Tag Archives: New York City

Birthdays and baseball splurges

Thursday 11th September – Friday 12th September
New York City to Philadelphia, USA

New York Mets baseball, Queens
11th September is my birthday. And it’s a day of remembrance in New York City.

The day started with some cards (including this one from my nephew and niece – thanks Holly and Ethan!) and some calls home.

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Then on to Queens (about 45 minutes on the subway from central Manhattan). We started with a visit to the Queens Museum, on the site of the World’s Fairs in 1939 and 1964, including a scale model of New York City.

We then headed to Citifield for our next baseball game – the New York Mets against the Washington Nationals.

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It must be hard being a Mets fan in New York. To many people, the Yankees are New York. The Mets are younger (started in 1962) and despite being from such a major city and a couple of World Series wins they have struggled in recent years.

But we love them anyway. Their current home, Citifield, is fantastic – a fun, modern ballpark. And this was where we saw our first ever baseball game, back on our honeymoon in 2009. The Mets will get back to winning ways soon, and when they do we will be cheering them on!

We were also excited to see the Nats, including young Bryce Harper, widely considered to be a talented player with a very bright future in the game.

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The game started with an emotional ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of 9/11. Both teams lined the field and representatives of the emergency services and other key public services brought flags onto the field. The national anthem was sung (beautifully) by a representative of the New York Fire Department. And the ceremonial first pitch (a feature of every game) was thrown by the father of a man who had been in one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. He saved many lives running up and down the stairs of the building to help people, but didn’t survive himself.

The game itself was entertaining, if a bit one-sided. It started badly for the Mets – with the Nationals taking a two-run lead in the first inning. The Nationals soon found themselves six runs ahead. The Mets tried to rally, scoring a home run in the 5th (at which point a big apple – see what they did there? – rose up from the far end of the stadium, complete with Mets logo). But despite scoring one more run in the 7th, they left the bases loaded in the 7th and 8th, finally losing 6-2.

(Meanwhile, across town the Yankees came back from 4-0 down to win 5-4. Like I say, it must be tough being a Mets fan…)

Philadelphia Phillies baseball, Philadelphia
The train journey from New York to Philadelphia takes about an hour and twenty minutes.

We were planning a quiet afternoon until we looked at the Philadelphia Phillies website and noticed one of our favourite pitchers – Cole Hamels – was playing that evening against the Miami Marlins (the main pitchers play on rotation, so only appear once every few days). So we decided to rest another day and go to our second game in two days!

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And we are so glad we did! This game was really close. At the end of nine innings it was one all, so it went into a tenth inning (there’s no such thing as a draw in baseball. Their approach is: “we’re all staying until we’ve got a winner”!) The game was won by a walk off home run by the Phillies in the tenth, to wild celebration from the home fans.

Later in the game we also were lucky enough to see another of our favourite pitchers, Jonathan Papelbon.

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This was more than enough for a great night out. Even better, I got to enjoy my first Philadelphia Cheesesteak (slices of beef, melted cheese and fried onions in a roll – delicious if not nutritious!) and one of the most entertaining team mascots we’ve seen!

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Photo of the day
View from our hotel room, 9/11. The beams of light represent where the World Trade Centre towers once stood.

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Batting practice – getting into the swing of things

Saturday 6th September
New York City, USA

Batting Cages, Upper West Side
“Load, stride, twist and swing”

I’ve been playing baseball in the UK for a few months now (Go, Newton Aycliffe Spartans!). Joanna plays a bit too, and on game day is the team scorer. It’s a great game, and it’s been fantastic joining such a friendly (and very international!) team.

But I was keen to take advantage of being in the home of baseball to learn some more skills. Which is how I ended up at The Baseball Center NYC for my lesson with Anthony.

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Anthony played at college before playing professionally across Italy. And boy, can he hit a baseball. The lesson was in a batting cage, basically the baseball equivalent of a golf driving range. The batting cage has a large pitching machine in it, that launches baseballs at you at a variety of speeds. I wasn’t quite at that stage, so was focusing on hitting balls off a large tee.

The lesson was excellent – exactly what I needed to get into my swing. I’ve still got a way to go, but now I really feel like I’ve got the basics – load, stride, twist and swing – and what it feels like to hit that baseball properly. Now I just need my back and arms to stop aching, and for the blisters on my hands to clear up, and I’ll be ready for another go!

Photo of the day
View of the One World Trade Center (also known as ‘Freedom Tower’) from our hotel room.

