Leicester Marathon 2014

In around February 2013 I started a “bucket list” of things to do, and I wanted to try and do as many of them as I could as soon as possible. One of those things I added was to run a marathon. At this time I never thought I’d actually do it – I hadn’t even been doing any running. At the end of September 2013 I started the “Couch to 5K” program and continued up to 10K by Christmas.

If you’re not interested in my training for the marathon and just want to see my race report, I’d recommend scrolling down now to the Leicester Marathon logo.

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, it went downhill for a while following a month off for an Antarctic expedition and then trying to pick up training again too quickly resulted in a sprained ankle which was taking it’s time to heal. Even at the time of the Lincoln 10K I still had issues with my ankle, but in the weeks that followed I’d started working my way up to 13 miles ready for trying a Half Marathon.

Since March I’d been toying with the idea of doing the Leicester Marathon, but I’d held off entering it. One of the two reasons was that I wasn’t sure if I could be ready for a Marathon by October. A friend raised a good point though, if it got to the day of the Marathon and I felt I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have to do it. Though I had no intention of backing out – if I felt I couldn’t do it I knew I’d still try anyway and would see how far I could get before being unable to continue.

As you may have read from my previous blog posts about races, I had gradually started increasing the number of miles I was doing, but did not know about “cut back” weeks. During my run on May 4th I started to get an ache in my knee but stupidly carried on for another 9 miles before stopping. This made it impossible to run on for a few weeks which did not help with training.

Once my knee was starting to feel better I started to run twice a week at a slower than normal pace and tried a couple of parkruns. By the time of the second one my knee held out for the entire run without giving me any issues or discomfort. Fortunately this was at a point when I had 16 weeks left until the marathon and I came across the Bupa “Beginner Marathon” training plan. As I’d already run 10K races and have run half marathon distance before, then technically I should probably have been using the intermediate plan (I was told as much when I was talking in a running shop whilst having gait analysis done), but coming off the back of an injury I didn’t want to overdo it too soon.

For the first two weeks it was a fairly relaxed schedule and even fit in okay with being on holiday during the second week. It was nice that week to be able to do some easy runs and a long run along the beach. The intensity of the training plan then started to pick up and during the fourth week it introduced my first ever speed training session. After this first session I though speed training was the worst thing ever – anyone who has done speed training will understand why. For this session I’d done a 10 minute warmup, then did 8 lots of 2 minute fast (5-6 min/miles) intervals and 7 lots of 2 minute slow (8-10 min/miles) intervals. This was then followed by a 10 minute cool down. I found that doing 5 minute miles was too fast for the intervals and each subsequent interval was on average slower. This was a good learning experience though for future speed work.

After 8 weeks into training I then did the BADGERS Atherstone 10K race, and my knee was once again playing up. On the day of the race it more or less behaved itself, but for the weeks that followed I had to cut back on the training a little. I removed the speed training from the training plan and started missing a number of the runs during the week. The week after doing the Robin Hood Half Marathon I did a 21.3 mile training run in New York followed by a full day of some serious walking to try and cram in some tourism. This left me barely able to go up or down stairs for the rest of the week.

With the Marathon in sight it was finally time to start tapering. The practice of tapering is where from 3 weeks before the big day you begin to reduce your runs. The first week of tapering was almost non-existent which resulted in me doing a recovery run in the rain along the Hudson River, and then the day after doing a 14 mile run around Central Park (I was still in New York at this time). For the second and third weeks I dropped my runs down to three, and dropped the speed.

For the last week I did a short 30 minute run slower than the pace I intended on maintaining during the Marathon, and then one last 20 minute jog a couple of days before the big day. It didn’t help that I was on the verge of getting a cold for most of the week, and towards the end of the week my knee started to ache.

Leicester Marathon 2014

Although the Leicester Marathon is my local race I couldn’t take public transportation to get there – the busses near me didn’t start running until after the race was scheduled to start. This left me with no choice but to drive in, so I decided I’d go early to try and get a decent parking spot. As it turned out I got there around 2 hours early and because of how cold it was waiting around I decided I’d wear an extra layer over my t-shirt (though was still cold!).

For the starting pens you get to choose which one you want to be in, so optimistically I decided I stand half way between the 4 hour and 3 hour 30 minutes pens. My hope was that if I could do 21 miles in 3 hours I’d be able to do a full Marathon in under 4, preferably around 3hr45. I think this was a decision that may have had a negative impact later on.

For the first 6 miles it was very crowded, but as soon as we hit the water station at mile 6 the people doing the half marathon went their own way leaving us to carry on heading away from the city. Up until this point I don’t really remember a great deal about what I was thinking, or how the race was going – I was just running; it felt comfortable. What I do remember though was that to try and avoid slowing down too much I kept going to the outside of the group.

Once we’d split away the numbers dropped incredibly – there were no longer masses of people in front of me and I felt I could now start to think about where I was running. To start with my strategy was to pick a runner in the distance and decide that I’d try and catch up with them by a particular mile marker and for a long time this seemed to work. Some of the routes we took seemed a little odd, such as the narrow alleyways that were only wide enough for one person but it got me to see parts of Leicester I’d never seen before.

The route

The route

By the 10th mile I’d stopped picking runners to catch up with and was running behind another runner, and stayed running behind him for quite some time (probably until around mile 16). I’d managed up until now to not take on any water, so as we hit the water station at mile 12 I decided to slow down for some, but made a bit of a mess of it. The water was being handed out in plastic cups and I lost the majority of mine before I’d even taken a sip. On the bright side though mile 12 was the first mile where I’d planned to eat a jelly baby to keep energy levels up, and this then went on for every mile up until mile 25.

At around the 12.5 mile point something a little odd happened – we crossed a level crossing, and one of the marshals commented a train would be crossing it in around 5 minutes. My initial thought was that I was glad I was not 5 minutes behind, and then those thoughts quickly turned to thinking how unlucky some of them will be to have to stop for the train. Whether anyone did have to stop though I don’t know, but we had to cross the railway line a second time a little later at around 15 miles. The marshalling for this event was brilliant though, possibly the best I’ve ever seen.

Stopping for water

For the next few miles they seemed to blend into one another, but at mile 18 I decided to try the water station again. This time I slowed to a walk so that the water wouldn’t splash around out of the cup as I ran. I think this may have been another mistake as up until then no matter how much I wanted to walk, I hadn’t. This was like giving in, and accepting I couldn’t run a marathon. From this point on I ended up taking regular walking breaks, knowing that this was having a seriously negative impact on what my finish time would be.

It wasn’t long after this (I’m not entirely sure when now), but as we were going through Watermead Park alongside the King Lear lake I’d not long had another walking break and literally minutes after I’d started off again a cyclist decided to weave in and out of the runners. I had to dart to one side to avoid being hit and rolled my ankle a little. This then provided enough discomfort to last for a few miles, by which time the thoughts of how disappointed I was in having to walk made me completely forget about the ankle.

If my memory is right, just after mile 21 we started descending down a hill from which we could see our first glimpse of the buildings at the University of Leicester. They seemed so far away, almost impossibly so, and I couldn’t imagine actually reaching them. My hopes for a great time had already been shattered, but I didn’t want to miss out on the chance for a sub-4 hour marathon – my original goal. I tried, I really did, to keep going and to make the running sections as long as possible but I couldn’t help but slow to a walk. Not long after this I made sure one of my walking breaks coincided with arriving at a water station so I could gulp down another cup of water.

By mile 22 my thighs were aching, every step I took I could feel them. Every time I tried to run, the muscles just tightened and I thought there was a real possibility I wouldn’t be finishing this race. Somehow I carried on, though my pace had slowed so much, and I felt ashamed at how badly it felt was doing. I wanted to have a look on Twitter, and to tweet that I wanted to give up, but my phone had locked itself and wouldn’t let me unlock it for 5 minutes (I have no idea why). Sometime between mile 23 and 24 we’d passed the Space Centre, an area I was familiar with, and went through Abbey Park (which I’d run through previously for Leicester’s Big 10K).

