Highlights from our holiday to New York

New York skyline from Rockefeller Center

In March, Alex and I took a trip to New York. It was such a brilliant holiday that it has taken me 9 months to write about it all.

This was my first time outside Europe, but when we arrived it appeared as though everyone was pretending to be Irish. That’s because it was St Patrick’s Day.

Empire State Building lit up for St Patrick's Day

This event is so big in New York that even the Empire State Building was lit up specially.

We were very tired from the flight, and it was getting late by the time we arrived, so we didn’t join the revellers for any green Guinness.

Our room in the Ludlow Hotel

We checked into our hotel, the Ludlow in the lower east side of Manhattan.

View from the roof of the Ludlow Hotel

The views from the roof were awesome.

Alex enjoying her pastrami sandwich

That evening we went to Katz’s Deli, which was just across the road from our hotel. We shared a pastrami sandwich while the local patrons exchanged tales about how Irish they all were.

Sunrise from our hotel room the next morning

Sunrise from our hotel room the next morning

Museum of Modern Art

The next day we took a trip to the Museum of Modern Art, one of the top items on my to-do list.

Artwork titled These Are Ten Useful Objects Which No One Should Be Without When Traveling

We discovered that clickbait headlines existed long before BuzzFeed.

MoMA has loads of really cool art that you think you will only ever see in a book — like Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, as well as plenty of De Stijl works.

But the coolest thing of all was in a room we almost walked past.

The Lovers

Teiji Furuhashi’s Lovers was being displayed for the first time since the mid-1990s. This multimedia installation runs off 25-year-old computers and slide projectors. As such, it had to be painstakingly rescued from technical obsolescence to enable it to be displayed this year.

Demonstrators at Trump Tower

Nearby, Trump Tower was attracting some demonstrators.

Times Square

Times Square

We were spending the day with a family friend of Alex’s, Elizabeth. She took us to see Times Square, and we went for a drink in the View, a rotating restaurant atop a hotel.

It was my first time in a rotating restaurant. The weather was a bit drab this day, so the view wasn’t as good as it might have been. But it was still a pretty cool way to see New York.

Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry

It was now day 3. We opted not to visit the Statue of Liberty directly, and instead took the Staten Island Ferry to see it in passing for free.

Statue of Liberty

Only when we arrived at Staten Island did I discover there is nothing really to do there, except look back towards Manhattan.

Alex and me on Staten Island

We missed the ferry back, so killed time for the half hour or so before we could catch the next one.

Stunning view of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry

9/11 Memorial

Remains of the Sphere at Battery Park

On our return to Manhattan, we paid a visit to Battery Park. There, the remains of the Sphere, the sculpture that used to be between the twin towers, are now located next to an eternal flame.

9/11 Memorial

We then took the short walk to the 9/11 Memorial, on the site of the World Trade Center.

World Trade Center transportation hub

Adjacent to that is the impressive new World Trade Center transportation hub, designed by Calatrava.

World Trade Center transportation hub

Woolworth building

Woolworth building

Finding a good cuppa cawffee

Before arriving, my main stereotype about New York was saying coffee in a silly voice. My main ambition was to order a “toona sandwich and a cuppa cawffee” in a daft accent (having heard that New Yorkers can’t understand when Brits say tuna).

What I didn’t realise is that in New York it is all about filter coffee, which tastes like ass. I thought I would finally find a good coffee when I came across an authentic-looking cafe owned by an Italian family. Italians do good coffee, right?

I ordered my “toona” sandwich, and was met with a blank stare. I then tried “tuna”, but that didn’t work either. It reminded me of the time I tried to speak Icelandic in Iceland, to the evident confusion of everyone concerned.

Drinking a terrible coffee

The tuna sandwich was OK. But the coffee was the worst I have ever had. It was also the biggest coffee I have ever had. I endured it. But my culinary experiences were leaving a lot to be desired at this stage of the trip.

Top of the Rock — Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

I’ll be honest. Up to this point, I was not sure if I was enjoying being in New York. I even felt a bit ill this day, probably because of the giant terrible coffee.

Me and Alex at the top of the Rockefeller Center

But when we emerged at the top of the Rockefeller Center, a switch was flicked and I finally got it. This is an incredible city!

View of New York from the Rockefeller Center

The spectacle of seeing this vast city from such a great height is one thing.

View of New York from the Rockefeller Center

It’s also a great way to admire the architecture of the city.

432 Park Avenue

One building towers above everything else. 432 Park Avenue is second only to One World Trade Center in height.

432 Park Avenue

But what makes it so spectacular is that it is so implausibly thin. It extends straight up into the sky like the world’s biggest stack of 1×1 Lego bricks.

Empire State Building seen from the Rockefeller Center

Birthday cronuts

Heat-changing Mondrian mug

The next day was my birthday. Alex had bought me a very cool heat-changing Mondrian mug from MoMA. It’s now the mug I use at work.


