Playground Zero

The title of this post comes from something that was said when I was at the 9/11 Memorial.

It refers to an article published in the New York Post, where it was discussed that the Memorial site is becoming a tourist attraction. Where parents sit their children on the bronze panels that bear the victims names, splash the water from the fountains on their faces and in one case, spill coffee on the names.

Click for the original article.

I don’t think there is any getting away from it, the site is a tourist attraction, I think that was always going to be from the moment it was decided to have a memorial, rather than put buildings up.

The reason I visited was because of what had happened there, coupled with the fact I have watched lots of programmes about the rebuilding of the site, the creation of the name panels, the fountains and saving the ‘miracle’ tree.

I didn’t go there to tick it off a list of things to do in New York, although it seemed many have done and will continue to do so.

My visitor pass was booked long before I left for the USA, but it wasn’t until I was in New York and had visited the Memorial preview exhibition and St. Paul’s Chapel that the thought of visiting the place where nearly 3,000 people were murdered, all felt a bit odd.

In essence the site is a graveyard and should be treated as such. Whenever I visit a church or graveyard, I do so with a sense of respect; I keep my voice down, if I’m in a church I take of any kind of head wear and generally take care to mind my behaviour. Respect your surroundings.

To get in to the site, there is understandably a lot of security; bags are checked, you are checked with an airport style scanner, belts off! and your pass is checked about 5 times as you are funneled towards the entrance. I heard a few complaints but it seemed fine to me considering where we were.

I’ve seen many programmes about the site, so it was both fascinating and amazing to be in the space. Then of course you think back to that day, and try to make sense of the space you are in whilst the images of the towers in flames, falling and the aftermath flood through your mind.

My entry time was 7pm, so I had about an hour before it closed. I stood for a couple of minutes trying to take it all in and then the first of a few annoyances passed before my eyes.

If you have seen pictures of the Memorial, you’ll know that there are lots of trees.The area around the trees is covered with bark, the rest of the ground is covered by paving slabs. A man obviously in a hurry to get somewhere, pushed passed me and walked over bark. That may seem trivial but it irked me, why didn’t he just walk around?

I sat down on one of the many seating areas, and watched as group after group, all laughing and joking as they lined up for photos in front of the many bronze panels, that let’s not forget, list each victim of this and the previous attack on the World Trade Centre. Would they all crowd around a headstone in a graveyard?

Not being able to believe what I was seeing, I walked over to the South Tower footprint to read some of the names and to see the scale of what was once there. Having been annoyed by the antics of Joe Public, I debated with myself as to whether I should take a photo or not. It wouldn’t have me in it, so I took one single photo looking across from corner to corner of the South Tower footprint. I also took a very short piece of video to capture the sound of the waterfall.

Having been annoyed at the public’s reaction I was then annoyed at my own decision to take a photo! As I put my camera back in my pocket, still deciding what to do with the image, a man who had been standing very still in front of the panels, asked a nearby volunteer where he could look up a single name. I’ll admit that my mind raced as to why he was only now 11 years later looking for a name.

I also spoke to the volunteer, and mentioned that I found it odd to be standing in the place I had seen on the TV for all the wrong reasons, and that it had appeared to have become one of those places to ‘tick off’ in New York and that I was appalled at the behaviour of some visitors.

She was thankful for my comments and also very grateful for reminding her that some people do visit with the correct attitude. We spoke for a while; on 9/11 She was working nearby and her daughter was in the South Tower. Hers was an amazing story that thankfully had a happy ending at least for her daughter, they both knew many people killed when the towers came down. It was this volunteer who mentioned the New York Post article.

I mentioned that I had taken a photo and a small piece of video, and that as I was appalled at all the other photos being taken, that I was going to delete it. She told me to keep them both and when I look at them, to remember those who lost their lives on that day.

As I moved over to the North Tower, I was surprised to see just how close they were. I saw a young woman with her back to the panels but with her foot on the firmly on the wall, across from her I could see someone taking a photo of something they were holding in their hands. It turned out to be a birthday card left by the sister of a victim; why photograph it? It’s a personal item left in a very personal place.