As we left Abbey Park I passed the mile marker for mile 24, I’d never run this far before and I knew I only has 2.2 miles to go. I had to do it, I couldn’t give up now, but it was so difficult. My legs didn’t want to let me do it though, and I continued with the regular walking breaks despite not wanting to. The route then continued through the subway and into the city centre going up Butt Close Lane (I’d not seen this before and did snigger a little as I passed it – yes, I’m that immature). This led us into the main shopping area and I didn’t want people to see me walking, so I tried and tried to keep on running. Just as I was about ready to slow to a walk again despite this, a friend from Twitter who had just done the Half cheered me on at a time when I needed it. For the first time in miles I kept going despite wanting to slow down, though this only lasted for about half a mile as just after passing mile 25. I then had my remaining jelly babies and hoped I could then carry on running until the end.

I hate to admit it, but I couldn’t manage to. Running up hill along New Walk I resorted to walking twice, but tried to keep these breaks as short as possible. Once we had crossed University Road I’d decided this was it, I had to ignore my legs and use up some of the energy I had left. From just before the mile marker for mile 26 I started running alongside another runner and we were neck and neck all the way until the photographer near the finish line. As we approached he looked at the camera and then swung his hands out in front of my face. I slowed down, and then feeling a little “miffed” by this I decided that I’d go for a sprint finish and ended up overtaking him and a couple of other runners before I crossed the line.

Approaching the finish

I walked straight to the tent for small tees, collected the finishers goodie bag and just carried on walking. Once I was passed the majority of people I sat down against the railing behind the St. John’s Ambulance area. I couldn’t believe I’d actually done it, though at the same time I felt so disappointed in myself for letting my head take over and allowing me to walk. Throughout the 16 weeks of training I made sure every run was with the aim to run for the whole 26.2 miles. I failed. Yet at the same time I did finish, and I did get a sub-4 hour time. I had run a marathon. There was no one to talk to about it though.

Finisher’s medal

In the goodie bag there was a technical finishers tee, a finishers medal (which I didn’t even look at until I got home), a banana, a cereal bar, a strawberry sweet, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water. I continued to sit for a while, knowing I should really be walking it off, but instead sat and ate the banana and emptied the bottle of water. Whilst consuming these I tweeted one sentence “I actually did it” and noticed I’d had a lot of tweets sent me over the past few hours, but didn’t feel like I had the energy to read them. Once done I then hobbled across Victoria Park and back to my car.

Once I got home the first thing I did was soak in the bath – it felt such a relief to be motionless for a while. The next task was to then take on some more calories – according to Runkeeper I’d burnt over 3,000 calories. Oddly though, I was hungry but didn’t feel like I could eat – I still forced myself to eat a packet of crisps, a beef sandwich and a raspberry doughnut though. Over the hours that followed my appetite came back and I found myself more than making up for what I’d burnt. In this time I also caught up on the great support from people on Twitter.

I sincerely thank each and every person who tweeted me with support before, during, and after the marathon. It meant a lot to know that. I’m also incredibly appreciative of the support of one of my good friends (and former colleague), who whilst not being able to run herself this time, was also incredibly supportive over Twitter. It’s times like this I find the #ukrunchat community to be one of the most amazing things on Twitter.

According to my watch I finished in 3:54:34. The official result though was a 3:58:04 gun time, and 3:54:30 chip time. This left me in position 216 out of 586 marathon runners (in the top 37%). I may have been disappointed with this, but it’s left me with a target to break. Next time I do a marathon it will be the Virgin Money London Marathon in 2015 and my hope is that I can improve my time enough to get 3 hours 30 minutes. There are things I can improve on. Hopefully by the time April comes I’ll be able to run the whole marathon without any walking breaks.

New York 2014 Day 9 – New York Comic Con Day 4

By this time I had hoped I would have already done three runs around New York City, but alas I had only done two and my last one had been the day before in the rain. My aim was to get in a 15 mile run in the morning before checking out and heading to Comic Con for the last time. This didn’t quite go to plan though as I only ran for 14 miles. Having run the day before, still recovering with my knee, and not having rested made this run a lot harder than it should have been.

When I got back to the hotel we sorted out our belongings and when checking out we left the majority of the stuff with the hotel to pick up later. I took my Star Trek “Federation” book with me in hope of getting Sir Patrick Stewart to sign it, and also my 150-500mm lens in case we saw a panel. Both of these I carried around in a carrier bag which admittedly was less than ideal, especially when you consider the weight of the two.

We then queued in the queue hall for one last time, this time in a row further along than before. Once it was time for the show to open we headed straight to Hall 1A10 to queue for the Karate Kid 30th Anniversary panel. The convention staff for this one were a little obsessive with asking people to fill in the gaps in the line when there were no more gaps to fill – no idea what he expected people to do. I thought at the time that maybe he expected the line to be filled tighter than a subway car would be. This only lasted around an hour though as the panel was scheduled to start at 11:00.

Ralph Macchio (Danny LaRusso in The Karate Kid)

When the panel started it turned out two whole rows were reserved for press, but only three members of press arrived which was a waste of empty seats people could have used. Ralph Macchio and company were then delayed in traffic getting to the convention centre which meant the panel didn’t start until 11:25 though sadly it didn’t over run to accommodate this. It wasn’t a bad panel and what they covered were stories about the filming of the first movie and how things have been since then. There were also a few comments about the remake, but they never gave their opinion on it.

William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid)

Martin Kove (John Kreese in The Karate Kid)

Our hope was to then queue in the autographing hall, but once again Sir Patrick Stewart had cancelled his attendance for the day and was told he would turn up if he felt like it. We couldn’t really wait around in case he decided to attend anyway, so we sat and ate some lunch and then wandered around the show floor with no real aim. I made very little attempt to take more photographs as the bag with my lens in was getting heavy and seeing the same stalls for the fourth day in a row was getting boring. It could just be that by now we were tired from how much we’d been able to do in the days that had preceded this one. Perhaps if we’d had a later flight we may have attempted see more.

New York Comic Con

Eventually we decided to leave New York Comic Con for the last time, so we took a slow walk to the Dunkin Donuts on the corner of 48th and 9th to get a donut and some hot chocolate. Unfortunately they didn’t have the lemon donut the others had available, and actually had a very small selection so I went with the Boston Scream Donut.

Cosplay: Gandalf the Grey

We sat in there for close to an hour before wandering down to a bench near the USS Intrepid that overlooked the Hudson River. It was quite nice in the sun, but it was still a long wait until our 16:05 pickup. We decided to head back to the hotel early so we’d have some time to sort out our hand luggage before being picked up.

As stated in the Go AirLink Shuttle details, we were outside the hotel early – about 5 minutes earlier than it told us to be. However the transport was then 30 minutes late despite us being the first to be picked up. It seems apparent this must happen regularly considering they were an hour late picking us up from the airport at the start of this trip. It may actually have been easier to have taken a taxi cab instead, but that’s something we’d know for next time.

Traffic to the airport was slow going, and it took us around 1hr 30 to get there – this made it a little more understandable why our pick-up was scheduled to be 5 hours before the flight. We were the last to be dropped off at the terminal, but we were turned out to be lucky that we could get seats next to each other on the flight home. The self-service machine didn’t like my sister’s passport though so we had no choice but to use the check-in desk.

Steak Burger and Fries

Once through a relatively quick security check we ate at 5Steak for one last meal before our flight. I went for a medium-cooked steak burger which came with fries. It wasn’t a bad meal, probably on a par with the burger that The Jolly Monk had done, and certainly way better than the likes of Five Guys.

