GRAN NYC

Start spreading the news…I’m leaving today! After a pretty hectic fun-filled week in NYC I am now, at last, en-route to Chicago to see my beautiful Grandson, Harry! Alison and Jonny will collect us at the airport and for a full month we will be surrounded by the Egans and friends. Cathal will be arriving shortly from Ireland too. I literally have butterflies in my stomach with excitement as I sit here about to board the plane for O’Hare Airport, Chicago.

The week in Manhattan has been “awesome”. The thermals most definitely had to come off once we arrived in Penn Station, Manhattan in NYC (well when we got to the hotel, not actually in the middle of the station! This granny has some decorum 😂 ) after a relaxing 13 hour train journey. Now, deciding on doing a 13 hour train journey instead of a couple of hours of a flight sounds a bit crazy. But, folks, trust me on this one. We had no long waits when boarding. We had a comfortable space to chill and rest on the train and some spectacular scenery as we travelled along the Mohawk River and into snowy Manhattan. By the time we arrived late on Tuesday night we were rested and ready for this major metropolis they call New York City! (Photo: Mohawk River en-route to NYC by train)

After a quick stroll around Times Square we decided to stop off at Connollys Irish Pub on 45th street for a bite to eat. We found two stools at the bar and proceeded to chat to the Irish barman serving us. A witty Kerry man called P.J. who told us he had moved to New York many years ago. As the conversation went on, he told us he had worked in the Castle Inn Bistro Restaurant near Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin back in the 80’s before moving here. Now, this is where the story gets interesting! You see I had worked at the same establishment doing the accounts in the 80’s too …. and then the penny dropped 😱 This was P.J., an old friend who I had worked with and partied with back in the 80’s. Who had been to parties at my flat in Manor Street with many others who worked with us. It’s been over 32 years since I’ve seen P.J. His quick witted retorts and big colourful personality is the very same as it was when he was a young buck up in the big smoke from Killarney back in the early 80’s. We hugged each other, in total shock, and were both blown away by the randomness of walking into a pub in New York and finding each other after 32 years! Gobsmacked, I returned to our hotel, excited about what had just happened and also about what we might explore the following day in the Big Apple. (Photo of me and PJ after 32 years)

Our hotel, the Wellington, was right on the edge of Times Square. (A whole new experience, peeing in the Wellington ha ha). The brightness of the LED digital billboards surrounding Times Square makes it difficult to tell if it is day or night. You’d be tempted to take out the bottle of sunscreen and definitely sunglasses are a handy accessory regardless of what time of the day it is. It is filled with thousands of tourists, and you can almost feel the pulsation of this place at the heart of Manhattan. Walt Disney characters adorn the square, people dressed as the Empire State Building and Statues of Liberty taunting tourists to get photos with them for a few dollars. Now the way it works here is that each costume character guards his/her own space with a vengeance. There’s a story that appeared in the newspapers here not so long ago, where Spiderman beat up Bat Man in the middle of Times Square for moving in on his turf. Elmo had to intervene to stop the fight! Where else would you get it? 🙀🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️. All three costume characters were arrested and appeared in court (not in their costumes I guess). Can you imagine the trauma for kids witnessing their favorite characters beating the s**t out of each other in the middle of Times Square? And apparently it’s a pretty regular occurrence and not staged as you might suspect, but genuine rows between the different characters occur the whole time 🙂 I find this hilarious!

The city itself can only be compared to someone on speed! It certainly lives up to its name, the city that never sleeps! You can walk around at the small hours of the morning and it is just as busy as it is during the day. The noise at night-time takes a bit of getting used to when you’re trying to get some shut-eye. The drivers have an obsession with honking their horns at any traffic inconvenience, and there are constant sirens going. The noise is like nothing I’ve experienced in any other city. It got so bad that we had to resort to taking antihistamines to help us sleep through the noise after nights of sleeplessness.

