Sunday January 13, 2008
It was past 11.00 AM
when I got off flight SQ
26 from Frankfurt. I waved goodbye to 9V
-SWM the aircraft that flew me to JFK
We arrived at Terminal 4. I had all my immigration documents on hand and ready to be submitted. I had checked no bags so I got off the aircraft and could proceed directly to passport control and customs.
The immigration officer was rather courteous this time. He asked me a few quick questions mostly how long I was going to be in the country and what was the purpose of my visit. Then I was asked to place both my index fingers on some strange machine for inprints. The next step was a quick picture session with a webcam. I got my passport back to which the immigration officer had stapled the lower part of the green paper I had to fill in.
I did not have to wait for any baggage in the baggage claim area so I proceeded to the exit sign then I got in line and I handed my customs declaration form to the Customs officer. I was finally out in the arrivals hall, free and ready to go!
Terminal 4 is a modern, efficient and spacious terminal, probably the nicest one at JFK
. I had forgotten all about the jetlag. I was happy to be in the Big Apple! I still had a good part of my day and wanted to get the most of it. The next step was to find transportation to Manhattan.
My choice was already made. I wanted to take the Subway. To get to the NY City Transit, I had to take the Air Train JFK
's light rail system.
I find the $ 7 fare to ride the Air Train quite steep. A few stops and I was at Jamaica station.
I had to pay $ 2 for the Subway to get me into town. I took the E train to 7th Avenue station in Manhattan, then transfered to the D line to 59th Street Columbus Circle where I transfered again to line 1 Uptown to where I was going. This took me about one hour.
I am an Upper West Side buff. My place of residence for the two nights was the International Youth Hostel on Amsterdam Avenue and 103 Street, not really for the hostel itself but for the area where it is located. I have stayed there a squillion times. I always liked this neighborhood, known as Morningside Heights. This is where I would stay if I lived in New York City. You can learn more about it by going to the following site. See the map here:
This building -an old neighborhood landmark- has an most interesting history. You will learn all about it by reading the story on this link taken from the New York Times:
After I checked in at the hostel, I had pre-booked as the place is extremely popular due to its reasonable prices, I decided to go out and explore and see what was old, and new.
My first visit was for the Cathedral of St John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue and 114th Street. I wanted to see if they had made improvements restoring the building after the 2001 fire. The former cathedral organist, Dorothy Papadakos is a good friend of mine. She got married and moved to another part of the contry but she is still the same great musician.
You can learn more about St John the Divine by going to the cathedral website:
Walking around the cathedral's sculpture gardens, I made an unexpected encounter with a majestic white peacock:
The cathedral is still incomplete. The organ was burned. It is now being restored. All the pipes were taken down. It will be back in November 2008 if all goes according to their plans and inaugurated. The cathedral construction is still in progress. This cathedral was never completed. Work is still in progress. The building keeps going up from various private donations and funds. You can hearr the carillion at every hour.
The other reason why I wanted to go up there was the Hungarian Pastry Shop across the avenue. Unfortunately it was closed because they were remodelling the kitchen. They were going to re-open a week later. The place is a neighborhood institution, owned by a Greek man. I have been going there for ages although I was out of luck this time. Sorry, no pictures, only a web log about the place. You can see the Greek owner behind the pastry counter.
As I was out of luck with this place, I went to another of my favourite neighborhood hangouts, Metro Diner. 2641 Broadway (at 100th St). This place is also owned by a Greek man from Corfu. Prices have gone up since my last visit (it's Manhattan). The food is great and the portions are plentiful. I always sit a the counter and like to share stories with other clients.
They have the absolutely best cheesecake in town and very good coffee. A lot of locals there and very family friendly. A heaven for breakfast. I go there every day when I am in the city. I save the Hungarian Pastry Shop for the evening. This was my first slice of cheesecake on this trip.
This is a very lively area with Columbia University a few blocks up the road with a campus that is very spread out (see above map) and lots of students. There are lots of affordable coffee shops, bakeries, pizza and bagel places, ethnic restaurants and pubs and every kind of store you can imagine.
Riverside church is another very large and most interesting church not too far up on Riverside Drive. I did not have time go visit this time. Riverside Drive always makes for some nice walks along the Hudson River. You feel like you are miles away from the big city.
I was starting to get tired. I had made the best of what was left of my day walking around the neighborhood. The jetlag was starting to do its job so I walked back to the hostel. It was getting dark. the weather was clear and cold. Time to go back in and get some rest. The place had people from all over the world. I chatted with a few of them. I went to my assigned room and started thinking of what I was going to do on the Sunday. The evening was reserved for the Harbour cruise, boarding time 5.00 PM
. I was looking forward to the next day.
What to do in New York City on a Sunday morning you wonder? This is a city with plenty to do according to every visitor's taste. One can spend day after day in the numerous museums. You have a choice between the Metropolitan, Whitney, Guggenheim, Cooper-Hewitt, Frick, NY City and Natural History, Brooklyn Museum and even more. This trip wasn't going to be for museums. I just wanted to be out, get a feel for the city, go from one place to the other, hop on and off the busses and subways and see whar everyone was doing.
I was about ready to go. The hostel has a travel shop on the ground floor where subway passes can be purchased. The price of an unlimited one day Subway and bus pass is $ 7. This was my obvious choice without even thinking, so I bought my pass before leaving the building. It was about 9.00 AM
. Other than in the evening, I have made no particular plans. I was not going to do the tourist number.
