As you may have guessed from the pun in the title, I am of course talking about New York. I had last visited New York on an ‘educational trip’ while I was studying for my A Levels aged 17. Now aged 28, I was not only old enough to sip Cosmopolitan cocktails in trendy Manhattan bars like I’d always dreamed of doing (it was the closest to Sex and the City I was ever going to get!), but this time I was travelling with my like-minded sister and not a bunch of teachers who would make me visit 5 art galleries a day. Don’t get me wrong, I love art galleries so much that I actually work in one… But there is so much more to New York than the Guggenheim and I wanted to shop til I dropped at Bloomingdales, have a picnic in Central Park, eat ice-cream at Coney Island and marvel at Times Square! The list was endless and 4.5 days was not long enough but we somehow managed to cram as much deliciousness into our activities as we did into our mouths.
After a comfortable and enjoyable flight, our excitement fizzled slightly as we left JFK airport and endured an unfortunate ride with a nasty cab driver who shouted at us for having the ‘incorrect’ address for our hotel and generally had a very unpleasant attitude. It was 5am our time and we just wanted to crawl into bed and get some beauty sleep for our first day in the Big Apple! After tipping him way too much by mistake and bidding him good riddance, we vowed never to take a New York taxi again. Despite recovering from a broken toe, I would rather walk everywhere than put myself through that experience again! While I’m on the subject (and to get the negativity out of the way), I would advise you to avoid using the Airlink NYC shuttle service if you are looking for a cheaper alternative than a cab to get you to or from the airport. We unfortunately endured an even more despicable ‘service’ on the way back to the airport for our journey home. The driver was disgustingly rude and took his eyes completely off the road numerous times to check his phone, endangering the lives of every passenger in the van. A month after sending an email of complaint to the company (who quite ironically have a sign in the van that reads ‘tips are greatly appreciated for excellent service’), I still have not received a response. I won’t hold my breath but I do have a couple of tips… How about you start employing people that have learnt how to drive properly, and while you’re at it, train them in providing good customer service?
We stayed at a cheap and slightly shabby hotel in Upper West Side but it was conveniently located right next to a subway station, and more importantly, the fabulous art-deco inspired Metro Diner on Broadway. It quickly became our favourite place to eat an enormous and delicious breakfast that would set us up for hours of sightseeing. It helped that the waiters consistently called us beautiful ladies every morning – we would quickly learn that good customer service was very hard to come by in New York! Our first day was spent exploring Chelsea. We visited an amazing little antique flea market where I found ration books from World War II for only $2! Our next stop was the High Line. It is essentially an elevated rail track that has been converted into a beautiful park that allows you to wander along in the sunshine, admiring amazing views of the streets and street art below. The best part is it’s free to enjoy! From what I had heard about Coney Island, I was very excited to check it out. I imagined it would be reminiscent of the funfair, carnival and beach scenes of films set in the 1940s and 1950s. I had read that there are different exhibitions and performances on different days, including burlesque, magic and circus sideshow, and an annual ‘Mermaid Parade’. We had unknowingly chosen to visit on Memorial Day which meant that the island was heaving with people. The sun was blazing, everyone was in great spirits and the activity du jour was family themed karaoke along the boardwalk. As we strolled along the boardwalk people watching and soaking up the rays, I felt like I had been transported into a different era. Too poor for the rides, we watched people screaming in pleasure and eating candy floss at Luna Park before sunbathing on Brighton Beach. Our journey on the subway from Upper West Side to Coney Island (in south Brooklyn) was quicker than expected and relatively painless… But the subway system can get a little confusing. At first glance, the subway map looks similar to a London tube map – squiggly coloured lines in a kind of organised chaos that will start to make sense if you study it for long enough. However, the combination of both lettered and numbered lines with the same colour can throw you off. At some of the stations we travelled from, the signage was very unclear about which direction the train was heading so we often got on a train going the wrong way. Unless you’re at a main station, there are no departure boards telling you when the next train is coming so you have absolutely no idea how long you’ll be waiting! The silver lining though, is that most stations have free wifi and are beautifully decorated for your aesthetic pleasure. If you’re lucky enough, you may even catch talented young dancers back flipping and ‘pole-dancing’ on the D-train! If I am lucky enough to visit New York again, I would love to spend more time exploring Brooklyn and its quirky suburbs. One drizzly day, we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge which connects the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan over the East River. With a view overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline, the bridge itself is dotted with random photo shoots, bits of graffiti, and padlocks declaring eternal love. We spent the rest of the day wandering around Williamsburg. Its alternative and creative vibe was reminiscent of the inner north suburbs of Melbourne (Carlton, Brunswick, Fitzroy) that I love. Street art and quirky graffiti can be found at every turn, and the suburb is thriving with designer boutiques, thrift shops and cute cafés. I even spotted a vegan ice cream van! Another distinctive feature is the bohemian and hipster style of its inhabitants. While strolling down Bedford Avenue, I was approached by a stylish gentleman called David who said he had noticed me a mile away! He was accompanied by a camera crew and a miniature red carpet. He asked me to talk him through my outfit. I explained that there is often no thought process involved, I just dress according to the weather and my mood! On this particular day, I had mixed vintage pieces from the 40s and 80s with colourful accessories from the high street. Explaining my fashion choices on a street corner in Brooklyn to a camera crew was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry! Unfortunately I didn’t catch where the interview would be broadcast. If any of you lovely readers recognise David, then please get in touch. I have been a fan of sailors (and all things nautical) for as long as I can remember. So, imagine my delight upon learning we had arrived during Fleet Week where sailors traditionally hit the city streets for a week of fun and freedom. Sadly I wasn’t invited to party with a bunch of sexy sailors like Carrie Bradshaw, but when we rocked up to Times Square one evening, we were treated to a group of sailors singing their hearts out to a huge audience. It was incredible. One sailor even approached us and told us that if we took a selfie with him and tagged it #selfiewithasailor on twitter, that it would be shown on a billboard screen in Times Square!
We had been advised that ‘Top Of The Rock‘ at the Rockefeller Centre was a cheaper and more desirable alternative to the view of New York City from the Empire State Building. We chose to go up just before sunset, and although every inch of the 3 terraces were hugely crowded (at points we couldn’t move for 5 minutes), we were not disappointed!
Central Park is often referred to and featured in a huge array of American sitcoms and Hollywood movies. Who remembers Mr Big and Carrie’s horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park under the stars? (Sex and the City got me through my first horrific breakup, no judging please!) Spanning 843 acres of Manhattan, Central Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It is home to Shakespeare Garden, Belvedere Castle, Central Park zoo, and an Alice in Wonderland sculpture to name but a few. Most excitingly for me as an avid Beatles fan was visiting John Lennon’s memorial garden, Strawberry Fields, and Imagine mosaic, which can be found just across the road from the building in which Lennon lived and was tragically murdered outside of.
Also featured in many American movies and well worth a visit for its beautiful architecture is Grand Central Terminal.
Unfortunately, time and money were against us, so instead of getting the ferry out to Liberty Island to meet the Statue of Liberty, we took the free ferry to Staten Island where we saw her from a distance. Once we got off the ferry, we still managed a selfie with Lady Liberty!
Throughout our time in New York, we noticed a consistent sense of community and patriotism. We couldn’t walk 10 metres without spotting an American flag and it was great to see them being used so creatively in some cases. If you look hard enough, you can spot the humorous offerings and quirky character of the city at every turn…