Despite my reservations about the behaviour of some visitors, I’m glad I went, not only to pay my respects but also to see the site and get a sense of scale that is not possible from pictures or the TV screen.

…It’s a Wonderful Town

My last full day in New York! And there were still places too see.

I started at the Natural History Museum. Over my time in New York I’d not really ‘gone into’ any places, preferring to see the sights instead. So this was an opportunity to have a look in the museum and a film location; Night At the Museum.

Robin Williams on a horse outside 🙂


It’s been a while since I saw the film but the inside didn’t look familiar, I’ll have to take another look at it too compare. The animals are shown cleverly, as seen in the film, most are in dioramas which look very good.

I didn’t take many photos but here are the dolphins, and the blue whale which is life size.



My visit was long enough to see what I wanted to see, but brief enough that I didn’t tire my already tired legs further. One thing I made a special effort to see was the Easter Island Head.


There was a special exhibition on all about spiders. I don’t like spiders, but went in anyway.


I’d only read about some of the spiders on the Internet, and I was surprised by how small the poisonous ones were.

This is the brown recluse spider. That is my thumb right against the glass, so you can see how small it is. If it bites you its poison will leave a necrotic lesion, in plain English, it will eat your skin to leave a hole.


After the museum I headed once again into Central Park. I still hadn’t found the Alice in Wonderland piece and was determined to do so before I left. I checked where it was on the map and walked towards it.

On the way I found Belvedere Castle, it’s used as a weather station. If you ever check the weather in central park, it’s measured from here. The climax of The Smurfs live action film was also filmed here – hopefully you don’t know that though, it’s not a good film!





Alice at last!


Leading away from the piece is Conservatory Water, where a few scenes from Stuart Little were filmed.




Walking back towards Central Park West I found myself once again at Bethesda Terrace & Fountain. The last time I visited I didn’t get passed the fountain, as I was now behind it, I went to have a look at the water and found turtles swimming.


There were still things to see! I hadn’t got a decent picture of Brooklyn Bridge from the shoreline. The ones I got were just a straight look at the bridge whilst being on the bridge. There were also a couple of film and TV spots to hit.

First up was the apartment building used for exterior shots in ‘Friends’. I’d marked it on my map but got a little lost in the streets, until I saw a group of people taking photos on a corner, and there it was.



I was near Greenwich Village again and I knew that Bob Dylan’s old house was in the area. I’d tried to find it before but what I found didn’t look like the picture I saw. It was the right house number but the wrong building, the house numbering was a bit odd as this time I walked further and found what I was looking for.

It’s said that he still owns it but there’s no official confirmation on the Internet.



At this point I could feel the previous three days in my legs and kept looking for a subway station to get me to my next destination. But I was in between them and as I kept walking on I got there before finding a station.

If you go to an independent cinema in the UK, like the one where I live in Brecon, there are adverts running that are about seeing film differently, I think they are sponsored by a car company. One of these is the firehouse from Ghostbusters. Ever since seeing the film I’ve wanted to visit it, this has been reinforced by the adverts.

And here it is. The fire house is still active but was unfortunately closed when I visited.





Just Uptown from here was a subway station, so I caught the train to Staten Island and walked around to Brooklyn Bridge to get the kind of photo I wanted to get the day before.



Photo op done, I walked back to Staten Island and onto Battery Park. Which is a good walk!

My legs were tired so I found a bench and another photo op for the Dragon.


In the park is The Sphere, a sculpture that once stood in the plaza of the World Trade Centre. It was in the midst of the destruction when the towers fell, and was placed in Battery Park as a temporary measure, it is now there permanently.



I couldn’t resist the lure of another film location; this time Men in Black. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel building is the entrance to the HQ of the MiB. I should have got a close up of the door but I think tiredness played a part and I forgot! I was also on my way to another piece of history.


Just around the corner from Battery Park is a building that now houses a Subway, a Radio Shack and other American outlets.

However it was once the headquarters of the White Star Line, and was where the list of survivors from the Titanic was published.