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Railroads and rivalries

Thursday 4th September – Friday 5th September
New York City, USA

Red Sox at the Yankees, The Bronx
As sporting rivalries go, Red Sox – Yankees is right up there. This is a rivalry reaching back almost 100 years. It’s 1919, and the Red Sox sell a ball player called Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The Yankees go on to become the dominant team in American baseball, thanks in no small part to the legendary Babe. The Red Sox enter a slump (nicknamed ‘the Curse of Babe Ruth’) that is only broken by their World Series win in 2004.

In short, there is no love lost between these two teams.

So, that was enough to get us to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for this, the deciding game in a three-game series between the two teams. The added bonus? This was one of the last home games for Yankee captain Derek Jeter, a real legend of the game. And playing for the Red Sox was one of my favourite players, David Ortiz (though the booing suggested he is less popular in the Bronx!).

Yankee Stadium

Newton Aycliffe Spartans at Yankee Stadium

The Red Sox took an early lead with a home run by Ortiz. The Yankees pulled it back to 3-3, only for the Red Sox to score again and take a one run lead into the final inning. Bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees scored one home run, followed by a walk-off home run to send the fans home happy. We left the stadium to Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’. A really exciting game and a great atmosphere!

The tension was briefly broken at the end of the sixth inning, when the ground staff came out to rake the sand between the bases. ‘YMCA’ was being played in the stadium, and at the chorus the staff dropped their rakes to lead the crowd with their dance moves!

Walking Tour, Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station is one of our favourite places in New York – a beautiful building in the heart of Midtown. We decided to find out a bit more about it on Friday by taking a free walking tour of the Station and surrounding area.

Inside Grand Central Station

Our tour guide, Peter, gave a dramatic and fascinating account of the area’s history.

What was most interesting was how the station had come to be built. The station that first stood here was designed for steam trains. When steam trains were banned from Manhattan Island, the station was initially going to be moved. Instead, the railways were electrified, the tracks were put underground, and Grand Central Station was built. Many of the surrounding streets (and their high-rise buildings) are actually built over what is essentially a huge train yard!

Roosevelt Island
Roosevelt Island

After a pitstop for lunch in the excellent food court in Grand Central, we took a cable car to Roosevelt Island, a small island just off the East side of Manhattan. It’s only a short hop from the high rise buildings, but feels a lot more relaxed. There’s lots of green space (including a new memorial to Franklin D Roosevelt called Four Freedoms Park at its southern tip) and a bit more of a family-oriented feel.

Product of the day
Spotted in a supermarket: the perfect combination of biscuit….and learning opportunity!

Education in every bite

Serving up an amazing day’s tennis

Wednesday 3rd September
New York, USA

US Open Tennis, Flushing Meadows

What an amazing day!

We began by exploring the venue, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It is really fantastic – spacious and incredibly well-equipped with food and commercial concessions, as sports venues tend to be here in the US. The weather was wonderful – hot and sunny, but less humid than Tuesday had been, so a little less like walking through warm soup (although I still wouldn’t have fancied playing five sets of tennis in it!).

Outside Arthur Ashe Stadium

We had tickets for the main stadium, Arthur Ashe, right up at the back at one end of the court. From there, we began by watching a mixed doubles match with a significant amount of US involvement as Spears/Gonzalez bt. Townsend/Young.

The next match-up on Arthur Ashe was Victoria Azarenka vs. Ekaterina Makarova. We decided to watch the beginning and then head out to the field courts to see some more games close-up, before heading back for the climax of the game. However, the result was something of an upset, with Azarenka capitulating pretty rapidly, so we didn’t make it back in time to see any more of that match!

No regrets, though, as we dipped in and out of some fantastic juniors matches on the outer courts, including pausing for a time to cheer on Katie Swan from the UK. Sadly, our support was insufficient to inspire her to a victory over the ninth seed, but I am sure that she appreciated the sentiment…

Katie West in action

We were also lucky enough to wander over towards the practice courts just in time to see John McEnroe signing some autographs (while wearing a t-shirt bearing his own name, rather oddly…) and then, amazingly, to catch the end of Federer’s practice session with his coach, Stefan Edberg. By the time that we made it to the tellingly-large viewing gallery immediately overlooking the practice courts, Rog (as I think I am now entitled to call him) had completed his session and was relaxing with his team, apparently not at all fazed by the large crowd that had gathered to wait for autographs, etc., on his route back to the clubhouse.

