Archive for the ‘Things To Do’ Category

In line for Shake Shack in Madison Park – h1b reckons the line is 70 metres long. These burgers better be good. Still its a lovely day to look at the view (Empire State, Mies Van de Roe (sp?) & flatiron) and plenty of blossom




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Reasons to go to Stonington:

1. The novel Jaws was written there

2. It has a gen-u-ine canonball that was used by the Red Coats against the defending Yankees in the War of 1812

I took some pictures of our trip to Stonington so you can see just how beautiful this town is. It was a freezing weekend, with snow on the ground and high winds that blew in across the icey Long Island Sound, but clear sunny skies all round. If you were well wrapped up (and I mean well wrapped up), you could almost imagine it was spring.

I’m almost hesitant to recommend a trip to Stonington as it was so lovely, we’d like to keep it for ourselves (although I think one or two other New Yorkers may have heard of it, given that most of the property in the place are now holiday homes).

It was much more historical than I thought, with the pretty, coloured wooden houses dating back to the late 18th century. Apparently American troops fought off the British there in the War of 1812 (when America invaded Canada, which was part of the British Empire), so our Yankee Doodle friends delighted in telling us.

Flagpole in Canon Square. Used to fight off the Brits apparently - the canons, not the pole

Made in Britain: canonball

Prime real estate

Of course, people really flood into Stonington for sailing – but it’s worth a trip in the early spring just so you can see how it once was before it was inhabited by Musto-wearing yachties with their yellow trousers and deck shoes. Our friend Paul grew up here, when it was a fully serviced town, with kids bombing around on their BMXs and the natty galleries and cute tea shops were doctors and dentists, and shops that sold actual food and household stuff.

Fact: Peter Blenchley wrote the book Jaws while he spent the summers living in a converted turkey coop in Stonington (I’m sure it was more plush that it sounds; or at least it would have been after he made squillions out of the Steven Speilberg film).

He based it on actual shark attacks in Long Island in 1916 but you can see where the setting for his 1974 book came from.

Across the water to where Benchley lived when he wrote Jaws


We stopped off in Mystic on the way back – yes, the place where they set and filmed Mystic Pizza.

We didn’t eat at the pizza joint (it exists – or someone set one up after the film came out), but instead at The Oyster Club, which is a new venture by some friends of our neighbours. They have shipped the farm-to-table concept from Manhattan to this small fishing town and set up in a 1902 clapboard house, with blue walls and an orange door. The food was locally sourced and delicious and if you are passing through, I’d recommend it.

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Yesterday, my friend Pip and I decided to catch the train somewhere and get out of the city. Here is the list of possibilities we came up with in a message exchange on facebook (surely the best form of communication between a thirty-something and forty-something who live in the same city as each other?):

1) Beacon looks good even if the thing* you wanted to see isn’t open – but you might want to save the trip? It takes an hour and a half on the train from Penn Station and the journey is meant to be stunning.

2) Can you do Friday instead? Governors Island opens on Friday… free ferry and, er, beer garden…!

3) Take the subway up to The Cloisters to pretend we’re monks for the day… or go and check out Harlem and have some lunch?

4) Can you get the train to Montauk? A la the Jim Carrey movie (hold the snow angels)

*The thing is DIA Art Foundation, which holds one of the best contemporary art collections in the US, apparently – but is closed on Thursdays. There’s more about it here from the New York Times (the article is a bit old, but you get the idea).

Governors Island has many, many exciting events – including the Jazz Age Lawn Party, which I’m particularly looking forward to – so we decided to save it for warmer weather, plus it’s not actually out of the city so missed the point of the day.

Montauk is 3.5 hours on the train (slow train!) so despite the filmic reference potential, we decided a visit really warranted a night’s stay.

The Cloisters is, well, a bit worthy, being about mediaeval art (it’s part of the Met) and men of the cloth and all. Plus it’s also really in the city (but way up, past 190th street)…

So, Beacon was the only remaining option and had the advantage of catching a train from Grand Central Station (not Penn as thought), which has a certain charm, and the H1B had told me that the Hudson Valley train line is particularly beautiful, as it runs up the immense Hudson (see the schedule/journey planner here – trains leave every hour and off-peak starts at 10:45).

However, in a fit of wild spontaneity we decided to disembark at Cold Spring instead – a few stops earlier (it took about an hour and fifteen minutes).

Cold Spring is a pretty 19th century village, which used to be a whaling and Post Office station. There are brick buildings and plenty of American clapboard houses, with the stars and stripes hanging outside. Nowadays, there is less blood and blubber and Main Street is instead full of antique shops (more bric-a-brac) and coffee shops and particularly good brownies at GoGo Pops – try the caramel one with pink Himalayan salt, which I’m eating as I write this. Yum.

It’s touristy – but rightly so, as it’s charming and makes a good day trip for lunch and a mooch, and the backdrop of the awesome Hudson River, which was so essential in the rise of New York City.

(Try The Foundry Cafe, a few buildings up on the right as you leave the train station – it’s run by one of the most enthusiastically upbeat women I’ve ever met and I had a drink of dandelion and burdock, the first in about 25 years when the milkman used to bring it to our house in Cambridge.)