At the top of the road is the financial district, and the Bull. I managed to get a quick snap as I passed. The tourists line up in a very British fashion to get their picture taken with him but I was happy with this passing shot!


I was down in this part of Manhattan, not just to tick off a few more sights but to also visit the World Trade Centre site. I shall post my thoughts about that later.

Head in the Clouds

From St. Paul’s I headed for Brooklyn Bridge. My intention was to walk over and back, before heading towards Battery Park. That changed when I realised just how far it was to walk from the street to the bridge.




My film knowledge let me down here too; I was going over the bridge looking for the spot where the famous bench scene from Manhattan was filmed. I looked with no luck, I googled it when I got back to my room and realised I was at the wrong bridge altogether. The scene was filmed at the Queensborough Bridge.

Once back in Manhattan I changed my plans and headed back into the main city. It was time to visit one of the iconic buildings of New York and America; The Empire State Building.


I’ve now conquered my fear of heights, so getting out into the fresh air at height (this only applies to tourist attractions!) doesn’t bother me as it once did.







As expected the views are tremendous. In the guide books it’s recommend to only visit one of the two tall viewing spots in New York; either Empire State or Top of the Rock.

I ignored that and did both. I bought a ticket for 10pm so that I would get some nighttime shots of the city. They are coming up soon.

Once down from the Empire State viewing platform, I walked north and towards Times Square to get the subway to the hotel, stopping on the way at the New York Library to be a picture of the original Winnie the Pooh toys in the children’s section.


I rested for a little bit before heading back out to the Top of the Rock.



I didn’t take many photos as I wasn’t sure how they’d come out. I was up there for about an hour or so just taking in the view, which was tremendous.

Baby of the Group

On the morning of the third day in New York I met up with the rest of the tour. I’d already worked out that I would be the youngest in the group. The type and cost of the trips provided by Great Rail Journeys, mean that they are more likely to be taken up by those who have retired and have plenty of time on their hands.

As it turned out I was the youngest by about 15 years. The oldest people on the trip are touching 80. The age difference was no barrier though, and I was accepted into the group straight away. Within five minutes of meeting the full group, I’d even found a few from Wales.

As this was the first day of the tour proper we went on a coach tour of New York. Hitting some of the major hotspots and going through some areas I’d not ventured to; for example Harlem.

We stopped in the north part of Central Park, as I had explored most of the central and south parts this was good, as I got to see the parts that would have takeken me a little while to walk to.



As the tour was going to take the whole morning, we stopped for a coffee break at Grand Central Terminal. My photos don’t do it justice at all!




The early part of the afternoon was the highlight. A circle line tour on the river, taking us past the Statue of Liberty, which is smaller than I thought it would be but that didn’t distract from the impressive sight. Of course the tour also afforded some great views of the city.











The last picture above is Pier 54, this where the Titanic survivors disembarked after being rescued by RMS Carpathia.

It being the first day for the rest of the group, after the tour the majority went back towards the hotel, as I had already acclimatised and was familiar with the city, I went exploring further.

For a long time back home I’ve been reading a website called It’s written by a location scout, who updates the site with various curious things he finds around New York. One of these was in Times Square.

Off one of the streets are four figures that you wouldn’t notice unless you knew the were there. In fact I’d walked passed them several times before checking the website.

They are ; Mary Pickford, Marilyn Miller, Ethel Barrymore & Rosa Ponselle.


Here’s the original story.

They have been revealed as the building has changed ownership.

Also in Times Square is the Naked Cowboy. I’d been through Times Square several times but I’d not seen him about. On this occasion he was making his way up and down the square. As he passed me, I waved my camera at him and he posed.

I would be in the square later that day and there was another Naked Cowboy doing the rounds, so I assume there is a rota.


From Times Square I caught the subway down south and walked to the 9/11 Exhibition centre and across the road to St. Paul’s Chapel, which was undamaged on that day, despite being very close to the ground zero site.

In the Churchyard stands a bell, called the Bell of Hope. It was given by St Mary-Le-Bow in London.

If you look closely at the left of the picture you can see a crane, that crane is on the Ground Zero site, which shows just how close the Chapel is the site.

Some more from the Chapel.




