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off the island


Day 80-81 Nolita, Chinatown, Lower East Side, Brooklyn Bridge, DUMBO, Central Park



Today, there's no aim to our wandering. We're dawdling on the streets.



Up Bowery we go and into the cobbled side streets of Nolita. It's just before 12 on a Sunday afternoon and the shops are barely open. And what fancy shops they are. We pay a visit to The Sock Hop to finger the $25 designer socks and customised men's shirt collars.


At A B Biagi, it's too cold to order ice cream so instead we get coffee and hot chocolate. We sit outside the bright yellow storefront, taking in some much-needed Vitamin D and watching the fluffy dogs taking their owners out for a morning walk. Above us, fire escapes act like scaffolds on the front of the brick buildings and here, the trees are just barely holding onto their leaves. We don't see a famous person. Not even Anne Hathaway in a clown wig


On the way to Chinatown, we warm up inside McNally Jackson, a small but perfectly curated independent bookshop with a cafe. I see a copy of Frankie on the magazine rack. I know exactly where my copy of that issue is; perched on the left arm of our couch in the living room. I'm stabbed with homesickness. The fiction section is divided author nationality; so Murakami in Japanese and Austen in Britain etc. I don't know whether this is unnecessary or enlightened.


Every Chinatown corner I see, I think maybe that's where the Bret and Jemaine lived. On the way to Prosperity Dumpling, a much-raved about dumpling place on Google Plus Reviews, Yelp and Four Square, I'm sipping on chocolate almond milk and bullying Rob into buying Reese's Pieces Chips Ahoy at a random grocery store. "We can get this at a supermarket," he says. "No! No! This is a special flavour. Limited edition," I lie. I just really want the Chips Ahoy.


Prosperity Dumplings is as seedy, divey, and greasy as I imagined a cult-favourite dumpling joint to be. It's standing room only. Everyone's rubbing shoulders, there's condensation on the windows, and we're all gawking at the narrow back kitchen where everyone is going like clappers. On either side, there's skinny little benches and I eavesdrop on a conversation between a guy who hates Brooklyn and prefers Long Island.


I'm acting as the bouncer for the takeout plastic cutlery bin. If people want to get cutlery for their takeout, they have to go through me. Rob's taking pictures of the crowd. I haven't been this cramped since a Beyonce concert. One girl can tell we're tourists and says we should try Vanessa's which is just as good as this one but with a bigger range. Americans are just so friendly when they want to be. There was the lady at the Food Emporium who poked Rob in the ribs until he told her the price for the tub of greek yoghurt we were buying. "I need it for my shape," she declared. I tell her, "It's 5.99" and she makes a whistling sound and exclaims, "OH. Back away. Back. Away."


We get boiled pork dumplings, boiled shrimp and vegetable dumplings, and fried chives and pork. The fried ones are IT - no competition. They're also cheap as chips for 4 for $1. If I didn't have to function in normal society, I'd probably still be there now.


We seek out our next food high on the lower East Side at Doughnut Plant. I've been dreaming about doughnut plant donuts ever since this 2010 blogpost by Luxirare. So basically I've been hanging out for these donuts for four years. I have the original flavour, a filled donut hole in a creme brulee flavour. I have to wait for them to come out the oven so the lady gives me one free. Next to us, two identical looking fifteen month old baby girls are introduced. One of them is in a red puffy onesie and the other one has blue eyes and is truly suspicious of onesie baby. This cute baby girl show has single-handedly set some women in the cafe on ovulate.


American food is killing me softly. The trick now is to walk it off. Technically, to offset all the delicious but terrible food I've been eating, I'd have to walk the length of the Great Wall of China but I'm no overachiever with exercise. I settle instead for weaving back through Chinatown to get to the Brooklyn Bridge.


Halfway across the bridge, the dumplings and doughnuts are getting to me. I almost turn us back around but then decide not to be an idiot.


We touch down in Brooklyn, turn left and almost instantly there's some kind of photography art exhibition printed on tarpaulin and hung up on a wire fence. I head for DUMBO because all I know about DUMBO is that the Etsy offices are there and that DUMBO stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.


Luckily, there's more to it than that. There's P.S. Bookshop, a big second hand bookstore that actually has couches and chairs. The Manhattan bookstores we've been to so far haven't exactly been big on giving you somewhere to sit and when they do, it's a pretty begrudging narrow bench or windowsill.


From Washingston Street, there's a kickass view of the Manhattan Bridge, the Hudson and the Empire State Building. There's a carousel and a promenade. A newly-married couple are having their pictures taken. She's got an off-the-shoulder puffy gown on and I'm sure she's colder than a witches tit. I can see her teeth chattering.


For the rest of the night, we veg out at the Brooklyn Roasting Company. It's cosy, there's free wi-fi and it's a bit of barn, meaning there's plenty of room for everyone with a quieter area round the back. I chortle over Tina Fey's Bossypants bought from P.S. Bookshop for a bargain $8 then move on to a copy of the Babysitter's Club Snowbound that I found floating round the cafe.


The bad weather rolls in the next day and my mood plummets. Maybe it was the Frankie magazine sighting, maybe it was the four hours of walking the day before, maybe it's the concrete coloured sky and the wind chill that can strip you to the bone in a second even when you're wearing four layers, a hat, a scarf, and the hood up on your jacket.


We manage a listless stroll around the 6 mile loop of Central Park. I sight the Guggenheim and declare it smaller than expected. The Upper East Side is filled with nannies picking up school kids and dog walkers.

understudy blues and the day we finally get into shake shack

the most wonderful time of the year