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New York – A Grand Central Vacation

For some time now, I’ve been promising to write a list of things to do in New York for a colleague who’ll be visiting there soon. Then I thought, better to blog it. Same result, different method. Here’s the first part:

It’s family legend that as a foetus I first kicked in New York. My parents were there because Dad had a work placement in New York for a while and Mum tagged along. I love asking her about that time. In my mind it is a different New York with a slightly faded technicolour look and lots of people wearing mini skirts, ironed hair and orange and brown striped shirts with wide collars. Inside my mother, I was coming alive. Perhaps it was New York that woke me up, with its honking yellow cabs and loud, city people. Perhaps that’s why I love the place so much.

The past couple of years, Monsieur has travelled to New York for a winter bonding session with his American colleagues. They have off-site meetings and off-site sporting fun. He has won curling contests in Mohonk (so proud!) and artfully avoided ice skating in a blizzard (Monsieur hates the cold). Then, once Action Monsieur is all actioned and bonded out, I fly across to join him for the weekend so we can have some New York fun.

For my first winter weekend spent with Monsieur in the Big Apple, the company booked us into the Roosevelt Hotel. This was a bit weird because my father used to stay there when he came to New York on business. The halls are wide, the bedrooms small, the bathrooms tired and the central heating noisily erratic, but it’s central. So central that it’s right by Grand Central Station and you can’t get any more central than that.

I love Grand Central Station. I’ve even travelled in and out of it by train when I went to visit Yale with friends. There’s something so New York about this honey stone building with its landmark clock and destination oyster bar. Once upon a time I had the oyster bar on my must-eat-here-list. Then I had a bad oyster. The poisoning was so bad that my doctor told me I could never eat oysters again because my body would remember and press the eject button. Having ejected quite enough oyster at that time, I haven’t touched one since, but I miss them terribly. A saving grace is that the Grand Central Oyster Bar doesn’t only serve oysters so I’d be perfectly safe. Today’s menu reads like a sea-lover’s dream: Maine mussels, popcorn shrimp, bouillabaisse and New England clam chowder. Bluefish, catfish, halibut and monkfish. Sea scallops, soft shell crab, fresh Maine lobster and fried Jumbo shrimp, and even though I can’t eat them myself, to read Oysters Rockefeller on a menu is to read a line of New York’s culinary poetry.  Okay, Oyster Bar at Grand Central, you are on my list for next time.

Apart from the trains and the Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station has a great little shopping mall. There are gift shops and a Banana Republic, food shops and florists and hair salons… and, best of all, a food market!

Food markets are my thing. I love them. I take photos in them while Monsieur buries his head in a cookbook, trying not to be associated with that strange woman who insists on photographing fruit. I love the smells and the colours and the textures and the inspiration. I love talking to the chicken man about the best way to prepare his breasts (yes, I know how that sounds). I love the spices, the recipe cards, the ingredients I’ve yet to try, the vegetable I’ve never seen before because it isn’t popular where I live. Grand Central Market is one of these places. If you love food, you must visit. The last time I went, the fish stall had the best looking tuna burgers you can imagine – all minced yellowfin pressed into patties with a few breadcrumbs, a squeeze of lemon and tufts of fresh coriander…

Razzbuffnik will be pleased to hear that there are only two Starbucks in the entire mall, and there’s even a museum shop to keep trainspotters happy. Called The Transit Museum Gallery and Store (related to The Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights), there’s all sorts of transport-related paraphernalia to add to your collection, alongside changing exhibitions. If I run out of my favourite face cream, there is an Oliviers & Co selling olive-based products direct from la belle France, and if you’re there on a Wednesday or Friday, you can join one of the free tours of the station to hear its fascinating history and how it has been saved, on more than one occasion, from the wrecking ball.

If you do visit Grand Central Station, stop in the main concourse and remember all those moments when this backdrop has been immortalised on film, and then, slowly, look up. It’s the Sky Ceiling, and if you know anything about astronomy, you’ll see that it’s back-to-front.

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