We spent the last week or so in New York, a favourite destination and one we've visited umpteen times, probably more than any other city in the world.
Whilst the plan was to include some of the usual stuff, both new to us and old haunts, (a Broadway show, the High Line, viewing the skyline from platforms at the top of very high buildings, Grand Central Terminal, a museum or two and yes, I know its a pharmacy but, for some strange reason, Duane Reade is always a must visit), this time round we opted for a different experience, staying in an area we weren't familiar with, apartment instead of hotel, well away from the popular tourist trails, living amongst local people, in Alphabet City, part of Manhattan's East Village.
Our accommodation was surprisingly airy and spacious. It was also unexpectedly (given the owner's emphasis on a 'no shoes, please' obsession with cleanliness) grubby. Very grubby. So much so it necessitated a trip to the shop to buy bleach and antibacterial wipes and an hour or three of vigorous squirting and cleaning. Not quite what I'd planned to do on the first day of the holiday but hey ho.
The neighbourhood, on the other hand, was fascinating with its distinctive old tenements, streets full of little independent shops and eating places (no big names here), endless opportunities for watching its mix of residents (which included Spiderman and yes, you read that right) going about their daily business.
Surprisingly, the area also has the highest concentration of delightful community gardens in the whole city, those odd little spaces often between tenement buildings, those once derelict plots which have been rescued, planted and tended by groups of residents.
Previous visits haven't included many meals as such but plenty of delicious snack foods - bagels, muffins, pretzels, pancakes - and we certainly indulged this time round, although there was a gem of a vegan restaurant within walking distance of the apartment and delicious pizzas with the thinnest crust imaginable just up the road.
In the absence of Boo, who was staying with a carer, there were also unexpected daily pooch fixes at Tompkins Square Park, previously known as 'Needle Park and once a crime hotspot to be avoided at all costs. Now it's a community managed greenspace with a couple of enclosed runs where locals can exercise and socialise their dogs. The Hallowe'en parade had been and gone but I'm sure I recognised some of those faces sans costumes.
Opportunities for cat contact were plentiful, too, as most of the shops we popped into had a resident kitty and a couple of cat adoption groups welcomed visitors to play with their hopefully temporary residents for a small fee.
During all the visits we've made to New York, we've only ever come across one celebrity (not counting those signing autographs at stage doors). That was Lauren Bacall who, years ago, was filming an advert but who graciously posed (unasked) for a photograph.
On our penultimate day, we spent several hours in MoMA ogling (and why do people old enough to know better insist on getting too close to exhibits just to be photographed with their phizogs slap bang next to works of art?) the Picassos and van Goghs, the Chagalls, Rousseaus, Kandinskys, Mondrians and more. .
Outside the museum we were heading for coffee when the Boy bumped into a passer-by who looked familiar. Yep. Michael Bublé. An unexpectedly short Michael Bublé . Seriously, he's tiny.
As the area in which we were staying was not close to a subway station (one of the reasons it's not heaving with tourists), we mostly used Uber taxis (door to door service in luxuriously roomy SUVs driven by smartly suited drivers, what's not to like?) when getting from A to B wasn't walkable.
New York traffic was predictably manic but the big surprise was the number (which has apparently tripled in recent years) of cyclists on the roads. And sometimes the pavements. And frequently travelling in the wrong direction. Ignoring crossing pedestrians. At top speed.
One evening, I had an encounter with one such cyclist. Actually a very close encounter. Like, whoa, where did you come from? Cue knee slamming against kerb and head making painful contact with a concrete post. Mine, I hasten to add, not the cyclist's. Most unexpected. As was a first ride in an NYC ambulance and visit to the emergency department. First CT scan, too. Luckily, I didn't need putting back together, just ice packs, strapping and Tylenol. (But, given also that the Boy unexpectedly developed a chest infection, it did mean that some of the stuff we'd hoped to do just didn't happen.)
I must say, though, that the care, courtesy and attention delivered by everyone in the medical team, from the cleaner to the consultant, that night was exemplary, outstandingly so, the kind of high quality patient experience you'd wish for everyone, wherever they happen to be. And the passer-by who called the ambulance was heard to estimate my age as being a decade younger than I am. Love that man!
So that was the Big Apple.
Until next time.