spray. I then decided to get the camera out to snap some skyline scenery and I dropped the bloody case which went flying down the aisle.

We eventually arrived at the Statue of Liberty and the boat came to a halt for some pictures to be taken. Wild Thing very kindly offered to take all pictures with Liberty serving as the backdrop.

On the way back we were lucky enough to see this boat ejecting coloured water in the colours of the Stars & Stripes.

Also saw this pleasure boat trip pass us by. And yes, we were all forced to do the obligatory wave to them.

The whole trip lasted for 30 minutes and set to a series of rock classics and dance music which all related to the commentary and sights we were being shown. Very professional and damn enjoyable too.

It also served as a great way to cool off...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

See? Gull...

This little fella was perched here all on his own and stayed there for about 10 minutes. It was taken whilst we were waiting to board the Liberty Boat Cruise. Wonder where he is now...

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Square Mile VS The Big Apple

Round 1 – The People
Outside of being at a concert, I used to think that London’s Piccadilly Circus was one of the most crowded places to visit. A veritable cavalcade of ignorant, sweat-induced citizens rushing around as though their very lives depended on it. Darting back and forth in random directions seemingly unconcerned that they have just ploughed straight into you and in doing so dented your prized designer bag from Bond Street.

Step aside London, and enter New York. The one thing that astonished me during my visits to Times Square was the fact that New Yorkers appear to exhibit the same characteristics as Londoners but minus their chaotic overtones. Sure, people are in a rush, but it’s a strange muted, organised rush. Everyone walks in a brisk flow but nowhere are people crashing into each other like flesh and bone bangers. You can reach your destination without too much trouble and certainly without any bruises.

Round 2 – Public Transport
The London Underground is a mighty beast that can easily intimidate the uninitiated. I have witnessed people literally in tears as they desperately attempt to navigate the colourful map before them with all the skill and finesse of a dwarf participating in the high jump. Putting your £3 in the machine to get the printed map then finding nothing appearing from the slot except thin air. Purchasing a day ticket for £6.30 and getting it lodged in the turnstile units after a few swipes. Asking a member of staff for directions and finding that you have a one in ten chance of discovering one that can actually speak English. Deep Joy…

Entering the New York Subway does initially exhibit similar issues. The map is arguably harder to navigate than the London equivalent with letters and numbers as opposed to colour coded lines. It’s also bloody hot down there. After that things change… Uber friendly staff that are bilingual. A Metrocard day ticket that at $7 (£4.10) doesn’t cost the earth. Oh, and dry-witted citizens…

It was our second day in the city and we were on a tube. There was a woman sat down who was talking to whoever would listen. She was babbling on about allsorts and was slightly aggressive and very in your face. This went on for about ten minutes before she got up, told everyone to fuck off, walked to the doors and exited the tube leaving us to try and enjoy the journey. I looked at Mrs H; she looked at me and a man opposite us who had been calmly reading his newspaper for the entirety of the journey looked up at us and said, “Welcome to New York!”. Utterly priceless.

Round 3 – City Parks
Hyde Park and Regents Park are most pleasant and an ideal place to spend a lazy afternoon in London. One definite plus is the multitude of games you can play whilst you are there – for instance; frisbee, swing ball, football, dodge the dog shit…

Central Park is massive. Mrs H and I entered it and we never re-emerged until three hours later. Allocated nature trails, areas with ‘keep of the grass’ signs that people actually abide by. Some wonderful water features and ponds to sit around that are home to very small black fish, which the locals catch and stick in fish tanks for their children. We spent quite some time watching a mini New Yorker catch his new pets whilst his grandfather supervised… Speaking of pets, they have mini parks for dogs! How cool is that! It contains all manner of balls and bones for the little fellas to chew on whilst their owners have a chat. A dog crèche if you will. Oh, and did I mention how massive it is? To give you an example, we were sat in Central Park around one of the big ponds enjoying the afternoon sun when this American woman rushed over to us and said, “Do you know the way out of here?”. I explained that we were tourists and couldn’t help her. She smiled, “I’ve been trying to find the way out for half an hour!”. Extra Kudos points New York for having such an amazingly large park that even your own citizens can’t escape!