We boarded the plane at 20:15 to find that there were quite a number of empty seats, and not long after we were up in the air for the next leg of our journey home.

During the flight to Dublin I watched the last 20 minutes of Empire of the Sun followed by A Million Ways To Die in the West. I thought the latter was a brilliantly funny film and really enjoyed the Back to the Future reference with the DeLorean DMC-12 in it. The inflight meal wasn’t bad – it was like a cheese based ravioli with a chocolate brownie.

We arrived in Dublin 40 minutes earlier than scheduled and then made our way through passport control and then security. It seems a bit daft to go through security again considering we’d come straight from another aircraft with the same restrictions – but it’s their procedure. Apparently this procedure is in place because they’re responsible for the security of your final destination.

We boarded the aircraft for the next leg of our journey home at 09:15, not far off 24 hours since I’d woken up the previous day. I was sleep deprived, yet still I couldn’t sleep on the plane home. Eventually we landed ahead of schedule and it was relatively quick to get out of Birmingham Airport and onto the train home.

It had been different to my previous trips for so many reasons, but it was no less enjoyable. At last I’d seen “The Big Apple” and got to experience another Comic Con. There was so much to see and do, yet we had managed to cram it all (or at least as much as we could) into a little over a week. It truly is the city that never sleeps.

New York 2014 Day 8 – New York Comic Con Day 3

I hadn’t run for a few days due to troubles with my knee following the 21 mile run and two very long days of walking. So, I started this day with a run to test how my knee was doing and ran down passed where we’d been on The High Line and then ran back (around 50 blocks), totalling around 8Km. All this was in the rain though, but as it was along the Hudson River it wasn’t that bad as at least it had a view. Unlike back home I encountered a lot of runners, and I’m sure it was a running club which I had passed due to the sheer number of them in one group.

Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr. William Riker in Star Trek: TNG)

On the way back I noticed that at 08:15 people had already started queuing around the block and behind the convention centre to get in for Comic Con. By the time we got there it was still raining and they were queuing outside instead of in the queue hall, unless it was as well as. I wanted to get autographs from Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr. William T. Riker in Star Trek: TNG) and Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: TNG and Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies) so we headed to that hall first. However it turned out Patrick Stewart had cancelled and was now only doing photo ops. So instead we stood in line for Jonathan Frakes.

The autographing was scheduled to start at 11:00, so we’d gotten there at around 10:00 but then he didn’t turn up until 12:30. The other cast members had turned up and had emptied their queues a few times already by then. In this time Denise Crosby had also kicked up a fuss with the organisers wanting to be moved away from the pillar as she thought people wouldn’t be able to see her. Instead she took over half of Jonathan Frakes desk after she walked off threatening to leave. Eventually as he was about to turn up they moved the desks along one and added a new desk in for her between John de Lancie and Eddie McClintock; again in front of a pillar but this time she accepted it.

Cosplay: Anna (from Disney’s “Frozen”)

Cosplay: Mad Hatter and Alice Liddell

Cosplay: Beauty and the Beast

Cosplay: Link (from Zelda)

Once Jonathan Frakes had signed my book we then sat around and ate for a bit before moving on to the show floor where we once again looked around. My main focus was on trying to find cosplayers to photograph, though I did also buy a couple of Kenner Super Powers figures having knocked the sellers down on price.

Cosplay: Harley Quin, Joker, Scarecrow, Catwoman and Riddler

Cosplay: Deadpool, Scarlett Witch, Quicksilver, Captain America, Red Hulk, Falcon, Hawkeye, and Vision

Cosplay: Supergirl

Cosplay: Starfire (from DC Comics)

Cosplay: “New 52” Batgirl

Eventually we’d had enough of looking around so we headed to Artists Alley, another hall further along, to see what was there. My sister wasn’t that keen on it so we headed back to the show floor briefly before leaving, having ended up with another free novel and a free “Mini-block” figure of Spongebob Squarepants along the way.

Cosplay: Raven (from DC’s Teen Titans)

Cosplay: Psycho and Zero (from Borderlands 2)

On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the 7 Eleven again to pick up some food for breakfast the following morning. Back at the hotel it was still quite early, but then we decided to head back to the convention centre to buy a figure that we’d turned down when we had been there earlier. This time we walked there pretty quick and without backpacks.

Leaving the convention centre for a second time we then went to The Jolly Monk, a conveniently close place, for an early meal. I went for chicken and waffles, and one of the waitresses actually recognised us and came over to say hello and to see how the convention was going. It was a great restaurant and I’m glad we got to eat there one last time before leaving New York.

Times Square

We then made our way to Times Square for one last look around though it was insanely busy. The Disney store had set up a one way system inside the shop which meant you couldn’t look at most of what they were selling. Toys R Us was better, though with some of the walkway and road being closed for roadworks it was causing chaos around there.

A Minion (from Despicable Me)

We then headed back to the hotel as our last evening in New York City grew to a close. It was at last time to finish the majority of the packing ready for our journey home.

New York 2014 Day 7 – New York Comic Con Day 2

Today the doors to Comic Con opened earlier and we wanted to try and get in on at least one panel. After a couple of days with the hotel’s Wi-Fi being down, I had hoped it would be working today so I could compare prices of some items with what we’d see them for in the UK, but alas for the second day running it didn’t work.

We got to the convention centre at around 08:30 and thought we’d be queuing until 12:45 as that was the time of the panel we were waiting for. Unlike San Diego Comic Con the halls are emptied after each panel which means for the main rooms it’s unlikely you’re going to sit and watch back-to-back panels, but it also increases your chances of getting in. On the flip side of that it means that if there are two back-to-back panels you want to see in one of the main halls then you’re almost guaranteed to only be able to see one of them. As I was with my sister I had to hold back a little on the panels I’d have liked to have seen so this didn’t really affect us.

In order to avoid you queueing all day they also give out wristbands at some point during the morning whilst waiting inline which provides access later when you return to the queue. If you’ve got a wristband for a panel then you’re guaranteed entry. We were in the line until about 10:30 when we got a wristband for the Elementary panel.

To kill some time we went to the autographs area, and unusually I decided I’d go ahead and get William Shatner’s signature (he is best known for his role as Captain James Tiberius Kirk in Star Trek), even though he was charging $80. It seemed an awful lot but I decided it was one of the few opportunities for it, and I didn’t want to pass that up. Finally we got his signature at around 10:55 – 5 minutes before he was scheduled to start signing!

John De Lancie (Q in Star Trek: TNG)

Michael Dorn (Lt. Cmdr. Worf in Star Trek: TNG)

Denise Crosby (Lt. Tasha Yar in Star Trek: TNG)

We then stood in line for John de Lancie, the actor who played Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation as his was the shortest of the lines for the other Star Trek actors there. This actor and the others from the Next Generation were all charging $40, so seemed far more reasonable. I also got Michael Dorn (Lieutenant Commander Worf) and Denise Crosby (Lieutenant Tasha Yar) to sign my Star Trek book. I also paid $20 for a photograph with Eddie McClintock who played Agent Pete Lattimer on the Syfy series Warehouse 13.

Eddie McClintock (Agent Pete Lattimer in Warehouse 13)

The cast of Elementary

By this time it was getting reasonably close to the time for the Elementary panel so we returned to the queuing hall and stayed there for the next hour until we were let in. When we got into the hall we were in the third row so had a great view of the panel. To start with they aired the first episode of season 3 which had not yet been broadcast in either the US or UK. This was then followed up with a really great Q&A panel with the cast which was one of the funniest I’ve been to. This panel actually encouraged my sister to decide to start watching the show (she set herself a reminder to buy the series on Blu-ray or DVD).

