We deal with immigration on the boat, so as soon as we arrive we’re onto our day in Tangier.
For a settlement that pre-dates the Roman Empire, Tangier is a modern, vibrant city. In fact, the population here grew by almost twenty times during the twentieth century, and its economy (as its reputation as a spy town during the Cold War) is maximised by its proximity to Europe.
We’re not in Kansas anymore.
We’re here to explore the older parts of the city, however.
Rock the Casbah
The Casbah (or Kasba) is connected to the former Sultan’s palace, and creates a protected zone at the highest point of the town.
Crowded entrance – we’re definitely going to Rock this Casbah!
As Westerners, here is the first place (at least, since we left Japan) where we have felt out of place. That’s in no way reflective of the locals here, who are particularly welcoming; it’s just recognition that the culture here, from architecture to religion, is more heavily influenced by the Middle East than it is by Western Europe.
English is very much a minority first language here. Even beyond the official languages of Arabic (more specifically, Darija – or colloquial – Arabic) and Berber, Morocco’s history includes governing by both France and Spain and therefore education in either French or Spanish. Compensating for this is the importance of tourism to the Tangier economy. Despite the uncertainty, here once again we found that English is today’s lingua franca and will generally suffice (when combined with patience, respect, and a smile) in most locations you’re likely to see as a traveller.
Whether it’s the welcoming disposition of the locals, or that importance of tourism, wandering through the Kasba feels safe and spacious. There is time and opportunity to breathe in the new sights and sounds that make this an experience.
We duck through an opening on the other side of the Kasba, and find this!
That’s the Strait of Gibraltar – you can just see the Rock of Gibraltar in the distance on the left
Of course, it makes sense that if we can see Africa from Europe then we would be able to stand on African soil and look over the Europe so easily.
Still, this is a breathtaking view – being able to witness two continents at once.
As I said: Breathtaking.
Off to Market
Tangier is a popular daytrip from Tarifa, and a key stop is the markets. Everything from spices to leather-goods can be found here – and while the prices aren’t ridiculously cheap, there are plenty of bargains to be had for those willing to haggle as aggressively as the merchants.
Better still (at least for those daytrippers) is that almost every shop here will take Euros.
Our tip for market haggling?
Come in at 10% (yes, 10%!) of the price they suggest.
Recognise that this is natural, and part of doing business – you’re not being rude.
Never, ever regret a purchase. You are unlikely to find the lowest price the merchant will accept, but you will still do very well. Be happy with your price or don’t buy it, and if you buy it then forever be happy with your price!
For those of us who aren’t returning to Europe tonight, there’s even more opportunity to get horribly lost in these markets. Feel like refreshment? You’re unlikely to find a beer (easily) in this Muslim nation, but the hot mint tea is a must!
And then there are abundant opportunities to enjoy the local Moroccan spices as part of your evening meal.
And olives! Wow are there abundant opportunities for olives!
Cave of Hercules
Saturday offers us a roadtrip day, as we head by car from Tangier along the 3.5 hours of coast road to Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca.
But our first stop is just out of town, where the ocean empties into a cave through an opening exactly the shape of Africa!
The Cave of Hercules – in mythology, the location where Hercules rested when his 12 labours were completed – is certainly large enough to contain his enormous strength.
With the tide rising, there’s opportunity (having followed necessary precautions) to swim here or jump from the ledge that forms part of the famous silhouette. In fact, the hardest part of the stop is finding a moment to photograph the cut-out cave so that Africa is obvious but the many other tourists are not!
Once we’re back in the car, there’s no need to rush – and plenty of reasons to stop and take in the water views. The nearby hills of Europe are gone – replaced with a seeming infinite ocean, North America not even imaginable beyond it.
Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean, from Rabat Casablanca between Tangier and Casablanca. Photo by David Stanley, CC License
Play it Again, Sam
Casablanca may be the African city most famous in the west, but for all the wrong reasons. While the film Casablanca is legendary, the tale of Rick’s Café Américain and its love triangle (mirrored by the political triumvirate of neutral USA, independent France, and Nazi Germany) bears no relation to the modern city of 3.5 million people.
Chief among today’s things to do in Casablanca Morocco is the Hassan II Mosque. The tallest building in Morocco and one of the largest Mosques in the world, a guided tour inside (and in English) is an opportunity to better appreciate and respect Islam. Sadly, the tour references but doesn’t show us the glass floor out over the ocean – this mosque was built largely over land reclaimed from the sea; 25,000 worshippers can here appreciate the Qur’anic verse “the throne of Allah was built on water”.
There are plenty more souks to visit – if markets are your thing, head over to the Habbous District of town for even more shopping. You’ll find us enjoying yet another Moroccan tea in the Square of Mohammed V where the traditional flavours of modern Morocco blend with the historical colonial buildings.
No doubt, three days is only just enough to taste Morocco – and barely to scratch the top end of Africa. Based on what we’ve seen here, however?
This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Want to go? Need to know!
How quick is the ferry between Europe and Africa? With FRS (http://www.frs.es) it takes literally no time at all! (Which is to say, you arrive in Tangier at the same time you leave Tarifa, given the 1 hour time difference.)
The cave isn’t exactly Africa, but it’s pretty close. Africa also looks a little like the human skull – is that a coincidence for the continent that was the birthplace of humanity?
‘Play it again, Sam’ is the most famous line Humphrey Bogart never said, a misremembering collective audiences have popularised through the 70 years since Casablanca was released. Perhaps the greatest movie of all time, Bogart’s final speech is now about 70% cliché – but the original source of all those incredible sentiments and sentences!
Had a chance to practice your French in Casablanca? You’ll need it this week…
Have any fabulous Moroccan memories? Share them for all our readers in our comments below, or over on our Facebook page.
There is a small corner of Europe that will be forever England. We’re not talking about the Western Front – we’re talking about Gibraltar, a rock jutting off from Spain into the Mediterranean that entered English hands three centuries ago and shows no signs of ever becoming anything other than a sunny outcrop of the Empire.
All things going to plan, flying to Gibraltar from London would be an incident free flight. But here, there are so many things that can go wrong. You see, Gibraltar is so small that the only way to fit in an airport runway…
… is to have it cut across the main road!
If you’ve ever been tempted to accelerate when you see a rail crossing closing ahead of you, spare a thought for the motorists who – several times, every day – have to give way to an airport runway.
See the two ‘roads’ that cross in the middle of this photo? Yeah – one of those is the airport runway, and the other one is Gibraltar’s main street! Photo by David Jones , CC License
Beyond its historic value, and unless you love overpriced Marmite and brown sauce, there’s little reason to spend time on the Rock of Gibraltar itself. So we’re fairly quickly crossing the border into Spain, on our way to the Kitesurfing capital of the world: Tarifa.
We’re staying at La Casa Amarilla, avoiding the many hostels on the road into town and basing ourselves in the middle of the ‘old town’.
How old? Ruins of Roman settlement in the area exist nearby, while the town takes its name from Tarif ibn Malik the eighth century general of the Umayyad Caliphate that conquered north Africa and much of the Iberian peninsula.
Control of the town changed hands between several Muslim-ruled principalities prior to the thirteenth century, when the Catholic Sancho IV of Castile reclaimed the region. Any walk through the old town will take in the ‘Puerta de Jerez’ (the last remaining medieval gate) and end at the dominant waterfront feature – the combination of a thousand-year-old Guzman castle and the el Bueno Tower added shortly after the Catholics retook control.
Of course, only Sancho IV receives a statue.
The most Southern point in Europe
From here, let’s walk along the beachfront, and then out along the rocky outcrop. Pause for a moment – you are standing in a key space of world geography. If the world did have four corners, this point right here would likely be one of them.
Look to the left – that’s the Mediterranean Sea, which borders so many empires of history from Egypt to Greece to Rome and Carthage.
Look to the right – that’s the Atlantic Ocean, stretching out to the New World.
Look down – you are now standing on Europe’s most southerly point, the very bottom of a continent that expands up into the Arctic circle.
Now look up – those hills you can see, across the water, little more than a literal stone’s throw away? That’s Africa.
We shot a really short video to take it all in:
In the foreground, a monument to Christopher Columbus – the explorer who sailed with Spanish money. In the background – Africa.
Giddy Up, Up and Away
Turning north now, putting our back to Africa (sort of – Tarifa is actually further south than Tunis and Algiers!), we can see the full length of Los Lances. Off in the distance, you can see the rotating arms of wind turbines scattered across the hills – the country of Don Quixote has invested heavily in chasing 21st Century windmills.
It’s the same wind that delivers Tarifa its biggest drawcard – and from here, we can’t help but observe the dozens of kitesurfers learning on the sand and taking to the waves. They’re all in search of the exhilaration that standard surfing (with its short wave length) fails to match.
Aventura Ecuestre offers a two-hour beach horse ride along Los Lances, and up into the hills of the neighbouring nature reserve. The route is designed to provide beginner (or lapsed) horse-riders with confidence on their steed … and more experienced riders an opportunity to gallop with a guide at a much higher speed! Is anybody in our group daring enough to let their horse take greater control? We’re not game, but we hear there’s nothing quite like breathing in the salty sea air at a full gallop.
With the surf culture and a position between the famous Spanish strips of the Costa de la Luz and Costa del Sol, Tarifa has an electric nightlife best described as backpacker-red-wine-chic.
There’s plenty of tapas to choose from for dinner. We know from past experience that your plates of tapas MUST outnumber your bottles of Spanish red wine.
Seafood Paella at El Puerto Restaurante is also a wise option.
Thanks to that previous lesson, I’m going to avoid the tempranillo! But pass me another glass of monastrell if you don’t mind; and do try the sherry, because it originates in nearby Jerez and in these parts is anything but your grandmother’s drink!
Just remember – we’re staying in the big yellow building.
La Casa Amarilla – it translates as The Yellow House.
Want to go? Need to know!
You can catch public transport (buses) from Gibraltar to Tarifa – look for “La Linea de la Concepción” routes. La Linea is the Spanish side of the Gibraltar border – there are several, hour-long bus trips from La Linea to Tarifa each day; if those times don’t suit, you may be able to change buses at Algeciras.
If you do want to experience kitesurfing in Tarifa, the world’s kitesurfing capital, you’ll have plenty of choice! Our best suggestion is talking to other travellers you meet in the town about their experiences, but if you’re looking for a website that isn’t Google or TripAdvisor, you can start here.
Like to master the local wines? The most famous Spanish grapes are tempranillo, often sold under a “Qualified designation of origin” like Rioja. If cerveza (Spanish beer) is more to your taste, try Estrella… or just order una cerveza por favor and drink what gets served.
Just don’t call it una servicios – that’s a polite way of saying toilet.
Which did you prefer – Gibraltar or Tarifa? Do you have a favourite Spanish wine? Share it for all our readers in our comments below, or over on our Facebook page.
