Sep102012

Manhattan Upper West Side Stories

This past week I had the opportunity to fly to New York, stay two nights at the Westin Times Square Hotel and attend the US Open Tennis Tournament courtesy of SPG American Express. The first half of the New York City experience was the tennis tournament where I saw Serena Williams win the Women’s Singles Quarterfinals September 5 from the nosebleed seats.

Actually all the seats offer good views of the tennis action. The higher up the seats, the closer you are to the big screens at the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium in the US National Tennis Center.

Serena Williams went on to ultimately win the US Open tennis tournament Sunday, September 9.

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Serena Williams v. Ana Ivanovic Sep 5, 2012 US Open Quarterfinals.

More about the SPG Amex Star experience in a separate post with a full review of the SPG American Express US Open hospitality event and the tennis events from Section 317 seen in this photo, and Section 6 Courtside seats the next day.

Manhattan Half Marathon Walk 

This post about New York is not much of a guide and unlikely to offer any real insight to locals and travelers familiar with Manhattan.

This was just my second ever trip to New York City where I stayed in a Manhattan hotel. The last time was in August 2000. On my first trip to New York City I only saw the Empire State Building, Strawberry Fields in Central Park and Grand Central Station. The summer temperature that time in August was in the mid-90s and insufferable.

Kelley and I stayed holed up in our Park Avenue and East 37th St. midtown Manhattan Sheraton Russell Hotel suite for most of our time in the city. That hotel was a boutique Starwood hotel that felt like apartment living, but it was demolished about six years ago and replaced by a modern skyscraper apartment building.

One habit I have when I travel to a new place is to walk extensively around the neighborhood. Manhattan is certainly one big island with many different neighborhoods to see.

My knowledge of New York has been limited to place names from music, books, movies and TV shows.

Now I know Central Park is north of Times Square, Wall Street is at the southern part or lower end of Manhattan and Midtown Manhattan is where a tourist will find most of the major chain hotels. I know much of Manhattan is a walkable city and subway platforms in summer can be unbearably hot.

Walking in the wild west end

My good fortune was to have Jennifer Miner of The Vacation Gals as my very own “west sider’s guide” to Manhattan. Jennifer is another one of the SPG Amex Stars in New York for the US Open SPG Amex event. Turns out Jennifer is a former Manhattan west side gal who now lives in Southern California.

Jennifer really likes to walk too.

So despite the humidity and 90 degree heat we walked the streets of Manhattan for hours.

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Google Maps approximation of my West Side Manhattan walks.

I really thought we had made a full 26 miles marathon walk of Manhattan, but according to my memory of where we had been and photos of what I had seen and Google Maps directions, the walking tour actually covered about 16 miles of streets from Westin Times Square Hotel to Central Park, the Upper West Side and Times Square one afternoon and from Times Square down to the West Village and Washington Square the following afternoon.

 

Strawberry Fields Forever

A few miles of Central Park were covered on my own to visit Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon Memorial. John Lennon’s music and words were a fundamental part of my teen spirit in the 1970s.

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Strawberry Fields Central Park was dedicated October 9, 1985 on what would have been John Lennon’s 45th birthday.

A crowd of people stood and stared. Imagine that.

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“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

Streets in New York take you different directions than avenues.

Some people like to study a travel guide before visiting a city and plan an itinerary to see all the major tourist sites. My travel style according to the Marriott What’s Your Travel Style? game last month is “urban explorer”. I did not make any plans for touring New York prior to my arrival.

By lucky chance the skies did not rain for the two days I stayed in New York making for better photo opportunities. But the heat and humidity kept me raining sweat constantly for the entire stay. I have more appreciation now for the foggiest summer in a decade here in Monterey, California.

I learned from Jennifer that Manhattan “streets” run east and west in direction and “avenues” are north and south in direction. Looking at Google Maps I see that 5th Avenue, which borders the east side of Central Park is the dividing line between west and east streets in Manhattan.

As it happened I never crossed over 5th Avenue to the east side streets during the entire 16 miles of walking Manhattan this trip.

All I have are west side photos from these walks.

$350 ticket for honking horn in Midtown Manhattan 8th Ave and West 56th St.