Gates McFadden (Doctor Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: TNG)

Brent Spiner (Lt. Cmdr. Data in Star Trek: TNG)

Marina Sirtis (Cllr. Deanna Troi in Star Trek: TNG)

LeVar Burton (Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: TNG)

Returning to the autographs hall I managed to get signatures from more of the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast: LeVar Burton (Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge), Brent Spiner (Lt. Cmdr. Data), Gates McFadden (Doctor Beverly Crusher), and Marina Sirtis (Cllr. Deana Troi). Brent Spiner was brilliant and joked about having remembered seeing me before at San Diego Comic Con – whilst I had seen him there once before it was in 2013 and not 2011 as he thought. Marina Sirtis also had a good chat with us commenting how she’s also British, but that she’s never been to Leicester herself.

It cost quite a bit to get all of these signatures, but it was something I thought that was worthwhile as it’s not often you get to see the (almost) full cast in one place. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a TV series I had watched when I was growing up and was a series I’d enjoyed with friends whilst in primary school and later in high school. To see and speak to them, even those I’d seen before, definitely made it seem worth the price.

Cosplayer: Elsa (from Disney’s “Frozen”)

Cosplayer: Loki (from Marvel’s “Thor”)

Harley Quin (from DC’s Batman)

We headed back to the show floor to look around some more and this time I got many more photographs of cosplayers in some pretty great costumes. From one of the stalls I got a Kenner Super Powers Red Tornado figure for $20, and a free novel from another stall. We didn’t spend as much time looking around as we’d already seen the majority of the stalls, and everyone we looked at during this afternoon were ones we’d seen previously. This time around I spotted Sgt. Slaughter – a wrestler who was popular in the 80s and had been turned into a G.I.Joe character for the animated movie.

The “Toy Hunter”

We also went back to the Toy Hunter’s stall – this time we had a bit of a chat and my sister had her photo taken with him. I think my main focus during this afternoon had been to see what cool costumes I could photograph – though with how crowded it was most of the time I didn’t manage that many.

We left the convention centre at around 16:00 as we needed to be at the Star Trek event in the evening and I didn’t want to be late. To save some time we decided after dropping our things off at the hotel, to eat at the Five Guys place over the road from the Manhattan Centre. The food there was greasy and awful; both of us were not that keen on it at all. It was easy and convenient though, the purpose of “fast food” I suppose, but I imagine neither of us would eat there again.

Hammerstein Ballroom

After about an hour in the line for the event, we were let in to find out seat just after 18:00. It turned out that our seats were far better than I had realised and we were not only in the centre of the centre block, but also only 9 rows from the front. I could probably have used my DSLR for this event as it turned out, but I got by getting pictures with my phone instead.

William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek)

William Shatner and Patrick Stewart

The event started at 19:30 and before we knew it the time had flown by and it was 21:00 and the end of the panel. It was a really great evening getting to hear stories from the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation and we were both really glad to have paid the extra to attend this. There were stories such as Patrick Stewart believing his new car to be faulty when one day on the way to the set there had been an earthquake. They were even asked by the audience if any of them would like to be in the next Star Trek movie, though only Marina Sirtis said she would.

Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton

Denise Crosby, John De Lancie, and Marina Sirtis

Each of them also recounted funny times they remembered behind the scenes and also stories of fans that had told them how they had inspired them. I wished the evening had lasted longer; a good sign that it had been worthwhile.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped by a grocery store to pick up some lunch for the next day.

New York 2014 Day 6 – New York Comic Con Day 1

As New York Comic Con didn’t open until midday we were in no rush to go anywhere – we’d already seen most of what we wanted to. We got up just before 08:00 and hung around the hotel for a few hours. By the time we joined the queue at 10:30 there were quite a number of people already waiting. After scanning our passes we were directed into a queuing hall where we then sat and waited for over an hour.

Fortunately we were in the first row, even though there were a lot in front of us. The downside though is that the queue was badly organised. People were queuing four or five abreast and when they let us in they didn’t do it row at a time, they did the first two rows at the same time meaning that people that had come in after us would get in before us. It was a disorderly mass of movement from there through three doors to a single (switched-off) escalator that led up to the show floor. In this madness there were some people that were trying to run up the down escalator as well, just to try and beat the queue upstairs.

Dalek from the episode Victory of the Daleks

Cosplay: Wonder Woman

LEGO Ezio (Assassin’s Creed)

Voltron

Once inside the show we spent the next five hours walking around it to try and cover as much as we could. I don’t think there were as many cosplayers as in San Diego on this first day, but there were far more stalls selling goods than there. In San Diego there were big corporate stalls such as Sony and Microsoft and every few private sellers; here the majority of stalls were small independent shops and artists. I didn’t understand why manufacturers such as Chevrolet were there though – I can’t see the connection to comics. I heard a rumour though that Chevrolet were brought in at the last minute to fill some space that had been left by Mattel pulling out – I don’t know how true this was though.

Cosplay: The Joker and Catwoman

Cosplay: Snake Eyes (G.I.Joe)

Cosplay: Captain America vs. Spider-man

We both ended up buying more than we intended, and eventually it got to the point where we decided we’d buy no more for fear of running out of space in our suitcases. My sister at a few points decided to sit and wait with the bags whilst I went around a few aisles. I think if it had been in the UK I may have spent far more than I had done. One of the stalls we visited was run by the guys that do the “Toy Hunter” series on TV, so my sister decided to buy a plush “Gizmo” from the movie Gremlins from them, and knocked them down a little on the price.

Gollum (aka Smeagol)

Azog (from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit adaptation)

Smaug

Thunderbird 1

The show floor was almost split into two as the various halls meet. Probably around two thirds of the way into the hall the ceiling lowers and then on the other side of this is another large hall (though not as big as the other side) which is mostly more artistic stalls. In amongst this area is WETA, the workshop that did the work on films such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. One thing that did surprise me though was that they had a large model of Thunderbird 1 for the upcoming new series (to be aired in 2015) – something I didn’t realise they had involvement in.

USS Reliant NCC-1864 (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

Serenity (from Firefly)

Cosplay: Silent Hill

Cosplay: Psycho (from Borderlands)

Cosplay: The Winter Soldier

Cosplay: Vega (from Street Fighter)

Once we’d finished we headed to the ReedPop stand outside the show where we picked up the lanyards and t-shirts we’d preordered. Thankfully it was a shortish walk back to the hotel from there, but we did stop off at a 7 Eleven to get food for the next day. Having dropped off our shopping we then headed out to get some dinner.

For the evening meal we decided to go back to the Jolly Monk as it was nearby and easy, and went for their daily special. This was a smoked bacon wrapped meatloaf with double buttered mashed potato and sautéed green beans. It was actually very nice, and the service was excellent so we made sure we left a good tip for the waitress.

For dessert we walked a few blocks past Times Square to a place we’d seen before and bought a Double Mousse New York cheesecake. It was quite expensive but also very large, and very nice. We certainly wouldn’t be going hungry any time soon! We also picked up a couple of almond croissants on the way back for the following morning’s breakfast.

Once we got back to the hotel we stayed there for the remainder of the evening and checked how our suitcases would fit our purchases. It had been a tiring day, yet there were another 3 days of Comic Con to go.

New York 2014 Day 5 – Sun, Stars, and Animals

We finally got a bit of a rest and didn’t get up until 07:00. Our first task of the day was to pick up our passes for Comic Con. We still had lanyards and t-shirts to collect, but we wouldn’t be able to do that until the next day. Our passes had Daryl from The Walking Dead (a TV show) on them, and I assume other passes would have different characters from the show on them. Unlike San Diego Comic Con, picking up our passes was incredibly quick.

New York Comic Con setup in progress

From there we walked to the Rockefeller Centre and went around the NBC Universal shop, this time having a proper look around. We were surprised that they had souvenirs for “Saved by the Bell” as well, a show that ended in the 90s. There were also a lot from other popular NBC Universal franchises such as Friends and Despicable Me.

