Moments in New York City

Recently my friend Jay told me she was going to New York City for a week. After the usual exclamations of happiness and well wishes, there was a slight pause before she asked, "do you know what I can do while I'm there?"

I was momentarily speechless. I mean, it's New York City, right? There is so much to see and do. But then I remembered my own trepidation four years ago when I prepared for my own visit. I remember not having a clear idea of how the city was laid out and I also remember my confusion on that first metro train from JFK into downtown Manhattan.

Like I did in 2009, Jay is travelling alone and booked last minute plane tickets to New York on a whim. And like me, she is not worried about being lonely but simply wants to make the most of her time. The thing is, there is something incredible about experiencing a city solo and it is often the beginning of an enduring love affair. It wouldn’t be proper for me to draw up a detailed itinerary so my advice was simple: savour the moments.

And if, like Jay, you find that advice supremely unhelpful, here are the most enduring moments from my trip to New York:

Sitting on a Lawn Chair in Times Square

Pedestrian Area, Times Square

It had been the longest day and I had walked until my legs could no longer carry me. I emerged into Times Square and was stunned to see a pedestrian sitting area there, laid out with lawn chairs. I asked somebody if the area had always been closed off but was told that no, it was new. It was absolutely surreal sitting still while the city of New York rushed past me. It began to rain and I turned my head to the sky, amazed to see the big drops of rain visible against the dark blue sky. It was a moment I will never forget.

Walking in the Footsteps of Immigrants at Ellis Island

Luggage at Ellis Island

From the moment I stepped off the boat at Ellis Island, I was absolutely awed by the red brick and limestone Main House. The Great Hall took my breath away and I stood there for the longest time, imagining what it must have felt like to have been an immigrant, with this vast registration room standing between you and a new life. I spent ages walking through the exhibits of the Immigration Museum, taking time to read each and every inscription as I learned about Eugenics and the battery of mental and physical tests that immigrants had to undergo before approval. I learned about detention, incarceration and deportation, about Christmas spent on Ellis Island and about the millions of people whose fate was decided in those rooms. I was deeply moved and it was a moment that will stay with me forever.

A Tear Shaped Garden in Central Park

Strawberry Fields, Central Park

I can remember the day that John Lennon was shot as if it were yesterday. My mother was devastated and wrote a lot of angry poetry in the following days. It was no surprise that seeing the Dakota moved me but as I walked into Central Park, I was met by a herd of people chattering and jostling to take a photo of the iconic black and white Imagine mosaic. What most people don’t realise is that the mosaic is not the actual memorial to the slain Beatle.

I turned away and looked out over the pristine living memorial of the tear-shaped Strawberry Fields.  In a heartbeat, it was as if the chaos around me disappeared as I stood looking into this quiet and tranquil garden. I wondered if John would have liked it, whether he would have appreciated being memorialised here. Ultimately, I realised that if he could choose, he would have chosen to live and it made me very happy to be alive.  It was a life affirming and deeply moving moment.

Never Alone in New York

Pepsi Cola Sign at CitiField

Of course, once I get started, it is difficult to stop. The people of New York are incredible. There was the friendly neighbour down the hall who gave me a massive bowl of dim sum to enjoy, just in case I got hungry during my stay (it lasted for days). The numerous people who rushed to my assistance every time I opened up a map or looked lost. The kind man in Brooklyn who let me take shelter in his garage for the longest time while it belted down with rain. The lovely family at Citi Field who spotted the bewildered look on my face and patiently explained the rules of baseball to me as the New York Mets beat the St Louis Cardinals. The very patient man at the hot dog stand who indulgently listened to me gush on about how this was my first New York hot dog. And the born and bred New Yorker who also spotted the raindrops against the sky in Times square and seemed almost as awed as I was. 

Each person, each connection, each shared moment meant that I was barely alone for any of the time I was in New York and it is an experience I will never forget. Now I dream of returning to New York but I won’t go alone again. Next time I definitely want to share it all with Stephen.

Have you ever travelled alone or been to New York? What were your enduring travel moments?

Shepherd Neame: A Visit to Britain’s Oldest Brewer

When you come from a relatively young country like South Africa, it can be hard to grasp just how ancient Britain really is. Take Watling Street for instance. This ancient Roman road ran all the way from Kent through London to Wroxeter where it split towards Chester and Holyhead. It was on a stretch of Watling Street that the Romans defeated Boudica, Queen of the Iceni in 61 AD and it is believed that Chaucer’s 14th century pilgrims travelled along Watling Street on their journey from Southwark to Canterbury.

