Exactly a year ago today I was on a plane above the Atlantic, half way to New York and on my way to one of the best trips of my life. Today I wake up on a cool autumnal morning in Sussex, with a little less to look forward to, sadly.
Considering the timing, I thought it was fitting to share my experience of New York City and to divulge the best bits in a concentrated a form as I can. It’s difficult to comprehend how little of New York you can fit into 1000 words or so, but I’m going to give it a shot, here goes:
1. Best place to ‘view’ the city. The view from the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset is, in my opinion, one of the great wonders of the world. Take the subway over to Brooklyn, stroll through the streets of gorgeous brownstones and walk back to Manhattan. From here, you’re right by the water and you can take in the full cityscape, everyone is leaving work, running, eating and chatting at this time of day and so it’s offers optimum people watching space. It’s also free, and you can take in a lot more than at the Empire State or on top of the ‘Rock’.
Tip – Buy a subway pass on your first day, the tube seems a hugely extravagant underground in comparison to the NY subway. It’s about $20 (£12) for a week’s unlimited pass. Although you want to explore as much of the city on foot, the subway can cut out a lot of your journey to and from noteworthy places and rests your weary feet a while.
2. Walk E42nd Street, from the UN, via Grand Central Station to Times Square. The United States’ first road was mapped in 1913 from the corner of E42nd and Broadway and the history continues of every block. Give yourself a morning and walk up from the UN. Built in the grand style of Beaux-Arts, the street’s prominent buildings contrast beautifully with strong, clean lines and heights of the usual Manhattan architecture.
Grand Central: In the late 1960s a campaign by Jackie Kennedy saved what is arguably the finest railway station in the USA, if one stands in the central portion and looks up, from the light-streaming ceiling windows, to the Tiffany clock on the South facade, you can get a clear view of all the best bits. I only wish I had the money to sample the delights of the Oyster Bar, on the lower level.
New York Public Library: Amid the hum and human traffic of Bryant Park, is one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in New York, the public library serves as a portion of calm. Home to a million books when it opened, it has some fabulous murals and marble architecture. If you need some respite, take a coffee and any book, and people watch fro twenty minutes in one of the ready halls.
Also of note on E42nd:
The News Building. Raymond Hood’s art-deco building, is most famous for its lobby, which holds it’s comic-book like world globe a la Clark Kent.
Bryant Park: Changes it’s programmes and themes with the season and it offers great views of the skyline.
Times Square: Best viewed at nights, when the lights are on – a multifaceted wonderland that has more energy at 2am than any raver. Times Square is pedestrian friendly, the shops are open all night and you’ll meet the most wonderful of New York’s heavenly creatures – take you camera.
3. When I was in New York I was backpacking alone and I stayed at the Hostelling International Hostel Uptown. It was hands-down the best decision I made, staying somewhere full of other backpackers is the best way to meet people and hostels often put on events and tours (all free or cheap) for any guests.
On my third rainy day I took such a tour, and I think I saw more of New York in seven hours than I would in seven days alone. Walking from lower Manhattan all the way up to Chelsea, you take in sights such as the Wall St bulls, the view of Staten Island, the elevated high-line (an old elevated railway line turned open park amid the rooftops of the Lower-West-Side), Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment on the West-Side and the Magnolia Bakery (a must for any SATC fan), the Meat-Packing district and Chelsea Market.
4. Get tickets to a Yankees game. It shows American culture at it’s best, the energy, the lights the sounds and the people (no I didn’t watch much of the game) are things not to be missed. Coming from a society where commercialism is shunned and frowned upon most of the, the embrace of it by at the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx eye-opening to say the least. The food and beer are revolting though, so eat before and buy a ‘Bud’ at your peril.
5. Central Park. Possibly the most famous of urban parks in the world; Central Park holds great expectations for any first-time visitor, the park stretches all the way from south Harlem, where I was staying, to 59th and Broadway. The Alice in Wonderland statue is a must see, as is the Belvedere Castle. I recommend walking along 5th Avenue, and entering the park from the East-Side, you’ll see the best bits. Perfect on a Spring or Autumnal (sorry Fall!) afternoon.
6. The Art Galleries: I have spent too many afternoons lost in Europe’s art galleries, and often, they deflect from the enchantments of the city they’re contained within. If there’s a show you especially want to catch then go, but admire MoMA by wandering around the entrance halls and take in the sculpture garden. The Met is also incredible, the exterior of the building alone will take your breath away, just don’t get too lost inside and miss the rest of the city!
6. If you do anything in New York, go to Greenwich Village. In the early 20th century ‘The Village’ hotbed of artists, musicians, writers who populated New York’s cultural quarter squatting in abandoned factories. The leafy streets today offer a plethora of record and book stores, antique shops and the most incredible bars and restaurants all full of creative memorabilia, from Bob Dylan’s guitar to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road notes. I explored this neighborhood by day and night, it’s best at night, the creative energy seems to flow from every building after dark and you’ll meet some incredible people.
There is too much of New York to put in a novel, let alone a single blog. But these were the bits that, a year later, stick in my mind. Have you been? What were your favourite bits and why? I’d love to know…