New York New York. Everyone who I’d spoken to raves about it, they can’t get enough. I was really looking forward to discovering the city for myself. The first two days though, I was not impressed at all. I wondered what people loved so much about a big, bustling, not particularly inspiring city. Problem – I was staying in Midtown. I was close to the Empire State Building and Fifth Avenue and the MoMa. In other words, I was close to crowds and tourists and big avenues and blocks of skyscrapers and not much soul. Luckily I got out of there and spent a week staying in Bushwick, Brooklyn – not on the island of Manhattan but a place that oozes character out of every graffitied wall and vintage store. Its like what Newtown aspires to be – I’ve never seen more hipsters in such concentration!
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy those parts of Midtown that I visited as part of the typical tourist itinerary. I went up to Top of the Rock – the observation deck at the top of the Rockefeller Centre which I had been told was a better alternative to the Empire State, and I was happy with the choice. Having the Empire State in the view rather than standing on top of it makes sense, plus you can see more of Central Park. I bought a combined ticket for entry with the MoMa, which saved me $10 and doesn’t have to be used on the same day. I stayed up there for ages, waiting for the sun to set and the lights to come on. I could have stayed a lot longer too, there’s just so much to take in. Manhattan is overwhelming.
The MoMa was fantastic too. Again, there’s a lot to take it and you can easily get museum fatigue, especially if you’re not a die hard art gallery junkie. One of my favourite aspects was the ipods that they give you, which give you audio clips to go with many of the works, as well as allowing you to take photos, record your journey through the museum, and then send the info to yourself when you’re done. Pretty nifty! It’s probably not in the least bit interesting for anyone else but if you want to know what I saw at the MoMa you can click here.
Times Square was just as I was warned it would be- busy and grimy and packed with tourists. I got the obligatory photo and got the hell out. Like Tommy told me- Times Square is the reason he stopped telling people he is from NY. That’s the image we have in our heads, but NY is so much more, and so much better, than that.
The things I didn’t love so much were more than outweighed by the things I did. The High Line was one – a disused raised railway line that been converted into a very cool walkway/garden/park space.
I really enjoyed wandering around Little Italy. “Little” is a reasonable description, as it’s only really one street. The every-growing Chinatown is rapidly encroaching.
Chinatown was fun too – I did a food tour with Free Tours on Foot, which took us all around the area sampling dumplings (five for $1!), steamed pork buns and black sesame ice cream, among other things.
Each little pocket of Lower Manhattan has its own character. I really enjoyed the Lower East Side, which is a bit grungy but very cool, especially for going out. SoHo and Chelsea were nice for a wander, as were NoHo and Greenwich Village. I did a lot of walking! It’s really the only way to see NY.
And then of course there were the varied opportunities to enjoy the views of Manhattan from every angle. From the Top of the Rock to the Staten Island Ferry to the Brooklyn Bridge to the East River Ferry to the Williamsburg Markets to the Brooklyn Bridge Park… can you ever get sick of that skyline?
On my very last day I saw Central Park by bike. It’s really big! It really needs much longer than the two hours we had bikes for. As much as I love getting on a bike you can actually only cycle on the roads through the park, so we ended up spending just as much time pushing the bikes along the paths as we did riding on the roads.
But by far the main reason I enjoyed my stay in New York so much was the people I spent time with. Although I was technically back on “my own” and staying in a hostel I barely had a day where I was on my own for the whole day. I went out one night with Tommy – we basically walked across the whole of Manhattan from Chelsea to the Lower East Side and visited some cool bars.
I hung out a few times with Erin, who I met at the wedding and who is one of the coolest people I think I’ve ever met. Her friends Shane and Victoria were awesome too.
And of course catching up with George, who I went to high school with but haven’t seen in at least nine years (!) was particularly exciting.
Then there was Alice, who I started work with at Grant Thornton all those years ago, who has been living in New York now for about three years. Alice showed me a bit of the Financial District where she lives and works. It was really cool and a lot more beautiful than I was expecting.
Williamsburg is obviously the place to be, as this is where George, Erin and Shane all live, as well as Ethan and Liz, who I had dinner with one night as well.
After nine days in New York I was not ready to leave. I can imagine you can be there for years and still feel like you haven’t seen or experienced it all. I’m sure I’ll be back one day!
Accommodation note: My first two days were spent at the New York Budget Inn, in Midtown. I wouldn’t recommend it – not just because I didn’t like the location, but the dorms were tiny and it had no character whatsoever.
The New York Loft Hostel in Bushwick however, was awesome. Big, spacious dorms, a great kitchen, BBQ and common area, and organised activities that I didn’t participate in because I was too busy, but it’s nice that they have them. Plenty of yoga classes nearby too!
Both of these options are very expensive, but its NY, so what can you do??