We walked to Dominique Ansel, home of the cronut. As soon as I knew we were going to New York, this was near the top of my bucket list.

Demand for cronuts is so great that we had to pre-order them several weeks before our arrival in New York to ensure we would get them.

We took six cronuts because that was the maximum you could get. But there were only two of us. I ate two at once, but that was all I could manage. The cronuts that remained did not preserve well at all. The bakery does advise you to eat your cronut immediately — probably because it is filled with so much goo.

Me eating a cronut

Photo by Alex Oliver

The flavour of cronuts changes each month. In March 2017 it was blackberry brown sugar with toffee. The brown sugar certainly gave it an interesting twist. I found it very tasty — the perfect birthday breakfast!

Whitney Museum

We then went to the Whitney Museum. Obviously we went for the art, and there was plenty interesting to see there.

That moment when you hear a sound, look up, and it's a theremin.

A post shared by Duncan Stephen (@duncanstephen) on

Of course, one of the best things about visiting a museum is the shop. The Whitney shop is particularly good, and we had fun playing with a theremin-style instrument they were selling.

But the highlight of our visit was the Untitled restaurant downstairs. We went for lunch, but all the tables were full. So we sat at the bar.

We ate good food and drank great beer while enjoying the delightful company of the bar staff. While busy, they were still more than happy to talk with us. One of them had visited Scotland, and she really knew her whisky.

Noah's Mill bourbon

We got chatting about bourbon, and I asked for some local recommendations. I liked the sound of Noah’s Mill, so I ordered that.

Quintuple parked at Untitled

Alex then told them it was my birthday, so they very kindly poured me some Widow Jane on the house. Along with the beer that I was still finishing, the water, and the coffee I now needed to perk myself up, I was quintuple parked!

Oh, and the coffee here was good.

What a brilliant way to spend a birthday lunch!

High Line

Art at the High Line

Right on the Whitney’s doorstep is the beginning of the High Line, the old elevated railway line that has been converted into a wonderful public park and walkway.

Sign at the High Line: "Beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathers"

Halfway along the walk I couldn’t bear it any more. I was bursting for the loo, thanks to all the liquid I had consumed at Untitled.

Me on the High Line

Alex says I’m really drunk in this photo. I can’t remember it.

I thought better of peeing off the side of the High Line, so I ran down some steps onto the street in the hope of finding something. As if by magic, there was an Irish bar right there, the Half King.

In my short time in New York, I was learning that Irish bar in New York doesn’t mean Irish bar, but is effectively a proxy for “this is not a terrible bar”. So in we went.

As I rushed to the loo, I barked to Alex: “order me something cool”. While I was attending to my situation, Alex once again told the barman that it was my birthday, so I got another free bourbon. This birthday was becoming tipsy.

Half a jazz

After some rest, we went to see some jazz.

A colleague had told me that I had to go and see some jazz. The picture he painted was of a rollicking jazz band huddled up on a tiny stage in a damp, brick-lined cellar. I loved the sound of that. So I did a bit of research and booked a place based on some Tripadvisor reviews: Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.

Jazz at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

It wasn’t quite what I was imagining. The place was on the first floor of a noughties shopping centre. I guess a place sponsored by Coca-Cola is never going to be very authentic. But I didn’t quite do the math when I booked it from the other side of the Atlantic.

Nevertheless, I was having quite an enjoyable evening. The interval was coming up, so I thought I’d get ahead of the game and pop to the loo before the queues would begin. That way I would see the whole of the second half!

While I was in full flow, I heard the muffled sound of an epic drum solo, swiftly followed by the not-so-muffled sound of the audience enthusiastically applauding the climax of the first half of the performance.

Jazz at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

As I emerged from the smallest room, the patrons began leaving the building. It turned out that I hadn’t seen the first half of the performance. I had in fact seen most of the whole performance, missing the grand finale. The “second half” was in fact a separately ticketed show.

We paid top dollar for the tickets. The cover charge was about $40 each. I thought ‘cover charge’ meant minimum spend. But the bill arrived, and Alex informed me that it is in fact effectively the entrance charge.

A double whammy: I got half a jazz for twice the price.

This confusion made New York’s highly complex etiquette surrounding tipping seem easy.

Coffee and croissants

On the plus side, the next morning demonstrated that we were getting the hang of ordering good coffee in New York.

Subway art tour

Subway art

We took a fascinating subway art tour run by Walk About New York. This was booked for us by Elizabeth, and I wouldn’t have thought of booking it myself. But the combination of transport and public art was right up my street!

Subway art

We met the tour guide at the new Hudson Yards subway station, validated our ticket, and we didn’t have to leave the network again for the entire tour. We simply hopped on and off the trains to admire the artwork that was to be found throughout the stations.

Art in the subway

It got me seeing New York’s subway network in a totally new light.

Subway art

From that moment on, I spent more time looking at the subway stations and noticing the fabulous art that was all around.

