Well. They say never meet your idols. I don’t think you can strictly idolise a city or a place, but if you can I certainly have done of New York. Ever since I learnt the words to the Frank Sinatra classic during my ill advised karaoke career (sorry Dad) in the early 90’s, I have wanted to “be a part of it”. Anyway, whoever they are, say don’t meet your idols. I can emphatically report back to you that they are, in this instance, very wrong! We are currently on Amtrak’s Empire Service train heading “up state” towards Niagara Falls, thundering alongside the massive Hudson River. Snow is gradually beginning to appear beside the tracks signalling its getting colder beyond the window, although its nice and toasty in the carriage. We are coming from New York Penn Station after spending the best part of 5 days in the Big Apple. And what a 5 days we had, I think we had a good mix of typical tourist and more local attractions thanks, in no small part, to our compatriot friends state side. Emma: who took us on a fun night out in east village to lots of trendy spots we wouldn’t have found on our own. And Lucy, and her boyfriend Gerry, who fed us, plied us with alcohol, let us do some much needed washing, sleep in their front room, enjoy their stunning manhattan views and most importantly gave us lots of good ideas and tips about what to do and where to do it. It’s safe to say, we managed to fit a lot in during the 5 days!
The rain had followed us from Charleston to New York, but the the warmth hadn’t! We actually made good time up through the night as we slept (pretty well on relatively comfortable beds) arriving in New York around lunchtime to biting cold winds and some sideways rain. A shock to the system. Once we had made it over to Lucy’s beautiful apartment in Jersey City, just across the Hudson, we decided to come up with a plan of what we wanted to see and then group them between indoor and outdoor activities. As it was the weather improved steadily over the first two days and we didn’t need to find shelter from the rain too much. Top of our list was a high building to go up and view the city, clearly New York is not short of such vantage points, but before we arrived we had ideas of going up the Empire State. This was quickly debunked by all: Lucy, Gerry, Emma and TripAdvisor. They all agreed that the best place was the rockerfellar centre, positioned perfectly between the Empire State Building and Central Park to give you stunning views of both (which you don’t get from the Empire State). They weren’t wrong, we headed up on our second morning when the sun had appeared and it was incredible. It’s a perfect city to view from above; Manhattan island ensures that everything worth seeing is close and, in turn, has forced all building work to go skyward rather than out making sure that you’re not too high to see anything. In addition the gothic architecture that is so prevalent really makes it beautiful. Once you get board of the buildings there is also the perfectly rectangular Central Park, looking like a pond amongst the jungle of buildings, stretching “uptown” from what feels like the base of the building. We stayed up there for a good hour, trying to take as much in as possible as well has getting the notorious tourist photos. It was interesting to see the size of the park from up there, it seemed surprisingly small given it had taken about 50 minutes to run the perimeter of it the day before. We had decided, that as it was raining on the first morning, to go for a run seeing as it wouldn’t matter too much if we got wet as we would stay warm running and walking around the park in the rain seemed like a miserable idea! The park was lovely, and much more varied than I was expecting: hills, woods, fields even a reservoir and we had a very interesting run. Suzanne’s knee was a little bit tight as it was before Christmas but it was most likely a result of the sudden drop in temperature. After finishing our loop and getting slightly lost on our way back to the station (why they have to number all their streets I don’t know, funny names are much better!) we headed home to shower and warm up.
Third on our list, and another outdoor activity, was the Brooklyn Bridge which connects lower Manhattan to (surprisingly) Brooklyn we strolled with plenty of other tourists admiring the architecture from the central wooden walkway that is split half and half for pedestrians and bikes, although it must be annoying cycling across it with all those annoying travelers taking photos getting in your lane! On the way out to Brooklyn, we were said photographing travellers so we decided on the return to Manhattan to not take any photos and just enjoy the spectacle. It was possibly my highlight of New York (although its a toss up between seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time) the whole time we have been in America I’ve been in awe of some of the structures used to get people across the water and this was the best of the lot. We did it on the afternoon after rockerfeller when the sun was shining brightly which added to the experience although it was a bit cold, especially out in the middle. Luckily, we had been recommended a chocolatier in Brooklyn who did hot chocolate. Suzanne said it might have been the best hot chocolate she’d ever had. It might as well have been melted chocolate it was so think. I had one that had cinnamon and other spices in it which was very warming and the perfect energiser for our walk back to Manhattan. While in Brooklyn we also had the chance to stop at Brooklyn bridge park which gave us great views of the Manhattan skyline it was lovely and ended a great day of outdoor activities on the sunniest day we had in New York.