NBC Universal Store

The entrance for the observation deck was around the other side of the building – we went for the “Sun and Stars” ticket which would mean we could revisit later in the day as well. As with the other major attractions, this requires you to go through airport-like security on the way up.

Contrary to what I thought, the Rockefeller Centre isn’t just the massive skyscraper, but the whole complex of buildings around it; including Radio City Music Hall. It was constructed and funded by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and was originally intended to be the home for the Metropolitan Opera. The land was owned by Columbia University and was only leased until the Rockefeller Group bought the land in the 80s for $400 million.

Central Park as seen from Top of the Rock

To get to the top you take a lift up 60-something floors, and as it rises the ceiling turns transparent to reveal a lift shaft illuminated with little blue lights. At this point you can go outside on one side of the building (which gives you views in three directions), though if you take an escalator up another level you can walk all around the building getting views of Manhattan and Central Park. As with the Empire State Building, there are huge reinforced panes of glass stopping people from jumping or falling off, but it also protects you from the majority of the wind.

Pretzel from Times Square

We also took a flight of stairs up to get a little higher, but it doesn’t make a great deal of difference to the view – it just doesn’t have glass around it so it’s easier for some to take photographs. Once we’d done we descended, exited through the gift shop and headed back to Times Square. From there we bought a pretzel to eat later, but I took a bite out of mine to see what it was like as it was still warm. We then got on the metro and headed north as far as Pelham Parkway.

Pelham Parkway, Bronx

The whole journey was around 40 minutes, but it was only a short walk from the metro station to the Bronx Zoo. I’m not sure if we took the best route there, but it seemed quite short and reasonably well sign posted once we were in the Bronx.

American Bison

We’d heard that it was free to go in on Wednesdays, but still got charged $14.95 admission per person. As we entered the first thing we saw was the Bronx River running alongside the path and under a bridge, though at the side of this was a field full of American Bison sitting down. Oddly an American asked me what animal these were – I had incorrectly assumed an American would know about the animals in their country so I went ahead and told him (though I could have pointed at the sign that was there to tell visitors what the animal was).

The next area was “World of Birds” which housed quite a variety of birds, though they also had some monkeys in there. There was a second level to this, but it was closed at the time we were there. Instead, as it was after midday by this point we sat and ate our pretzels before moving on.

Tiger

A small building named “Tiger Mountain” provided my first ever look at a tiger – I thought it seemed a little on the skinny side though. It was nice to see one though, and I hope the next one I see is in the wild, or at least a sanctuary. Seeing the tiger in captivity left me feeling sorry for it, but I guess the positive here is that it’s safe from poachers.

Polar Bear

Grizzly Bears

Moving through the different areas of the zoo we saw a polar bear, grizzly bears, various animals from Africa, and all along this route we found the food places were closed. I wasn’t sure if it was because it was mid-week, or if it was out of season.

“The Congo”

Gorilla

Eventually we got to “the Congo” and had to show our tickets again – ours were “full experience” tickets which made some of these areas feel like “add-ons” as a way to raise additional money for the Wildlife Conservation Society (which I personally feel is a good thing if it goes towards saving animals). Inside the Congo the main attraction are the gorillas they have there, one of which was protecting its young. I think if we’d had more time available to us we could have sat and watched the gorillas for some time as they’re so fascinating to watch. Alas we were on a bit of a schedule and had to move on after a while to ensure we could see some more of the zoo before we needed to go.

Eventually we made it to the Dancing Crane, a cafe that was actually open, so we got some Hershey’s ice cream and sat out in the sun. I went with the Cookie Dough flavour, which was nice but we both found the ice cream to be far too sugary. We decided at this point we had around an hour left so we’d miss out some of the areas, but we still went in “Butterfly World” and the reptile house. At the time we were there it seemed like they only had three species of butterfly in the building, but the reptile house was far better.

Ring-tailed Lemur

On the way out we passed the Madagascar building where they kept lemurs, and also encountered a White Rhinoceros. There was a feeding session going on for some seals around this time but with how often I’d seen seals before, and the fact my sister wasn’t that interested in them meant that we instead headed onwards to the exit and back to the metro station.

White Rhinoceros

Back on the metro we travelled all the way back to Times Square and then changed lines to head back out to Queens. Both legs of the journey were quite busy, but we still managed to get seats for some of it. As we approached Queensborough Plaza we passed a building that had the “Silvercup Studios” sign above it. This was one place I wanted to take a single photograph of because it’s roof and sign featured in a Queen music video for “Princes of the Universe” as part of the soundtrack for Highlander.

Silvercup Studios

From the metro station it was only a short walk, and as we left the station I saw three police officers putting two sets of handcuffs on someone. When we got back after I’d taken the photograph of Silvercup Studios, one of the officers were still there and recognised us from earlier and let us straight through the barrier without using our metro cards.

Empire State Building at sunset

This journey they took us back to Times Square with the remainder being on foot back to the Rockefeller Centre. This time it was a lot busier with a queue at the door, but when we shown the doorman our tickets he let us straight in. Eventually we joined a queue that took about 15 minutes to get through, and we got to the top just in time for the setting sun.

Empire State Building in twilight

We had about 10 minutes until it set, so once I found a good spot I stayed there. I then continued standing there for the next hour so that once the last remainder of the light left the sky I could take a nighttime photograph from the same place. It was a very long time to stay standing in the same place, especially when my knee hadn’t been too good the past couple of days. We were also getting hungry as we’d not really eaten much during the day up to this point.

Empire State Building at night

Once I’d finally taken the photograph I wanted we moved on and had a look in the gift shop. I bought a hoodie for $45 and almost immediately put it on as it was starting to get cool outside as well. Our next objective was finding somewhere to eat. We’d seen one place a couple of days previous that we thought might have been suitable so we headed in it’s direction. This was delayed slightly though when my sister noticed my backpack was open and I had to backtrack to see if anything had fallen out.

Eventually we made it to the restaurant, but it turned out they didn’t do hot food. It was already passed 20:00 by now, so reluctantly we headed on to look for somewhere else. Eventually we found a place called Renaissance Restaurant which seemed to be a family run business. It may have been one of the strangest lasagnas I’d seen, though their food tasted quite good. The portions were massive – combined with the side of fries I’d ordered I couldn’t finish everything. I guess though it’s better to get too much and not be able to eat it all than to not get enough and still be hungry.

Once we’d done here we got back to the hotel for 21:30. Upon arriving back we had to activate our passes for Comic Con as apparently the RFID for them wouldn’t work until we had. This is something that may not be that practical for international visitors as it’s not necessarily easy or possible to find somewhere to get internet access to do so.

New York 2014 Day 4 – City of Movies

I got up at around 06:30 and started to figure out what we could see over the next couple of days travelling. At 08:15 we then headed out to meet my friend at his hotel and to then head on for breakfast. For this we went to the Carnegie Deli so we could have some New York bagels. I went for a plain bagel and some cinnamon toast which both tasted very good. The waiter though was a bit of an annoyance – he kept interrupting our own conversation with his own attempt at starting a conversation and seemed very pushy.

Shield of Captain America

Once breakfast was over we didn’t have much time left so we headed to Times Square to visit the Discovery Times Square building for the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. Exhibition. On the way we quickly looked around M&M World but decided we’d return later when we’d have more time. Around this time we parted ways with my friend as he would be heading back to Canada that afternoon, but was going to see the exterior of the USS Intrepid first.

The exhibition did not allow photography, something they insist is on the website, though something I’d not been able to find out when booking the tickets (nor did they reply to my emails months ago when I emailed them that every question). It was nice to see props from the Avengers film, but the whole premise of being an agent seemed a bit cheesy and poorly executed.

To start with you’re “inducted” into shield and then you go through a series of training programs to see how you compare against the likes of Captain America and The Hulk. There is every little in the way of props to actually see and most of it is open space. For something that cost as much as it did, it seemed a like there was a lot they could have improved upon. After 30 minutes we’d finished and were ready to move on.