One of my misconceptions of New York City was blaring horns as a sound backdrop common to films and TV shows. The only time I heard vehicle horns sounding is when people were crossing streets against the light and a car was driving at the pedestrians blocking a green traffic light.

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5th Avenue at Central Park, New York.

One of my favorite signs in New York City is the “No Standing” signs all along 5th Avenue and other locations. Adds new meaning to the phrase “Run to catch the bus”.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art at 5th Avenue and East 82nd.

Touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art was tempting, but I wanted to be outside walking in the quietness of Central Park in the morning while the temperature was still relatively cool.

Central Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after winning a 1858 park design competition and completed in 1873. I spent three hours in Central Park and walked only about half the length of the park.

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Belvedere Castle was built in 1869-1872 as a lookout and became the New York Meteorological Observatory weather station. The building was restored in 1982. Admission is free with a $2 donation suggested.

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The Great Lawn, Central Park seen from Belvedere Castle.

It takes $42 million annually to maintain Central Park. 85% of the funds come from private donations.

You can take a park self-guided audio tour with your cellphone. I just rambled unguided. Many of the park fields were fenced off keeping people on pathways.

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Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare Garden, Central Park

Now to reveal my cultural ignorance when it comes to theater and musicals. There was a sign on the round theater seen behind the Romeo and Juliet statue advertising free tickets for the Shakespeare & Sondheim in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for the musical West Side Story among his many other musical theater achievements. My wife was surprised to learn I was not familiar with Sondheim as one of the most famous composers in US history.

West Side Story takes place in the location of the West 50s and 60s streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This area of Manhattan had extensive urban renewal in the 1960s with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, The Juilliard School and Lincoln Towers residences.

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One of the Lincoln Towers residential buildings.

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The Juilliard School 

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Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center is also the location for New York Fashion Week I will be attending later this week on another trip back to New York.

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Jennifer Miner on opening night of New York Fashion Week.

SPG Amex Stars bloggers are invited to a last night party for Fashion Week this coming Thursday courtesy of SPG American Express.

On the Waterfront

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Hudson River and the Jersey shore in the distance.

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This is the pedestrian pier built in the last decade that is visible in the background of the former photo. A paved pedestrian/bicycle path runs along the waterfront. Apparently this pier and waterfront park area was part of a Donald Trump residential real estate project.

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Sunset with a river view.

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Birdland Jazz Club, West 44th Street, New York.

The Westin New York Times Square is located at 270 West 43rd Street. The building with colorful windows is the 45-story Westin Hotel.

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Rooms on higher floors with a west view overlook the Hudson River in the distance. My room faced east and Times Square.

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My favorite feature of the view in my 28th floor room was the top of the Empire State Building visible from the bed.

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Empire State Building

Times Square at night for me was an attention deficit disorder scene of lights, noise and people. Not my kind of scene. Too Vegas like.

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George M Cohan statue at Times Square and branding overload in front of the W Times Square Hotel.

Now I have been to Times Square New York so I will have a true locational memory next New Year’s Eve when TV broadcasts the 2013 ball drop.

The West Village was much more to my liking as a New York tourist experience. More on that west side story in a separate post.

 

Disclosure: This US Open Tennis event trip to New York was provided by SPG American Express as part of the SPG Amex Star experience for selected travel bloggers. Airfare, hotel and tickets to the US Open were complimentary. I’ll link to the US Open experience post after I publish the piece later this week.

Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. You can follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. @dealswelike – The Great Lawn was completely closed off by fences. My sisters have been to free concerts there.

    @Martin – I will be back in New York in 48 hours. I plan to see the Statue of Liberty from a boat. My plan is to get myself to the southern streets of Manhattan this coming Thursday and Friday.

  2. Fantastic report!
    A nice reminder of places I’ve been myself and a lots of places in NYC I haven’t been to, yet.
    I am not sure when I will be back there, but one day I will, that’s for sure!
    A couple years ago we took Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. It was a great sight and a fascinating experience. What still amazes us is what happened on Staten Island. Almost all passengers disembarked only to rush over to the returning ferry 😉

  3. This morning I walked from W Hotel Union Square to Wall Street. Turns out Union Square is east of Fifth Avenue by a block.

    I was wrong when I stated I never went east of 5th Ave.

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