Project Konigsberg #3 Day 1 proper

I woke up. It's dark. My phone says it's 2am. I am sweltering. Apparently sleep mode on the aircon unit works, and I wish it hadn't. In the dark I fumble and turn it back on and go back to sleep.

Later I am told that Murray and Mark both also were up at 2am. Mark had a shower before knocking on Murray's door to demand he rise because he's running late on the start of day 1. Unfortunately for both of them, Mark's 7am is true only in the UK, not in NYC where we are. I end up retrospectively glad I'm not on their floor.

Good morning, Manhattan

There are people on my floor though. I wake up feeling decent at 5.30am and that's fine. By 6.30am I'm done composing the last blog post and head downstairs to tell them to call off the 0700 alarm call, and to take advantage of the wifi to post. Murray appears at about 0655 and Mark soon after, so fuck it, let's head to Penn station.

At the nearest Metro, Murray and I buy weekly tickets with credit cards. The machines don't ask for PINs, only zip codes, and we each put in 90210 and our UK cards work just fine. Mark shouts very loud at the guy in the kiosk who seems unable to understand the question "how do we get to Penn?". Another passenger intervenes and tells us. NYC is already teeming with people, and hot and humid as fuck.

The N to 34th and Herald is not part of the project, which probably needs a bit of explanation. There are 5 of us ploughing a Eulerian path around Manhattan in 3 days. It's imperfect, but the idea is to travel as many crossings to and from Manhattan as we can without duplicating anything. The name comes from the 7 Bridges of Konigsberg problem, one dreamt up by the mathematician Euler one day while taking a wander and eventually inventing a whole branch of maths called graph theory. We aren't really going to blaze any such profound trails, but 3 days spent almost entirely on public transport? Sign me the fuck up.

At Penn we are meeting Andrei and Andrew, except just arranging that is hard enough because Penn is mental. Us Brits hang around "between tracks 6 & 7 of NJ transit" which is a description that fits at least 5 different places. Ours has a weird creepy carousel feature though. Mark gives Murray and I a huge military history monologue apropos of what I can't now recall, then Andrew finds us and has brought lobster and cream cheese bagels.

We all move to a giant concourse for NJ transit and Amtrak and wait for Andrei, and once quorate we head down to track 4 for the train from Penn (New York) to Penn (Newark). In fact the train is the 0805, a full 8 minutes earlier than our spreadsheet dictates. Auspicious!

One train, one crossing, the tunnel which takes us to New Jersey. It's 2 long stops to Penn and there's time to read about the Pope's impending visit to the area and its expected impact on public transportation. The conductor takes our tickets away, and out of the window we see the famous New Jersey turnpike as well as the Pulaski skyway. They are not fucking about with their bridges/raised roads here. Just before Penn there's a football (soccer) stadium where Thierry Henry saw out his days.

At the station we need new tickets, except some of us don't. The PATH service next does take MTA metrocards but not the 7 day passes; I already have the other kind with credit, from my Jamaica fail yesterday. Not such a fail now, is it?

Penn Newark has great fonts and styling.

and rules about how long you can sit on a platform.

The PATH at 0833 is a commuter service and accordingly rammed. It's 4 stops on PATH to Exchange Place, no new crossing done.

Before we get it an Amtrak service rolls through complete with business class carriage, fancy.

There's a statue and a view of Manhattan in its SE Asian weather glory, all humid and hot and cloudy and bleak.

Just up the way is the light rail, which are trams, the Hoboken-Bergen service. I'm tickled by there being a Bergen round here. Why aren't places called the same forced to be antipodean of one another? If I was in charge...

After helping a frail old woman who'd forgotten her glasses we boarded the tram heading for Danforth Avenue. It's a totally residential area and we walk along big roads which split a cemetery into pieces. Then we run out of pavements and skirt around large puddles for a bit, and cross a railroad. There's precious few signs of life but we do find a sign confirming this is the right direction to walk (also a sign for the turnpike, with branding that makes it look like NTPJ; isn't that a personality type?). After half an hour or so we enter Port Liberté, some residential and military district from which there runs a boat.

Literally, a boat. It's a commuter service to Lower Manhattan and the last one is at 1000 until 1505, and the ticket office shuts at 1000 anyway. It's about 0950 when we arrive and we purchase a bunch of one way tickets. Seems like we might be the first tourists to ever do so. The pier for the boat is in a little inlet to the Hudson opposite a load of industrial units and stuff. It is a bit like the Thames up by City Airport and combined with the weather is bleak as fuck. The boat arrives and no-one gets off; we got on along with 3 or 4 locals.

