New York

Free WIFI

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20130725-211214.jpgOne of the things (there are many) which has struck me over the last two weeks while in America is how they have improved both their mobile phone networks and their wifi availability. It was not so long ago that Europe was way ahead of the USA in terms of mobile data and speeds of networks. However, I have seen 4G on my iPhone more often than not in both New York and Florida, and it has never dropped below 3G coverage.

Now I am aware from my travels in Europe that in the UK we don’t do as well for coverage as most European countries (and certainly not as well as the mobile networks lead us to believe). But I did not expect such amazing coverage in America.

To add to this however – and to really highlight the difference with the UK is the availability of free wifi – it is literally everywhere. In New York most large stores offer it for their customers, plus there are areas in certain parks that have free wifi also – it is therefore almost impossible to not have a good signal. But more importantly as a traveller it reduces your data roaming costs hugely!

And Florida is a similar story – restaurants, shops, malls, even Disney offer free wifi! They obviously ‘get it’ – providing free internet access makes the whole experience better for all involved (especially the males who are following their wives around!).

So the next time you hear the Government telling you we are well provided for with broadband speed and access, don’t believe them. We are years behind!

Lady Liberty

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20130718-220312.jpgWe timed our visit to New York well, or so it seemed at the time as The Statue of Liberty was opened up to the public again on the 4th of July this year. Access is now available again to the crown (although the security is rather tight). As it happened we were unable to get tickets to the crown, but we went over to see the statue and to get the view back to Manhattan.

As it happens New York is suffering somewhat of a heat wave at the moment so going up almost 300 steps in a large metal statue wouldn’t of been pleasant, so I think we had a lucky escape. What struck me most when on liberty island however was not how impressive the statue is (although it is), but just how incredibly tacky all the gifts are in the visitor centre!

They really have excelled themselves in managing to sell almost nothing approaching ‘pleasant’ or ‘tasteful’. I just don’t get it – this is a very important image for all Americans but they seem to devalue it by their marketing of it – just weird if you ask me…..

The Guggenheim – form over function?

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One of the places I have really looked forward to going to in New York was the Guggenheim – to be honest it is the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture that is the greatest attraction rather than the art.

So was I impressed? As far as the building is concerned yes and no – from the outside it is amazing and still looks ‘out of this world’ so many years from its construction.

20130719-155106.jpgBut, from a functional building point of view it saddens me to say that I don’t think it works – it’s a real case of design over function. During our visit the James Turrell exhibition was taking place and the central atrium area formed the major part of this exhibition, and with its constantly changing colours in the rising atrium area – it was amazing. Seeing whole groups of people lying on the floor looking up into the void was quite surreal! I was also allowed to take photos in this area which was nice. But, any attempt to take photos elsewhere in the building (of the building or the art work) were banned – I even saw one person ejected for breaking the rules! I may be wrong but I think this is a bit ‘over protective’ and unnecessary when people are coming to see the building. Or is it so they can try to sell me pictures as I can’t take them?

20130719-214047.jpgTo be honest after the glory of the atrium the galleries off feel like after thoughts and just don’t feel a cohesive part of the building.

Also the attitude of the people running it is not great in my opinion – it seems that all they want is your money! This is America so perhaps that is only to be expected. I would recommend anyone to see the Guggenheim – but from the outside only.

Doing the right thing

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20130718-215045.jpgEver since 9/11 I have wanted to visit the memorial that is now at ground zero in New York. Partly because if one is in New York it feels the right thing to do, and partly because I remember going up the towers in the 1980s with my parents on a trip to the USA. My abiding memory of that day is watching the aircraft flying past the towers below us – something that was a common occurrence until the fateful day.

Ground Zero now sits in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, a structure that New Yorkers are it seems very proud of, and quite rightly as it is a very elegant piece of architecture. It is also very tall and stands proudly over lower Manhattan much as the twin towers used to. Somehow Manhattan almost looks complete again.

20130718-215220.jpgThe 9/11 memorial is very impressive, especially as it sits in the centre of a busy building site, it is remarkably peaceful and very well managed in terms of the number of people on the site at any one time. It is easy to get access to the sides of either of the infinity pools and read the names of those who lost their lives in the disaster.

The memorial is not brash or overstated, it does what it says on the tin, and the people of New York are to be applauded for that. It is a well judged and fitting memorial and a must see if in New York.

Only in America…..

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One of the (many) shops we have visited in New York this week could only be found in the USA, not because of its name (American Girl Place) or because of what it sells (dolls) – but the manner in which it does it.

This is a store that can be found in many large US cities and in all cases it is large – even by American standards. The New York store is on 5th Avenue and covers 3 floors of a large corner property – not cheap real estate. But it isn’t the size that is the disturbing part, no, it is what is found inside…..

20130715-205159.jpgAmerican Girl Place don’t just sell dolls, they can sell you a doll that looks just like your daughter. They can match skin tone, hair colour and even the colour of the eyes. The photo shows just a small selection of the dolls available – I was told they had 42 different ones on the ground floor, but that there were ‘many more’ upstairs! But there is more, much more.

