An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: Taking a bite out of the Big Apple

Me in New York with yellow cab and Time Square behind
Me in New York with yellow cab and Time Square behind
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Whilst many an individual in this ‘interim’ period when Whistler is quiet and the weather is damp, cold and wet are trying to fly off to warmer, sunnier climbs (that was my original plan at least anyway!), we ended up flying off to the east coast of North America.

Originally this plan was devised around my figuring in the New York marathon, which took part last weekend, but of course, due to a foot stress fracture, left my involvement as a measly spectator at best. The event in itself though, including the week long build up in the city, has much to do with why this race is considered one of, if not the most popular marathon to gain entry to. This year saw perfect weather conditions on a fantastic course and although not considered one of the fastest marathons to run, it still left me feeling somewhat despondent that I hadn’t played my part.

Central Park

Central Park

So I took off a couple of weeks back, leaving my spot in the mountains, to meet up with my hard working wife, who had business meetings arranged in Toronto and would have allowed me a good few days to recover from the jetlag before the race. Both Toronto and New York are renowned for their stifling heat in the summer and frigid cold (especially Toronto) conditions in the winter. The last time I was in Toronto it was so hot and humid that it was all I could do to leave our hotel room. As for traipsing around the city – forget about it! Same story across the whole of eastern Canada as it happens!

As you might imagine, the city hustle and bustle is a world apart from our little mountain home. Life in the mountains is definitely a distinctly slower and way more relaxed pace – something that keeps me at peace and with no desire to move on for now! So, upon arriving in Toronto, it was something of a re-awakening almost as soon as I stepped out our hotel door. Now it’s not that I don’t like cities or that they’re even that alien to me (I spent all my working days commuting and working in bigger UK cities a whole lifetime ago), it’s just that I came to realise a long time ago that I don’t like to be on the overly frenetic treadmill where the activity levels and stress of everyone trying to get everywhere in a real hurry, is just something better suited to everyone else! That said, I enjoy a break away to a city as much as anyone – it just takes me a little while to adapt and be comfortable with it!

We lucked out with the weather wherever we went, which was just as well as I spent most of the trip in this walking ‘air-cast’ boot (picture the old Nike Air boots of old where you pumped them up – yup, you read right, an air cast that you pumped up to custom fit your foot) and it wouldn’t have been fun hobbling around with this wet foot. Toronto was cool, but by no means anywhere near their ‘winter temperatures’ and with clear blue skies most of the time. A great walking city and a good tram system to get around. Definitely an eclectic city with a huge financial hub where most of Canada’s major financial institutions have their head offices, all close to the downtown. A short hobble or a few minutes cab ride away is the more upmarket, upscale area of Bloorville where the wealthy lived and many of the boutique stores and best restaurants can be found – a great place to escape to a slightly slower pace and drop a bit of coin.

So after several days of hobbling around, eating out too much and moving around too many hotels (why we couldn’t have simply stayed in the one hotel throughout I’ll never know!), we finally moved onto New York City, the ‘Big Apple’. My god – and I thought Toronto was busy!!!

What is there to be said about this city that hasn’t already been well documented across the media and silver screens dozens and dozens of times before everyone’s eyes?? Well, this city certainly doesn’t EVER sleep (sound familiar?). Everyone is in such a hurry to be in a …hurry? It’s madness I tell ya! Of course, like most places, everything depends on what part of town or city you are in. We ticked off a few of the traditional tourist sights, but tried to stay away to some degree. Everyone and their wife visits Time Square of course having many of the big stores, such as Macy’s in the close proximity does nothing to disperse the crowds that have amassed from all over the world. To be fair, there may well have been a slightly higher proportion of ‘foreigners’ in this city whilst we were there than usual. Why, well it was due to the NYC marathon of course! Some 47,000 runners were about to toe the line for the 26.2 miles or 42.2kms jaunt around the five boroughs and of course in many instances, these participants had come from outside of the city walls and with their own entourage. Again, yes it was busy!!

There are many beautiful areas around New York to explore and plenty to escape the madness of the tourist and heavy business districts. Central Park may as well be in another part of the world altogether and is a real escapism just steps in some cases from all the hustle and hectic lifestyles. It’s also HUGE. Just in case anyone’s in any doubt of this fact, it’s HUGE!! Of course, with a gravitational pull all of it’s own, many of the oh so rich and famous can also be seen around parts of the less ‘touristy’ areas, such as Soho or Greenwich Village, Chelsea and even the Meatpacking district. Some of these areas have escaped much of the big urban re-developments and have retained their original charm and very own culture. They’re also where all the swanky restaurants, bars and stores can be found or simply the funky and eclectic where the bohemian locate themselves – culture everywhere.

The restaurants and pubs there see there fair share of celebrities. We even had the honour of a certain Orlando Bloom popping in for a pint or a glass of vino accompanied with his model wife and recent baby strapped to his chest. Bless my little star-struck wife who, to this day, still swears that he was flirting with her (nothing to do with the fact that as he entered and waited to be shown to a quiet table, the ‘trouble and strife’ locked eyes with him, convinced that she knew him. When Orlando had obviously finally had enough of this uncomfortableness, he graciously uttered ‘Hi’ to her. This was when she dutifully looked back at her loving husband and oh so quietly and subtly shouted “do you know who that is??!” Yep, I’m sure Orlando was impressed beyond words!

As for the much and rightly hyped marathon, this was one I really need to get back to and actually take part in. The crowds were there in their thousands, the organisation was great from what I could see and heard, the conditions were about as good as you could hope for and the option to take in the sights and smells (there are truly amazing wafts of delicious goodness coming at you from every which way you turn – actually, not always that healthy!) of the five boroughs and the stunning Central Park. This has to be one of the better marathons to be involved in, believe me, I’ve ran a few. Everyone taking part was so proud and happy to be there. Even two whole days later there were numerous participants still sightseeing and wandering around with their very well earned and respected finishers medal around their necks and it was clearly never coming off! Perhaps I just found it ‘odd’ to see this so long after crossing the line because I was still intensely jealous that I was ‘robbed’ of the chance to pit my wits and endurance against the throng of the elite…

As always, it took me a while to adjust to being comfortable in a city like this – Is there really many other cities even remotely like this? As always though, just when we were due to leave, I began to see all that I appreciated and would jump at the opportunity to get back there sometime. This time I would just avoid the tourist spots, take a bigger wallet, prepare myself not to have my head turned by every sumptuous offering of local and ethnic delicacies and let the wife go look for Orlando…