Jurassic Park in Toys R Us

Our next stop of the day was at Toys R Us and the Disney stores at Times Square to see what they were like. They were both pretty big and had a few displays worth photographing. I think the pricing was probably a little better than back home as well, but we kept having to remind ourselves that the prices we saw did not include sales tax. Back at M&M world we both bought a bag of M&Ms that were mixed with flavours such as almond, peanut butter, and raspberry. Whilst I went for a 1Ib bag, my sister unsurprisingly went for 2Ib.

M&Ms

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a grocery store to buy some almond croissants for breakfast the next day. Once our shopping was dropped off at the hotel we then carried on a couple of blocks to the USS Intrepid Air and Space Museum – an aircraft carrier housing many aircraft, and a space shuttle. As we both had the New York “Super Week” cards for Comic Con we got 20% of the price making it a bargain for how much there was there to see.

USS Intrepid

The USS Intrepid is an aircraft carrier that was built for the second World War, but was later updated and re-commissioned (twice), serving in the Vietnam war. During it’s service in the 1940’s it’s main focus was in the Pacific as the Navy advanced from island to island in it’s war against Japanese forces.

Onboard the USS Intrepid

We started off on the third deck to have lunch – I went for an Angus Steak and Cheese sandwich which was incredibly greasy (to the point where the fat was dripping onto the plate), so it was far from healthy unfortunately. The lunch facilities on this aircraft carrier were far more substantial than those that I had seen on the Midway the year before.

Once we’d finished lunch we had a quick look around the rest of the third deck before moving up onto the hanger deck. It didn’t take too long to photograph the planes and helicopters on this deck so we moved on up to the flight deck. On the flight deck there are many more airplanes and helicopters, including a Lockheed A-12 “Blackbird” built in the 1960’s as part of Project Oxcart for the CIA.

Lockheed A-12

Also on the flight deck there is a marquee under which they restoring a plane, and adjacent to that is the Space Shuttle Pavillion. Inside this is the space shuttle Enterprise, a name known to Star Trek fans everywhere. This was the first space shuttle to be built by NASA, designated OV-101, but was not suitable for spaceflight. It’s purpose was as a test craft that would lead to the construction of the USS Columbia, and later the Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour.

Enterprise OV-101

Originally it was to be named the Constitution and to be revealed on Constitution Day, but a petition helped to persuade the President at the time to rename the ship in honour of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 from the TV series Star Trek.

Once this was done we went up onto the bridge of the Intrepid, and then eventually off the aircraft carrier back onto solid land. On the other side of the jetty was the USS Growler, a unique Grayback-class submarine from the Cold War. It was one of only two of this class, the other having been sunk, and was built to carry four Regulus I and II nuclear cruise missiles.

USS Growler, Grayback-class submarine

We boarded this through one of the missile hangers, and gradually worked our way through it’s interior from stern to aft. This didn’t take long and before we knew it we were back outside and on our way to the next sight.

British Airways Concorde

On our way we thought we’d stop by the Jacob Javits Convention Centre to see if we could pick up our tickets for comic con, but found that this would be tomorrow. So we instead headed to the metro station and took it down to Franklin Street where there is a fire station that was used as the headquarters for the Ghostbusters in the film of the same name.

Ghostbusters Firestation

When we got off the metro there a police officer pointed me in the direction of the firehouse without me even having to look or ask. I guess he had seen the Ghostbusters t-shirt I was wearing at the time and made the assumption of what I was looking for.

Oreo Boston Cream Donut

It was then a couple of blocks walk up to Canal Street where we got back on the Metro as far as Sheridan Square. This stop started with a quick break at Hokey Donuts where they sell low fat donuts that have only 5g of fat in them. I chose an Oreo Boston Cream donut where the cream had been replaced with vanilla ice cream – this was very messy and a bad idea for a donut served warm (as the ice cream melts very quickly). Once we’d finished eating we carried on to the corner of Bedford and Grove where the exterior had been used as the location for the apartment block in the Friends TV series.

Friends apartment block

Returning where we came from the metro then took us up to 14th street where we went looking for the High Line. It took us a couple of blocks to get there, and because we both had aching legs we chose to only walk along it for two blocks. The sun was starting to set by this point so it would have reduced what we could have seen anyway. For a while we did sit on the High Line at a point where there are steps down a glass wall that overlooks the road below it.

The High Line

Once we’d finished on the High Line we took the metro back towards Times Square where we went in a White Castle for our evening meal. I had a chicken slider, which is basically two bread rolls with chicken in – I wasn’t really that keen on it, it was like having a McDonalds, though it was better than that. The drink was even worse though, it was supposed to be Sprite but it tasted more like sparkling water – something I don’t like drinking at all.

To finish the evening we photographed the lights in Times Square and headed back to the hotel. By the time we arrived it was 19:30.

New York 2014 Day 3 – Rock of Ages

Unable to sleep passed 05:30 I decided to get up and put the time to some use on my iPad. Eventually we headed out to meet my friend at his hotel before continuing on to The Flame Diner where we were going to get breakfast. It was quite a bit further than I thought it would be, but it was in the direction of where we would be touring later in the day. Once there I had a sausage sandwich, and also got a blueberry muffin to go.

Trump Tower

It wasn’t far from there to the corner of Central Park where we photographed the globe outside of the Trump Tower before going into the park. It seemed that we were wandering fairly aimlessly around Central Park, but the plan was to get up at least as far as halfway. The paths wind around quite a bit inside the Park and you also have roads running through it, as I’d already realised from my run the day before.

Central Park

After a while we stopped at a bench overlooking The Lake, and ate some of the blueberry muffins we’d bought. The path from there then took us on eventually to Strawberry Fields. Strawberry Fields is a section of Central Park named after the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever” (which in turn refers to the name of a Salvation Army building in Liverpool, England). The significance of this park is that it is dedicated to the memory of John Lennon, the former singer and songwriter from The Beatles who lived and was killed outside of the Dakota Apartments building. Inside this area there is a mosaic which says “Imagine” – which is also the title of one of Lennon’s most famous songs.

Imagine

The Dakota

Just outside Central Park there at 72nd Street, you can see The Dakota. In addition to John Lennon’s connection to the building, it was also used in the filming of the movie “Rosemary’s Baby”, and is one of the most expensive and prestigious apartment blocks in the city. Once we’d taken a couple of photographs there we headed back into Central Park and continued north until we got through The Rambles to Belvedere Castle.

Belvadere Castle

Turtle in Turtle Pond

This castle, originally built as a folly, allows you to go in free of charge and provides a good view of Turtle Pond. As it happens the pond is aptly named as it does indeed contain turtles. Once we spotted the turtles we headed down alongside the Delacorte Theatre to get closer to the pond. Outside the theatre we passed two statues: one from Romeo and Juliet, and the other from The Tempest – both of which are well known William Shakespeare plays that are likely to have been performed at the theatre at some point.

Alice in Wonderland

Alongside this theatre there is a viewpoint where you can look back at the castle, but more importantly get a closer look at the turtles. We spent some time there before moving on down Cedar Hill to a statue of Alice in Wonderland. Around this area there is also the Conservatory Pond and a statue of Hans Christian Andersen, the prolific author famous for his many fairy tales and stories. We continued along that path and after going through a zoo eventually came out of the park on Grand Army Plaza.

Apple Store

As we walked down Fifth Avenue our first stop was at the Apple Store. The reason for visiting this was because its entrance is an impressive glass cube with an Apple logo suspended from the roof, and a glass staircase down into the store. My sister then got us to visit the Louis Vuitton store, but we didn’t stay in there long thankfully. We continued our walk down Fifth Avenue, seeing what shops they had there, and eventually going in a gift shop to get some more souvenirs. It seemed like this walk lasted a long time, but eventually we found the turning for Grand Central Terminal.