The challenge of the Monopoly Pub Crawl is to visit every named Monopoly square in London, in order, having a drink at each – and all on the same day.
It is a long day, but it starts with a sleep in. We don’t have to be at our first destination – Old Kent Road – until almost 11am.
Jacob Aldridge collects £200 before passing GO!
Before you pass GO!
Collect £200 (actually, this whole day will cost you about half that)
Make sure you buy a Zone 1-2 Travelcard (I don’t trust the OysterCard for this)
Dress as though you were going to a Mayfair club (because eventually you will be, and you don’t want to be refused service at that point)
Familiarise yourself with the Monopoly Board, and the London Map
Drink slowly, travel carefully, and stop for meals!
Forget all about the details in the mad dash towards Mayfair!
If you’re a regular reader of everydaydream holiday, you may find this article to be a little more technical than usual.
If you’re here looking for a detailed, comprehensive guide to completing the Monopoly Pub Crawl, then read on: we have rules, routes, maps and pictures and videos to help! At the end, you can also download the guide I prepared, for myself and with detailed street maps because I didn’t own a smartphone then, which helped me to complete this world-renowned drinking challenge.
As a starting point, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the Monopoly Board … and then an actual map of where those squares are in real life.
On the board, you start at GO! and then move effortlessly around the board in a clockwise direction. How hard can that be to replicate on the ground?
Well here is a fabulous map of the Monopoly Pub Crawl created by the guys at monopolypubcrawl.org.uk. You can see that we start on the south side of the river, then mostly cover the east end and north London before diving into a random back-and-forth across greater London. It starts slow, builds up…and leaves us two train stations (in light grey) that will really mess with our planning later on!
Shared by MonopolyPubCrawl.co.uk
1. Old Kent Road
The Lord Nelson, 386 Old Kent Road
Take the tube to Elephant and Castle. Find Bus Stop E. Catch 1, 53, 63, 172, 188, 363 or 453 to Old Kent Road, alight after Albany Rd
Monopoly’s first stop is also its only destination south side of the Thames River. First thing in the morning, the only people here are those – like us – doing a Monopoly Pub Crawl. We nod and smile at the groups carrying a board around with them; and at the lady serving us behind the bar – how she must wonder about the strange groups that make up the first half hour of every shift, and have so little in common with the rest of the clientele in this rough-as-guts neighbourhood.
There are plenty of drinking games you can play on the Monopoly Pub Crawl. Our mission today is to make it all the way to Mayfair, and to do all the squares in order; so we’re sticking with a routine of a half-pint of lager and a glass of water at every bar.
The Lord Nelson, Old Kent Road
If you’re adventurous, or think getting horribly pissed and bailing out halfway through counts, here are a few ideas we’ve heard about or created:
Order a drink that includes the letter that the pub’s name starts with (like Stella at the Lord Nelson) or the Street name starts with (like Fosters on Old Kent Road)
Scull your drinks – first one to finish chooses the drink at the next stop; or last one to finish has to take a shot at the next stop as well
Don’t order the same drink twice (pro tip: start with the strange drinks, because you do NOT want to be sipping a warm, flat craft ale in twenty stops’ time – refreshing lagers are your friend, especially towards the end)
Roll the dice to choose your drink – either pre-set rules (1 = lager, 2 = ale, 3 = stout, 4 = imported, 5 = english, 6 = shot!) or based on the order of the beer taps
Order the beer with the closest colour to this street in its logo
60 seconds later, and our first half-pint is gone! No doubt there are many wonderful stories to be told hanging about in this old pub, named after the hero of Trafalgar. But we have a bus to catch!
2. Whitechapel Road
The Blind Beggar, 337 Whitechapel Road
Catch Bus 78 from either Old Kent Road or Dunton St (heading towards ‘Calvert Ave E2’). This bus will take you across Tower Bridge. Alight, walk to Tower Hill tube station and catch the District Line Tube to Whitechapel.
Finding ourself on the same bus as the other groups is no surprise. But what’s this? We all alight together just after Tower Bridge, but they’re walking in a different direction!
To our amazement, most people who complete the ‘Monopoly Pub Crawl’ do it by cheating! While we man-up to the challenge of seeing all 26 pubs in order, these groups are heading to nearby Fenchurch Street Station (15 stops early!) because it’s more convenient to do it that way.
Wear our commitment to excellence like a badge of honour, team. All day long we will bump into other groups doing this challenge the sneaky way – be sure to tell them that we, and we alone, are doing it properly.
The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel Road
At The Blind Beggar we have a chance to experience London’s notorious ‘East End’ – when the UK version of Monopoly was converted from the US version, it was readily understood that the southside and east end would be the cheapest real estate – the areas are much better integrated now, but let’s just say we’re happy we’re not ending our day here after nightfall.
Another half-pint down, here’s my first video of the day:
3. King’s Cross Station
The Fellow, 24 York Way
Catch the Hammersmith & City line (Underground) from Whitechapel to King’s Cross Station
Outside King’s Cross Station.
Train station bars having relocated to St Pancras, next door, we head across the road to The Fellow. There’s a slight look of amusement on the bartender’s face when we order a half-pint of beer and a glass of water, but no time to ask what she means by it – down the drink goes, and out we go.
Here’s where the geography of the Monopoly Pub Crawl (really, of the Monopoly Board in general) gets crazy. We have four stops: in order, King’s Cross, The Angel Islington, Euston Road, Pentonville Road.
And here’s a close-up on a map – you see that we’re going to do the same stretch of underground back and forth to stay in order.
Back and forth travelling
Still, that gives us a chance to have lunch – supermarket sandwiches (bacon and egg all day breakfasts, of course) devoured on the underground. We’ve now been on the road two hours, and done just three stops – don’t worry, it gets quicker.
4. The Angel, Islington
The Angel, 3-5 Islington High St
Catch the Northern Line from King’s Cross 1 stop east to Angel. (Check the boards – there are two branches of the Northern Line that come through here – we want the Bank branch.)
Yes, there is actually a pub called ‘The Angel’ and it’s on Islington High Street.
The Angel, Islington. Seriously!
To make things even more perfect, they serve the cheapest half-pint of lager on the whole Monopoly Board.
5. Euston Road
O’Neills, 73-77 Euston Road
Back to Euston Road, across the road from King’s Cross Station.
A hard sign to capture!
If you’re visiting London and want a pint, stay clear of the chain pubs.
If you’re on a tight schedule, like (hypothetically) a Monopoly Pub Crawl, then the nearest pub will always win out!
6. Pentonville Road
The Castle, 54 Pentonville Road
Catch the Northern Line from King’s Cross 1 stop east to Angel. (Yes, sounds familiar doesn’t it!)
Angel tube station has the longest escalator on the underground network. Feeling like we’re losing time backtracking, we decide to walk up it at pace. Ouch!
It’s a nice pub, and it’s good to sit down and savour our half-pint – that escalator walk hurt, plus there’s no point rushing it on top of those bacon sarnies.
The Castle, Pentonville Road. We can see why this is more expensive than the other light blue squares.
And what timing we have, as just moments after we sit down a group of a dozen Monopoly pub crawlers (all dressed in cricket whites) come in. They are clearly in no rush – and possibly one of those groups that does 5-6 destinations and calls that complete.
7. Pall Mall
The Red Lion, 23 Crown Passage
Northern Line to King’s Cross Station; change there and take the Picadilly line to Green Park. Turn right out of the station and walk down Picadilly to St. James Street on the right. Walk down St. James Street until you reach Pall Mall and turn left.
We are now at the end of the first row on the Monopoly Board – time for another short video update, as we avoid jail en route to Pall Mall.
And then there’s a chance to order a drink at one of London’s oldest pubs, The Red Lion just off Pall Mall.
The Red Lion Pub, Pall Mall
There’s little time to appreciate the history … but there is time to find the downstairs bathroom. 7 pubs of 26 down, and the seal has been broken!
The Clarence, 53, Whitehall
This is a walk – at last, stops close to each other! – to the other end of Pall Mall, around past Trafalgar Square (who created this board?!) and then onto Whitehall.
Whitehall: a street for drinking, governing and beheading King Charles I
Whitehall is the politicians’ street (we walked down here on Monday with talk of beheadings and Downing Street), so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of bars to choose from.
Grab the first one that isn’t crowded, drink fast, and then it’s on to…
9. Northumberland Avenue
The Sherlock Holmes, 10-11 Northumberland St
Walk back up to Trafalgar Square, and spin around to the right. Walk down the road and you’ll see The Sherlock Holmes ahead on the left, where Northumberland Avenue meets Northumberland Street.
I don’t want to give the impression that this is all about logistics and precision – a Monopoly Pub Crawl is hands-down THE best way to acquaint yourself with London, and a chance to tap into its history.
And its ales – The Sherlock Holmes even serves a Sherlock Holmes Ale, which of course we have to try while we’re here!
If you’re an ale drinker, it has some flavour to offer. For me, I find ales sit very heavily – not a desirable attribute in the middle of a marathon.
The Sherlock Holmes, Northumberland Ave
10. Marylebone Station
The Victoria and Albert, Marylebone Station
Walk up Northumberland Street and turn right to Charing Cross Station. Take the Bakerloo line to Marylebone. Enter the station, and go right to the end, where you will find the pub on your left.
Our second train station, and almost as far away from the other stops as you could imagine! Seriously – the four train stations on the Monopoly Board (King’s Cross, Marylebone, Fenchurch St, and Liverpool St) are all major commuter stops – but so too is Charing Cross station which is RIGHT. NEXT. DOOR. to Northumberland Ave.
Still, Paddington would have been worse – and at least there’s a pub actually inside this station. In front of us in the queue is a group asking the bartender to sign their Monopoly Board – we don’t mean to pry, but it’s only their sixth signature so we know we are well ahead of them. Plus they’ve order a round of Guinness pints – they’ll be here for a while, but we wish them luck anyway.
Outside Marylebone Station. The pub is inside.
11. Bow Street
The Marquess of Anglesey, 39 Bow St
Take the Bakerloo line. Change at Piccadilly Circus for the Piccadilly line to Covent Garden. Come out of the station and turn right, walking along Long Acre (away from Covent Garden itself). Turn right onto Bow Street.
Both the pub and the street name make the photo.
Back now into the heart of London’s West End – this is my favourite part of the city, the theatre district running from about here (Drury Lane is nearby) west into Soho and Leicester Square.
We’re going to cover most of that within this colour group (which, incidentally, is the best set of squares to buy on the Monopoly Board. Statistically, more players land on Bow, Marlbourough and Vine Streets than any other squares.)
12. Marlborough Street
O’Neills, 37-38 Great Marlborough Street
Turn right back up Bow Street; turn right at the end and walk down Long Acre/Great Queen Street to Kingsway; turn left and walk up to Holborn tube station. Take the central line to Oxford Circus. Exit on the SE corner and walk down Oxford St toward Tottenham Court Road. Turn right onto Argyll Street and left onto Malborough Street. O’Neills is on the corner of Carnaby Street.
