I was pretty excited – it had been twelve years. Far too long. I skipped to Heathrow, which is reliable for free morning drinks (a delightful combination of Chocolate Luxe Baileys and Whiskey). For a few seconds I thought we were being upgraded – then came crashing back down to earth when we were told that the priority desk was being used as they were too busy. Apparently that doesn’t happen after 9/11.
A friendly Aussie in shorts calmed my nerves during take off with his incessant talking. The big question – which in flight films? First off – Before Midnight (I loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset). The third instalment of the Delpe/Hawke trilogy didn’t disappoint, and was just as wordy. I felt duty bound to watch Gatsby as I was going to New York, but just ended up getting annoyed at the similarities to Moulin Rouge and wished they had tried something a bit different. I had to counterbalance all this with something daft – Hangover Part 3 did the trick. The bit with the giraffe is classic.
I had to force myself to remember I was a vegetarian on the plane – the pasta option looked too insipid, but was surprisingly good. I wanted to have a few drinks to calm my nerves, but my pregnant sister was on alcohol control so I was only allowed two Proseccos, and my obligatory, every time I fly, tomato juice. I never normally drink tomato juice – weird. I also have a strange problem where I have to enter the in-flight quiz and win at all costs.
I had never flown into the States in the fall as they call it, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The colours were spectacular and way brighter than our autumnal efforts. The excitement of getting off the plane and doing the taxi ride into Manhattan was slowly ruined by the size of the queue to get through immigration, which leaves you wondering why taking fingerprints and a quick selfie is such a problem. Damn terrorists. I suppose its better to be safe than sorry but we missed the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at Brooklyn Museum because of it! Not pleased but thank God for modern technology to see it online (I have since learned it’s coming to The Barbican in London – phew).
The thing that strikes you about the taxi ride to Manhattan is the rows of strange wooden houses either side of the freeway which leaves you wondering – who lives there? (slightly Through the Keyhole-like). I also enjoyed seeing empty school buses. The traffic is incessant and the drivers speed around driving with one hand. We passed Flushing Meadows, home of the US Open (I so want to go), Queens Museum and many bridges.
The hotel certainly made up for the hanging around at the airport. The Surrey is modern, understated elegance with great staff who will bend over backwards to help and assist. Anywhere that starts serving free champagne at 6pm is fabulous in my book. A large Kate Moss portrait hangs in the lobby, where you can buy Karl Lagerfeld Tokidikis and Mary Katranzou purses. The bedrooms are minimalist and elegant with Egyptian cotton sheets, rooftop views, a very stylish well stocked mini bar and an amazing king sized bed, which shouldn’t really be in there as you don’t want to get out and sightsee because it’s so, so comfortable. Putting coffee table sized Lanvin and Vanity Fair cover tomes in there didn’t exactly make me want to leave either. There’s a gorgeous rooftop terrace and a spa filled with Taschen art/fashion books – my kind of place. The hotel is in a convenient spot in the Upper East Side, just off Madison Avenue (fashion and credit card heaven or hell, depending how you look at it) and right next to Central Park.
We got to the hotel at about 5pm, and my sister needed to sleep so I marched off down Madison Avenue to check out the window dressing of some of the most sought after fashion houses in the world. I was happy to see Laduree and Dipthque a minute’s walk from the hotel. The Whitney Museum is five minutes down the road, housing work from some of America’s most famous artists and a great exhibition from Robert Indiana. After 6pm there is a” pay what you can afford” scheme at the major museums to attract the masses.
I’m funny, I take pleasure from the free and small things you see when you are in a place different to your usual surroundings – supermarkets, products, signs, logos, design, branding. I became obsessed with this fruit drink called Snapple twelve years ago when I first visited so I stocked up on that, and their chips/crisps are way better than ours. I screamed a very Carrie SATC type scream when a large mouse ran across my path. I started to get confident at crossing and skipped across as the countdown started, and just marvelled at the very fact of being there, when it was so unexpected (I won a competition). The main thing I noted was that I could actually breathe, which I didn’t really expect in a city with nine million inhabitants. This was an interesting fact which stuck in my brain the whole time there.
After getting a bit of R & R after a longish flight, we put on our glad rags and headed down to the hotel bar – Bar Pleiades to listen to jazz, and grab a couple of cocktails. My Kir Royale was a cool $25, but what the hell, I’d already had free champagne and knew that getting drunk would not be the best idea when I had the world’s tightest sightseeing schedule the day after. It was just nice to soak up the atmosphere and people watch, and be dressed up in such a cool place.
Early to bed, early to rise. An earth shatteringly early morning call ripped me from a delicious dream. Breakfast in the hotel was divine – smoked salmon bagel for me, crab benedict for the sis. Just time to walk through the Park before the necessary Sex and the City Tour. Yes, it may be 2003 and there are many other places to visit but we love the show and well, just needed to do it. It was fun on the coach, with little TV screens reminding you of scenes. The guide was funny and very NYC, an aspiring actress looking to get her break in the hopefully up and coming SATC 3 movie, which SJP has been quoted as saying will stay true to New York (hopefully no more annoying jaunts abroad). Our first stop was a sex shop, Pleasure Chest, featured in the Rabbit episode, where Charlotte doesn’t leave the house for a week and the girls have to stage an intervention. Then we were shown bars, restaurants (Buddakhan – where the Big/Carrie pre wedding dinner was held – long table – we luckily had a reservation for that evening) and had a Cosmo in Scout (O’Neills in real life). The only disappointment was not seeing Carrie’s apartment – I’m thinking that the owners may have put a stop to the coaches going up and down the street.
