New York

New York Panorama

Arrive in New York.

To Manhattan.

Check into the Algonquin Hotel.  That’s what writers do, isn’t it?

Decided to leave the Chelsea Hotel for the musos.  Yes, absorbing the literary style and wit of the Round Table was further up the bucket list than possibly getting the room where Janis Joplin gave Leonard Cohen a Lewinsky-like favour on an unmade bed (it is in his song Chelsea Hotel)… or the room where Nancy Spungen was stabbed to death.  Mind you, my favourite writer, Dylan Thomas, was staying at the Chelsea when he died of pneumonia in 1953… and Robert Zimmerman, who changed his name to Bob Dylan because of Thomas, actually lived there for a while… but if you are tossing up between the Chelsea and the Algonquin these days it is a very easy choice… go the Algonquin because the Chelsea has been closed for renovation since August 2011…

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Meet Matilda…

Matilda the Algonquin cat

People with cat allergies should seek alternative accommodation.  In the 1930’s a dishevelled puss mosied into the Algonquin seeking food and shelter.  The owner, Frank Case, obliged, the cat moved in, and a tradition was born.  Since then a cat has always had complete run of the hotel (apart from the kitchen and dining areas) and the current feline-in-residence is Matilda.  Cat fanciers may contact Matilda directly at matildaalgonquincat@algonquinhotel.com.

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The Algonquin is the home of the $10,000 martini (called Martini on the Rock). It comes with a single piece of ice – a diamond from the in-house jeweler, Bader & Garrin.

Algonquin Martini on the RockOn a rainy day, Round Table Member, actor Robert Benchley, coined the phrase, “let’s get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.”  The final martini word to round table founder, Dorothy Parker…

I like to have a martini,
two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
after four I’m under my host.

Times Square New York at NightThe Algonquin was charming and classy, slickly transporting me to the ambience of another era without destroying the reality of busy, modern New York just the other side of the entrance doors.  Heading out that evening to check out Times Square, dine and go to a comedy club I made the necessary preparations, following advice that I’m sure is given to many Australians… “New York is great – it’s fun, it’s alive… but there are homeless, there is a high crime rate, so watch out for muggers… don’t carry a lot of cash, only have one credit card in your wallet and wear your second card in your shoe…”  Check.  $90 cash should be enough… put the Visa card in the wallet and the Amex in the shoe – Amex has no limit… Woo-hoo, time to take a bite out of the Big Apple!  To cut the story short – got talking to a local in a bar, as you do… and bought him a drink… and he smiled and said, “You’re an easy spot.  $90 cash, Visa in the wallet and Amex in the shoe…”  Hmm.  In case you’re wondering – no, I wasn’t mugged.

This trip was pre-MS diagnosis.  I would probably consider the Algonquin again because I can mostly get around with my trusty cane, but would suggest visitors in wheelchairs look for somewhere more modern and with purpose-built access and facilities.  The Marriott Marquis on Times Square has a fabulous location (right by the Red Stairs and NYE Ball and does a good job looking after disabled folk).  The elevators (right) are an attraction in their own right but more on the Marquis later – for now, let’s look at some of the main sights in NYC.

This section will grow but for now the attractions appearing on this site are: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, Little Italy and Times Square.  That’s because we haven’t got out and about as much as we would have liked yet – but we welcome contributions based on your personal experiences and thank Kimberly from Canada for kicking off that thread below.  And…

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Meet Laura…

Laura with NYPD cops Little Italy

Laura is your humble scribe’s daughter.  In 2011 she had a six month exchange in Michigan and her Host Mom, Cindy, arranged a visit to the Big Apple the week before the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Laura at the Statue of LibertyI think the opening line of our first Skype chat after the visit went something like… “Dad, I am soooooo going to move to New York when I leave school!”  And I said something fatherly lame like, “Darling, go for it, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…”

Laura loved the main sights, she loved the busy vibe, she loved her bagel in Central Park, she loved how locals can’t talk without using their hands and she loved how friendly and welcoming New Yorkers are.

The top photo is Laura at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy with two of NYPD’s finest.  The guys were approachable, fun and, I have no doubt, damn good at their job.

The photo right is in front of the… um… what’s the name of that thingumy again…? The Eiffel… the Eiffel… nah… it’ll come.  Damn MS holes in the brain!