Strictly speaking, there is no Marlborough Street in greater London, but Great Marlborough Street is (by consensus) the destination for this stop. If the pub experience isn’t already starting to feel repetitive, this stop (almost half way through) will do it. We’re heading into another O’Neills chain pub…
Some streets are born great, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
… and sitting outside is the group of Guinness Drinkers from Marylebone Station. How did they beat us here, we ask? Geography – they’ve gone just 3 tube stops, while we had to head all the way over to Bow St / Covent Garden and back.
We’re almost halfway through though, and it’s only 4.30pm. I’m feeling good about our prospects.
13. Vine Street
Gauchos Grill (Swallow St)
Walk down Carnaby Street and turn right onto Beak Street, then left onto Warwick St. The pubs are at the end of the road as it meets Glasshouse Street.
Vine Street is the only stop on this pub crawl that has no pubs to offer us. In fact, it’s an odd street to be on the board at all, given how small it is, tucked away behind Regent’s Street.
Still, it exists and we went there!
We’re aiming for Gauchos, an upmarket Spanish restaurant that can be picky with their clientele. Thankfully, we’re well dressed and well ahead of the dinner rush … they want to sit us at a table and show us the menu; we’re happy to sit on the lounges inside … but yes, let’s order some bar snacks to keep us going (how long will they take to arrive? We’re in a hurry.)
14. The Strand
The Coal Hole, 91-92 Strand
Head to Piccadilly Circus Tube – catch the Piccadilly Line two stops to Covent Garden Cut through Covent Garden and down to the Strand
Halfway there – it’s time for a video update.
As you can see, Covent Garden is a busy place at this time of day. The Coal Hole is too, and proves to be one of the nicer bars of the day (despite a hilarious name – or is that just 13 half-pints of beer talking?).
Me and the Coal Hole. Apologies for so many photos with me in them!
We’re now on the Red Squares, the turning point on the board between low prices and the top end. It’s not that obvious in real life, however – but then, we are less than a kilometre from Whitehall and Northumberland Ave!
15. Fleet Street
Ye Olde Cock Tavern, 22 Fleet St
Walk or catch a bus along The Strand – it kind of just turns into Fleet Street
Fleet Street. Home to Ye Olde Cock Tavern (and, further along, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese).
What did we say about funny pub names? There’s not much of a journalist legacy on Fleet Street anymore, with the exception of a number of drinking establishments.
16. Trafalgar Square
Halfway II Heaven, 7 Duncannon St
Take the 11, 15 or 23 bus back up along The Strand to Charing Cross Station or Trafalgar Square
Almost drunk enough for that pole to look sexy. Nelson’s column in the background.
Most Monopoly Pub Crawls recommend the Chandos (at 29 St Martin’s Lane) for the Trafalgar Square stop. That’s a fine English pub, no doubt, but it’s an extra few minutes walk so we’re heading in to Halfway II Heaven.
You’ll probably notice a lack of female companionship here. Not uncommon in a pub, true, but here there’s a better reason – it’s actually a gay bar.
Not that that stops them from happily serving us up our half-pint of beer and a glass of water.
17. Fenchurch Street Station
The Fen or The Windsor, Fenchurch St Station
Walk to Embankment Tube Station (Past Charing Cross) Catch the District or Circle line to Tower Hill, and walk up to Fenchurch Street Station
Now we know why so many people cheat and take the logical route, instead of doing the Monopoly Pub Crawl in order. Here we are, back at Tower Hill more than 6 hours after our last visit!
Fenchurch Street Station Facade. Insert Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference here as well.
Our destination is Fenchurch Street station – and here’s a timing problem. The best day to do the Monopoly Pub Crawl is Saturday – simply because more bars are open later, and you and your mates don’t have to work.
But within the ‘Square Mile’ of the official city of London, not much is open on a Saturday. And that includes Fenchurch Street Station! (Weekends are also more likely to see maintenance closures of tube lines – always check the Transport for London website for updates before heading out.)
If you can’t get in to the Station, expect a mad scramble around the area. There are a number of pubs nearby … but most are closed on Saturdays (weird, but true). That’s how we once found ourselves at Proud, a nearby Burlesque club that isn’t really open for casual drinks (or people wearing jeans) but could sense the desparation in our voices, and the pounds in our wallet.
18. Leicester Square
The Moon Under Water, 28 Leicester Square
Catch the Tube back to Embankment; change to the Northern Line for Leicester Square
What it says on the tin! And now reopened after many years of renovation work.
I don’t want to belabour this point, but Fenchurch Street station just lost us 45 minutes. It’s honestly a 5 minute walk from Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square – hell, the Harry Potter premiers ran a red carpet along that road! – but it’s taken us almost an hour.
Still, the yellow squares are fabulously close together and connected in a logical way. That gives us some time to contemplate dinner…
19. Coventry Street
Busaba Eathai with Dinner, or The Comedy, 7 Oxendon St
Walk across Leicester Square and into Coventry Street
Coventry Street. More than halfway in now, we are not caring about No Entry signs!
Meals are an important part of a pub crawl that lasts this long – for sustenance, to soak up the alcohol, and to provide you with a kick of energy.
Fast meals (like our supermarket sandwiches) are the best way to do this, and keep to schedule. If you want a sit down, Busaba Eathai just off Coventry Street is a good option – you’ll get here about the right time, and they don’t take reservations for small groups so you don’t need to know exactly when you’ll arrive, and you’ll still probably get seated quickly.
Just let them know two things:
1. You’re in a rush (this is the theatre district, they’re used to that and will help out) and
2. You want your beer served immediately – it’s far too deep into this pub crawl to have to start sculling beers!
Henry’s Café Bar, 80 Piccadilly
Catch a tube on the Piccadilly Line from Piccadilly Circus to Green Park
Piccadilly Sign – at least there are fewer photos of me now!
You can walk down Piccadilly and head for the first bar that looks good. But the fastest guaranteed way is to jump on the tube for this one stop trip, and duck into Henry’s Bar which is just outside Green Park Station.
(Is that the same Green Park Station that takes you to Pall Mall? Yes, we’ve been here before!)
21. Regent Street
All Bar One, 289 Regent St
Catch the tube from Green Park (Victoria Line) or Piccadilly Circus (if you stayed at that end; Bakerloo Line) to Oxford Circus (1 stop). Head away from the city along Regent Street – it’s between Margaret and Wigmore
Onto the home stretch now folks! Depending on the time of year, night time (even if not night fall) will be on you. But we have several hours still up our sleeve. This is looking good.
This is definitely doable.
I am definitely, definitely, drunk.
So I made it 3/4 of the way through without feeling drunk. Then it hit me!
I suppose, 21 x half pints = 10.5 pints, and I’ve been running around now for almost 11 hours! But now, suddenly, I can feel the exhaustion and the beer affecting me. I try to focus on the task at hand – only five bars to go. But wow, do those five feel like a lot of effort. And there’s more booze hitting my system with every second. Must concentrate. Suspect rambling is about to begin.
Oh, and we’ve gone round the final corner. Time for another video update:
22. Oxford Street
The Explorer, 23 Great Castle St
Walk back down to Oxford St and turn right (towards Bond Street Tube)
Oxford Street – it’s night time now!
Oxford Street is a very popular commercial street. But don’t think that means there’s a pub on every corner! Oh no, you have to go looking for them.
And now they’re filling up. And so am I. I’m looking at the time. I’m staring at that half-pint of beer, willing it to go down.
It’s not the booze. It can’t be the booze. Much. Surely? 11 pints in 11 hours, a man of my size and with my liver’s decade of training, should be able to handle that.
No, it’s the tiredness – magnified by the alcohol. Which I manage to get down, followed by a few sips of water to get the taste out of my mouth. Onward…
23. Bond Street
8 Dering St
Turn left onto Bird St until it turns into Bond Street
Where is the arrow to the nearest bar please?
Again, you would think finding a pub in London would be easy at this time of night. But no – Bond Street is fancy, it’s jewellry and art galleries, not half pints of beer in the evening. We get a little bit lost trying to find this one. We don’t have time for that!
And the feeling of space that being in a pub at 1 o’clock gives you is long gone. I need the bathroom – third pub in a row. Can you order me a drink? Great. Back in 5.
Better make that 10. And there’s no toilet paper in the men’s room. We do not have time for this! I’m walking into the ladies, grabbing a roll, and coming back.
Taking matters into my own hands. That’s what I’m doing. I’m drunk, and I’m tired, but more than anything I am committed.
WE WILL GET THIS DONE!
24. Liverpool Street Station
Hamilton Hall, upstairs from the station near the Bishopsgate Exit
Head back to Bond Street Tube – Catch the Central Line to Liverpool Street
Liverpool Street Station would be more welcoming if it were located at Marble Arch
Who the flipping hell put Liverpool Street Station here on the Monopoly Board? Look at that map again – this is an hour’s round trip out of the way, and it’s now after 10pm. Still, it’s 15 minutes (each way) on the tube so I’m taking a nap.
Hamilton Hall is exactly what you expect a train station pub to be like late at night. Nobody is here because they thought ‘that looks like a nice pub’. Everybody is here because they would rather be somewhere else – in most cases, that somewhere else is at the end of a train journey from Liverpool Street station.
For us, the somewhere else is Mayfair, via Park Lane. And if I can just get this beer down we’ll be on our way.
TWO STOPS TO GO!
25. Park Lane
The Rose and Crown, 2 Old Park Lane
Catch the Central Line back to Marble Arch Turn left onto Park Lane, and continue on down
Wow, has that detour ruined what remained of our schedule. After Regent Street, it felt like the night was young and this was easily finished.
Now it feels late. Very late. There’s no longer any guarantee that pubs will be open. We’re headed for the Rose and Crown, at the far end of Park Lane. I’m looking at the time. It’s almost 11.30, and we’re walking down a dark street, and so help me god if we get to this pub and it’s closed and we don’t finish the Monopoly Pub Crawl I will cry and scream and, well, and fall asleep on the front step of the bar.
But what’s that? Hawaiian noises? Downstairs, underneath the Park Lane Hilton, is a really dodgy Hawaiian bar. But I’m desparate, and in a hurry, and damn well committed.
The Park Lane Hilton – when time is of the essence!
A ten quid cover charge is ridiculous. Any other day of my life I would tell this man to stick it. Instead, I pay it and – because I couldn’t possibly sit here and watch the minutes tick past staring a beer and wondering what will still be open in Mayfair – I order a shot of Malibu.
The first time I ever went into a bar, my dad bought me a shot of Malibu. He was born in London. There’s a connection.
My god I’m drunk. But I’m back outside now. There is one more stop to go and we will have completed this epic, this challenging, this amazing Monopoly Pub Crawl in order.
