Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Round The World 2015

Midtown marvels

I got up around 7:15 after a fairly solid night's sleep, and went for continental breakfast in the busy Executive Lounge, located just off the lobby. I was ready to get started on a full day of sightseeing by 9:15, after checking out and placing my luggage in storage at the Hilton. It seemed to be a beautiful morning offering plenty of promise for the day ahead, and my first objective was only a block away.

St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue

Although I must have walked past St Thomas Church many times over the years, I only really took note of the building when I spotted it during my May 2013 visit to the city. Unfortunately this beautiful Episcopal church, known for its Anglo-Catholic tradition and world-famous choir, was not looking its best at street level during my current visit as a consequence of external restoration works that were still in progress. Indeed, it would have been all too easy to walk right past the building yet again. The interior, on the other hand, was a haven of peace and beauty, the highlight (as expected) being the breathtaking reredos behind the high altar.

FAR LEFT and LEFT: St Thomas's in May 2013 and November 2015
RIGHT and BELOW: The church's beautiful interior

Midtown round-up and Top of the Rock

Having begun the day on a contemplative note, I was now ready to get started on some of the more mainstream attractions of Midtown Manhattan. When I first visited New York City in 1985, my initial view of the amazing cityscape from above ground level was from the roof of the Rockefeller Center. Shortly thereafter, the viewing facility went into a period of closure lasting nearly 20 years, before re-opening in 2005 with the snappy new name Top of the Rock. Bruce and I tried to experience the reopened attraction during our 2013 visit to New York, but this intention was thwarted by huge lines. Today's off-season visit provided my next available opportunity, and luckily I was able to buy a timed ticket for entry just 30 minutes after the time of purchase. I put this interval to good use by photographing a few familiar Midtown landmarks in the immediate neighbourhood, together with some general street scenes.

When I eventually made the ascent to the Rockefeller Center viewing platforms, the panoramas were as fabulous as I remembered them, but a strong and chilly wind provided a constant reminder that undue lingering might not be a good idea. The northerly views in particular, taking in Central Park, were especially striking because of the relative closeness of the viewing area to that unmistakable feature. As hoped, the experience rekindled memories of what I had felt on the only other occasion on which I had seen Manhattan from this vantage point, a rather scary 30 years previously and on my first venture outside Europe. At the risk of returning to contemplative mode, I also pondered the most obvious change to the southerly aspect, the loss of the twin towers in the distant financial district and their replacement with the shiny new One World Trade Center.

Safely returned to street level, I knew that my next objective - again not visited since the 1980s - was to be found on the banks of the East River. As such, I made my way down to 42nd Street and started to head eastwards, all the time looking out for a suitable lunch stop. I found a place that seemed to cater mainly to office workers, and enjoyed a simple and light midday meal of hot pasta and fresh berries, managing to get served and seated just ahead of the main rush.

A quick lunch stop

United Nations Headquarters

I arrived at the UN complex before 1pm, passed through Security and managed to book myself on the 1:20 public tour - yet again, a delightfully easy and stress-free process on this low-season Friday. Technically, I was no longer in the United States at this point, but standing on UN territory; in practice, the UN has agreed to enforce federal and New York state laws within the complex, in exchange for assistance from the local emergency services if needed.

We were shown around by a young Brazilian man. Amazingly, our small group contained two other Scots and the three of us formed the sole representation from the United Kingdom. The tour highlights were the various assembly chambers, comprising those for the Security Council (donated by Norway), the Trusteeship Council (donated by Denmark), the Economic and Social Council (a.k.a. ECOSOC, donated by Sweden) and finally, the General Assembly. In the case of the Trusteeship Council chamber, we were only permitted a silent walk-through with no photography, as there was a meeting in progress. As I remembered noting during my 1985 and 1989 visits, the generosity of the three Scandinavian countries in fitting out the complex was quite remarkable.

Neue Galerie

I was aware of a noticeable drop in temperature on leaving the UN complex at around 3pm. I walked back to Grand Central and rode the express 5 train to 86th Street. My final objective before meeting up with Bruce was definitely a genuine 'first' for me, and the inspiration for it was absolutely up-to-date. The Neue Galerie, situated at Fifth Avenue and 86th St, is dedicated to German and Austrian art. As such, I suppose it made a nice link with my previous destination, Berlin, especially as a sizeable proportion of the exhibited works had connections with that city.

I finally see the famous Klimt painting, the story of which was told in one of 2015's best movies.

But that's not what led me there. During the course of 2015, I had seen the film Woman in Gold twice, and absolutely loved it. Starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, the movie tells the true story of elderly Jewish refugee Maria Altmann's fight against the Austrian government for the restitution of an artwork confiscated by the Nazis shortly before World War II. The work in question is a portrait of Maria's aunt (Adele Bloch-Bauer) by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), a work described in the film as "Austria's Mona Lisa". When the struggle finally reaches a successful outcome, Maria vows that the treasured painting will follow in her own footsteps to America.

So, as you can probably guess, I had now tracked down the subject matter of this wonderful movie, a painting that for years had hung in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. I paid my entry fee, climbed the stairs, immediately noticed a huge number of people in one of the rooms, followed the crowd, and suddenly there she was - the 'Woman in Gold' herself. There seemed to be little doubt that the huge surge in popularity being experienced by this small and rather specialist gallery was a direct result of the film.

Twilight on Fifth Avenue

I decided to walk all the way back down Fifth Avenue towards the point where the day had started, which gave me a chance to see the famous thoroughfare as twilight set in, with darkness following in short order.

I picked up my stored luggage from the Hilton Midtown and walked round to the Marriott East Side with my large suitcase in tow - not the easiest task during the evening rush hour! It could have been worse, though, and in fact I even managed to make a couple of photo stops along the way. On reaching my new base, I noticed that I had a message from Bruce, who was running at least 30 minutes behind schedule because of a flight delay, this in turn having been caused by strong winds. I put the time to good use by catching up on my notes for this diary.

In due course, the (reasonably) dynamic duo were reunited and we spent what remained of the evening catching up on each other's news over some light food and some not-so-light adult beverages.

Friday 13 Nov

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