George Washington used this church whilst he was living in the New York area.

As I mentioned before I light candles where I can for my Mum, and I did so here. Like so many of us, She watched the drama of that day unfold on the TV news coverage. I was at work so only had the slowest of Internet connections to try and find out what had happened. I got home minutes after the South Tower fell and I still remember the look on her face when she told me what had happened.

As Jimmy Cricket used to say “There’s more” but it’ll have to wait for another day.

Taking It Easy & Forking Out For Broadway

I’m a little confused by this day, as I didn’t take many pictures and I know I was south of Times Square somewhere In the afternoon but I can’t remember where!

As I’d had a busy day on Monday I decided to take it a little easier. So I didn’t rush to get out of the hotel. When I did leave I went West towards the Hudson River. I knew there was a cafe on Pier I that I could walk to and get a drink.

As I reached the park there was a great view of the river, which was much wider than I expected. Then I remembered Sully landed a plane on it.




Standing where I took the first picture was a redneck; his description not mine. A man covered in tattoos that looked like prison tattoos to my untrained I’ve-seen-them-in-films eye. He was pleasant enough,meh told me he was a boat captain on the river, and if he was then so was I. It was his day off and he was going to enjoy a few cans, including the one he was hiding at 0930am from park security. I was expecting him to ask for cash but he didn’t, he wished me well and off I went.

After an iced tea at the cafe I headed east towards Central Park, not so much for a look around, more for something to eat. I had a pleasant time in one of the cafes and then wandered in the direction of the Fifth Avenue end of the park.

On the way I saw a Bollywood film sequence being filmed, well not so much filmed as fluffed every time by the lead actor. He was supposed to be doing a dance routine with his female co-star but kept getting it wrong. I watched for five minutes as the director got more and more angry and then I left the to it.

It was at this point that I went into F.A.O Schwarz, as it was closed the previous day due to Labor Day; a bank holiday as we in the UK would understand it.

Then my memory of this day gets a little fuzzy. I know I was below Times Square because I wanted to get there to buy a Broadway ticket. I got on the wrong subway train and headed west instead of north. But where I was and why I was there I’m really not sure.

Anyway I was over on Lexington Avenue and I knew the TKTS booths would be opening soon, so I started to walk towards Times Square, but that was going to take too long so I got a cab.

The driver was on his mobile the whole way, trying to sort out some cash deal that sounded really dodgy. As he neared Times Square he had a low speed fender bender with another cab. He gets out ranting and raving, telling the other driver that he has a witness in his cab (me) and then tells me to stay in the cab.

Which I do for about a minute as I mull over my options. Stay put and explain to the police what I saw, which was very little or hand over 10 dollars and do a runner.

I chose the latter.

The TKTS lines were massive and I was still tired from the flight and all the walking from the day before. I didn’t fancy waiting in line so I went straight to the box office and paid for their top seat; $117.

The show I saw as Chaplin. A new production which was in previews, due to open the following week; as I type I have read two reviews and they weren’t kind.

However I loved it. The lead Rob McClure is excellent as the Tramp character, he has the movements and mannerisms of the character down to a T. I didn’t like everything about the show, like the reviewers I would have liked a bit more about some of his more famous set pieces but then the show would go on for hours. If it comes to London with Rob McClure I’d definitely go and see it again.

With the show finished I went through Times Square; I know I took pictures! But they aren’t in this days folder so I’ll get to them later!! In the subway station was a band playing some decent but extremely loud music.


There was a sizeable crowd watching but not many moving forward to hand over any spare change. When they got to the end of which ever song they were playing, this was their next choice.

As I stopped filming some did cough up, I dropped some spare change I had and made my way to my train, the hotel and bed!

Do Very Random Things

This post title comes from a Facebook comment. Before I left for the US, I posted to let everyone (my friends list is quite small) that I would be posting updates as I went and that if they didn’t want to see them, they should unsubscribe from my posts or delete me altogether.

Very graciously I was sent many comments saying they were actually (nuts right) looking forward to my various updates.