Ye Grapes, Shepherd’s Market, Mayfair
Walk down Curzon or Hertford St. There is a Mayfair Place here for photo purposes
It’s closed. Pub number 26 of 26, and it’s now ten minutes to midnight and we have been running this marathon and drinking those beers for 13 hours!, and the pub is closed.
Everything is closed. Mayfair is dead quiet. This is another city business area, and the local lawyers, and bankers, and Russian oligarchs have all decided to go home early tonight. I am gutted. I am devastated. I am walking around Mayfair until I find…
…an Indian restaurant, with the lights on, and customers inside!
My friends, we are in luck. We have success! We also have naan, and Cobra beer to wash it down with. Cobra Beer and Naan is the taste of success.
WE HAVE DONE IT!
VICTORY! MAYFAIR! WINNERS!
I have to say, the feeling I have right now is one of relief. I’m not sure if that’s because we have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, or if it’s the more comprehensive awareness of how epic this day has actually been.
There’s also some exhilaration. I have been wanting to do the Monopoly Pub Crawl since I first heard Dave Lister talk about it in Red Dwarf. I once wrote a Christmas special called “Doctor Who and the Monopoly Pub Crawl of Doom, or pardon me, have you seen my Tardis?”. I am such a Monopoly nerd that I can quote square-purchasing strategy while drunk and standing on Regent Street!
And I have now completed the actual Monopoly Pub Crawl!
Was it more difficult than I expected? Hell yes! Was it worth it? In so many ways.
I wanted to do another video right now, but I am dead on my feet and asleep on the tube. But tomorrow morning, oh yes, here is my take tomorrow morning:
[Chris writes: It was always going to be tough going up against Jacob’s Perfect Day in London in our informal London competition. I’ve taken the tactical decision to throw not just one of my perfect days in London into the ring – I’m throwing them all in.]
Day One: Epicurean London
The first perfect day in London focuses exclusively on the relatively recent and somewhat surprising revelation – the food in England doesn’t suck!
The Poms have, for years, endured as the world, and the French in particular, snorted and stuck their noses up at even the accidental placement of the word ‘England” in the vicinity of the word “cuisine”. Said the French President, Jacques Chirac;
“One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad”.
France has moved on from Chirac, but I suspect he still speaks for many of us when we contemplate English food. And how wrong we all are.
One only has to look at the constellation of British chefs and cooks dominating the television, the bookstore, the supermarket ailes, and your stomach, to know that this attitude towards British food cannot last long, if indeed it is an opinion still held at all. From Heston to Gordon to Jamie to Nigella to Rick to Antonio to Delia, there is no shortage of chefs promoting new cuisine in the country, and there are truly exciting places in Britain where artisanal isn’t a word artlessly tacked on by a hipster in marketing – it truly is.
We start our morning at one of those places, and my favourite place in London. We’re going to Borough Market.
Borough Market has been in operation, in some form or another, since the 13th Century, and possibly earlier. It recently earned a blue plaque as “London’s Oldest Fruit and Veg Market”.
Today, it is spread over several blocks, showcasing fresh and preserved produce made by individuals who make things the old-fashioned way.
It is hard to believe how varied and exciting the produce is at Borough. From specialist cheese producers, to rare breed pig farmers, to the one guy who smokes his own salmon and scallops up near the Scottish border, you’ll not only find the ingredients of your dreams but usually be talking to the person who made them.
There’s lots to eat and drink, so don’t muck about.
First – go to the Monmouth coffee stand and get in the queue when you arrive at Borough. Even if it looks quite long now, it will get longer still at the day progresses.
Once you’ve grabbed your coffee fix, head over to the Jubilee Market to look at food producers selling everything from jams and preserves, to spices, to handmade dips and dukkah, and their own family recipe for salami and smallgoods. Circle back into Green Market for bread, pastry, and don’t forget to grab an empanada before you go.
It Is Always Time For Tea
Tea and the English will, possibly forevermore, be inextricably linked.
Can you believe that, each evening when The EastEnders finishes (a popular soap on television), the surge in electricity is so great that the company must actively manage the electricity supply, even gathering in electricity supply from France.
What is causing this massive electricity surge? Says the BBC;
No other country in the world switches on some many kettles in so short a time.
Each evening around 7 PM, 1.75 million kettles are switched on.
Thomas Twining, fighting a brave rearguard action against the overwhelming popularity of coffee houses, bought this coffee house back in 1706. In the early part of the 18th Century, tea began to rise in popularity and soon sales of tea from this store eclipsed the coffee business and Twinings was set on the path to tea-time domination.
Here you can buy the regular Twinings tea brands as well as shop from the Loose Lea Tea bar and individual teas for those famous Twinings compartments.
On to Marylebone for Brunch and Cheese
The Providores in Marylebone is one of those places you hear about in whispers and backchannels, because no-one wants to let the secret out – but this place is just too good. You only have to visit The Providores on a weekend for brunch to see the size of the queue and feel the crushing disappoint at forgetting to have booked.
An airy, modern cafe cum restaurant, there are two parts to The Providores – the Tapa Room downstairs, which is a busy free-for-all, and the quieter, slightly more formal dining room upstairs.
Both serve an increbile, eclectic ‘fusion’ menu that showcases the irreverence on the Kiwis and the cosmopolitan spirit of London. Current dishes on the lunch menu is a Smoked Dutch eel with butternut squash star anise puree, edamame, blood orange and macadamia nut salad and Sri Lankan spiced beef short-rib with pearl barley, raisins, almonds, mango chutney and coconut.
Remember to book your place.
Once satisfied, head out onto the Marylebone High Street and wander a bit further up towards Regents Park. You’ll smell our next destination before you see it, and depending on your palate you may love it or may find it slightly offputting.
The first time I entered the Cheese Room at La Fromagerie, I couldn’t quite take it all in. I was found standing in a corner of the room, gazing fondly at a block of Parmesan and inhaling deeply the potent scent of what I think was called ‘Stinking Bishop’.
With cheeses from Buffalo, Cow, Goat, and Sheep, and from all across England, the United Kingdom, and Europe, there just has to be a cheese here that you will find mind-blowing. Brie, Camembert, Aged Cheddar, Pecorino, Ricotta – breathe deeply and you’ll be entranced just like I was.
And before you leave this little slice of food paradise, pop into Patisserie Valerie for a raspberry tart fix.
Yes – that threw me the first time I read about it too. It is hard to determine whether choosing to sample this particular variety of ice cream goes one the ‘have-to-try-it-once’ list or on the ‘are’you-blooming-crazy’ list.
If you were up for it, we’d head to the Icecreamists shop in Covent Garden and have a red hot go. If it isn’t really your cup of tea (and let’s be honest, that’s probably 99% of you) then we’ll head to another Icecream treasure of London – unconventional too, though not in the same way.
Freggo, located just away from the ridiculous hustle and bustle of Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus, is an icecreamery par-excellence. You really will not be able to think of icecream the same way once you try their Malbec and Berries icecream in combination with a dark chocolate icecream. Yes, that’s wine in icecream and it works. Don’t miss this.
Come the Raw Prawn at Harrods
How are we doing for time? Quick – get in that tube!
Harrods, house of all things gaudy and excessive, happens to also have a very fine Food Hall. If you can get past the crowds and the over the top memorials and the purveyors of perfume, you’ll find yourself in something very closely resembling a playground for grownups.
Ok – it will be overpriced. But just sit yourself down at that counter and stuff yourself with jamon freshly carved from the bone with a razor-sharp knife by a smiling gentleman in an apron and enjoy it. You only live once.
More Tea, and a moment to regather
By now we’re feeling the afternoon dip hit hard, so it’s time for the citrus pep of a cup of Lady Grey and maybe a moment to catch our breath. At Claridge’s Afternoon Tea, they serve the ‘quintessential’ English afternoon tea, and having been practising the art for over 150 years, we’re sure to enjoy the full experience. As Spencer Tracey once said;
I’d rather go to Claridge’s than to heaven.
The Grand Finale, by the Master of Illusion
As if we have any room left in us by now. But we must, we must find some – a hollow leg perhaps. For tonight we dine at Heston’s.
Dinner, his restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental, is Heston Blumenthal’s first entry into the London market. With The Fat Duck solidly booked out months in advance, Dinner is our best chance to sample the cooking that has earned the self-taught chef three Michelin stars and to trade the Best Restaurant in the World title with Noma and El Bulli, depending on who you ask.
The restaurant’s dishes are based on Heston’s deep research into historical cooking in English culture, and the dish at Dinner is the Meat Fruit. To all appearances, a mandarin, inside is a special surprise and I won’t be the one to spoil it for you. See if you can guess.
Day Two: Museum London
Not really a foodie? I hear you. Perhaps history and culture is more your thing?
One of the benefits of being an Empire is being able to amass, legitimately or otherwise, enormous collections of historical artefacts and trophies from across the world. England, being a particularly potent Empire, has quite the collection.
Start at the British Museum. Of course, everyone else is starting there too, and there will be a big rush to get inside to the Rosetta Stone first. You can join the rush or head on upstairs to the Egyptian collection instead, and find your inner Indiana Jones amongst the mummies and hieroglyphs.
Next, head to the London Museum. This place is little mentioned by most ‘travel experts’ and yet it tells a definitive story of the history of London, from ancient times through the Blitz, and to the heady days of Beatlemania and beyond, in entertaining and creative ways.
This titan of the art world, made from an old powerplant and solidly sitting across the Thames from the grand dome of St Paul’s, is a temple to modern and contemporary art and will have you up to speed on all your Modernisms and Post-Modernisms and Post-Modern-Pre-Minimalisms in no time at all.
Just near the Tate is the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.There are tours available, but why not come back when there is a play on. Standing tickets near the front of the stage as cheap as chips, although you will be exposed should the weather turn inclement, which in London is ‘frequently’.
Finally, and it is a bit out of the way, but how could you miss the Museum of Natural History. For any adult who, as a kid, fantasised about becoming an archaeologist (so, all of you) this is the Aladdin’s Cave, the Nirvana, the Mecca of dinosaur-nerdery.
After we have all the fresh air we need, we’ll make our way to the Petersham Nursery. Not only a nursery full of beautiful flowers like you can only grow in England’s mild and gentle climes, there’s also an amazing restaurant attached. If the restaurant isn’t open, head up to the Petersham Hotel for afternoon tea overlooking the upstream Thames.
There’s an exotic greenhouse there full of endless varieties of butterflies, and the photos you take will be beautiful.
Day Four: Get way out of Town
Your perfect day in London may actually be a day trip out of the city. There are plenty of coach tours to places like Bath, Warwick Castle, Stonehenge, and other little satellites around this city, but why not go self-guided. We’ll have a better time.
One possibility is Canterbury, which is only an hour by train and will fulfil all your fantasies about how a medieval English town may have looked and felt.