The route to pier 11 takes us close enough to the Statue of Liberty to get some verging-on-OK photos, plus we get fairly good views of Ellis Island and Governor's Island. We arrive in Lower Manhattan and that's our second river crossing complete. A man in front of us clearly desperate to get away from the weirdos is too hasty and takes a tumble on the gangway. Roads down in this part of the island aren't straight nor oriented at right angles and named with numbers, and I prefer it like that.

Yes, Hipstamatic. And?

We walk through some side streets, cross Wall Street, take a picture of the New York Stock Exchanged emblazoned with Delta airlines stuff and end up at Bowling Green metro station. It's about 2.5hrs since we all met and we've only crossed the river twice so far, but here's here it starts to kick in. The metro goes one stop to Borough Hall, in Brooklyn, and so that's another crossing. We change and go 3 stops on a different line to Fulton, another crossing. Then change and go 9 stops to Myrtle over the Williamsburgh Bridge, another crossing. Up to 5 already, now we're talking.

NYSE and DL

It isn't the most picturesque journey.

Some discussion is had about how we're actually meant to toast these crossings. Around Europe it was very simple, not to mention leisurely, to toast border crossings but here it's a bit less easy. We figure out that, Staten Island apart, on all 3 days of this adventure we'll be visiting every borough of New York: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, plus New Jersey. Cool.

The 9 stops to Myrtle involve a few stations which got flooded out during Hurricane Sandy. Bowery's tiling looks like the room from the first Saw movie. At Myrtle we dive out to a "gourmet deli" which is a ropey corner shop, for emergency fluids. The trains might be airconditioned but the stations are brutally hot as is the outside world. Back in the station, we head 3 stops to another Myrtle (many stations are named "X & Y" but I fail to note the Ys in lots of cases). Then onto the L line for 12 stops to 6th, and another crossing. Various step trackers say we are already at 9,000 steps so far today.

We get an express 3 train 5 stops from 6th to 96th, which is a bonus service not on the spreadsheet, and makes us up some of the time we are behind schedule. At 96th we step immediately onto a 1 for 17 stops up to 242nd St and Van Cortlandt Park, via another crossing. This is the end of the line, and in the Bronx. I don't think any of us have ever been so far north in NYC before.

The metro is still confusing as hell. The lines don't have names, just numbers or letters, so there's no hint in the name about where they might go and you have to commit it to memory. There are way too many of them which makes committing to memory hard anyway, and at the stations - which are noisy and too hot and ugly - there are bizarre and byzantine rules. Signs which say stuff like, the R and 3 both stop here but the 3 is an express in Manhattan in the afternoon and local at other times and goes from a different platform at night and the R is a skip-stop service (how this differs from express is unclear). It might be 24hr and cheap but everything else about it is worse than the London Underground, in my humble opinion.

Anyway. I'm humming Across 100th Street as we cross 110th Street, and not one of us can understand a single word the driver says on the tannoy at each stop. They're like the teacher in Charlie Brown. Several people are by now yawning. We go past a federal government advert imploring parents to "make a disaster plan with your kids", Doomsday Prepping as sanctioned by Obama? What? A flyer on the train offers us spiritual consultancy from a man who can tell the past.

Our lunch venue is in the Bronx, on 235th St. No-one knows why we're heading to 242nd and there's a station at 238th, so we jump off. By now we're 3 minutes ahead of schedule and celebrate this by diving into the pub right next to the stairs down to the sidewalk. It's called the Punchbowl and is dingy and dark and there's a big sign saying NO SMOKING DUE TO HEALTH VIOLATIONS but someone's smoking anyway. A round of beer is brought, the Guinness is served in imperial pints while the lagers come in those daft ounce based measures.

The other patrons are rowdy stereotypes conversing at one another along the length of the bar by shouting phrases like "he shit on me like a bird". One sip of booze passes our lips and the so far cordial atmosphere amongst us instantly descends into an argument about whether I'm telling the truth that Australians use different vocabulary for beer in each state, and the sizes they serve are different too. Then once we leave we've decided against getting a cab because it's only a 20 minute walk, and Lester seemingly disagrees that 235 is lower than 238.

Before, during, and after lunch.