One of those comments was from a friend Emma, who has been very helpful to me in the past few months as I look for a new career direction, part of Emma’s comment read “…do very random things”

Whilst I can’t say I’ve done anything massively random I think what will unfold below would fall under that heading.

As I said in my previous post I was heading to Washington Square Park, the filming location of a few films; ‘I am Legend’ with Will Smith but the one that was in my head as I approached was ‘When Harry Met Sally’. There is a scene in front of the Washington Arch in front of the park.


The park is in Greenwich Village and is a meeting place and also seemed to be a place to do just about anything you wanted to do.

There were musicians jamming, groups singing, some acrobat performers, jugglers and others, like me, just taking it all in. As I sat watching what was unfolding around me, I was approached by a chap who blurted something out that I didn’t understand, so I just looked at him, he then repeated it with the words changed ever so slightly. “Would you like some bud? Do you smoke weed?” I was a little taken a back but politely declined, he then moved onto the next person and so on until I lost sight of him.

The Park is famous for the music and other activities but perhaps in some circles even more so for the permanent chess tables in the southwest corner. Random act approaching.

The tables have been featured on TV and in a few films. So I wanted to see them. As I got to them I could see two were occupied by single players waiting for opponents, and there was one game in progress.

Both single players encouraged me to play, I declined and just watched the ongoing game instead. An older couple wandered up and were also asked to play, the gent deciding to play the more rough looking of the single players. It was then that I decided to play the other one.

As a bit of background, I was a member of a chess club when I was about 8, and my level of chess hasn’t moved on since then.

I sat down, we shook hands and he said “you know it’s five dollars right?”, I didn’t but agreed to play anyway. Despite being a hustler, the chap I was playing was decent to me. His name was Dwight and he guided me through the various openings that I could make and what to do. Of course he plays all day and as he told me, he has done so for 10 years, so I stood no chance. We played very slowly for about half an hour and of course he eventually won. By the end of our game I could see about three of his moves ahead but couldn’t do anything about it.

It was a fun half hour and I’m glad I played. I’m also grateful that Dwight was as nice as he was.


I’m Walkin’ Here!

The plan for my first full day in NYC was simple. See as much as possible, with one condition; walk as much as possible.

My first nights sleep wasn’t good, I think I had about 4 hours. A combination of being on UK time and not wanting to sleep too long, that I missed most of the morning. So I was awake around 5am local time, 10am UK.

Being up I was able to see the sun rise.

This is what my room looks like.

Nice big TV

And the kitchenette

20120905-072457.jpg To the left is a fridge and an electric hob, on which I boil the kettle. Old school style.

Fed and watered I headed out for a long day. I’m on 74th Street and I headed left out of the hotel for 72nd Street and the Dakota building.

20120905-072802.jpg I wanted to go over and have a proper look through the gates but it just seemed a bit morbid. Every other tourist I’ve seen taking pictures of the entrance where Lennon was shot, did so from the other side of the street.

Into the park and the first thing you notice are the dogs. Lots of them. Running free. Which isn’t so good if you are wary of dogs like I am.

Strawberry Fields

20120905-073207.jpg Despite being an Englishman, I’ve lived in Wales for over 20 years and when I left my job, amongst other things I was given was this Dragon, he’s come with me on the trip and will be popping up in the occasional picture.


The weather at the moment is hot and very humid, I mentioned dogs, well dogs tend to pee everywhere they go, and that mixed with the weather makes for an unfortunate smell in most places, even more so in the park.

Bethesda Terrace and Fountain. The setting for many a movie scene, the first that came to mind was ‘Ransom’ a Mel Gibson film from 1996. It was here that his son was kidnapped during a science fair. Recently it featured at the end of ‘The Avengers’ where the gang say their final goodbyes.


I continued through the park trying to find the bits I wanted to see but without a map, it was difficult. So I just wandered around seeing what I could see.
This The Mall, another well filmed area of the park, if you see a New York film and someone is on a bench near trees, it’s probably here.

There are many statues dotted around the park, this is Daniel Webster who was a Senator, the statue is on West Drive.


One statue that I wanted to see was Balto, the heroic dog who pulled a sled to save a town.


More photos to follow…