After a bit of shopping first thing, our plan was to walk to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for the afternoon before heading across to Times Square – all in all, a good 5 miles of walking for the day. We noticed a number of pedestrians heading towards a staircase and, like any conscientious Brit, we found ourselves drawn to the back of the line. Inspired by the Promenade Plantée in Paris, the High Line is an old section of elevated railway line on the lower west side of Manhattan which has been turned into a public walkway. Sculptures, murals and other works of art are scattered throughout and the borders have been landscaped with local plants, many of which self seeded in the tracks once the freight line was no longer used. It’s a great way to view the city, without worrying about crossing roads or stopping for cyclists and a brilliant example of regeneration: Old highrise buildings that overlook the High Line are being transformed into desirable apartments and views which were once considered an eyesore now come at a premium.
We took the High Line from the Meat Packing district in the south almost the entire length up to West 34th Street, just a few blocks from the USS Intrepid and, because there was always something to look at, the boys didn’t moan too much about the walk.
Docked at Pier 86 on the Hudson River, the USS Intrepid is host to the Space Shuttle Enterprise, together with dozens of aircraft from all over the world. A British Airways Concorde sits on the pier itself and on the other side of the pier you can explore the guided missile submarine Growler. It sounds ridiculous but this being the second space shuttle and Concorde in as many months, I was more interested in the submarine. Operational from the late 1950s to mid 1960s, Growler’s role was to provide nuclear deterrent off the Soviet Pacific coast during the Cold War. 78 crew and 9 officers were at sea for up to two months at a time, sleeping in triple bunks that make Japanese capsule hotels seem spacious. 9 crew even slept in the torpedo rooms. Each crew member had a space about the size of two shoe boxes for all of their clothing and personal belongings; and to think that we struggled with 5 cases and 5 backpacks!
Back on Intrepid we learned that Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle, was originally planned to be called Constitution. However, following a successful campaign by Star Trek fans she was renamed Enterprise, with Gene Roddenberry and many original cast members attending the roll out ceremony. Enterprise was the test shuttle, built without engines, so sadly incapable of space flight but still incredible to see. She appears in pristine condition on the Intrepid and no doubt inspires young, would-be astronauts everyday.
Down in Intrepid’s Hangar Deck the Exploreum is an interactive exhibition where kids can steer aircraft and climb into a real helicopter. They can try out submarine bunks for themselves and experience the claustrophobia of the mess rooms. Our boys had a great time and this was definitely one of the most memorable museums we have visited.
As the sun went down we made our way to Times Square, despite all the warnings from the guidebooks and tourist websites. As usual, it was utterly rammed with thousands of people milling around staring at the neon billboards and flashing adverts and, in truth, it was just as hideous as the reviews suggested – the sort of place you go once, snap a few photos and then never return to. The kids were hungry and since we couldn’t bring ourselves to join the queues for hot dogs, we (incorrectly) assumed that McDonalds might be quicker. My goodness, the staff here seemed to barely have time to breathe. It reminded me of working on a market stall in the run up to Christmas – you start at 6am and the next time you look at your watch it is 4 in the afternoon and you realise you haven’t eaten all day. Upstairs we found an assortment of cartoon characters, headless, as they tucked in to their cheeseburger meals before having to resume their cheerful demeanour, seeking tips for cell phone snaps. Even in October the heat inside one of those foam heads must be unpleasant, but there was something slightly depressing about the sight of a sweaty bloke with Super Mario’s body sharing fries with a headless Minnie Mouse; I half expected them to light a couple of cigarettes.
Earlier in the week I had put my internet browsing skills to the test and secured (relatively) cheap tickets for Matilda on Broadway. We have a number of Roald Dahl audio books and the story of Matilda is well known to the boys so we hoped they would enjoy Broadway’s musical interpretation.
It was phenomenal.
The set changes were mind blowing; desks appeared out of the ground; the Wormwood’s front room turned seamlessly into a ballroom; Matilda’s bedroom became a circus big top and not once did it seem clunky or intrusive. Christopher Sieber stole the show with a sensational performance as the Trunchbull; hilarious, hideous and mesmerizing all at once. The kids did a great job but when Sieber was on stage it was hard to see anyone else. We all laughed so hard and went home buzzing.
In the understated words of our 10 year old: “I thought it was pretty good!” – praise indeed – it doesn’t come any higher than that from our John!