Another option, if eclectic and alternative if your thing, is Brighton. Full of people who look at the world a little differently, Brighton also contains perhaps the most incredible palace in all of England, if by incredible we mean ‘absolutely-completely-over-the-top’. Playboy George, Prince of Wales, turned the Royal Pavilion into the most fashionable seaside retreat for high-society members of the time, and it has the the most extravagant chinoiserie interiors ever executed in the British Isles.
Brighton Pier will satiate your need to have a traditional English carnival pier experience, and if the stars align and the planets tilt and the world turns upside down, you may just might just may be able to go for a swim and not freeze to death.
Today and tomorrow we have duelling plans, as the two everydaydream holiday founders compete over their perfect London day. Did you know these two met while they were both living in London? Which one – Jacob or Chris – would make the best guide?
Onto your first perfect day – London’s Best Walk, Cruise, Dinner and Show, by Jacob Aldridge
And when you want to watch the world wake up, the best place to do it is right here, atop Primrose Hill. We’ve come (having flown in yesterday from Canada) prepared with picnic blankets, a basket of food goodies, and supermarket bubbly – Tesco’s Finest Prosecco at £12 a bottle is actually one of the best don’t-call-it-champagne options around.
Don’t believe me? Have another glass, and take in this view that stretches around from Canary Wharf at the east end of the city, across St Paul’s and the original Square Mile, out to the London Eye and Houses of Parliament. It’s a famous view, most recently punctuated by the Shard, London’s newest (and Europe’s tallest) skyscraper. 3.7 million people are heading to work here right now – ten percent of them are in Banking – and from this height it’s hard to believe they’ll all fit.
From the bottom of the hill we wander across Regent’s Park to Great Portland St, and catch the C2 bus toward Victoria. No trip to London is complete without riding on an iconic London double-decker bus. And of course we’re going to sit upstairs – it’s also a great way to see the city as we drive through.
One of the few remaining old-style Routemaster buses. The latest design has reintroduced many elements of these classics.
Is the Queen at Home?
We depart the bus at Piccadilly, and walk through Green Park to see if the Queen is home at Buckingham Palace. The royal standard isn’t flying today – anybody hoping to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II through the curtains will be disappointed.
That flag is the Union Jack, flown when the monarch is not in residence.
There’s still lots to appreciate at the front of the palace. The balcony where Charles and Diana – and 30 years later, their son William and his bride Kate – had their famous wedding kiss. The statue in front is Queen Victoria, who was the first monarch to reside here after 75 years of remodelling work concluded in 1837. If she looks fresh, it’s thanks to the nose job she received just before last year’s Olympics.
The Queen’s guard – you can witness the changing of the guard here every day, although it does get overly crowded.
London’s Best Free Walk
Buckingham Palace sits at the top of The Mall – which rhymes with Al, Hal, and Val, not All, Hall and Tall.
For William and Kate’s wedding (we still struggle to call her Catherine, only because it makes their monogram WC) 500,000 of their closest friends and fans lined the Mall to watch them heading to and from Westminster Abbey.
Today, it’s much quieter as we walk down the broad avenue. To our left is St James’s Park – like so many of London’s best parks, this was originally a royal reserve (back when Buckingham Palace was considered ‘away from the city’) and is now park of the park system that makes London so liveable.
To our right, we pass Clarence House – former home of the Queen Mother, and now residence to Prince Charles and Camilla. Tempting as it is to drop in for tea…
At the far end of The Mall, we pass under a grand arch, and suddenly Nelson’s Column comes into view. Trafalgar Square used to be a roundabout! Now the fountains, the famous lions, and Nelson himself 52 metres (169 feet) up create a public space that seamlessly connects this history of that 200 year old naval battle with modern London, and its future brand.
Take a look at the Fourth Plinth. The city of London has not yet a new hero to immortalise on this space, so it currently forms a combination of display space and performance art stage. Needless to say, 2012’s bronze rocking horse and 2013’s giant blue cockerel were selected to … mixed … reviews. Behind it, above the Square, is the National Gallery – a fabulous free destination for lovers of art, and those who find themselves nearby when London’s notorious weather kicks in.
London’s Mayor Boris Johnson at the announcement of the 2012 (Rocking Horse) and 2013 (Blue Rooster) Fourth Plinth designs. Together, they make 3 of the strangest advertisements London has had in its 2000 year history.
From Trafalgar Square we could head up Charing Cross to the West End, along The Strand toward Fleet Street, or down Whitehall towards the Westminster Parliament. We choose the latter – Whitehall is a microcosm of British History: the window upstairs of Banqueting House on the left is where King Charles I was beheaded; across the road is London’s most famous address, 10 Downing Street. You can also be photographed with one of the Queen’s Guard at the Horse Guards’ Palace.
At the far end is Westminster, and our free walk ends at Parliament Square, between the statues of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, beneath the flags of the Commonwealth, and across the road from the Houses of Parliament.
Parliament Square only reopened in 2012, having been closed for nearly a decade of Iraq War protests.
From here, the inside options for tourists include a tour of Parliament and a visit to Westminster Abbey – where kings and queens are married, crowned, and also buried. It is also possible to climb the Queen Elizabeth Tower and see Big Ben, arguably the world’s most famous bell.
Cruise the Thames
My favourite thing to do in London is a ferry cruise up the Thames from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. Not only is this the easiest way to see so many of the key sites – from the London Eye past St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, out to Greenwich – but the boat crew also make some of the best guides in the city!
The boat crew deliver this tour just for tips – but do an excellent job!
Head upstairs, and hear them point out everything from the point where Queen Elizabeth I entered the Thames on her way to motivate the forces against the Spanish Armada, to the specific buildings they believe have the best (and worst!) architecture in the current city.
The Tower of London, as seen from the boat to Greenwich.
Greenwich can make a day trip in its own right; when we have half a day there are two highlights we want to focus on.
The first is the Maritime Museum – seeing the coat Nelson was wearing when he was killed is worth the cost of entry alone! (Well, entry is free so really it’s all a bonus.)
If you’ve heard of Greenwich, it’s not just because we ate in New York’s Greenwich Village last week. Greenwich Mean Time is all calculated from the Prime Meridian at the Greenwich Observatory. So we climb the hill…photograph ourselves straddling the zero point of modern communication … and then turn to take it another expansive view of London city, this time looking back toward Primrose Hill.
Most people join the queue at the front. Sneak in at the back – it’s essentially the same photo straddling the Prime Meridian. I’m reminded of a tune – one went east, one went west, and that grin belongs in a cuckoo’s nest!
Though closed on Mondays, I recommend ending your Greenwich exploration with a tour of the Cutty Sark, once the fastest ship in the world- and now reopened after a 2007 fire almost destroyed all of that history.
The famous London Underground, better known as the Tube, was the first underground railway in the world – and this year turns 150!
Dinner and a Show?
We head back into the city using a combination of the Docklands Light Rail, and then the famous London Underground. Specifically, we’re taking the Central Line from Bank to Tottenham Court Road. Our destination is the Cambridge Theatre on London’s West End and London’s best theatre production right now: Matilda.
Matilda has become the hottest theatre ticket in town since its world premiere here in late 2011, and it deserves to be. A combination of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s book with modern day maestro Tim Minchin writing the songs means this production is the creation of two storytellers at the height of their artform.
Production photo of Matilda: The Musical, at the Cambridge Theatre London. Copyright Matilda: The Musical
The theatre district is known for late-opening restaurants. And we could stay close by … but a perfect day in London needs to end with dinner in its most famous restaurant strip, the row of indian cuisine options on Brick Lane.
If you’ve never been accosted by spruikers outside every restaurant, all offering you ‘the best deal’ at ‘an award-winning restaurant’, then you’re in for a surprise. All we can say is be prepared to haggle – tonight, we’ve managed to secure free entrees and free drinks for our whole party!
We honestly can’t tell you the difference between any of these restaurants.
Champagne breakfast and Curry for tea. Both are fit for the Kings and Queens we’ve witnessed in between.
Did you know that the top of the double decker buses is white? They’re only red on the parts that can be seen from street level.
London really is almost as damp as its reputation. However its most famous weather phenomenon – the Pea Souper London Fog, when you can’t see the hand at the end of your arm – is actually a relic of the industrial revolution. The coal dust and factory smoke created that atmosphere; their departure from the city also took away the pea souper.
Transport for London ensures the same card – the Oyster Card, which is worth buying even for a short trip because the deposit is refundable – can be used on all London buses, the Underground, the DLR, and even trains inside the city.
Ascend the tallest building in the Western hemisphere for stunning views
Sample some of Toronto’s finest beer
Take a relaxing walk along Lake Ontario
Fit in just one more Poutine at the best sports bar in the country (world?)
We’re not going to try to compete with yesterday’s natural phenomenon – Niagara Falls.
Instead, today we’ll explore Toronto at a leisurely pace, checking out some of the major sights and exploring some of the lesser known secrets of this great city.
To begin the day, our local guide Christine is taking us to one of the most instantly recognisable, and most visible, landmarks in the city of Toronto – the CN Tower.
Way, Way Up in the Sky
It’s surprising to learn that it was Canada, and specifically, Toronto, that for the thirty-one years between 1976 and 2007 held the record for having the tallest free-standing structure in the world. We tend to think of Canadians as amiable and unassuming, and not given to flights of ego-boosting displays of stacking concrete towards the sun, but there you go.
The CN Tower, at 553 metres (taller if it is a sunny day) is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and topped by just 5 other buildings in the world. It absolutely towers over the Toronto skyline and on a sunny day you can even see New York from the observation deck.
The tower is so tall that helicopters were called in to add the top components, but built so accurately that it’s vertical alignment varies less than 30mm across the height of the structure.
The futuristic lifts rush us up the open sides of the structure, and watching the ground whizz away from us is a ride worthy of a theme park. We just hope they don’t suddenly disengage and drop us back down.
Up in the observation deck, the view is absolutely astounding. We’re so high up it almost feels like we could begin to see the curvature of the Earth (in reality, we’d need to travel up another 30,000 feet or so). The landmarks of Toronto are easy to pick out, and it’s even possible to watch planes take off from a nearby airport.
Another astounding feature of the CN Tower is the see through floor. If you’re brave enough to stand on the glass, you’ll be able to see out the bottom of the observation deck. Take a close look at the photograph just below – that’s a view straight through the floor, all 550 metres of cold thin air to the ground below.
With panoramic views in all directions, you could easily spend the morning wandering around to take in the vast field of view the CN Tower affords at this height.
This panoramic photo gives a sense for the perspective that the CN Tower gives from it’s observation deck – it is hard to believe that a man-made structure can allow you to be so high up, without needing wings.
For the braver travellers amongst us, you might want to take up Christine’s challenge of completing an EdgeWalk (we didn’t – yes, we’re scared. Ok?).