On the route from London to Canterbury lies the town of Faversham and it is here that you will find Britain’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame.

Vintage Pub Signs at Shepherd Name

Faversham’s monks were brewing ale as early as the 12th century, dipping deep into wells containing natural chalk-filtered spring water. Kent is also Britain’s ‘Home of the Hop’ and by the middle of the 17th century, more than a third of the country’s hops were grown in Kent. There could be no better place to build a brewery and Shepherd Neame was established in 1698. To this day, Shepherd Neame is a family-owned business and they conduct frequent tours and tutored tasting events.

The Brewhouse at Shepherd Neame Stepping into the brewery is like stepping into another era. There are deep ridges in the walls from where carriages were pulled through the narrow, cobbled passageways and we spotted a concrete name plaque bearing the name of the original founding family.

Cement Nameplate at Shepherd Neame Brewery

The age-old process of mixing heated spring water (or liquor, as it is known) with ground malted barley in oak mash tuns continues to this day. The resulting mixture, known as wort, is transferred to a copper where hops is added. Solids are then removed from the mixture and yeast is added before fermentation and finally cask, keg or bottling.

The Stained Glass Window at Shepherd Neame

In the Millennium Brewhouse you will find the beautiful stained glass windows detailing the history of Shepherd Neame. There is a spitfire, reference to the brewery’s most famous ale, as well as a bishop’s finger, the old signpost that would have directed the pilgrims to Canterbury and yet another famous Shepherd Neame ale.

Lager Copper - Shepherd Name Brewery

Don’t be fooled though, Shepherd Neame certainly keeps up with modern developments. The stained glass window was installed when the exterior wall had to be demolished to allow the massive lager copper that you can see in the photo above to be lifted in by crane.

The Fermentation Room at Shepherd Neame

It is no surprise that the fermentation room lacked charm after the perfectly pleasant journey through the history of ale making. It was damp and clinical and it smelt pretty awful (unless you like the smell of yeast, of course).

The Lager Room at Shepherd Name

I was more interested in the lager room. There is very little light in this ‘room’ (warehouse might be a better term) but there is apparently so much beer stored in this room that you would need to drink two pints a day from the age of 18 to 65 to work your way through it. This seemed to be rather tempting to certain young men in our group.

Shepherd Name - Britain's Oldest Brewer

During the tour, we had sampled some malted barley and breathed in the fine, sharp odour of the hops. The tour had taken just over an hour and it was now time to sampled the finished product. I’m not usually much of a drinker but I certainly appreciated the tasting experience and enjoyed taking in the colours and clarity of the beers. Most of the participants were pleased to learn that in beer tasting, you most certainly do not spit out what you taste!

Hops at Shepherd Name

We tasted six ales and lagers in all and Stephen and I both agreed that Amber Ale was our favourite. Amber Ale is a winter ale, brewed specifically in the colder months but strangely enough, we could both imagine supping it on a late summer’s evening.

The Shepherd Neame Collection

The Shepherd Name brewery tour and tasting is a great day out and tickets cost £11.50. They also offer an evening tour complete with tasting and supper as well as recently launched beer and food matching evenings.

Shepherd Neame Brewery
11 Court Street
ME13 7AX

Beauty in Brutalism: The Barbican Estate

Barbican CentreBarbican Centre

There was a time when, in my esteemed opinion, structures like The Barbican represented everything that was wrong in the world of architecture.  Of course, I was nine years old but all of that concrete and brutalism was too stark a reminder of how grim things had been in the small northern town where I grew up during the Thatcher years.

The Red Room BarbicanThe Red Room, Barbican Centre

Somewhere along the way, something strange happened and I fell in love with the bold, hopeful lines of the walkways in the sky. It was a gradual process but by the time I finally laid eyes on the Barbican Estate last year, I was well and truly converted.  I wasn’t able to explore the estate last year and had been meaning to return for some time.

Alone Again OrAlone Again Or

Last week, we had a rare glimpse of spring (so rare, in fact, that winter has since returned) and I took a stroll from Moorgate to Barbican after writing an exam. I walked through the commercial part of the Barbican Centre and emerged into a central area with the Barbican Foodhall and lakeside area.