Once you have a doll that looks like you, the next job is to get its hair done to match yours – and they have a hair salon for dolls to achieve just that! My son summed it up for me as we watched the stylists working on the dolls – he just said ‘that’s not a real job’ – I couldn’t agree more!

20130715-205642.jpgYou will also need to fit out your doll with a wardrobe of clothes – would you like exactly matching clothes for yourself? – no problem, they can do that as well.

Once you have finished all the preparations what would be nicer than to have tea or dinner with your doll in the restaurant on the third floor? Your doll will be next to you in a high chair with a full set of cutlery and china…..

I could go on, but this is all just too scary – I have never felt quite so uncomfortable in a shop!

Photos in New York

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I am playing while away with my camera gear, a new wide angle lens is proving great fun in the ‘canyons’ of New York. I may well share a few on here before the end of my time in the city.

Yesterday I blogged about the Harlem Shake, this is a photo treated with a filter to what I think is a great effect and in keeping with the 50’s theme at the restaurant. I am sure I am going to find a huge number of photo opportunities as the week progresses!

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Real American food….

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Having arrived in New York for the start of our family summer break our thoughts turned to food, now there isn’t much food wise that you can’t get in New York, but the first night really has to be American!

20130715-115352.jpgWe were recommended Harlem Shake which is only a few minutes walk from where we are staying, it only opened earlier this year and aims to provide a true American Burger experience. I can only say it achieves that, the burgers were amazing and the feel of the restaurant is just great – and we still have the shakes to try. No wonder it has had such great revues!

Oh, and they have the coolest cash registers – run from iPads!

It is amazing to think that when I first visited New York in the 1980s this area was a total ‘no go’ zone for visitors. It is now incredibly diverse in its ethnic mix (much like the rest of New York) and has a really good feel – property values are through the roof as well!

A Parisian discovery…

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20130409-195703.jpgI am in Paris for a few days, a city that I like to think I have a reasonable feel for, but today proved that you can always discover something new, even in a city you think you know…

New York is well known for its HighLine or ‘park in the sky’ – I am looking forward to seeing it in the summer when we are there as a family as I have heard so many positive things about it. However, today I discovered Paris’s own HighLine – la promenade plantee. This is a similar thing – a former railway line and viaduct in a city environment that has been formed into an amazing linear park. In addition the arches below have also been refurbished and created into workshops and retail space for artists and artisans. This in fact was the original High Line, built sixteen years before the New York model, and apparently it served as inspiration to it’s American counterpart.

The promenade stretches for almost 5 kilometers across the 12th arrondissement following the path of the retired ligne de Vincennes railway track from Bastille to the boulevard Périphérique. It is highly popular with runners as well as for ‘promenading’ and was quite busy mid morning when we were walking it. It is also beautifully planted and in places you would be hard pushed to believe that you weren’t in a larger garden rather than on a city viaduct!

20130409-195454.jpgIt is great to see regeneration on this scale in a city – the walkway itself is great, but the conversion of the arches below is simply stunning and provides fantastic space for new businesses. Sadly I can’t see this level of planning commitment or general vision in the UK – somehow I feel the use of bulldozers would have been more likely?

Apple crime wave

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20121230-213157.jpgAs a family we have been the subject of what seems like a local ‘Apple crime wave’ – two iPhones stolen from my stepdaughter (on separate occasions) when in town on a night out. Each time the phone was stolen from a zipped bag – so in a very professional manner! Discussions with the police also suggest that this is a growing problem, and despite iPhones being blacklisted as soon as they are stolen to stop them being used in the UK, they are apparently taken abroad, where they can be used – possibly something that Apple need to address?

Our local experience appears to be confirmed by the New York Police Department who earlier in the year highlighted that Apple-related crimes (thefts of iPhones and iPads) were increasing 10 times the 4 percent increase in other crime in the city.

The Police Department recorded 3,484 more crimes than for the same period last year, the increase in Apple product thefts: 3,890!

So watch out where you keep and use your smartphones and tablets!

This appeals to a Wiltshire man!

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As a Born and bred Wiltshire-man I have an affinity for Stonehenge – I was actually born in Salisbury so can claim a link. Visiting the stones is special, they may only be large monoliths but there is a feeling of something significant there. Obviously the solstice is the big event there – and no I haven’t ever been there for it and I am not a Druid! But when the sun settles between the stones during the Summer Solstice it must look amazing. And this week I discovered that there is an American version – in Manhattan!

They call it “Manhattanhenge”.

The effect occurs twice a year and has become a major event for people to watch and photograph. It doesn’t occur on the solstice due to the alignment of the avenues – but it is still amazing to see.

Last Wednesday night was this summers, the east-west lying streets of the city’s grid system framed the setting sun, creating golden glows New Yorker’s rarely see. During the phenomenon, the Sun appears to be nestled perfectly between the skyscraper corridors, illuminating the north and south sides of the streets – a rare event in the canyons that are Manhattan..

The term Manhattanhenge first appeared in 1996, and has now stuck. I would love to see this and photograph it (although getting a good shot without being run down by the yellow cabs would be a challenge in its self!)

I wonder if in a thousands of years archeologists finding the remains of Manhattan will have theories about the line of the streets being related to sun worship!