This adventure (shudder) activity takes you out into the open air for a long, terrifying walk around the edge of the CN Tower, attached to the building by not much more than a rope. Your kind of thing? Watch the video below to see what it’s like. Us – we’re just going to enjoy a coffee and try not to think about how high up we are.
“It’s got what in it?”, we ask, as Christine brings out the plates.
“Curd cheese, hey – it’s great! Come on, try it – it’s Poutine! You have to!”
Canada’s national dish is an addictive combination of fries, gravy, and the slightly weird addition of curd cheese. It sounds less enticing than it actually is, and when you combine it with locally brewed craft beer, like we did at the Mill Street brewery, you’ll find yourself reevaluating the use of curd in everyday cuisine.
The hot, salty, savoury mouthfuls go down much faster than is credible, especially the chipotle variety (although this may be considered blasphemy). Offset by a palette-cleansing clean Pale Ale, we’re convinced.
Poutine is awesome – why is it only in Canada?
Walk the Lake Ontario path
Poutine is awesome but after a bowl of it (alright alright – two bowls. Plus some ribs) there is a definite need for a walk to assist our good digestive health.
A short drive takes us to the edge of Lake Ontario. One of the five Great Lakes, and the 14th largest in the world, it’s primary source is the Niagara River and it partially separates the United States and Canada.
Today the air is chill but the freshness of the air, and the sight of waterbirds skimming the lake’s edges, help us overcome the impending food coma and to relish the outdoors, even in a large city like Toronto. We won’t have time on this trip to make it to some of Canada’s true wilderness, but the long distance that Lake Ontario runs out to the horizon holds the promise of more exploration to come in our future.
This is just one of two hundred High Definition Televisions at the Real Sports Bar in Toronto. The TV you see above is 39 feet across. The atmosphere when the Maple Leafs are playing is incredible, and just about the only thing that could get us to tear our eyes away from the screen are the incredible buffalo wings and pints of Molsen that keep arriving at our table with alarming regularity.
One of the beating hearts of sports fans in this sports mad country, you have to go see a game at the Real Sports bar if you’re in Toronto. You won’t know what it means to be obsessed with sport until you do.
We leave the hustle and pace and crowds of the Big Apple behind after three days in New York (Day One, Day Two, Day Three) for the comparative serenity of Toronto, on the east coast of that fair northern land – Canada.
But we’re not long in the city before Christine, our Toronto local guide, hustles us into her car and we’re out on the road.
Seems that New York isn’t the only town with hustle.
a lovely drive along Lake Ontario towards…
one of the world’s most well-known natural wonders – Niagara Falls
warm up afterwards with a Canadian national beverage
fit in a spot of bargain outlet shopping, then
sample some of the strangest wine in the world
The meandering drive from Toronto to Niagara Falls follows the curves of Lake Ontario as we leave the city. It’s mainly highways for the first part of the trip, but we are treated to views of the massive lake extended long out into the horizon in the morning sunlight.
Gradually the development begins to become less apparent and our expectations perk up. Niagara Falls, such a renowned natural wonder, is sure to be set in a location of spectacular natural beauty itself, showcasing the landscape and wildlife of southern Canada. Surely?
Natural Wonder + Casino
Niagara Falls is actually very heavily developed – to the point of absurdity, really.
We approach the falls from the Canadian side, which has the best view (no, really – it does – sorry USA) and instead of being gradually led through forests and mountainside to see the towering falls up gradually appearing in the distance behind sun-dappled trees, we just suddenly arrive smack bang in the middle of a miniature Las Vegas.
It feels a bit “oh yeah, there are some big waterfalls around here somewhere – but wouldn’t you rather play another hand of blackjack”.
We shouldn’t be surprised, though. According to the Niagara Parks agency, there was an admission fee to see the falls back in 1832. They say;
The first enclosed stairs were built in 1818, and a spiral staircase was constructed in 1832 for visitors to enter what was then called the “Sheet of Falling Water” attraction. The admission fee was $1, and for an additional dollar, certificates were presented to those who had completed the trip behind the Falls.
Being a tourist attraction is old hat for Niagara Falls.
The pristine view that we were expecting at Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.
We don’t have any photographs to share of the long line of casinos and massive hotels that line the upper banks along the Falls, because who wants to see that? Just prepare yourselves, is all we’re saying – if you’re expecting Niagara Falls to be remote and untouched, you’re going to be disappointed.
Now that is out of the way – we can talk about the Niagara Falls waterfalls.
The sun is out and the wind is up a little, and everywhere around the falls there are miniature rainbows following you around.
If the world was just we’d be spotting pots of gold everywhere we looked, and little leprechauns would be carrying our things for us and calling us ‘Sir’, but the world isn’t just and this is Canada, not Ireland. No gold today.
Rainbows need water, by the way, and they’re caused by the sheer volume of water pouring over the edge of the falls and being picked up by the wind. It means that it is seriously wet around here – yes, even two hundred metres away from the falls. We would have been smart to bring an umbrella, or a waterproof jacket with us. This is definitely a sun shower – no clouds needed.
The archetypal Niagara Falls image, like the amazing photograph above, is found on the Canadian side of the border between Canada and the USA, close to the Horseshoe Falls. As we get close to the guard railings it is almost too hard to process the sheer power and volume of the water that must be rushing through the falls every second. The long curve of the Horseshoe gives an incredible perspective to the vivid green water contrasting against the pure white of the voluminous spray.
Christine turns to us and asks; want to get closer?
Not really, we think.
Behind the Niagara Falls
Somewhere in the vicinity of four milion cubic feet of water go over the falls every minute (we used Imperial because it sounds bigger; in Metric it’s around 100,000 cubic metres).
Christine grabs our tickets for the Journey Behind the Falls experience. We’re handed a (biodegradable) waterproof poncho and squash into an elevator that feels like it was part of the very first tourist attraction in Niagara Falls that we mentioned earlier.
We descend in the depths of the rock before the door creak open and we step out into tunnels built as far back as 1889. “They’re safe” we’re assured.
The noise, the roar from the falls is more than sound. You can feel the pressure and deep, low thrum generated by these elemental forces, and it is especially overawing as you get closer to the tunnel exit and begin to glimpse the tonnes of water rushing past at sixty-five kilometres an hour.
As you can see in the photograph, there are no real barriers to stop you from getting as close as you wish to the waterfall. Of course, most people, us including, are keeping a very, very respectful distance away from the edge of that ledge. We’re around one-third of the way down the waterfall but that is still a drop of 34 metres.
At the mouth of another tunnel exit, we head outside underneath a platform to get a better view of the waterfall, and are numbed by the relentless spray and the perspective that this view affords.
It is an awe-inspiring view. Cold; but awe-inspiring.
Warming back up
We’d be remise if we didn’t mention, at this point, one of Canada’s national drinks.
Tim Horton’s, the Canadian version of Starbucks crossed with Dunkin’ Donuts, is exactly what we need to warm up. The Vanilla Cappuccino goes down a treat…as does the second.
Finally some warmth returns to our extremities, and it’s time to move on to our next activity.
In the mood for a bargain?
The Canada One outlet stores near Niagara Falls are a must-visit if you’re looking to grab some bargains while you’re in Canada. We managed to pick up discounted Coach, Ralph Lauren Polo, Colorado, and Nike gear – so much that our poor little car complained the whole way back to Toronto.
It’s Cold in Canada, hey. Ice Wine, hey.
Christine drives us away from the commercialised, yet naturally compelling, Niagara Falls and promises a unique taste experience next.
We’re on the way to the Jackson-Triggs winery, in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Canada is one of few nations in the world who can produce a type of wine known a ice-wine. The tradition originally comes from Germany, with whom Canada competes with for ice-wine supremacy. Of Canada’s annual production, most comes from Ontario, and the micro-climates of Niagara-on-the-Lake make this an ideal location to sample this unusual type of wine.
Invented by accident by those crazy Germans, the point is to leave the grapes on the vine through several frost-thaw cycles, and when pressing them, to aim for an optimal mix of thawed and semi-frozen grapes. Too cold, and you could break your winepress, as this NYTimes article describes.
Pressing the grapes while they are semi-frozen means that the water is crystallised and remains behind, leaving a concentrated cocktail of sugars to be put into the barrel.
Producing ice-wine is a risky business – there’s frost, disease, and calamity to contend with, but as the first golden drops is poured into our glass it becomes clear why this is a risk worth taking. The aroma is of caramel, vanilla, and apricots, and we debate whether there’s a hint of musk.
If you really, really want to feature on the Today Show – win a hotdog eating contest or similar. Otherwise, arrive early.
There’s every excuse for more American coffee this morning, as we find ourselves outside Rockefeller Plaza in the early morning. The Today Show is a New York institution – while the telecast starts at 7am, we’re here just after 6am and we are far from the first people here. Quirky signs (and comfortable shoes) abound. We’re all hoping to find ourselves in the background of this program, broadcast coast to coast in the States and also across Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the Philippines…honestly, we’re also a little star-struck just being this close to Al Roker!
We make it to the first weather segment – and then it’s time for bagels. As we wander down Fifth Avenue, admiring the commuters because it’s still too early for most tourists, the choice of an easy breakfast location is easy. We turn left onto the famed 42nd Street … and find ourselves in the food court of Grand Central Station! Bagel in one hand, fresh coffee in the other, we stand as a group inside the main concourse.
Can you believe in the late 1960s multiple plans were drawn up to demolish this cavernous space and replace it with a tower block? Jackie O was among the more famous New York personalities to rail against it, referring to New York’s “proud monuments … and beauty to inspire our children”.
Empire State of Mind
Few places in the world are more beautiful and inspiring than this, atop the Empire State Building. Two days ago we climbed 30 Rock during the evening; now is an opportunity to see the New York vistas in full daylight (although the cold weather up here doesn’t make it feel like full daylight!).
Walking around the observation deck is made all the more impressive by having had two day’s experience walking around the New York streets below – we can see where we crossed Central Park; up Fifth Avenue all the way to Tiffany’s; across to the Brooklyn Bridge; and down past 1 World Trade Centre to (just, in the distance) The Statue of Liberty.
Balloons flying over Central Park.
You can always go – Down town! (Wait, we went yesterday.)
From here we can also look down at Midtown – Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Greenwich Village, where our feet will take us next.
A Shadow of Itself.
Just as we prepare to depart, there’s a final moment to take in this majestic spot. From An Affair To Remember to Chuck standing gilted in Season 3 of Gossip Girl, the top of the Empire State Building holds a place in our cultural heart. And here we are!
Living the High Line
New York’s most famous mode of transport has to be its subway system (though we’ll admit the yellow cab – WATCH OUT! there’s another one about to take you out as you cross the street! – is more iconic). Imagine our surprise to learn that among the most popular tourist (and, on weekends, local) destinations is an abandoned stretch of above ground rail!
The narrow gauge can make this crowded on weekends.