Lo and behold, when we woke on Wednesday morning it was like the miracle on 54th Street! Not a flake of snow, and 22-23 degree heat outside. In February! Weird but true! Just perfect for a boat trip on the Hudson River. Equipped with the only dress i had packed and a light cardigan we headed out to find the Staten Island Ferry which took us out on the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and gave us a perfect view of the skyline of Manhattan. Now many boat tour operators take tourists on this very route and charge them a significant amount of dollars. We were lucky enough to have met an Irish guy, another immigrant from our shores, who told us to take the ferry instead. It’s free, runs every half hour, and you pretty much get the same views you would get on the tourist boat. As for the absence of the tourist guide, well there’s WiFi at the Ferry Terminal and you can google everything you want to know about the sights either in advance or when you get back. So be wise folks. If you come to NYC, it’s quite expensive to do everything you might want to do, and so a few corners need to be cut to save money. Another must is learning how to use the subway! Again, Colm’s talent of figuring out the most complex transport systems was a huge plus here. Looking at the map of the subway to me was like looking at a bowl of multi-coloured spaghetti. Within a very short time, Colm had digested the whole bowl of spaghetti/subways and we could plan out where and when we could go each day with ease. And for only 3 dollars a trip, no matter how far you travel we had access to so much at such little cost. After the boat trip, with sunburned noses and lots of great photos, we made our way back through the streets of New York. We made our way through Wall Street, where security is at an all time high since the September 2011 attacks. And then on to the Memorial Centre for those who lost their lives on that day. A visit to this Memorial is an absolute must for anyone coming to NYC. What struck most about this landmark was the eerie, reverent silence as you approach! Making our way there, the city was filled with the usual crazy noise that comes with the buzz of Manhattan. The honking of horns, sirens, etc. But when you enter this space, where thousands of people are visiting every day, the silence is what can only be described as eerie, in a respectful kind of way. Two huge square pools of cascading water fall downwards far beyond where the eye can see, and the names of all of those innocent victims who lost their lives cut out in the cast iron surrounding of the pools. It’s overwhelming, and the enormity of this tragic event really hits home. My attention was drawn to a simple tree that has been named “The Survivor Tree”. It is a Callery pear tree that stands distinct from all of the others in the Centre of the site. The tree was discovered in the wreckage after the 9/11 attacks. It was charred from the fire, yet somehow it still bore leaves, showing signs of life in the ruins. The tree was cared for by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and brought back to life. It bursts into blossom each spring and is a powerful symbol of hope and resilience standing tall in defiance of the evil that struck Ground Zero that day. It also gives strength and recognition to all of the survivors of this horrendous event.

We also visited the Number 1 World Trade Centre, travelling to the 102nd floor in 48 seconds in a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” type elevator. Now in my previous blog about our trip to Canada I said that the CN Tower in Toronto was the tallest building in the Western World (because it claims to be in its advertising). But apparently this No 1 World Trade tower has surpassed the CN Tower and now claims to hold the record of being the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. I won’t argue 🙂

One of the lovely parts of this trip was getting to meet up with friends and family that we hadn’t seen for some time. First was meeting with our Groomsman Sean, his wife Kate and their young son Ole from the UK who were visiting NYC at the same time we were. Now if Carlsberg did parents, these guys are it! They are totally devoted to each other and to their little boy and their solid and loving parenting is clearly evident in this kid’s sunny, happy-go-lucky disposition. The day we met up it was pouring out of the heavens with rain. We decided we’d take a bus tour around the city. As we chatted on the top deck of the bus, I was filling Sean in on the whole story of us arriving in NYC and meeting with P.J. His mouth was opening wider and wider as the story unfolded and I did think at one point that his reaction was slightly more dramatic than I expected. When he leapt up screaming, I immediately stopped the story, jeez, what had I said that was freaking him out this much? It was then that the downpour of water from the roof of the bus caught my attention landing right on the back of his neck. 😂.

Myself and Kate arranged a girls afternoon for the following day, which gave us time for a lovely catchup and cocktails, as us ladies love to do 🙂 (We had tried to have breakfast at Tiffany’s but what they don’t tell you in the movie is that there’s a 30 day waiting list to get in). Some more sightseeing over the next few days still only touched the surface of what’s to see here in NYC.