Grand Central Station

The terminal building is quite impressive from the outside and indoors it seems very grand, though I found it to be poorly lit. I attempted a long exposure photograph here to try and capture the busyness of the place, but it didn’t really work – I needed a much longer exposure than the equipment I had on me would allow. My sister tried to sit on the steps here whilst we took photographs but two police officers asked her not to do that.

Leaving the terminal, by pure chance we glanced behind us and spotted the Chrysler building and so managed to take a few photographs of that too on our way back to Fifth Avenue. As it was around 12:30 by this time we decided to get a hot dog from one of the street vendors. It tasted pretty good, but there wasn’t really much to it. I expected a hotdog to be big, just like the servings you get in American restaurants. Instead the hotdog you get isn’t much thicker than a pen, but you can add toppings of tomato ketchup, mustard and onions.

Fifth Avenue

Once we’d finished our hotdogs we carried on heading south until we reached the entrance of the Empire State Building. Outside of here people were trying to sell tickets, making out it was an hour and a half wait to get to the top. We decided to ignore this and see for ourselves. It was a good job we had as well as it turned out there was hardly any queuing inside.

The Empire State Building

The lobby for the Empire State Building is quite impressive and the art deco style reminded me a lot of what was used in a computer game called Bioshock. Personally I would be quite happy to see more building interiors using the art deco style, but I think that would make it slightly “less special”.

Empire State Building Lobby

Before you even buy tickets you go through airport-like security, and then at the ticket office you get a choice of options. We went for the standard ticket that would take us to the observation deck. For this there was some queueing to get in the lifts that would take us up, but it was not a long wait. Due to the height and age of the building you can’t get to the top in one go and have to change lifts on the 80th floor.

Manhattan

I was surprised that outside at the top it wasn’t as windy or as cold as I was expecting. It was quite pleasant which meant there was no rush to finish. We casually wandered around all four sides taking photographs of Manhattan. Eventually we’d taken as many photographs as we wanted and headed back down. The wait to get down was a little longer, but wasn’t that bad. As is usual though the exit is through the gift shop, but I couldn’t see anything that didn’t seem tacky or overpriced.

By now our legs were starting to ache – my left knee and both calves at the least were aching, though this may have been due to the previous day’s run. To give ourselves a rest we stopped by a nearby Dunkin Donuts. I had a Boston Cream Donut and a hot chocolate, both of which tasted very good, and were of course very unhealthy.

Flatiron Building

To finish off our travelling south for the day, we carried on down to where the Flatiron building is located. This iconic building was owned and constructed by the Fuller Company in 1902 after a year of work. It was one of the first skyscrapers in New York City to be built using a steel frame after local building laws were relaxed.

After taking a few photographs we then crossed through Madison Square Park before heading back up to where Macy’s is located. We then took the metro from there up to 47th Street to find our way to the Rockefeller Centre. Before we found the entrance though we managed to find Radio City, a famous venue that many big artists have played at. Radio City is actually part of the Rockefeller Centre and an important part of it’s history in broadcasting.

Radio City Music Hall

Eventually we found the main entrance to the Rockefeller Centre, the home of NBC Universal; but we didn’t go in. By the time we had found it the sun was starting to set so we decided we’d return another day, and we had already been to the top of one skyscraper.

Instead we walked across to Times Square to see what it was like. It was quite busy and there was a fair amount of construction and road works going on too. We decided we’d return at night and headed back to the hotels to drop off our bags. I also picked up a lens for my phone, but found later we couldn’t take pictures with that at the theatre either due to a local law.

We headed back out and ate at Patzeria Family & Friends, a nice Italian restaurant on 48th street. I went for a 10″ Neapolitan pizza with meatballs, pepperoni, and roasted peppers. It was a very nice pizza, though very filling. The only downside was how strong the smell of incense was from their neighbouring establishment, it was a little overpowering at times.

Once we’d finished our meal we headed on to Times Square where I took a few photos with my iPhone. However, I intended on returning with my DSLR some other time to attempt to do a better job of taking photos.

Helen Hayes Theatre

To end the day we headed around the corner to the Helen Hayes Theatre, a place next door to where we’d be in the morning for the Marvel exhibition. When we got there it was still fairly early so there weren’t many people there.

To start with we weren’t sure if the people outside were in a line or not, and when we asked them they said they weren’t. We then went to the ticket kiosk and found that it was in fact the queue. We went back outside and joined the queue until just after 19:30 when we got to go in and take our seats. I bought a CD on the way in as I thought it’d be nice to have a souvenir from Broadway.

The show we had gone to see was Rock of Ages, and it was very good. The only negatives from my point of view was the cramped leg room, the German in front of me being too tall so he obstructed my view, and the fact it was every cold due to us sitting underneath an air vent for the air conditioning. I’d seen the movie of this before and I did spot a few differences, but it was very enjoyable with many songs from the 80s that I recognised. On the way out I then bought a t-shirt.

By the time we got back to the hotel it was 23:00.

New York 2014 Day 2 – Liberty

I had more or less decided I wouldn’t be running in the morning as I had been too tired the night before. As it happens though I awoke at 03:35, around 5 hours after returning to the hotel the during the night, and felt quite awake so I decided I would go out for a long run. By 04:10 I’d made a start and ran towards Central Park. I found the park didn’t open until 6am so ran around its perimeter, pausing regularly for the many roads the cross into the park.

Raccoon

By the time I’d done I’d run two and a half times around it, passing a few interesting buildings including the Apple store, but had also seen some raccoons and rats. After 3 hours had passed I had completed 21 miles, and went back to the hotel to shower and eat an almond croissant for breakfast.

We had pre-booked tickets for a Statue of Liberty cruise so we had to be at Battery Park by 09:00. Thankfully we found a metro station on 49th that would take us all the way down to South Ferry. We decided on an unlimited metrocard that would last us 7 days as we didn’t know how often we’d need it and it seemed comparatively cheap. The journey took around 20 minutes and it was then a short walk across Battery Park to a place we could redeem our prepaid voucher to get the tickets.

Statue of Liberty

Before boarding the ferry you have to go through an airport-like security checkpoint where your bags and belongings are scanned before boarding. Eventually we made it onto the ferry and stood around on the top deck. Unfortunately it was very cold in the wind, but we wanted to make sure we got photos of the statue as we approached it. I’d read that this was the best time to see it, but also tried to take advantage of the views of Manhattan that it provided. On the ferry they also sell food, drink, and some basic souvenirs – as I’d not drank much up to that point after the run I decided it’d be a good chance to rehydrate before making landfall.

Manhattan

Once we had arrived at Liberty Island it was then a short walk around to the pedestal where there was yet another security check. It starts off with having to put bags in lockers as you can only take water and cameras up there. This isn’t just for security, it’s also because there simply isn’t room for bags if you plan on going up into the crown of the statue. It is then another airport-like check with scanners before you are then finally allowed into the pedestal.

From what I understand there had been a lot of concern previously about the security of this UNESCO World Heritage site – between hurricane Sandy and the terrorist attack that New York had suffered it had only just recently re-opened to tourists.

Torch Sculpture

In the pedestal there is a museum that details the design by French sculpture Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and the construction of the national monument since it was gifted to the United States of America by the French. This includes the different designs they came up with for the pedestal upon which it now sits. You can then either take a lift up to the top of the pedestal, or take the stairs. Although my legs were aching from the previous run we took the stairs as it was only a few flights. There isn’t really much to see from the top of the pedestal so we quickly moved on.

Staircase to the Crown

The climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty is one my sister did not find easy. My friend had gone on ahead whilst I stayed behind to make sure my sister could make it up the tight corkscrew staircase. She took it slowly, but eventually she was able to get to the top without the height getting to her too much.