The High Line was built for rail, mostly freight, just before the Great Depression. At the time, it eliminated 105 street-level rail crossings in the growing city, but as rail was replaced by road and Manhattan industry was replaced by proto-Hipsters (we called them Baby Boomers back then), the line grew seldom used. There were moves to tear it down in the 1980s, but over the past 15 years it has increasingly been re-crafted as a meandering path of greenery above the hustle and bustle of the naked city.
Where else would you get this view along one of New York’s numbered Avenues?
There are seats here as well, so you can watch many New York minutes pass by.
We can see why the High Line is popular with city lunchers – and as we descend, we stumble into the equally-popular Chelsea Market. I’m going to struggle to choose between a ‘Hale and Hearty Soup’ combination lunch, or the offerings at Amy’s Bread – are you just eyeing off Elini’s New York Cookies??
Shopping, Eating, Sex and the City
There’s an Anthropologie store at the far end of Chelsea Market, and it sets the scene as we wander into New York’s Meatpacking district. We have an afternoon of wandering ahead of us, and with the funky bars only just opening it’s the boutique shops that can’t help but grab our attention. Who would have thought some of the world’s best brands – Ted Baker! Kate Spade! – would be clamouring for space in one of the 250 former slaughterhouses?
To give a focus to our wandering, we decide to head for another New York institution: Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street. Having now walked more than two dozen blocks, all of a sudden our senses are confused: New York’s famous grid system, created by the Commissioners 1811 Plan, is thrown out of whack in Greenwich Village – by 1811 this area was already a popular holiday spot for New Yorkers living downtown, and the existing streets clashed with the Grid Plan here. We double back on ourselves. Eventually.
We know we’re back on track when we see a small square with park benches full of people eating cupcakes … and across the road, a queue out the door of this – the original Magnolia Bakery location. We’ll let you in on a little secret – the cupcakes are famous, but the banana pudding is the real star. If you (or your fear of a sugar coma) limit you to just one thing, definitely choose the banana pudding. (I’ll let you have a taste of my Red Velvet cupcake.)
This is my banana pudding face.
A favourite of Sex and the City fans after it featured in Season 2, many of the same fans fail to realise that just around the corner … onto Perry Street … we can actually photograph ourselves in front of Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment!
If SATC is not your style, let’s head a few blocks further south to the corner of Bedford and Grove, where we can look up to the Friends apartment building. Don’t get caught up on which apartment is Monica’s – in the early series they were living in the top floor of a six storey walk-up, but later on they definitely had an upstairs neighbour! Strange things happen in the big city.
Powered by a cupcake and custard high, our feet are immune to pain as we walk into the final afternoon of our 3 days in New York. The districts of Soho, Noho, and Nolita provide a contrast of styles and moods – before venturing through these neighbourhoods (and Steve was right on day one, this is a city best seen on foot) we had imagined Manhattan to be a homogeneous city dominated by commercial property. In truth, and our first glimpse at the top of Central Park made this clear, this is a bigger city than we ever could have imagined, and the neighbourhoods really are distinct – and each worth exploring.
Doesn’t look like a cliche of New York, does it?
Indeed, with 3 days in New York, we’ve not had a chance to venture far afield – uptown above 100th, across to The Bronx, or Queens, or out to Brooklyn. And changing ferries on Staten Island doesn’t count. So we’ve barely scratched the surface of only one Borough!
Our final New York dinner is back on Greenwich Avenue, at the newly opened and already cool Rosemary’s. A ‘no reservation’ policy means we are rewarded for arriving early (we blame our evening flight for not being fashionably late), and the reward is an eclectic combination of flavours that are best shared as a group … and with whichever wine the server suggests – they’re all the same price at $40 / bottle or $10 / glass.
It’s going to take something impressive to better our 3 days in New York. And as we head to the airport for our very short flight, we have a suspicion that upstate there might just be something sizeable enough.
Now Spreading the Sad News – We’re Leaving Today…
Want to go? Need to know!
There are no tickets to the Today Show – finding yourself on TV is a combination of good planning (arriving well before 7am, and preparing a sign so you are ‘ushered’ into a prime position for the outside crosses) and good luck.
Tickets for the Empire State Building start at just $25, which gains you entry to the 86th Floor main deck. Buy online in advance to skip the ticket queues, and review options for the 102nd Floor top deck and express ticket add-ons that allow you to skip additional queues for the lifts. (Or just go early in the morning, the best time of day to climb the Empire State Building.)
Magnolia Bakery is a definite draw for tourists – we wanted to see where it all began, but to do so we have ignored the locations near our apartment on the Upper West Side, and this morning at Grand Central Terminal (when it was definitely bagel o’clock).
Residents have chained off access to the stoop of Carrie’s apartment, and many Sex and the City Tours New York have stopped visiting here on their request. This is understandable – and please, no repeating the drunk nighttime rantings of recovering alcoholic Patrick Casey in Season 2.
New York Taxis have a fixed fare of $52 to JFK Airport from anywhere on Manhattan. During peak hours (roughly 7am to 7pm), it’s probably more reliable to take the train out from Penn Station to Jamaica Station, and change there for the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) to JFK. For our evening flight, the taxi made perfect sense.
OK New Yorkers and New York fans – what were the most amazing things we missed in our 3 Days in New York. We’ll definitely be back! Let us know in the comments below, or come start a discussion on our Facebook page.
Tuesday starts with our NYC local Steve at the door with great news – there’s bottomless coffee at the nearby Hi Life Bar and grill for breakfast. Plus, the french toast is amazing, and every meal comes with a free side of cinnamon toast and blueberry muffins. The American diner style feels right at home here and (one more cup of joe first) it’s the perfect start to kick off our second New York day.
Hi Life Bar, on Amsterdam Street. All photos today are Copyright, All Rights Reserved, used here with permission.
We’re on the Subway again, this time heading downtown on the Green lines (we let the number 6 pass; it’s the local, and we wanted an express to go this distance) to Wall Street. Back when New York was still called New Amsterdam, a wall here marked the northern edge of the settlement – 150 years later, it became the trading hub of the growing colony. What would the earliest traders, operating underneath a tree, have thought about sub-prime mortgages and a global financial crisis?
Across the road from the New York Stock Exchange (which is actually on Broad Street) is a building most tourists traipsing through here pass right by, the Federal Hall National Memorial. It was on this site in 1789 that George Washington was inaugurated as the United States of America’s first President – and there’s a grand bronze statue of him to mark the spot.
George Washington stares down the New York Stock Exchange.
The original Federal Hall, which was also home to the Congress that passed the US Bill of Rights, was demolished in 1812. Its 1842 successor is now a free museum dedicated to the earliest national history of this country, including the Bible Washington used for his swearing in.
Lunch time today is another US culinary institution, Chipotle. We get there wandering down Broadway, and past Bowling Green, another historic site although more famous today for the giant bull statue at its apex. The bulls are back on Wall Street, and this anatomically-correct statue is always popular for photographs!
The Statue of Liberty
Our mexican fix satiated, it’s time to see that icon of immigration and New York’s melting pot culture, The Statue of Liberty. It is possible to catch a ferry out to Ellis Island, even organise to climb inside Lady Liberty, but when time is tight on your 3 days in New York the best option also happens to be the free one!
New York skyline, from the Ferry.
The Staten Island Ferry runs from the very bottom of Manhattan along the 30 minute trip to New York’s fifth borough, Staten Island. A vital commuter line, at this time of day it’s also very popular with the tourists who know that this is the free (yes – completely free) way to take a cruise right past the Statue of Liberty.
We grab a seat at the back of the boat, the better to appreciate the receding Downtown skyline as well, and prepare ourselves for the obligatory photograph!
The Statue of Liberty, as seen from the free Staten Island Ferry.
At the other end, there’s a bit of a scramble – we all have to disembark the boat and go around to re-enter for the trip back to Manhattan There are things to see and do on Staten Island … they’re just not as interesting as the afternoon we have planned.
The Sphere in Battery Park, with the eternal flame also in shot.
We come off the Staten Island ferry, and head left to Battery Park. The defensive front of the earliest settlements, the most striking feature of today’s park is The Sphere, a sculpture by Fritz Koenig that once stood in the plaza of the World Trade Centre, and was moved here – unrepaired – and placed beside an eternal flame, in memory of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
No trip to New York city is complete without acknowledging that day, and also now witnessing the birth of the new World Trade Centre site. Our next stop, then, is St Paul’s Chapel on Broadway, between Fulton and Vesey Streets. This 250 year old building survived the Great New York Fire of 1776 … and as the oldest public building in the city, it has hosted four Presidents (Washington’s pew is still on display), a future King of England, and played a central role in New York’s darkest days.
St Paul’s Chapel from the outside, and Washington’s chair inside
Located just 400 metres from where the Twin Towers fell, St Paul’s was undamaged. It immediately became a focal point for the rescue efforts. Firemen changing their boots would leave one pair atop the fence spikes of the small cemetery behind the chapel. In the days after, those boots marked many of the 343 who entered the burning buildings and did not return.
As we enter this active church, we can see the impact of September 11. For eight months after that day, this was a place of rest and refuge for the Ground Zero recovery efforts. Now it is a memorial – part solemn, as could be expected; part uplifting, as we are reminded of the best humanity can offer through the stories told here; and throughout, you are only one story, one exhibit away from tears.
A note on the boots, outside St Paul’s.
At Ground Zero itself, a phoenix has risen. 1 World Trade Center is once again New York’s tallest building, and is just the largest in a complex that will be under construction until 2020. A dedicated memorial is now open.
Insightful Steve suggests an option to liven the mood a little. Two blocks away, from the balcony of the Living Room cocktail bar of the W Hotel, we can see down into the Memorial, and over the World Trade Centre construction site. It’s an opportunity to experience the activity, without having to queue, and over cocktails there’s ample time to discuss the rest of our afternoon.
Shopping or Scenery
Some people come to Manhattan to walk the streets and feel the atmosphere while wearing out their shoe leather. Some people come to Manhattan … mostly just to buy new shoe leather.
If you’re part of the former, Steve has a plan – we’re going to cut across Downtown, and take in the New York City Hall, see the Supreme Court Building, and cross to the centre of the Brooklyn Bridge for another almost-uninterrupted view of the Manhattan skyline.
View uptown from the Brooklyn Bridge.
The alternative, should you wish, is to make the most of some of New York’s most famous bargains. We’re just a few blocks away from Century 21 … and from there you’ll have ample opportunity to wander through Chinatown and the shops of Canal Street. Keep some cash in reserve for tomorrow, however, when we hit up the fancier Midtown … and be prepared to ask yourself this question: Do you risk passing this shop buy??
Down near the WTC – what an opportunity! Probably.
New York’s Best Wine List? (And More Cocktail Secrets)
We’ll all use the Subway to head back uptown, but our destination is only to go as far as Union Square. While famous for its demonstrations, both radical and otherwise, this square was actually named because it was formed as the Union between two streets during the Commissioner’s street Plan of 1811 (that was also the one that created some sharp angles, made famous by the Flatiron building and Times Square).