The tour stopped in Soho so we thought we’d check out more shops and have a wander. I liked the street vendors, selling cool souvenirs – graffitied material to hang on your walls, paintings, fake jewellery (got some great Van Cleefs), the obligatory hot dogs, film and TV scripts, you name it they had it. I saw quite a few pop up galleries – the street art scene is very big in NYC as well as London. My sister stopped for a crepe and we checked out APC and Marc Jacobs.
As we had booked for Buddakhan we had to spend a bit of time getting dressed up (Westwood Halston 1970 dress, leather jacket and heels). The restaurant is in Soho so we hailed a taxi and got out just in time to witness a spectacular fight between a taxi driver and some guys from Queens, apparently. I heard the best insult ever – “you’re a frickin’ jerk off and you’re never gonna get laid again!” We saw a few altercations in the street, not physically violent but it seems like having a good go at each other is necessary as a release in this frenetically paced place. After the taxi driver dropped us off in the wrong place (this seems to happen A LOT) we found the restaurant with minutes to spare, which was, true to form, packed to the rafters. It was dark, trendy and loud, with high ceilings and lots of Buddhas.
Luckily we were seated really fast and had already taken a peek at the menu and knew what we wanted. If you do the SATC tour you get free cocktails when you get Dim Sum there. I settled on shrimp referred to as “crack shrimp” by the waitress, then scallops, which were juicy and huge. My sister got the most amazing lemon chicken I had ever tasted. The food and service were amazing, bearing in mind it serves nearly 1000 people a night. We smirked at the conversations around us (all New York women seem talk about is dating and men) and gossiped about home. I had the pleasure of hailing another taxi (I had gotten used to it by now) and we were whisked back to the comfort of the hotel.
On Sunday, sadly the last day, I got up early as I wanted to fit in as much as possible before 5pm when we had to go back to JFK. My crab benedict for breakfast was sublime, and then time to pack a few things before heading to the Cornelia spa in the Surrey. After the craziness of the Saturday, this was a welcome respite. Upon entering, you are guided to an individual booth where you are served herbal tea and given a heated aromatherapy pad to put around your shoulders.The spa has a great selection of art and fashion books (Taschen) and I had to be practically dragged for my treatment. My therapist offered me a spoonful of honey whilst she explained the treatment. I was getting a Chemistry facial which was a little painful at the beginning (extraction and dermarolling) but fell asleep half way through, I think it was a lot to do with the hot towels after the cleansing and the subliminal beat of the relaxation music. I came round and was taken back out into the calming reception, given a cocktail glass filled with superfood and fruit to give me energy and mini lemon cookies. The spa has a great selection of products and jewellery for sale. The therapist gave me the dermaroller and cleanser, an unexpected surprise! After a generous tip I floated back downstairs and set out to find my sister, who had hit the new Nike store on 3rd Avenue and was in the middle of buying some cool khaki hightops. I befriended the sales guy, a lot of people want to do house swaps – who am I to complain?! On the way there I walked past Michael Gambon aka Prof Dumbledore from Harry Potter and did a double take. This is one cool place.
I got to hail another taxi to get to MoMA, which proved difficult as the yellow cabs wouldn’t stop. There’s something about standing with your hip jutting out and your arm out that is empowering. Some friends had been to the Museum of Modern Art a few weeks ago and highly recommended it. The permanent collection is certainly something to write home about, with works from Matisse, Kahlo, Duchamp, Kandisky, and Picasso, to name but a few. I was lucky enough to be there to see the Belgian Surrealist artist – Rene Magritte’s exhibition, and I needed my perception of reality challenging.
The exhibition focusses on the breakthrough years from 1926 to 1938. I was excited to see classic works such as The Treachery of Images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), The False Mirror and The Eternally Obvious. I then really enjoyed discovering works I wasn’t aware of, like This is a Piece of Cheese and The Portrait, even though I felt like I had to hightail around it in about twenty minutes. I even got started on New York style in the queue for Magritte by a particularly nasty piece of work who was telling her parents that I’d “cut in” when I certainly hadn’t. I told her in no uncertain terms that I could hear what she was saying, and then couldn’t resist telling her to “pipe down” which obviously went way over her head. Victorious.
From Surrealism back to reality, back to the hotel, back to JFK and back to London. It was like a dream. But it was the best weekend of my life. Up until I lost the duty free Moschino designed bottle of Disaronno somewhere on the way back home. Some things never change.
http://www.barpleiades.com/ – hotel bar
http://www.cafeboulud.com/nyc/ – hotel restaurant
http://thesurrey.com/Spa.aspx -The Cornelia Spa
www.moma.org – Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926 – 1938 (September 28, 2013 – January 12, 2014)