I feel that I must place the obligatory disclaimer to defend the above. These are my own personal experiences of both cities. I am not trying to discredit one above the other. In fact I’ll be covering our London holiday on this blog very soon. Amazing as it may seem, I love London and I have visited it many times. It's a great city with loads to do - but it 'aint NYC baby!

Thursday, March 23, 2006


The New York Public Library is situated within the busy confines of Fifth Avenue. Most of us over thirties will remember this location fondly as it played host to the 'Librarian granny ghost' opening scenes in the 1984 hit comedy Ghostbusters. However, the younger element will no doubt recall it for the pivotal scenes in the 2004 disaster movie (in more ways than one!) The Day After Tomorrow. Not surprisingly the movie theme was my paramount reason to visit. Mrs H, however, had far more intellectual and valid excuses to enter!

First impressions? WOW! - You really have to pay a personal visit to fully appreciate the sheer scale. For example, the entrance lobby alone is the size of my local Library here in the UK!!

Set to some outstanding architecture, the building is ornately and delicately adorned with striking paintings and murals. Photography is pretty much frowned upon in many areas and I was regularly ushered away by security as soon as I produced the camera!

We spent the best part of three hours wandering around and basically getting lost in a typical touristy (sp?) fashion! Realistically you could spend an entire day there and still not take everything in. There truly is something for everyone.

I couldn't close this post without mentioning the Lions that proudly flank the main entrance of the Library. With all the pride and majesty that you would expect from the King of the Jungle, nothing can break their immense strength and beauty... except when three local New Yorkers decided to land on them - pwned! :)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Myth Busters

The streets actually do eminate steam just like in the movies!

New York pizzas really are incredibly large AND cheap!

Toys R Us Times Square does have a bloody great Ferris wheel inside!

Central Park does provide floating sun shelters for sun-burnt ducks!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Guns N' Hoses

I'd like to take this opportunity to doth my cap to the men and women of law enforcement who patrol the streets of New York so diligently. We were both surprised at the frequency of their presence along every street. Here in the UK you'd be lucky if you saw one in a week. This contributed to us both feeling safer over there than we do over here. C'mon, let's be honest - who wouldn't want to ride around on one of these bad boys?

Let's not forget the Fire Service either. I took this photograph during the 9/11 ceremony at Ground Zero. Just opposite this truck there was an Irish bar full of firemen who were more than happy to share an ice cold beer with anyone who was willing. Mind you, I wouldn't be too thrilled at being their next call-out!

May I suggest that you take the time to head on over to the NYPD and FDNY websites and show your support for New York's finest.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

View From The Top

The Empire State Building - New York's tallest building, standing at 1,454ft high (including lightning rod) with a total of 102 floors. I have always admired the art deco appearance of this place, from it's majestic lobby to the stylistic construction of it's outer walls. As a matter of interest there is also a lovely bar/restaurant on the ground floor called The Heartland Brewery that serves a fantastic steak! But that's another story... :)

As I stated previously , the first thing to strike you upon entrance is it's wonderful art deco lobby. Lavished in a gold glow, and adorned with many US flags, it trancends anything I've seen before. Most impressive.

After yet another set of security checks, we were finally in line to get into one of the lifts. Huddled in like sardines, we gradually ascended. Interestingly, the lift doesn't count - 1, 2, 3, 4 etc., it scales in 10 floor intervals and counts 10, 20, 30, 40! At around floor 50 my ears decided to pop and by the time we reached the observation deck at floor 86, I was swallowing hard to get my ears back to normality! Thankfully they adjusted quickly.

We had a quick browse around the gift shop before exiting outside. The last time I visited the Empire State Building in 2000, it was raining and visibility was low, so I was very pleased that on this occasion it was a lovely hot day and visibility stretched for over thirty miles.