Anyway, it’s bigger than I remember it… unless Laura lost a lot of weight… and height… Oh! The Statue of Liberty!!  That’s it!!!  Normal programming will now resume.

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They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway… and they are.

Times Square New YorkThere’s no better place to experience the excitement of New York than Times Square. Surrounded by neon lights, giant billboards, Broadway theatres, electronic ticker tape and television studios, Times Square is slap-dab the heart of Midtown. The recently reopened TKTS Discount Booth (where theatre tickets are sold at up to 50% off face value) is topped with a giant red staircase, open to visitors daily until 1:00am. Walk to the top of the steps and you get a sweeping view of the area, including the site of the annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. My daughter was thoughtful enough to Skype me with TV coverage for the 2011/12 drop so I got NYE twice!  Elsewhere in Times Square, the City has created several pedestrian-only zones handily furnished with chairs, just perfect for people-watching.  Or will they be watching you…?

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Meet Marc…

Marc is a fellow MSer and New York local.  Well… he’s more than a local… NYC runs in his veins.

New York texting girlMarc and his lovely wife Karen live, love and breathe New York.  As Marc says on his blog, “I grew up in New York City, and spent the 1980s in Boston (college and postcollege rock ‘n roll craziness). During the 1990s, I lived in South Florida, until I woke up one morning and realized I was living in South Florida, came to my senses, and moved back to New York.”  Marc’s MS journey is beautifully documented on his blog, the Wheelchair Kamikaze.  You will also find his stunning gallery of photography (from his wheelchair-mounted camera) that captures the essence and soul of New York City – both the place and the people.  The girl texting, the goofy horse and the spring blossom are from Marc’s gallery.

Goofy Horse New YorkI received an email from Marc about New York, then and now, when he knew I was working on this project.  It is printed here with permission…

Though I was born and raised here, I have no idea why New York City is called the Big Apple, a name I don’t very much care for. Gotham is fine, Sin City is even better, although that moniker was more accurate when I was growing up on the city’s much meaner streets in the late 1970s. Back when on any given night you could catch the Ramones, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, or Johnny Thunders at Max’s Kansas City or The Mudd Club and Times Square was more the domain of pickpockets, junkies, and hookers (often all represented in the same person) than the home to Disney characters and theme restaurants that it is today. My teenage friends and I would go to Times Square to buy fake IDs, sold openly from every other storefront in the vicinity, and play pinball and early videogames in the many arcades, all the while trying to work up the courage to enter one of the seedy “Live Sex on Stage” clubs that were as ubiquitous to the locale as canker sores were to a lady for hire’s, well, you know, parts for hire.

Anyway, needless to say the city has changed greatly in the last 30+ years, I suppose mostly for the better but also for the blander.  I do miss the days when there were actual discernible neighborhoods, and large parts of New York which one wouldn’t dream of venturing into for fear of a grisly demise.

Sigh. Sometimes it feels like the New York has traded its soul for a corporate sponsorship, just as many of my old buddies have done, and I was treacherously close to doing before the MS kicked in. Odd form for a savior to take, eh?

I so hope to break bread with Marc one day!

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Empire State BuildingThe Empire State Building is an icon, soaring above the city.  There are two observatories.  The open-air terrace on the 86th floor (with an indoor area for chilly days) has the most spectacular views of downtown, midtown, Central Park and beyond. The promenade is wheelchair accessible. Nip up 16 floors to the 102nd for the highest public point in NYC.  Since 1931 the building has featured in over 250 movies, and almost had the lead role in a few like King Kong, An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle.

The least crowded visiting hours are first up, around 8:00am or around 3:00pm, but peak visiting times can vary. The ESB is open 8:00am to 2:00am regardless of weather conditions.  For proposals of marriage… the night skyline wins for romance…

The Empire State Building is fully ADA compliant. There are handicapped restrooms on the 86th floor Observatory where there are also lowered viewing walls and binoculars for folk in wheelchairs.

Statue of Liberty CrownThe Statue of Liberty is pretty amazing, both architecturally and symbolically.  She is a true symbol of freedom, hope and stability.

I am so glad Laura got there in September 2011 because it closed in October for a year-long upgrade project.