Tabula ansata

At the top you can see out over the surrounding Liberty Island, and down on the tabula ansata – the tablet of law, inscribed with the date of the American Independence, that the statue holds. Whilst up there we could feel the statue rock slightly in the wind, something both my friend and sister could have done without me mentioning to them. The two National Park rangers standing at the top also discussed some of the history of this island, particularly surrounding the history of alcohol on the island.

Looking at just the right angle out of the window you could also see part of the torch that the statue carries. The torch would allow a higher view, though access has been closed to the public for safety reasons since 1916. After a few photos we then went back down, my sister sitting on every step of the staircase as she went, a way for her to cope with the steepness and height of the steps.

After we had descended and collected our bags we decided most of what the gift shop sold was cheap rubbish (a bit harsh, but the moulds used in the models lacked so much detail). So we headed back to the ferry which after a short wait for it to arrive, then took us on to Ellis Island.

Immigration Hall, Ellis Island

Ellis Island is famous as being one of the major immigration points for the United States in the past. A lot of it’s landmass comes from land reclamation that took place in the early 1900’s using mostly waste from the construction of the underground – this allowed for the facility to grow in size to accommodate the massive demand. It is estimated that one in three Americans can trace their ancestry back to immigrants that came through Ellis Island.

The museum is in the main building and spans three floors to cover its history. Unfortunately all of the artefacts had been removed in 2012 after hurricane Sandy had caused damage and they could no longer be climate controlled. This has meant the museum was closed for months whilst repair work took place and they estimated the museum would be back to normal sometime in 2015.

Trinity Church

At the end of the tour it had gotten to midday so we decided to eat outside in the sun at the restaurant there. I went for a barbeque chicken sandwich with crisps (or chips as the Americans call them), and a red velvet cake. I thought the sandwich was very nice and it was good to eat something proper after an almost non-existent breakfast. Whilst we ate we saw three V-22 Ospreys fly over head – a type of aircraft I’d never seen previously. The gift shop here was better, and bigger than on Liberty Island. I decided to buy a Statue of Liberty model for $34, whilst my sister bought a bear and a snow globe.

Second World War Memorial

The ferry from Ellis Island then took us back to Battery Park. We didn’t stay there long, but saw a statue of an eagle and stone pillars that form a war memorial. The dates on the memorial only covered the Americans involvement in the Second World War though as they claimed the conflict was from 1941 to 1945, rather than from 1939.

It was fairly easy to find our way from the park up Broadway to Trinity Church. Most of the exterior couldn’t be seen though due to scaffolding but the interior wasn’t too bad. We didn’t spend much time there and walked down Wall Street in the direction of the 9/11 memorial (or 11/9 based on how the rest of the world formats dates).

9/11 Memorial

At the site where the world trade centre towers had once stood they had constructed an impressive waterfall in memoriam to those who lost their lives that day. Around the edge is a continuous plaque listing the names of those who died. On the birthday of any individual they put a flower on the name of that person. They also have security patrolling to ensure no one covers the names up, something I found out when I leant across them to rest my camera whilst trying to photograph the waterfall.

It didn’t take long from there for me to navigate us to City Hall Park where we needed to pick up our New York Super Week cards (a card associated with Comic Con to get discounts around the city). However we couldn’t spot the place we needed to be to get them. We eventually wandered around the complete perimeter before we spotted an information kiosk where we could ask about this. As it happened the kiosk was where we originally entered the park and was also the spot to collect the cards.

By this time our legs were aching quite a bit, so as we passed a Dunkin Donuts on the way to Brooklyn Bridge we decided to go in for a rest. We all got a strawberry donut and a drink and sat and talked for a while.

Brooklyn Bridge, from the Manhattan side

Eventually we moved on and took the walk way up onto Brooklyn Bridge. This path is split in two with one side for pedestrians and the other for cyclists. With how busy the path was it resulted in pedestrians frequently straying on to the cycling side to the annoyance of the cyclists. We walked as far as the first pylon and then started to head back. On the way back a runner ran straight into my sister and just carried on without acknowledging they’d done it. This is the first time in New York I’d seen that stereotypical view that New Yorkers are always in a rush and have no manners (the rest up to this point had been mostly polite).

It took a while afterwards for us to find our way to Little China. This was mostly because what was there wasn’t what I had been expecting. We spotted one building that looked fairly Chinese in design, and a sign hung across the road, but that was it. Whilst in Little China we stopped at a souvenir store where I got a t-shirt for $10, and my sister got a hoodie and t-shirt.

I knew that adjacent to Little China was Little Italy, but this took a while to find too, mostly because the map I was using had missed out a few minor roads at the scale I was viewing it at so it took longer to get to the crossroad I was expecting to see. Eventually we found our way to Mulberry Street, though I didn’t know which part of it had been used in the filming of The Godfather. Based on this we decided to head north, and along this road we did spot quite a few Italian places.

Little Italy

Our final stop of the day was at Cooper Square where there is an interestingly designed building that was used in the filming of the recent reboot of The Tomorrow People TV series. There was a lot of construction going on here, so it was difficult to get a clear photograph. Once done there we found our way to the correct metro station and headed back up to 49th Street.

Cooper Square

For a while we stayed at Mayfair Hotel, the place my friend was staying at. After a rest we left our bags behind and headed out again to get an evening meal. For this we went around the corner to Applebee’s as we felt like going for a New York style steak. I went for a 12oz New York Strip with fries and Mexican rice, and the whole meal between the three of us came to $111 with the tip – not bad for a good quality meal, especially considering how good the service was there.

New York Strip Steak

Times Square

After finishing we walked not far from Times Square on our way back to the Mayfair Hotel,  picked up our bags, and walked the couple of blocks back to our own hotel, finally able to get some rest after 17 hours of being up.

New York 2014 Day 1 – Leicester to New York

It was a little unusual going to Birmingham Airport with my sister – before this it was usually with friends that I’d travel abroad. Now we were setting off on the start of an adventure to New York City. Our journey started at 06:55, heading by train from South Wigston to Birmingham International. We then had to wait until 11:00 for our flight to Dublin, but managed to use a bit of time by looking around the airport shops and filling in our immigration cards.

We got into Dublin 20 minutes ahead of schedule and made our way to US preclearance. It’s a little odd as you go through security, then through security a second time, and then through passport control where you hand over a US immigration form. I’m not sure much could change between the first and second security check, but they do ask you to remove your shoes at the second.

We then had a further three hours until the flight was due to leave the gate. This seemed like forever, and despite it being sunny and warm outside it was cold in the lounge at the gate. It was a much smaller flight than I expected and there didn’t seem to be every many people at the gate – though the flight was in fact full.

My sister didn’t cope with the flight that well and was ill for most of it, not eating at all. To pass the time I watched 22 Jump Street on the in-flight entertainment system, and then after a chicken tikka dinner I watched Empire of the Sun. Before we landed they also gave out flapjacks.

We were going to land 30 minutes ahead of schedule, but only landed 15 minutes ahead when the pilot decided to avoid some bad weather. It was pretty good going though managing to get in early for the second flight running. The cabin staff were really good helping with my sister making sure she was comfortable. We landed at JFK in New York City at 18:00 though it took another 30 minutes to get to the gate.

The baggage collection was really quick, but it then took us an hour to wait for our transportation to the hotel as they weren’t there waiting for us. I took this chance to use the Wi-Fi at JFK to let my friend know we’d be late. It then took just over an hour to get us to the hotel, where James was already there waiting for us. By now we’d been up for not far off 24 hours and my sister was feeling far from great. We did however go for a walk and decided on eating at a bar called The Jolly Monk.

I went for a turkey burger and fries, and my sister went for just fries but she couldn’t stomach them. On the way back we stopped by a convenience store to get some water and something for breakfast for the next day. At last, back at the hotel we could then get some sleep ready for a long day of tourism.