Mind you, it may have been hot but it can get bloody windy up there I can tell you! Mrs H wanted a particular shot of the Hotel Metro where we were staying, which was only a couple of blocks away from the Empire State itself. Unfortunately this exercise involved sticking my arm and brand new £300 digital camera out through the fencing to grab this required shot. Add to this my fear of heights and you had a perfect recipe for brown pants! See if you can spot the chewing gum on the side of the building! The bloody stuff gets everywhere doesn't it?

A nice shot of the Manhattan skyline with Ellis island and the Statue of Liberty in the distance to the right.

A veritable concrete jungle in this one with the Chrysler Building just peeking out from between the orgy of concrete and glass.

This is one taken by Mrs H of a busy street scene amidst Penn Plaza. It holds a very special memory for us both. Not available for sharing on this blog I'm afraid! Anyway, Top job on the photo chicken! :)

A few days later we paid another visit to view during the evening. During the week of 9/11 the building was lit in the colours of the US flag.

We left that evening with a few gifts from the souvenir shop and a few memories that Mrs H and I would rather keep to ourselves! ;)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

NY From The Sky!

Undoubtably, one of the highlights of our holiday was the excellent Liberty Helicopter Sightseeing Tour. We selected the 'New York, New York' package which comprised of a seventeen minute guided tour from the air. At £106 per person, granted it is a tad extravagant but believe me it's worth every penny.

As is sadly the case now with all major attractions in New York, the security is shockingly over-the-top and thorough. I know that this is no bad thing but it always reminds me of the sheer lunacy of this world that we have to resort to these measures to protect ourselves. Anyway - I was poked, prodded, weighed, and had my belt ceremoniously removed before I'd even seen the waiting room!

Everyone was supplied with a life jacket (just in case!) and we were shown a brief instructional video which half of the people weren't listening to because they either didn't speak English or it was just too damn loud what with the Helipad being a mere stones throw away...

Incidentally, I always find those videos quite odd as they spend 99% of their time concentrating on what to do if a disaster occurs and the other 1% wishing you a safe and happy trip!

A few minutes later and we were attempting to frantically remember the way to attach the seat belt once inside the helicopter! It's capacity allows for eight people including the pilot and thankfully we seemed to have a nice level-headed group. Lots of nervous laughter as the 'copter banked forward and took off though...

Quite amusingly Mrs H was seated on the back row right by the hatch door. Perfect for taking piccies - not so perfect when the hatch starts to vibrate! As some of you will know, this is quite a natural thing to happen in 'copters but Mrs H was not convinced. At one point the 'copter banked right, pinning her against the door. She was bricking it and convinced that the door would burst open, so in a desperate effort to avoid this, she decided to clutch onto the handle and pull it towards her! Naturally this was quite pointless but oh so amusing!

We flew down the Hudson River toward Manhattan's Financial District and Ellis Island, allowing for a birds-eye view of the Statue of Liberty. Sorry about the reflection - I wasn't allowed to open the window ;)

We were also shown the site of Ground Zero which was quite chilling from the air...

Midtown's famous skyscrapers: Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, along with Central Park, and a shot I'm rather chuffed with - Yankee Stadium. This was truly a one time only shot as the 'copter was banking quite fast.

Thankfully the trip didn't fly by (Groan!) too quickly and we landed safely. Our picture was taken next to the 'copter and a special deal with our travel agent meant that the photo was free! It was a trip that will not be forgotten easily and we'd do it again in an instant.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lest We Forget...

My initial visit to New York back in September 2000, involved a day atop the World Trade Center. My mate, who was on designated video camera duty, took well over 30 minutes of footage containing stunning rooftop/sky line views (infinite visibility on this particular day) and various shots of the lobby area. Now if anyone had approached me to say that in exactly one year the entire area would be reduced to rubble within a few short hours, I would never have believed them. Not in a million years.