The walk from here involves a huge staircase which gets all our lungs and legs working out. Within 20 minutes or so we arrive at Liebman's deli, a deliberately sought out place we believe will feed us pretty well. A table at the back gets surrounded and 5 bottles of beer arrive, along with some gherkins and coleslaw and knisha while we decide on our main courses. Everyone opts for giant sandwiches, I get the pastrami, turkey, and tongue combination. Murray gets some bonus pastrami to help him decide what to have.

This. Is. Awesome.

The food is enormously portioned and oh so fucking amazingly tasty. It's like the best sandwich on earth. Oh my god. It's almost a struggle to finish the thing but in the end only one of us is defeated. Andrew buys some celery tonic, the taste of which does not disgust me as much as I expected. Andrei nips off for a coffee and Andrew grabs some dessert from the bakery next door while the rest of us take tactical piss breaks, and then out in the rain we walk back to a bus stop for a crowded ride to 207th.

This is our 13th leg of the journey, including the walk at Port Liberté, and we are 33 minutes behind schedule. It also takes us back onto Manhattan, so that's crossing 8 done. We get on the A train there to, meh, I dunno, somewhere. We're on it for like 45 minutes and everyone except Andrei and I takes a nap. My one concession to the food coma is a blink which takes about 15 seconds. The train passes through Penn for the several-th time of the day and oh, we're back in Brooklyn after crossing 9.

Change at Jay for the R 1 stop to DeKalb. Get the Q 19 stops to Coney Island. On this train there is a marvellous advert for storage solutions featuring a mixed gay couple who "like musicals, but love storage" and are pulling the most remarkable facial expressions I've seen on an ad.

A bunch of the stations are "Avenue [letter]" but there's no Avenue Q, station or road. Where it would be is Quentin Road, then Avenue R, Avenue S, etc. Is the musical named after the fact it's famously non-existent? We also go through a place called Brighton Beach. Familiar.

The train stops for way too long one stop before Coney Island so we say fuck it, let's get off here and walk. This is a fantastic decision. The boardwalk is about 5 minutes from this station, past the listed rollercoaster called the Cyclone. The weather is grey and bleak and there's no-one around and everything is shut and looks miserable and I am in heaven.

YES.

Coney Island is awesome.

Past Cyclone and onto the boardwalk proper there is some building work shielded from view by a cover containing a calendar of all the fun stuff going on at Coney. Seemingly the only dates where no fun is scheduled are September 7th to 13th, nicely matching the dates we are in NYC. Perfect. At the sea front there are lonely lifeguards on their big chairs and virtually no people otherwise. The boardwalk has a few people here and there, but all the rides are closed and abandoned looking and none of the stalls are open except Nathan's, which has no customers. Apparently Nathan's is a big deal as they invented hot dogs in 1916 or something.

I whistle Under The Boardwalk which displeases Mark because there's seemingly no way to actually get under the boardwalk unless you have a pair of wire cutters. But I know of no other boardwalk-related tune to whistle. After a while we head inland on the promise of a brewery and hey presto, next to Peggy O'Neill's (which looks every bit as fantastic as the name suggests) we get there. Apparently we can't have a tour but that's OK because we didn't want one anyway. Plastics of the beer brewed on the premises arrive, I opt for the honey stout. I am suitably ambivalent about the taste, given previously I have enjoyed every stout I've ever tried and hated every honey beer.

Despite being on the sea, the beer gardens of both venues are next to a busy road opposite a deserted parking lot. Coney is so great and I am so glad I've visited it on an empty day with shit weather. And in fact, that shit weather is about to get much worse so down the hatch, time to fuck off. The rain kicks in as we walk past another giant Nathan's place plus some custard and happiness vendors. Coney Island station is pretty cool. The tourist information booth is shuttered up. Excellent. I even love the fact it's not a fucking island.

This time we're getting an F train and Lester wants to sit at the front, so we walk all the way to the end of the platform (and these trains are not short). The train moves off in the opposite direction, we're at the back. Ah crap. This service, for us, takes us back to Manhattan, crossing 10, via 19 stops to Broadway and Lafayette. We're almost there lads.

Once there we change onto a 6 for 8 stops to 59th, at which we emerge to the street in rush hour and pissing rain to try and find the Roosevelt Island tramway. Turns out there's this island in the east river and there's a cable car to it. Not like the dangleway in London, the service isn't multiple carriages seconds apart carrying 4-8 people at a time but rather a big fuck off carriage carting 100 people across in one go. This kinda doesn't count as a crossing. Roosevelt Island is still part of Manhattan. Apparently it once broke and people got stranded on it at the top for 12 hours. Fantastic.