Wishing I Lived HereWishing I Lived Here

I only really have faded memories of my visits to London in the 1970s but I experienced the strangest feeling of déjà vu and was overcome by a very strong desire to live here in the Barbican and spend the rest of my days dressing in brown clothing. No, it doesn’t really make sense to me either.  I guess growing up in the 1970s is somehow imprinted on my brain.

Brutalist and BrutalisedBrutalist and Brutalised

The area where The Barbican is situated was once known as Cripplegate and the church in the photo above is St Giles-without-Cripplegate.  Cripplegate was destroyed during World War II with massive loss to both property and lives. I think that we underestimate the devastation of London in the Blitz and just how many years it took to rebuild the city. The Barbican Estate was rebuilt between 1965 and 1976 in the Brutalist style.

Walkways in the SkyWalkways in the Sky

I spent some time walking through the residential estate to the Museum of London and one thing that did occur to me was how oppressive the very low ceiling of the walkways felt after a while. I’ve certainly come to appreciate the endurance and impact of Brutalism but there is really no escaping how oppressive it is too.

This is LondonThis is London

Of course, there is nothing oppressive about living in a swanky apartment in one of London’s most prestigious estates and as crazy as it sounds, that is precisely what the Barbican Estate has become.  Apartments sell for over £1 million these days and offer some of the best views in the city.  I guess it is time to start saving?

The Museum of LondonThe Museum of London

What do you think? Do you agree with nine-year-old me or can you see why I’ve come to appreciate Brutalist architecture?

Outtakes from Newtown, Johannesburg

When I wrote my post on Newtown recently, these were the photos I really wanted to share but didn’t.  Usually, these photos never see the light of day but I got the idea of doing a special outtakes post.

Please stand in the red circlesPlease stand in the red circles

I love South Africans, they are so helpful and informative.

Standing in the red circeStanding in the red circle

We also tend to do what we're told (not really).

The Craft market at Market Theatre, NewtownSeeing the full picture

But when we do, there are often surprising results.

Graffiti in NewtownGraffiti in Newtown

I was thrilled to see some great street art in dowtown Jo'burg.

Street Art, NewtownStreet Art in Newtown

I was also happy to see many of the artists I've seen in London before. I am almost convinced I have seen this artist in the Graffiti Tunnel in London before but I definitely spotted a Roa in Jo’burg which I will show you soon.

Ubuntu, Sophia Town, NewtownUbuntu = We are one

Ubuntu is a southern Africa philosophy that stresses that we are all one, that all we are is the interconnectivity we have with other human beings.  It is a massive concept in South Africa.

Brenda Fassie, NewtownBrenda Fassie

I quite liked this close up shot of the bronze statue of Brenda Fassie. The world is definitely a bit more boring without Ms Fassie in it.

Double Decker Highway, JohannesburgDouble Decker Highway

This is the famous double decker highway in Johannesburg.  The top tier carries traffic to the south and the bottom tier carries traffic to the north.  When we returned from holidays to the coast, we’d drive up through Johannesburg on the way home to our homes in the northern suburbs.  I always loved hitting this part of the highway and knowing I was on the home stretch.

What occurs to me most in this photo is just how much sky there is in Johannesburg.  I really miss it.

Together We Can Do So MuchTogether We Can Do So Much

This speaks volumes about the attitude in Johannesburg and in South Africa.  So much is said about crime and violence in South Africa but so many people are working to make a difference and to work together for a better future.  I definitely felt that in Newtown and all the other places I visited on my trip and there is no denying it, it makes me want to go home and be part of the change.

Facades of Faversham

Guild Hall, FavershamGuild Hall, Faversham

My New Year’s resolution for 2013 was to spend more time exploring Kent which is my home county. Kent is known as the Garden of England and it is known for its natural beauty, hop gardens and orchards.  Last Saturday, we drove down to Faversham which is home to Shepherd Neame, the oldest brewery in Britain. Faversham is also an old market town steeped in history and I really loved the old dates and facades on the buildings.

Gullivers, FavershamGullivers, Faversham

Manor House, FavershamManor House, Faversham

New Royal Cinema, FavershamNew Royal Cinema, Faversham

The Ship, FavershamThe Ship, Faversham

The Sun Inn, FavershamThe Sun Inn, Faversham