We have dinner reservations at Union Square Cafe, known by the locals not only for its excellent food but also the wisdom of the wait staff when it comes to matching any of their extensive range of wines to the specific palate and food choices of each diner. Listen to their advice and, as long as your budget stretches beyond $60 bottles of excellent red, enjoy the experience.
After an exquisite meal, it’s tempting to avoid the crowds. But Times Square awaits – what to do? Listen to the advice of our New York local, of course, as Steve guides around the crowds and up to the Renaissance Lounge. Here there are cocktails and bar snacks and all the lights of Times Square, without being bumped around by out-of-towners (or New Yorkers in a rush!).
Cocktail Views of Times Square
Hover just right and … yes … we’ve secured the lounge space right by the window, where we can watch the New York evening turn into New York night.
Union Square Cafe is now open for weekend brunch – we’ve had experience of walking in off the street (admittedly, early in the evening) and been seated. Haven’t book ahead? If you’re happy to sit at the bar, walk on in and ask – you might get lucky.
There are loads of reasons to cross the Brooklyn Bridge completely and dine in a different borough. I suspect we’ll be back come Baseball season, to watch the Yankees and explore the boroughs that aren’t Manhattan – maybe even some of the State that’s not New York City!
If the idea of a New York subway ride terrifies you, then we’ve got great news – you’re living in the past, and we’re going to help you face those fears right now! Penn Station is on 34th Street, part of the famous New York grid system that makes exploring this enormous island so easy. We’re staying in an apartment on the Upper West Side, and 96th Street is a long walk from 34th!
View of the Hudson River from the Upper West Side.
Like the great underground railways of other world cities, the key to New York’s subway success is frequency. No checking timetables, we walk down to the Red line Uptown and two minutes later we’re on an express car north. At the other end is Steve – a southern-boy-cum-New-York-local, and the man behind our magic for the next 3 days.
“Leave your bags,” he says. “The city is meant to be seen above ground, and on foot.”
Central Park is a ridiculous oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle where dreams are made, yet this $528 billion real estate opportunity is the beating heart of the city. Our walk through the park, with spring greenery just starting to show in places, takes us past the top end of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. This is an overwhelming moment, the first opportunity to fully appreciate the size of New York (well, really, just the size of Manhattan – we have to remind ourselves this is just one of five boroughs).
Around most of the city, the tall buildings allow you to feel insulated, part of this block, this neighbourhood, this community. Even entering the park, the trees have a similar, insulating effect.
New York city views over the Jaqueline Onassis Kennedy Reservoir, Central Park.
Suddenly, at the top of the reservoir with nothing to block our view … we are confronted by size. By space. By magnitude. Way, way off in the distance, across this expanse of water, are the first of the skyscrapers. Trump Tower. Rockefeller Centre. The pinnacle of the Empire State Building. We know these buildings, we know their size, we know that beyond them, way beyond them in face, is downtown, where more skyscrapers stand, where the World Trade Centre stood, but we can’t even see that far from here.
This city is enormous. And yet, also, so very quiet.
Steve is just taking us across Central Park right now, and before long we find ourselves on Fifth Avenue. It’s the fancy Upper East Side, and as we turn south toward the city we enter the Museum Mile – a stretch home to many of the city’s (nay, the world’s) best museums.
Our destination is the one museum most travellers miss; it’s the one that offers the most to people like us who like good art … but really have no idea what we’re talking about!
The Guggenheim Museum stands out along the Museum Mile, Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, New York
So we pass, and appreciate the bold architecture, of the Guggenheim. We see the masses of art students sketching on the stairs of the grand Metropolitan Museum of Art (yes, even on a Monday when it’s closed!). And we stop to note a building that’s more house than museum – because that’s exactly how it was originally built.
The Frick Collection, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 70th Street, is housed in the home of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick. A collector of art, particularly European masterpieces in paint, porcelain, and sculpture, after his death in 1919 Frick’s wife and their daughter Helen worked to open the works and the home up to the public.
The Frick Collection is an impressive experience. It is not as overwhelming as a large museum, and unlike collections created by a succession of curators this very much represents the varied interests of one man. The audio guide, which is free with entry, allows you to pick and choose to learn more about the works that impress you most, from Rembrandt to Rodin. While it’s closed Monday, we’ll be back here to take it in later in our trip.
The Frick Collection, formerly the Frick family mansion.
If you don’t want to wait, you can take the virtual tour right now. Look for the paintings by American artists – only two of the 137 masterpieces Frick acquired were painted in the New World.
Strawberry Fields and Chocolate Concretes
We could follow Fifth Avenue further down, but Steve is pulling us back into Central Park. We’re crossing over it again, and 27 blocks further south it’s a lot busier here. The buzz of the crowd seems to increase as we approach the west side of the park once more – suddenly there are more people, more bikes, and more touts selling sketches they’ve made and city photographs they haven’t.
Steve reveals why – this is the area of Central Park now known as Strawberry Fields, dedicated to John Lennon who was shot dead in front of his nearby apartment. The focal point is the ‘Imagine circle’, a mosaic almost continually filled with flowers left by fans of Lennon, and those who continue to spread his message of peace.
The Imagine Circle, Strawberry Fields.
For lunch, we’re heading to the nearby Shake Shack – for an experience that’s hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been to a burger joint that was created by a fine dining chef (in this case, Union Square Cafe’s Danny Meyer). Let’s just say, this ain’t McDonalds, the vegetarian option is actually as sensational as the bacon-laden SmokeShack, and you’re a fool if you don’t also order one of the Concretes (frozen custards) as part of your meal.
Found them! The WhatNot Workshop, FAO Schwarz New York.
So after a longer wander to the bottom of Central Park we find ourselves standing in front of the life-size toy soldiers at FAO Schwarz. Tom Hanks fans will be rushing inside and upstairs – yes, the big piano that featured in the film Big is here … and yes, you can have a turn on it if you want!
You may have to wait for the kids to get off first!
Just some of the WhatNot options at the Make your own Muppet Workshop. Keep reading to see what I will make – yes, given all of these choices and an infinite Muppet world, I’m chosing to make a WhatNot that looks like me!
When you’re done, we’ll be downstairs at the What Not workshop. What Nots are the Muppets you see in the background – they were the audience for the Muppet Show, and they joined the famous Muppets (like Ernie and Bert) for the wedding scene of Manhattan. This workshop is the only place in the world where you can make your own Muppet.
The recommended ages of 5-12 are ridiculous – this is totally an adult experience, and before we know it we’re consumed in the debate about whether to go with an oval or pointed nose, and whether to dress our What Not in the Princess Outfit or the Statue of Liberty costume!
Undoubtedly the most awesome souvenir you can acquire on your New York Trip, but not the priciest. For that you have to head two blocks south, and back onto Fifth Avenue. What were we saying about great New York movies? That’s a list that isn’t complete until you add the most fabulous movie of them all, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Outside Tiffany & Co, on Fifth Avenue.
We’re sure the great folk at Tiffany’s won’t appreciate us saying this, but after you get your requisite photo outside, it’s worth walking inside just to take in this experience. Nowadays, when there’s a Tiffany store on every corner (Tiffany’s Bondi Junction, seriously?) it’s nice to breathe in the rarefied air of the 176-year-old flagship store that started it all.
There’s plenty more shopping down here on street level, but night is falling … and we have an appointment much higher up!
Top of the Rock
Most tourists head to the top of the Empire State Building, the only vista of New York where you can’t see its most famous building (because you’re standing on it!). So we’ll let you in on a little secret – Rockefeller Centre, made famous most recently as the home of TV show 30 Rock, offers a ‘Top of the Rock’ experience where you can head to the summit of this 259m high building…and see it all.
Preparing to enter 30 Rock.
Wow – be prepared for the bracing breeze as you step outside at the top! February in New York is colder at night, and 70 stories up! And then take in the panorama – first, looking out across Central Park where we walked today. Again, the size of Manhattan becomes apparent when even from this view we can barely see the other end of the park.
And then walking around, the geography of the city becomes clearer. Heading to the right, we can see past the Chrysler Building to the East River that separates Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn. The East River Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge now come into sight, exposing us for the first time to Downtown Manhattan.
Then there’s the Empire State Building itself, lit tonight in Red, White, and Blue. MidTown New York becomes obvious here, the expanse of smaller, more residential buildings that fill the space between the Empire State Building and the towers down toward Wall Street at the the bottom of Manhattan.
View Downtown in New York, from the top of Rockefeller Plaza
The brightness of Times Square stands out as we keep moving around, and beyond it over the Hudson River we can see the lights of Jersey – including Newark Airport where we arrived what feels like a lifetime ago. Returning to where we first began, and the night is setting in. Central Park is now most noticeable as an empty blackness in the heart of street and building lights. We feel you New York.
And there’s only one more experience to make this day complete, and that’s taking in a show along the world’s most famous theatre stretch – Broadway.
We have tickets to the current Broadway sensation, Newsies. Centring a Broadway musical on a mostly male cast and based on a Disney film whose success is best described as ‘cult following’ was a gamble … and this production is a jackpot!
Times Square Advertisement for Newsies, the Musical
The story of the 19th Century strike by newspaper boys against the capital excesses of the time has struck a chord in the middle of this global financial crisis. But this is not just right story, right time – this is a production that will have you humming the tune to The World Will Know and King of New York before you even realise it.
Our takeaway is also the power of male dance – put a group of guys on stage and dress them in khaki and grey and the audience has no choice but to marvel at the strength and technique these guys have.
Jaws drop. Feet tap. And as the audience empties onto the street at the end of the performance we get a feeling for why this is a city that never sleeps.
We could do anything. Mostly, we just want to play with our Muppets! (And yes, that is the Wedding Scene from The Muppets Take Manhattan playing in the background.)
New York is serviced by two major airports – JFK (out past Brooklyn) and Newark, New Jersey. You don’t want to spend time in either. Worse still, you do want to allow yourself plenty of time to get to either – public transport is more reliable than a taxi (in case of traffic issues).
Get a Metro Card (valid on both Subways and buses) and download a copy of the Subway map. If you’re staying for more than 5 days, just get a weekly card – sure, you want to walk around the city as much as possibly, but having unlimited weekly travel means never having to think about whether you can take that subway ride to squeeze in dinner at that great restaurant people keep telling you about.
If you have more time, or museums are a more important part of your travelling, take in the Met. Entry is free BUT they will try to force you into the standard donation of $25. If you can afford that, make the contribution to the future of this institution – but if you can’t, you are able to let them know that and walk right in.
Accommodation in New York is not cheap. If you ever meet a New Yorker in your travels, befriend them immediately! (Firstly, because they’re likely friendly and fabulous; prime real estate is a secondary benefit.) Airbnb was actually created in response to finding New York accommodation.