Federer and Edberg relax

After a break in the shade to escape the unrelenting sun, we headed back into the stadium, hot dogs in hand, for Stan Wawrinka vs. Kei Nishikori. While Stan is the current Australian Open champion and third seed at the US, we were not familiar with Nishikori, although that is presumably on us, not him, as he is the tenth seed for this tournament. It seemed to us that the outcome should be a foregone conclusion, particularly as Nishikori had played five sets in the previous round, finishing his match at 2.30am on Tuesday morning. However, as the match unfolded over five sets we saw another upset, with Nishikori becoming the first Japanese man to make the semifinal of a Grand Slam tournament since 1918.

Wawrinka serves

The match was captivating, and we didn’t consider moving (other than to fetch more cold water and frozen lemonade to combat the searing heat!), although that meant that we sadly missed seeing Ross Hutchins playing mixed doubles on Louis Armstrong. He and his partner lost, but only just, on the strange super-tie-break used in place of a third set in doubles match at the US Open.

Because Wawrinka and Nishikori’s match went on for so long, the afternoon session (which we had tickets for) went on past 7pm, when the evening session was due to begin. The way that it works is that everybody has to clear out of Arthur Ashe stadium between the afternoon and evening sessions, but holders of afternoon tickets can stay within the complex until it closes. We had thought that we would be exhausted after eight hours in the sun, but we were wired following the drama of the Nishikori win, so we decided to get some food and watch Serena Williams’ match on one of the big screens in the central area of the Flushing Meadows site. With Williams’ opponent, Flavia Pennetta, disposed of relatively rapidly, we then decided to stay on for a bit of the Murray/Djokovic match, although it did not start until after 9.30pm.

And thank goodness that we did! We moved closer to the entrance to Arthur Ashe, sitting on the edge of a fountain immediately beneath the big screen. And then within a couple of minutes, as the players were being introduced to the crowd, a young man walked up and offered us night session tickets! He was attending with clients, but they had had to leave after the Williams match because they had early meetings the following morning. Our knight in shining armour thought it was a shame to waste excellent tickets, so offered them to the first people he saw – and we were lucky enough for that to be us! Samad, who we sat with for the remainder of the evening, was an absolutely lovely guy – a true gent. Samad, if you are reading this, thank you, from the bottom of our British hearts, for making a great day into a truly magnificent one!

Murray and Djokovic

Poor Andy just didn’t have enough in his legs to beat Djokovic, but it was an incredible match. The guys sitting in front of us, who had been attending the US Open for decades, all said it was one of the best games they had ever seen, and the atmosphere was incredible. The tickets that Samad gave us were amazing, too – we had been really impressed with our original seats, up in the Gods, but this view was something else.

Djokovic hits and backhand

Murray serves

The match finally came to an end at around 1.20am (fortunately, the subway in NYC runs all night!), and we headed “home”, tired but happy after 15 hours of incredible tennis. We are both still pinching ourselves, and can’t believe quite how lucky we were!

Dancing with the stars

Monday 1st September – Tuesday 2nd September
New York, USA

Skate dancing, Central Park
Our first afternoon in New York. The best cure for jet lag? Sunshine: we’d better persuade our bodies that it’s not nighttime, even if it really should be.

Luckily, it was a beautiful sunny day and New York was celebrating Labor Day, a national holiday. And the Central Park Dance Skaters Association were making the best of it! DJ Bobby Morales was in charge of the makeshift DJ booth. A wide mix of people (with and without skates) were dancing along, from ‘too cool for school’ through to ‘dance like no-one’s watching’!

This was New York at its most relaxed – just cutting loose and enjoying the end of the summer.

Central Park Dance Skater Tshirts

Skate dancer

Skater gets moving

Star gazing, the High Line
Back in 1999, an NYC community group formed to save a derelict elevated railway line from demolition, and in 2011 it opened as a fantastic park, 30 feet above the ground, called The High Line.

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It forms a fantastic green corridor which is amazingly well-maintained and obviously popular with both tourists and locals. Clearly, it is also doing wonders for regeneration of the area, too, if the number of signs advertising rental properties with Highline views is anything to go by.

We visited in daylight on Tuesday, and then went back in the evening (after a delicious vegetarian Japanese meal at Chelsea Market) to attend a weekly event, which involved a local amateur astronomy group bringing their telescopes along and giving members of the public the opportunity to do some stargazing in the city.

(I should mention that the title of this post owes something to poetic licence as we actually saw planets – Mars and Saturn – plus the moon, rather than any stars!)

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Song of the day
This song – ‘Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit – was already our song of the summer in the UK. If 92.3 AMP Radio is anything to go by, it’s one of the songs of the summer here too.