My only real regret on my visit was that I never stopped to appreciate the actual building itself. It was always, to me, a means by which to reach the highest point of the city and nothing more. Now, looking back at the video footage I lament on what I should have been doing rather than what I did. Sadly, I never took any photographs of the area either, but at least I have the video.

Four years later, Mrs H and I booked a last minute flight to New York. I made sure that we would be there for September 11th as I wanted to attend the memorial ceremony to pay my respects and achieve some sort of closure. Nothing could prepare me for that moment when I turned the corner...

Everything I had ever remembered about this particular place were gone. I simply didn't recognise it anymore. Buildings that had once been dwarfed by the twin towers were now on full view as though they had been given a new lease of life.

As we have all no doubt seen on the news each year, loud speakers are erected amidst whilst the names of the people lost to the tragedy are read out by loved ones. We both stood amongst a crowd of what I assumed to be all tourists, but soon discovered that they were interspersed with American citizens who had come to share their grief in a show of international support.

One image etched in my mind was the sight of an American who, totally overcome, just broke down and collapsed on his knees. Suddenly he was surrounded by a small group of fellow UK tourists. They gently coaxed and lifted him to his feet. Then each in turn, embraced him with a warm safe hug.

Mrs H held my hand and we wept.
I felt his pain.
Mrs H felt his pain.
We all felt his pain...

Monday, March 13, 2006


The Statue Of Liberty. A truly majestic and symbolic sight. Everyone who visits New York for more than a few hours has absolutely no excuse. This is a must see. Having stayed in the city with friends back in 2000, I was eager to allow Mrs H the experience of a trip to Liberty Island.

We queued in the blistering heat of a New York September morning to purchase our tickets to Liberty & Ellis Island amongst the embrace of Castle Clinton. Upon finally getting to the ticket booth we were informed that all of the 200 allocated tickets to gain access to Liberty were distributed. Puzzled, I explained to Mrs H that I had no trouble getting inside her last time (I know, I know!).

We were then told that because of the tragic events of September 11th 2001, they had been forced to close the statue and only allow a select few the pedestal viewing gallery experience situated by the feet of Liberty.

Disappointed, I told Mrs H that she would still be in awe at this wonderful monument. She wasn't disappointed...

Oh, and by the way - the lovely Mrs H took the above picture of Liberty! I'd better give her credit where it's due or I'm dead meat! :)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Press START To Enter

This seems like as good a time as any to inform you that I have a terrible disease. It has consumed my very soul for over 25 years and shows no sign of slowing down. There is no way to stop it or even control it - I know that now. All I can do is feed the habit...

My passion for the videogame industry.

During our recent trip to New York in September 2005, I had the good fortune (or misfortune as Mrs H would say!) to visit the site of Nintendo World situated in Rockefeller Plaza.

As I entered the store I felt a sense of bewilderment and trepidation... Set to a decoratively themed pallete of vivid silver and greys with light dustings of electric blue neon lights, it bore a stark maturity of which I approved. It was akin to entering some intergalactic spaceship from an episode of Star Trek.

Before I had time to blink, Mrs H had rushed over to the DS section and firmly attached herself to a copy of Nintendogs. I hurridly fumbled around for my camera and set it to record a short video of her playing the game. Not only did this serve as a comfortable reminder that she really does enjoy video games, but it was also handy to throw in her face if she ever had a problem with me whipping out the DS in bed!

"But I thought you loved playing video games too babe?" :)

£288 later, we left the store...

Perplexing Circumstances

Having discussed with a mate what the subject of my Blog would be, I have sadly still not arrived at any suitable conclusion. My main problem being that everything I'm interested in is already being covered on the internet, and to add insult to injury, it's guaranteed to out-class anything that I could ever do :(

So I've decided to concentrate on nothing and bring you everything. America will be my main focus for the moment and I'll share a few of my more unusual holiday snaps with you. This photography inspiration derives from one of my good mates, Mr C, whose work you can marvel at in his very own blog over at Hokum.