A visit to Ellen’s Stardust Diner (recommended by Kate) just off Times Square, a 1950’s style diner with singing waiters and waitresses, was probably the most unusual and class experience of the week. The queue to get a seat at this restaurant is about an hour of a wait, but boy was it worth it. Music students from NYC and all over the world who are competing to make it big on the Broadway scene, only a few blocks away, serve your food to you and sing some of the most famous songs from the musicals of Broadway as they work. The money that they earn in the diner goes towards dancing/acting/singing lessons in their quest to make it big and see their name in lights. It really has to be seen to be believed!

Saturday morning was pencilled in for meeting up with my younger cousin Blake at his Irish bar/restaurant on 3rd Avenue to watch the Irish Rugby match where the buzz of Ireland’s win was celebrated by every nationality in the bar that day. An early start, we arrived at Blakes Bar (Dylan Murphy’s) at 9.15 a.m. (kick-off in Ireland was 2.15 p.m. Irish time so it had to be done). Now Dylan Murphy’s is a replica of the bar we are all familiar with in the TV Programme “Cheers”. It’s got everything you would expect from a bar. Cosy and friendly where everybody knows your name! And Irish Granny on the Run and Colm got a wonderful welcome from Blake, Patrons and Staff – so much so, lets say, we stayed there a little bit longer than expected. Family member aside, I can’t help but have the height of admiration for my young Irish cousin for having the b***s to leave Ireland back in the early 1990’s in his early 20’s to come to New York with a dream of a better life. He arrived here, worked in construction and then moved on to doing bar work for almost ten years in a New York bar. It was there the seed was planted for him to set up his own bar. He worked his a** off and eventually his dream became a reality when he bought a premises on 82nd street, 3rd Avenue and opened his own bar/restaurant in a lovely suburb of Manhattan. To say it is thriving is an understatement. This guy runs a tight ship where his patrons and staff alike have a fondness and loyalty to him that one doesn’t come across too often. He’s an absolute inspiration!

One of the main things that strikes me when travelling around NYC is the diversity of the people living and working here. Especially the Irish … they are everywhere! It truly is the land of immigrants, despite Trump’s ramblings which smacks of racism in my opinion. His policies on this front are nothing short of fascism. These people from every corner of the world thrive alongside each other and have such respect for their different plights. Now, I would never class myself as racist, but had to check myself on one particular occasion. One evening I was paying for some purchases at a nearby shop. The girl behind the counter had a beautiful Asian look about her. I tried to strike up a bit of conversation with her when paying my bill, asking her politely where she was from. Her response “here!” All i was short of saying next was “no, I mean where are you REALLY from” so she got that and was none too pleased understandably. 😂

Walking through the streets of New York, you will see high end stores with merchandise for sale that one could never afford in a lifetime. Jewellery displayed in windows for millions of dollars, clothes, bags, shoes the same. We stopped outside an Auctioneers window one morning and gasped at the prices being sought for an apartment in the centre of the city. Upwards of $12m. The Auctioneer almost tripped over herself rushing to the front door when she saw us gazing longingly in the window, asking if there was anything she could help us with. We were so tempted to ask if we could view any properties with a large garden and a view in the Centre of Manhattan 😂.

On a more serious note, homelessness, (as it is back home) is a serious problem here in NYC. I was brought to tears one evening when we passed yet another homeless person lying at the exit to the subway station. Stooping down to see if the person under the blanket on the ground was ok, an African American guy with the sweetest smile peeked out from his make-shift home. I asked if he was ok, and his kindness was something that will remain with me forever. He gently said he was fine and not to worry, that he didn’t need anything and that “God would provide”. His name was William and he was from Barbados. He is one of a huge number of homeless people here, lying on the pavements right next to stores where people are paying thousands and millions of dollars for all sorts of designer labels. It is nothing short of a disgrace that these people are lying in sleeping bags on the streets of one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world.

And now this Granny on the Run is heading for the highlight of this entire trip…a whole month in Chicago with little Harry, Alison and Jonny. We arrive just before Harry’s 2nd birthday in two days time. We will fill him with sugar, cover him in kisses and hugs, take him on little trips with us and basically spoil him rotten! Cos that’s what Granny’s do! (Photo: Harry ) ❤️

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