My first stop was for breakfast at Metro Diner. The place was already busy with locals, younger and older alike, some coming with their families and friends, young couples with push chairs and little children. An eating place but also a meeting place. I sat at the counter and started chatting with my seating neighbor about the topics in the day's newspapers. I did not need to get a menu. I knew what I wanted. The final was another slice of their delicious cheesecake with more coffee. With the 6 hours time difference, I needed coffee to keep me awake and this was good coffee!
Time passes quickly in a place like this where everybody is very friendly and likes to talk stories in Greek, English, Spanish, Hebrew or any other language. I went to the cashier and out I go!
My morning transport choice was going to be the bus to midtown before the traffic got too bad so I could have a glimpse of the locals, hear the talks and make stops whenever I pleased. The bus stop was right across the street, the M104 going down Broadway. I was heading to W. 59th Street. This is what Uptown Broadway looked like from the M104.
I made a couple of brief stops on the way to look at some stores. I knew what I wanted to take home. Again it was not the usual tourist kind of items. I got to 59th Street, walked to Central Park corner and towards the East. I wanted to check out the Pierre landmark hotel on the edge of Central Park and 5th Avenue but the place is closed for major refurbishing. Even the Café Pierre was closed.
My next visit was St Patrick's cathedral, an appropriate stop on a Sunday morning. They were between services there were a lot of tourists and worshippers alike. I did not get to hear their sumptuous organ this time.
St Patrick's is catholic. It looks like they are rather open minded. They welcome the tourists. St Thomas (almost across the street on 5th Avenue) is Episcopal, ultra-conservative and the billionaire's church. I went there once and was scolded because I wanted to take pictures during the service. The only thing that goes for them is top-professional men and boys choir.
After the visit to St Patrick's I continued walking around the area. I went browsing through a couple of bookstores, Rizzoli's on W 57th street, Coliseum Books on Broadway at 57th, to Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue (58th Street) and Henri Bendel, I also went inside Crate and Barrel to have a look, had a walk through Rockefeller Center and a few other places. Time passed quickly.
I had not forgotten my rendez-vous the three Cunard Queens: Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Victoria sailing New York harbour for the first and only time. It took Cunard two years to prepare this event.
Elizabeth and Victoria were docked at Pier 88 and 92 at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. Mary was docked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.
It was starting to get rather cold. I hopped on the Subway to go to South Street Seaport where I was going to board the ferry for the harbour cruise. I took line 2 to Fulton Broadway/Nassau Street and I walked East towards the water. I had brought several layers of clothing for the cruise. I was going to be on the water and I knew what to expect.
At 5pm on a cold, dark, January evening I was at New York's South Street Seaport with other passengers waiting to board Miss New York to go see the historic departure of the three Cunard Queens, maritime history in the making. I had booked this harbour cruise in advance through the internet.
Drinks and hors d'oeuvres were part of the program.
We ended up sailing in the harbour for a lot longer than planned as Victoria was behind schedule. They must have had too much bubbly down at the 42nd Street terminal!
This is what the city looked like from the ferry's upper deck. The ferry was moving, I was on the upper deck and it was cold. The pictures can be a bit blurry from the wind and my frozen hands.
Going on the cruise was good fun despite the horrendous weather. There was some very nice people on board Miss New York, including a good number of NYC residents who were looking for a different view of the event.
The Queen Mary 2 was berthed at the Red Hook Piers in Brooklyn.
She was the first to arrive at 7:00 pm.
Queen Mary 2 lead the three Queens out of New York harbour.
We got at a fairly close distance of her as she was leaving in all her lights.
The three ships were surrounded by New York Fire Department boats. An hour later the Queen Victoria sailed down from the Manhattan Cruise Terminal followed by the legendary QE2. This was the last time the QE2 would be calling port in NYC
The three Cunard Queens came together in New York Harbor for the first and last time in the company's long history. QE2 got the greatest cheers amidst the fireworks display in the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. Queen Victoria looked glorious as she passed by.
This once in a lifetime meeting was brilliant.
It was raining heavily and it was cold on the upper deck on Miss New York. The vessel was moving and it was windy which made it almost impossible to to get decent pictures. This is Victoria: She is a cruise ship, not an ocean liner.
This was the last time the QE2 would be calling port in NYC. She is undoubtedly the most beautiful among the three, so elegant, long and lean like Concorde, but I thought she looked sad and not gleaming like her two Cunard sisters. She obviously did not want to have close-up pictures of her taken as she sailed off the New York harbour.
This is how she looked as she was sailing past the Statue of Liberty.
The QE2 will be retired this year after nearly 40 years in service
Slowly the three Cunad Queens sailed into the mist and disappeared on the horizon.
Ms. Carol Marlow, president of Cunard Line, which operates the three ships, said: "It's not only special because it's the first time we've had these three ships together, it's special because it will never happen again. This is a truly momentous occasion."
I was terribly sad to see them go. I will be seeing one or ther other this year, but never again will I see them sailing together. Miss New York sailed us back to the South Street Seaport at full speed. A lot of us who had stayed outside on the upper deck were frozen to death and soaking wet so we rushed inside the ferry to warm up. After disembarking, still in the pouring rain, I ran to the nearest Subway stop as fast as I could. I was happy to be on the Subway. This is an evening I will never forget.
This ends Part 3 of my trip report: A Visit To NYC To See The 3 Cunard Queens.
The story is not over yet. There is more to come.