Day nine: Tuesday March 15th:
Another cloudy and cold Manhattan morning; this is the New York I was expecting – – although the unexpected spring would return by early afternoon. Today was the final of my three tours with the excellent Free Tours By Foot and after a quick breakfast at Grand Central I was off on the 5 train to Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall to meet Bob for the Brooklyn Bridge, Heights and DUMBO walking tour. As was the case with each of the other tours I took I seemed to be the only patron to adhere to the guide’s request to check in 15 minutes before the 10am departure and so there was a lot of waiting around for the rest of the group to show up. There was at least one other rival tour leaving from City Hall Park around the same time and it was quite amusing observing the other guide try to steal some of Bob’s group as they appeared! Indeed, this opposing tour set out before ours (partly because a few of our people were much too tempted by the Starbucks across the street) and we ended up welcoming some of their latecomers. It developed into a large group.
I walked the Brooklyn Bridge towards the Manhattan side last year and enjoyed taking many photographs from the Promenade, but I was hungry to learn more about the history of the bridge and the burgeoning DUMBO area. Bob’s tour did a very good job of that, despite the difficulty of trying to find a non-obstructive part of the bridge to stop a large group of tourists to explain the unique nature of the cables. It seems a little crazy to walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn with the incredible view BEHIND you, but I guess it better fits the flow of the tour and I can only imagine the difficulty in trying to organise a suitable meeting place on the Brooklyn side. The tour took in some of the beautiful brownstone buildings, the epic skyline view from Brooklyn Heights (the cloud had slowly lifted to the point where it now only hid the spire on top of the World Trade Center) and a walk through DUMBO (turns out many of the buildings down here bear the name of the Scottish immigrant who invented the cardboard box!) where we were afforded the opportunity to capture that iconic photograph with the Empire State Building standing between the legs of the Manhattan Bridge – – so happy to have gotten that shot!
The tour concluded at Jane’s Carousel, which I can imagine is quite a vision in the summer, from where I ventured towards Jay Street for a much needed hot coffee at the Brooklyn Roasting Company. Here I was tempted by the only sweet treat of my journey – a melt in the mouth peanut butter cookie – to accompany the wonderful Nicaraguan blend which I enjoyed immeasurably more than any of the regular coffees I had been drinking. After three hours on my feet this was probably the best coffee I have ever had.
Ideally when spending a day in Brooklyn my impulses would have taken me up to Williamsburg, having enjoyed a great day in the area last year, but that would only have led me down a troublesome path and I had a couple of items to tick off the itinerary later today, so instead I stayed relatively closeby and took the train to Jay St – Metrotech, where I could walk to the New York Transit Museum. What a place this is! The ‘upstairs’ exhibits about how the city’s transport system coped with 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy are extremely interesting, but it’s the downstairs level where this museum really comes into its own. There must be around a dozen trains from various eras of the NYC subway, each in the condition of the time (decoratively, at least, perhaps not scent and cleanliness wise!) It is so fascinating to see the posters advertising the new “healthy” cigarettes and the formation of NATO and the vote for “Miss Subway”. Time sped away from me down here and it was 4pm – closing time – before I knew it. This was right up there with the best $7 I spent in New York.
On the train back to High Street my mouth was already tingling at the prospect of what was to come. Last year it was recommended to me that the best pizza in NYC was at Juliana’s – but I somehow ended up eating at Grimaldi’s instead, which was fine. This time, though, I was going to make sure I got my Juliana’s. Some people might consider that one of the downsides to travelling solo is that when it comes to eating at a place like this – where pizza is sold by the pie and not the slice – you either can’t go or you have to eat the entire thing by yourself. Personally I view that as a delicious challenge. So I ordered the “small” margarita with additions of pepperoni and goats cheese and enjoyed a Brooklyn Lager as an accompaniment. Seated at the bar your appetite is only heightened when you have a bird’s eye view of your pizza being made from scratch. The thrill when you see your pizza being eased out of that huge coal oven is the closest to heaven one imagines you can feel. Or at least it is until you get that first slice in your mouth. Wow. This is surely what love tastes like.
I was tantalisingly close to finishing that entire pizza by myself, but the last slice defeated me. I couldn’t take any more. The waitress asked me if I would like it wrapped, but cold pizza doesn’t appeal to me – no matter how shameful it felt to be throwing that delicious slice away. I took a walk along the promenade to clear a little of my food intoxication before finding my way to Clark Street station (eventually – hidden inside a building, underneath some scaffold) to take the train out to the Barclays Center for that night’s Brooklyn Nets game. I went into this well aware that the Nets and the 76ers are two of the worst teams in the NBA – if not the two worst teams – hence tickets being available for as little as $10 on StubHub, but it was thoroughly entertaining fare. The Nets actually won, comfortably, and Bojan Bogdanovic had what was surely the game of his career. There wasn’t a tremendously large crowd there, but those who did turn up enjoyed themselves. It was a fun experience. Perhaps not as fun as the hockey at MSG last year, but something I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.
My plan was to finish the night off at a couple of bars I’d noted in the vicinity of the Barclays Center, but with the subway stop right there in front of me I was enticed into taking the Q train back to Manhattan to visit one of my favourite bars from 2015 – House of Brews out on W 46th. Having formulated plans in my mind for my last night in New York tomorrow I knew I wouldn’t have another opportunity to return here, and I wanted to tick it off my list. This place doesn’t have the huge selection of craft beers that many of the other bars I visited offer, but there’s a kind of charm about it that makes it feel like your local back home. I didn’t manage to repeat the fabulous 4am walk through Times Square from this bar that I experienced last year, but I did enjoy a couple of beers before retiring for the night.
Best tip today: Don’t be afraid to tackle Juliana’s as a solo traveller! Also, if you have the opportunity, take the Q train back from Brooklyn at night. I got an unexpected surprise when I was scrolling through the music on my phone and realised that those trains I was watching travel across the Manhattan Bridge earlier today…well, I was on one! You can get an excellent view of Lower Manhattan from this ride. Of course, actually walking the bridge back would be even better – but this has to be the best train ride in the city.