All interiors of the Statue (museum, pedestal and crown) are currently closed.  Liberty Island is still open and the exterior views are fine but she won’t be shiny on the inside and functioning until late 2012.

The design dates back to 1876 (sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi) and the statue was a gift from the French to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence.  The construction was a joint effort.

The Statue follows the traditions and designs of sculpture in Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations but the face, while classical, is of the sculptor Bartholdi’s mother, Charlotte.

A symbolic feature that visitors cannot see is the broken chain wrapped around the Statue’s feet. Protruding from the bottom of her robe are the broken chains that symbolise her free forward movement, enlightening the world with her torch free from oppression and servitude.

Between 1886 and 1924, almost 14 million immigrants entered the US through New York. The Statue of Liberty was a reassuring sign that they had arrived in the land of their dreams. To these anxious newcomers, the Statue’s uplifted torch did not suggest “enlightenment,” as her creators intended, but rather, “welcome.”

statue of libertyImprovements to the pedestal include new stairs, elevators and, for the first time, accessible access to the pedestal observation level.

Restrooms aboard ferries are not handicapped accessible.

The Information Center, Gift Pavilion, Book Store, Dining facilities and exterior grounds are ADA compliant.  Accessible restrooms are located inside the Gift Pavilion.

A limited number of wheelchairs are available at both Liberty and Ellis Islands (on a first-come, first-served basis). They can be borrowed, free of charge, with the deposit of a driver’s license or another form of I.D., at the Information Center (Liberty Island) and the Information Desk (Ellis Island).

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Meet Kimberly…

Kimberly is a fellow Mser from Canada and she had a fabulous ten-day family holiday in New York.

We are so thrilled she has shared some of her experiences with us.  Probably best if I hand over to Kimberly for both words and pictures…

Kimberly Manhattan TourI was using a manual chair but was able to transfer to a taxi.  It was difficult to hail a taxi from the street while in the wheelchair but drivers had no choice if you used the taxi queue at the hotel. A folding manual chair was ideal.

We stayed at the Marriott Marquis Times Square right by the Red Stairs and the NYE ball.  It was fabulous and full of action.

We booked an accessible 10 hour coach tour of Manhattan.  On that tour, we also went on a harbour tour past the statue of liberty and under the Brooklyn Bridge.  

The accessible bus had to be pre-arranged but the big bus had a door that popped out the side and I slipped into the area where two rows of seats had been removed and I was secured there. 

We found the locals very vocal, friendly and inviting.  For some reason I attracted a lot of attention in my chair – all positive, with lots of comments on the metallic orange.  Local vendors went out of their way to try to make shopping a fun experience.

Lion KingWe also did a Harbour Cruise, the Empire State Building, the Met and MoMa.  We saw Stomp (off Broadway) and Lion King on Broadway.  

The Lion King show staff (at the Minskoff Theare) were extremely helpful and courteous with the disabled access and seating.  We got to “pre-seat” while the more mobile attendees waited to be let in and we were asked repeatedly if everything was good before they invited the masses in. 

Stomp (at the Orpheum) said it was accessible but that was just a lie.  Another story.

Accommodation at the Marriott Marquis? 

From the Times Square roomVery friendly staff.  I was able to take a step or two at the time so we did not book an accessible room.  We stayed in a regular room for seven nights and a Times Square View room for three nights.  The staff made our room exchange seamless, which we really appreciated. (View from the room right)

We had a wonderful dinner in the rotating restaurant on top.  I had no difficulty navigating it in my wheelchair as the buffet stations are in the “hub” of the restaurant and I just waited for the right section to come around.  No jostling with the walking throng for food!  We were escorted to a table closest to the “hub” for accessibility but furthest from the windows.  This did not diminish our experience.  I believe there was a step down for the tables closer to the window.  We had a clear view and saw the complete night time panoramic view of Manhattan more than once.  Oh, and there is a special elevator to the very top restaurant.  No stops.  It is like a thrill ride in itself. Reminded me of Willy Wonka’s glass elevator, except it wasn’t glass.  There is a gorgeous lounge at the lobby level (on the 8th Floor).