When it was a bit miserable outside we had a list of things to do and see that were inside, we did try and brave the rain a little on our first afternoon going to see the 9/11 memorial, Wall Street and battery park where we first got glimpse of Lady Liberty. Seeing the statue for the first time was a bit surreal as I’m so used to seeing it on TV of in still pictures that you have to convince yourself you’re actually there seeing it. The sideways rain got the better of us quite quickly that afternoon and we headed back to our apartment deciding to leave a boat ride out toward liberty island for another day. The rain continued into our second day, hence the run round the park, so we visited our indoor spots the afternoon post run. We took the train to Grand Central Station its name really does do it justice. Grand is about the only way to describe it, a huge space of a building with lavish marble and stone finishes. I couldn’t help but laugh at all the times I’ve rolled my eyes at tourists in Paddington or Kings Cross station while I’ve been trying to catch a train and here we were doing the same thing. Although like a lot of things I’ve found in America, they’ve gone that little extra mile, probably just because they can. The rain was easing slightly but not quite enough for our liking so our next dry sport was the New York Public Library, this place was ridiculous. More like a museum than a library with 4 floors housing a number of different collections as well as a huge reading room. Because I’m young at heart and sadly not that interested in books I was most excited to find that they had Christopher Robin’s Original Pooh Bear in the children’s room. Almost 100 years old still in tact and on display. They also had Charles Dickens’ writing desk in an exhibition of English-American Literature. Similar to grand central the building is phenomenal with high ceilings, detailed finished and murals on many walls and ceilings.
We finished up at the library as the sun was setting and the rain finally stating to relent. This was probably a good time to see the lights of Broadway and Time Square as we were just around the corner. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t what we found. The place is mental, I’m sure it is lighter there when the sun goes down than when it is up. Block after block of electric advertising board, couple with numerous tourist ticket agent and hundreds of tourists it was hard to stand still for any time at all. There is certainly too much information for any average person to take in at one time its a wonder if the advertisers get much return of investment! It was the characature of New York (and probably the USA) I had yearned for before we left home though, and really quite an enjoyable experience but in the same way drinking whisky is enjoyable till you can no longer see!
When the weather improved we decided to take the opportunity to get on a boat and see the Statue of Liberty, again after the advice from our brilliant advisors we opted for the Staten Island Ferry instead of one of the tourist organised tours. The ferry was free and although it doesn’t take you onto the island it sails right by it and takes about 25 minutes to get to Staten Island or a 60 minute round trip if you get the immediate boat back. You get more than close enough to the statue to get a good look and to top it off, on the way back, you get to watch the southernmost tip of Manhattan and it’s accompanying skyline get closer and closer to you, as it seemed to rise from the water. In comparison to the sky scrapers the Statue of Liberty looks very small and also quite lonely out on its island perch in the harbour. But you can understand how it would give people a sense of relief and exhilaration to see it as they approached New York on a ship from the Atlantic, we got off a train and only saw it from shore for the first time but that didn’t suppress the feeling of excitement.
The last of our outdoor activities was seeing West and Greenwich Villages from the Highline, a disused elevated railway line that used to service the areas factories and warehouses (you can still see where it entered some buildings on the third floor!) that has now been diversified to an urban park and walkway. It was very well transformed, leaving some of the old railway tracks in place but planting flowers up through them while covering over others to allow you to walk along. You get to view whole districts from the third floor along this walk in areas you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach and it was really funny to think that trains would have run along it and how close they were to some buildings. Perhaps the best feature was the inbuilt viewing platforms that gave you the best scenes of Manhattan and its sprawling gridded road network. Once we had worked up an appetite we found a lovely little bakery away from some of the other tourists to have a piece of genuine New York cheese cake each! The area we were in is also famous as the settings of the TV shows Sex And The City and Friends, we found brown stone houses similar to those used in the former and the building used as a cut away between scenes in Freinds with the iconic iron fire escape. As Suzanne was taking a picture a small presumablely native New York boy was walking past and asked his mum why we were taking pictures of that building. Even though we knew the answer we perhaps could have asked ourselves the same question seeing as the shows scene was probably taken twenty years ago and the building has had a bit of a facelift since!
Away from TripAdvisors top attractions list we had a couple of great nights out in (I hope) genuine New York, Emma took us to an amazing little secret bar styled on prohibition speakeasy drinking dens. The bar wasn’t advertised from the street and is fronted by a hot dog parlour. Access to the bar is through a false wall in the back of a phone box, to gain access you have to pick up the phone and dial. Like any good gent I let Suzanne go in first (just in search we were in the wrong place and looked like muppets!) and sure enough the back of the phone box opened and we were let into a lively bar for a drink. After this we were taken to an Indian restaurant that was covered in fairy lights, the were barely 4ft off the ground in places and made a surreal but fun eating experience.before finishing our night off in a roof top bar looking at the Empire State Building and the rest of the sky line. It was really fun and interesting to see the night life of New York. We also visited a bar called the Dead Rabbit, on the advice of Lucy and Gerry, to have possibly the best Irish coffee ever and as it was windy outside we decided to stay for a second (the wind was pretty nippy, honest)
For our last night, our hosts has saved the best till last. We were whisked out to Brooklyn for an evening of jazz. We arrived in a beautiful brownstone house neighbourhood to find one hose decorate with lights, inside the front room was set up with some seats and a band was prepping. Our lovely host, Debbie – whose house it was, sorted us out with some wine and showed us to some seats and the band began to play. There were fewer than 15 in the audience so it was easily the most intimate gig I’ve been to and, I’m sure my first experience of live jazz, but I was sold within a minute and despite my non existent knowledge of Jazz I could see these were knowledgeable, talented and experienced musicians and I tried my best to take in as mush as possible! The next few hours were the perfect was to end our amazing NYC experience. 5 days in quite possibly the greatest city outside of London (lets not get too gassed here, they don’t even have a cable car!) it was almost with heavy hearts that we packed up and caught our trains this morning but we’ve both said we will head back one day, and besides we’ve got plenty more exploring to do!