That last snippet was told to us by a lass who overheard my tale of a friend back home who would shit hisself on this ride as-is, let alone getting stuck on the bastard. The lass also tells us she's heading to a bar called the Riverwalk, hopefully to watch the US Open in the company of her friends but maybe it won't happen because of the shitty weather. A bar you say? Ach, come on, we're only a little bit behind schedule and the last parts of our plans for the day are easy.

So, we go to the Riverwalk cafe but do not let them tempt us with more than one drink. The atmosphere here is very suburban despite being almost literally a stone's throw from Manhattan midtown proper. There's a hundred TVs showing sports and a variety of ordinary drinks on offer including a bombs menu. I get a nitro stout which I'm told is like Guinness. It is not like Guinness. We try to explain to the waitress what we're up to but the second someone points to the route on a t-shirt she cuts us off brutally, telling us just how awful everything sounds.

Anyway, day 1's plan is nearly over here. We're going to get a cab to complete the crossing and take us to Queen's via the bridge further up the island, and drop us at Hunter's Point for a ferry back. The last ferry is at 2025 and it's a 20 minute cab ride to get there; we leave the pub to stand outside in the pissing rain, again, at about 1905. Easy.

There are no yellow cabs on Roosevelt island and, well, fuck you Uber and fuck you Lyft. Andrew orders numerous fares on each app who accept the pick-up only to then cancel on us, or worse, call him to cancel but insist he does the cancellation on the app - which reflects badly on his rating and not the driver. Well fuck that. This happens 4 or 5 times and we're kinda thinking stuff ain't gonna happen now. Who knew there was a part of Manhattan where you couldn't get a cab? And how the fuck are we meant to get off this poxy island?

A bridge too far.

There's a bus to Queens but it's not due for like half an hour or more. So we get on this super-local Surface Transport bus (as if we needed reminding it wasn't going to fly or float) and it goes a couple of stops back to the tramway and then finishes. Damn it. We want to go the other way. Apparently he'll start up again in about 8 minutes, and a bunch of people get on including a wheelchair bound woman from whom we are unable to accept transport advice despite her good intentions because, y'know, rules is rules. We know about the tram but can't get it. We know about the F metro but can't get it. Grargh.

The bus tours the island and a shitload of people get on. A few stops later we pile off and approach the imposing deserted multi-storey car park, in which a man (OK, not fully deserted) tells us the lift to the 4th floor is the one we want that'll get us to the sidewalk. Eventually it does, but the door to the outside is unreasonably hard to locate. But now, in the dark and pissing rain, we finally depart Roosevelt Island on foot and complete crossing 11.

The bus passes us as we are on the bridge. Immediately on the other side a bus to Hunter's Point passes us too. We know we're too late for the ferry and are just interested in getting back to Manhattan across the other bridge which is road transport only and not part of our original schedule for all 3 days. What Lester would've done had we been forced to duplicate a crossing on day 1 doesn't bear contemplation.

Not that it was simple to get back to Manhattan anyway. We're in industrial Queens, no signs of life nor hailable cabs. At the end of a cycle path we successfully arrange an UberXL pickup in 3 minutes and he takes us back not via the bridge, but the midtown tunnel, to Manhattan. Crossing 12, journey leg 21 or so, and our day is complete. I reckon we've covered approaching or even over 100 train+metro stops today, plus all the other stuff, and step trackers say we've done like 20k steps. Can we stop now?

Quite.

Yes, yees we ccan. Despite a request to drop us off early the cabbie slowly takes where we want to go, a bar called The Ginger Man. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Shut up. Andrew leaves us at this point and the rest of us grab a table and some beers. We're told we look like cask ale drinkers and how much of a shame that is because their cask beer is off. So I ask for a Flying Dog in Heat wheat beer and that too is off. Ah fuck it, Erdinger please.

Sausages arrive. More beer. We talk loudly about my "strategy" for "claiming" to be happy at work, and about how shit Java is and how amazing node.js is and all kinds of other coding talk. But y'know what, it's been a long fucking day. It's now 10pm and I finally pay something towards the trip, having contributed nothing to any bills yet. Andrei heads off in one direction, the rain is REALLY bad now and neither of the other two fancy a 21 block walk in it so Murray hails a yellow cab to the hostel. Back in my room I manage to write the first 3 or 4 paragraphs of this post before falling asleep. Well at least I'm not jetlagged.

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