The Longer Lingering Weekend by Derek Wyatt
The long weekend (4 nights/5 days) has never been more affordable. And though you might think New York a long shot think again. The arrival of Air Norway and Airbnb makes it possible to fly and rent for less than £500.
I did the Big Apple in February staying with friends near Columbia University (I sit on a board there). This is becoming a more attractive area alongside Haarlem for Dinky’s to buy or rent as downtown becomes unavoidable for most - much like anywhere inside the circle line in London.
New York is a bustling, noisy, windy, music driven, sports mad, car queuing, kinda city. Wherever I looked there were endless parked up Yellow Cabs suffering heavily from the disruptive nature of Uber (much as the Black cabs are in London).
But unlike the latter they have a very aggressive campaign to win back customers with television advertising to the fore. My sense is though that Uber will win because of the lack of understanding by the respective city traffic authorities across the world of what customers prefer. Indeed if the public sector is to survive it needs its own disruptive experience. But that's another story.
I love New York. There were new restaurants everywhere and there are still fabulous small family-owned tie shops (try Seigo @1248 Madison) and pop ups everywhere. Even Greenwich village - which always has cranes somewhere - felt more settled.
I saw Gehry's first NY skyscraper at 8 Spruce Street and I cannot wait for his debut in London on the old Battersea Power Station . Downtown, I lunched at Gramcey Tavern (42E and 20th), had supper at Butter Midtown (70W & 45th) and had too much to eat and drink at The Crooked Knife (232W & 40th) - each in their own way offering a different take on dining and none needing a second mortgage.
Amsterdam gave its original name to New York (as in New Amsterdam) and it too has that chilling feel in Winter as wet winds come off the North Sea to leave healthy deposits on your cheeks. Nonetheless, it has a charm of its own.
Bike lanes are everywhere and were introduced thirty years before any other city had thought of them. And there are trams to its suburbs which are the envy of all city mayors across the world. When will trams be reintroduced in London? is not such a silly question to put to Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan.
The Dutch are extraordinarily innovative as you would expect given its population and reach. The city itself is undergoing a fundamental rethink. And I reflected on these changes whilst distilling a dozen or so new locally produced gin mixer drinks at HPS (Hiding in Plain Sight) in Rapenburg which went down surprisingly well - though not necessarily all at the same time. Heavily recommended.
There are a host of new buildings and museums including The Whale, Nemo and the Stedelijk Museum. I managed to spend a morning at the Van Gogh museum which is simply spectacular (the building is not bad either). You may think you know his art but the exceptional way in which his work is curated is worth a weekend in itself. The more so as we begin to better understand depression which ultimately caused his death. Do book.
Paris has been on the front page for the past 18 months but not necessarily for good news. First there was the appalling Charlie Hebdo killings when a dozen died and a further eleven were injured and if that did not unnerve our sensibilities ISIS returned to kill five more at Cafe Bonne Biere including a former student from my old school.
Paris is our nearest Continental city and has been our friend and rival for a thousand years. And yet. Paris is not what it was. I went up to Sacre Coeur on the morning of the France-England game to light a candle. There was something wrong. It was hard to put your finger on it. It felt as if the city has lost its mojo: its joie de vivre.
There are thousands of French speaking Algerians and Tunisians who have been housed indifferently in modern day (well 1980s) high rise concrete ghettoes in the north of the city without much hope and little support. They populate much of inner Paris in the day time.
We may not have done this with our Caribbean or Indian immigrants in the 1950s simply because we did not have the housing but many were subject to ruthless landlords and often slept two or three families on rota in the same beds 24 hours a day. So let's not be clever, clever.
Paris does not feel like the same city I knew when I first visited in 1972 and nor should it be as cities need always to be on the move. But as an illustration of its lack of "Grand Projects" compare St Pancras International with the Gare du Nord. The former is a triumph: a joy whilst the latter is a disgrace. President Sarkozy promised euros100m to upgrade it but nothing has happened. A rejuvenated Gare du Nord would transform this run down part of this great city.
Mrs W and I were very naughty and one evening we took solace at Helene Darroze's star studded restaurant (she also cooks weekly at The Connaught) where there were Armagnac’s from 1912, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950 and 1960 with a loan option available for a bottle. And wonder of wonders England beat France for the Le Grand Slam.
I much like Barcelona and for a time post Olympics (1992) it was my favourite city in Europe but over the past few years Rome has steadily risen in my own premier league city table to knock it off its perch (though its football team is a joy to behold as Arsenal found out to their cost).
In Rome you are simply spoiled for choice. In one day you can see The Pantheon, the Olympic Stadium, Stazione Termini and the Coliseum. There's an abundance of art both ancient and modern and design shops and shops generally to empty out your purse again and again. Why wouldn't you want to come here again and again? It tires you on a quick visit but it never tires you if you know what I mean.
We stayed at Villa Laetitia owned by Anna Fendi and two of her daughters. It is quietly situated and yet close to the main shopping areas and at the end of a day you can always stay put and eat at its one star restaurant. We also took bread at Hotel de Russie now in the Forte Group (Rocco not Basil) where the gardens and a wet martini go down surprisingly well. I have shopped at Dan (60 Via F. Crispi) for over fifteen years buying their beautiful hand-made shirts (they also have a great women's range) - check them out at www.danroma.com.
(For Travel Guides do stick to the Lonely Planet series if you must but the Wallpaper City guides are much better)