Bubba Gump MealWe also ate twice at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co (inspired by Forrest Gump movie), just down the street.  The restaurant was upstairs.  My husband went up, checked with the staff, and they were more than willing to haul us up in the service elevator to get us to the restaurant.  Once in there, the staff were very helpful to get us a suitable table.  

We obviously enjoyed it because our family of four went twice.  I realize that a service elevator may not be someone’s idea of accessible but I figure that the staff’s helpful attitude more than made up for that.

Ahhh… the serendipity of travel!

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Central Park is huge.  843 acres huge… and the green seems all the more green when surrounded by all that glass and concrete.

Central Park New YorkIt is a place for strolling, picnicking, learning, watching concerts, playing chess, proposing and marrying.  There’s Belvedere Castle (functioning weather station), the Blockhouse (olf fort from the War of 1812) and there are fountains, obelisks and statues dotted throughout (Balto, Alice in Wonderland, William Shakespeare)… THERE’S Central Park Zoo & Wildlife Centre (130 species including polar bears!) and the Children’s Zoo.  There are skating rinks, a carousel, swimming pool, tennis courts and baseball fields… but above all, it is a park… a place to unwind, appreciate nature and find some time for regathering self.  After all, it’s a jungle out there… unless you are in the advertising agency precinct on 5th Avenue – it’s a jingle up there!

Central Park is accessible via specified entrances and exits along its perimeter.

Chess Central ParkOn the south end of the park, there are four Midtown entrances along 59th Street (or Central Park South): Columbus Circle (where Broadway and Eighth Avenue meet), Seventh Avenue, Sixth Avenue and Grand Army Plaza (just west of Fifth Avenue). Along the Upper East Side, the Fifth Avenue side of the park has more than 10 entrances between 60th and 110th Streets. You’ll find more than a dozen entrances spanning the Upper West Side along Central Park West between 63rd and 110th Streets. There are four additional entrances at the north end of the park along 110th Street, in the neighborhoods of Morningside Heights and Harlem on the west side and East Harlem on the east side.

metropolitan-museum-of-artThe fabulous Metropolitan Museum of Art is on the border of Central Park on Museum Mile.  It is one of the largest and most comprehensive art museums in the world. With over two million works of art spanning 5,000 years, the Met presents the best of human creativity from ancient Egypt to the spectacular New American Wing, to the Met’s beloved Impressionist paintings.  The collection and special exhibitions are free with museum admission. There’s too much to see all in one visit, so we suggest you have a look at the suggested itineraries and take it from there.  Here’s a link: http://www.metmuseum.org/en/visit/itineraries

nyc metropolitanThe Museum is committed to making its collections, buildings, programs, and services accessible to all audiences and offers programs for visitors with disabilities on a regular basis.

Designated spaces are available in the parking garage for visitors with disabilities. The clearance is six feet, six inches (6′ 6″). Alternate arrangements can be made in advance for visitors with disabilities traveling in oversized vehicles. Just call 212-650-2010, between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The Museum is accessible to wheelchair users and other visitors who need to avoid stairs. Accessible entrances are located at Fifth Avenue and 81st Street and through the parking garage at Fifth Avenue and 80th Street.

Metropolitan Museum NYCWheelchairs are available free of charge at coat-check areas on a first-come, first-served basis. Advance reservations are not available.

Elevators and escalators are located throughout the building.

Arrangements may be made for a volunteer to escort wheelchair users in the Museum. Please call 212-570-3954 to request this service (two weeks’ notice is preferred).

Wheelchair-accessible public telephones, as well as telephones with volume control, are located in the Museum.

We reckon Little Italy is a ‘must do’ for visitors to New York.

We could devote a whole website to reviewing the restaurants and the shopping but why would we bother when someone already has – here’s a link to the official Little Italy NYC website.

Little Italy NYCAnd rather than paraphrase, here’s part of the website welcome:

Walking beside the narrow, cobblestoned streets beneath the fire escapes of turn-of-the-century tenements, you’re tempted by the sights, sounds and smells of Italian cuisine and culture emanating from the restaurants surrounding you at every step… Remember, Little Italy isn’t just a San Gennaro Festival in September, it’s year-round. You may not be able to win that stuffed animal, but you can still sure stuff yourself! A coal brick oven pizza…a hearty glass of Chianti…a zeppole…a cannoli…you’ll find it all in New York’s Little Italy.