This was my favourite bric-a-brac find, in the old Cold Spring National Bank, which has a real old vault in it. I got my cinematic film reference after all….

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Weekends Away

The Orchard Street Inn

Even the most committed Manhattanite needs to get out of the city sometimes. For a country girl like me, who craves fresh air and space – even in the relatively unbuilt-up Brooklyn – it’s a necessity. So am more than excited about our first trip out of town this coming weekend. We are going to Stonington in Connecticut and staying at the Orchard Street Inn. Stonington is on the ocean coast of Conneticut before it turns into the Long Island sound (so on the mainland directly north of Montauk).

It looks like the type of place you’d own a yacht, which appeals enormously to my G&T-swigging-on-a-boat aspirations. I’m looking forward to some windy walks on the beach, some fine seafood and a long, hot bubble bath in the ensuite (our own “bath” is more like a deep shower and is quite unsatisfying, especially as the non-double-glazed windows make it the coldest room in the apartment).

We’re going away with our neighbours Paul and Julia who are fast becoming our New Best Friends. By some great mystical fortune Julia is pregnant at almost exactly the same time as me – she’s about a week ahead. Paul is from Stonington originally and they go up quite frequently and have been kind enough to invite us and drive us up (we had them over for dinner on Sunday and I think the Nigel Slater/Jamie Oliver mash-up British trifle convinced them we’re worthy).

I’m sure I’ll get the travel bug once I realise how easy it is to get out of New York. Have already been busy scouring the pages of this fabulous book: 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA and Canada by The New York Times every time I pop into a Barnes & Noble.

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Yesterday, the H1B and I caught the subway up to the Museum of New York City on East 103 street. Much of the place is under renovation but it does have a very good film, narrated by Stanley Tucci, about the history of New York from the first Dutch settlers to present day.

A visit to the museum is also worth the visit for a walk down through Central Park, where we haven’t returned to since our first stint here in the summer. (We lived on 66th and 1st in a oven-hot studio with an industrial scale air-con unit that froze one small strata of air and nothing else – I actually woke up one night with boiling hot legs and an ice cream headache because the slim icy jet was aimed at the pillows. The park became something of a front lounge and dining room for us as the apartment was too horrible to spend the evening in.)

After a brief stop for a drink at the always charming if not touristy Boathouse, we headed south and via the skating rink at Central Park

… ended up on a very Christmassy 5th Avenue and at the window displays of Bergdorf Goodman.

Now these are what I call a Christmas window display… magical.

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Ice Skating NYC

Yesterday we walked past Bryant Park, after being too late to see the Macys Thanksgiving Parade (which starts at an unholy 9am), and saw that the ice skating rink was up and running. It was a beautifully mild fall day but the atmosphere felt festive enough to get us ridiiiculously excited about Christmas.

Ice Skating in Bryant Park

Ice Skating Bryant Park

We didn’t get on the ice this time, instead settled around the stone fire pit with a cup of hot spiked apple cider (apple juice, spices and Amaretto).

I can’t wait for ice skating at Central Park myself, especially as the Prospect Kate Wollman rink is closed this winter (noooooo).

Here are a list of the key locations where you can get your skates on in New York city:

  • New York Parks Info (has all the park locations and you can handily search the closest to you)
  • Rockefeller Center (open every day, late weekends. $75 pp!! for express pass but can’t see non-express option, although on other websites it says around $10 adults)
  • Central Park (two locations, north and south end. $6.25 adults)

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The Vesper

One of the enviably cool traits of the native New Yorker is ordering a signature cocktail with added nuances. My friend Katie, for example, swings her long legs onto a bar stool and says to the barman, “a Perfect Manhattan with rye”. I’d like it if she followed the order with “and make it snappy”, but she is not that rude.

My weekend nights are currently filled with the never-ending quest to find my perfect Manhattan drink (a noble task), although despite my best efforts I’m still at the stage of spending ten minutes furrowing my brow at the cocktail menu in the dimmed venue light, trying not to resort to a panicked order of vodka and tonic.

Most bars only put their signature or seasonal cocktails on the menu but the bartenders will have an encyclopedic knowledge of classic concoctions up their rolled-up sleeves. There’s something incredibly natty about ordering off-piste and the bartender giving you a small but knowing nod, as he turns around to start creating his magic.

Some of my favourite bars I’ve found on my, er, journey have been:

  • The Pegu Club — many good ones here – especially the French Pearl with mint, lime, gin and pernod
  • Weather Up (Tribeca) — El Diablo with tequila, ginger syrup, lime, creme de cassis and soda
  • Weather Up (Prospect Heights) — Brooklynite with rum, honey, lime (again!) and Angostura Bitters

I do have a particular taste for the Vesper, however, after Mike Enright at the Zeta Bar in Sydney made me my first one about five years ago.

A Vesper is a gin and vodka martini, which is made with Lillet – a citrusy French aperitif wine from France – instead of Vermouth. It was created by an author, rather than a bartender – Ian Flemming for the James Bond book Casino Royale (note, I have no aspirations to be a Bond girl) in the sixties.

While my quest continues a Vesper is not a bad fall-back at all.

Here’s a video I found on How to Make a Vesper (this, kids, is definitely one you should try at home):

Oh, okaaaey, you just want to see it, don’t you….

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