Subway art

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

The subway art tour ended in Grand Central Station, where we tried the amazing whispering gallery. This is trick of speaking to each other from opposite sides of the corridor. Our voices were travelling to each other up the pillars and along the ceiling.

Gray’s Papaya and a half-missed musical

We met Elizabeth again, and ate oysters in the Grand Central Oyster Bar.

Elizabeth had booked us tickets to see a Broadway show, Dear Evan Hansen. But first, Alex wanted to take me to Gray’s Papaya to try their “world famous” hot dogs and papaya drink.

New York Subway

Due to a timing mix-up we arrived late for the musical. Luckily our seats were at the back, but it was still awkward having to shuffle past people who were trying to enjoy the show.

As soon as I sat down, I suddenly felt extremely ill. What we didn’t know, but I was discovering very quickly, was that the papaya drink contains milk.

I have difficulty digesting cow’s milk. Drinking it often results in catastrophic episodes within an hour.

I felt awful having to get back up straight away and shuffle past people who I had already interrupted only seconds ago. I hung on until the end of the song and made my escape. When I came back, I perched at the end of the row to minimise further disruption — but I don’t think they were very happy with me either way.

At the end of the interval I effectively set up camp in the cubicle. I was probably in there for about 20 minutes. When I emerged, a staff member in the corridor looked at me aghast. I gave him a look back that I hope said, “Yes, sir. I have been very ill.”

I’m told the musical was good, but I’m sorry to have effectively wasted a ticket.

New York tenements

New York tenements


It’s amazing how a body of water can be such a mental barrier to travelling somewhere. Since arriving on Manhattan, we had never left. So we made the short trip to Brooklyn.

There, I had my favourite meal of our whole trip. Whisper it quietly — it was Shake Shack. Sometimes you just have to let yourself simply have a burger. How it hit the spot — just what I needed!

Beer at Tørst

Afterwards, we visited a bar called Tørst. We had been told very good things about it, and it didn’t disappoint. Without a doubt, they had the best beer selection we had come across in New York.

But before all that, we paid a trip to the New York Transit Museum.

New York Transit Museum

I love a transport museum, and this visit was one of my highlights of the whole trip. Housed in an actual former subway station in Brooklyn, this museum is much larger than you may first imagine.

Among the highlights were a display of turnstiles through the ages, including one called the Duncan.

There was also an exhibition about the significant role the New York Subway played in helping people during the 9/11 attacks.

Vintage subway trains

Down on the platform, there are loads of vintage train carriages from through the ages.

Advert: "hit him again Lady! we don't like door-blockers either

One of the best things was seeing the old adverts on all the carriages. These tell their own kind of social history. It very much reminded me of being in London’s Museum of Brands.

Advert: "Meet Miss Subways - Sonia Dominguez"

NHL: New York Islanders v New York Rangers

Pre-match preparations

We had tickets to see ths legendary sporting rivalry take place at Madison Square Garden.

I fulfilled an ambition to use a foam finger.

Hockey match

During one of the intervals I went to buy some beer. The person in front of me in the queue was another European tourist. He ordered a Heineken, and was shocked when he was charged something like $14 for it. I made a note to myself not to order the Heineken.

Of course, all the beer was rather expensive but I attempted to at least find some half decent beer to buy. There was Brooklyn lager, but I opted for Bronx ale. It was probably one of the most expensive beers I have ever bought. I didn’t think it was particularly good.

The seating at Madison Square Garden is rather cramped. As a result, I spilled the most expensive beer I had ever bought when I had barely drunk any of it.

Hockey match

We were rather high up, but apart from that we had pretty decent seats. Sitting behind us were regulars, who I think found our tourist-curiosity amusing.

Dancing Larry in the distance

They got excited when a figure known as Dancing Larry emerged in the crowd at the other end of the stadium. His presence is supposed to energise the crowd, but he was so far away I could barely make out what was going on. But our fan friends behind us thought his appearance was a good omen.

We had decided to support the Rangers since we were staying in Manhattan. But we didn’t bring them any luck, and nor did Dancing Larry, as the Islanders pulled through to win 3–2.

The final day

Breakfast at Egg Shop

It was now our last day in New York.

We were really getting the hang of finding good coffee and breakfast. Someone recommended Egg Shop to us. Wonderful! We ended up buying their recipe book, which contains lots of interesting ways to make eggs.

Brooklyn Bridge

Me and Alex on Brooklyn Bridge

We caught the subway to Brooklyn to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was very chilly, but an excellent vantage point to see New York from.

Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge

Then it was time to say goodbye to New York.

Subway station interior

In a lot of ways, New York was exactly what I expected. I knew we would never be bored, and it didn’t disappoint on that front.

The trip took a heavy toll on our wallets. Both Alex and I were in celebratory mood. Alex had just passed her exam to become an architect. I was just about to start my new job. So we treated ourselves a lot more than we probably should have!

New York streets

Matters weren’t helped by the fact that we were stopping off in another expensive city on the way back. But you can find out about what we did in Reykjavik in an upcoming blog post.

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