Growing up in the 90s, my image of New York was based on Home Alone, TMNT and the odd episode of Sex in the City (you know, when it was on in the background). Numbered streets and Avenues; bagels, donuts and pizza; Central Park and the Empire State building. Having spent a week in NYC I can successfully confirm that it is exactly like the TV shows and movies. From the gorgeously quaint Upper East Side, to the madness of Times Square, to the beautiful tranquility of Central Park, to the food. New York really doesn’t disappoint.
Let me start off by saying that I could have easily spent more time. A week was a great amount of time, but there are basically unlimited amounts of things to do in the city. And that’s just the city, I didn’t even make it out to Jersey or Long Island. Roll the highlight reel.
By far my favourite place in NYC. Central Park is gigantic, spanning over 50 streets and 3 avenues. I didn’t even have time to explore more than half of the Park. Walking around was beautiful, there are so many trees and ponds, with squirrels running all around. People walk their dogs or run around, escaping the hustle bustle of the big city. One of the hostels that I stayed in was only a block away, so I ate breakfast in the park each day I was there.
As some of you will know, I’m a massive fan of Donuts. I used to be a big fan of Dunkin’ Donuts. But no more. I’ve tasted the real thing, and I might not be able to go back. I spent some time compiling a list of about 10 different donut stores around Manhattan and Brooklyn that I wanted to visit while I was there. I even took a one hour train ride out to deep Brooklyn to try Shaikh’s Donuts on a recommendation. Oh, boy, was that a worthwhile trip. Not only were the Donuts amazing, but they were dirt cheap too. I picked up 2 donuts and a coffee for only $2.40, what a steal. I estimate that I’ve eaten 10+ donuts in the last week.
No NYC list would be complete without a mention of Pizza. Sold by the slice, you can’t walk a block without seeing someone chowing down on one, folded in half because they are so big. I’m not normally a big Pizza fan, but I ate a lot of different pizzas. A lot of the places were super cheap, some selling slices at 99c. Some of the better ones ranged from $3-6 per slice. The base is slim, but not thin, crunchy but still floppy, and it’s heated just enough for the cheese to be melted.
Riding the NYC subway was such a novelty for me. I’ve seen it on TV so much, and heard so many things, so it almost felt nostalgic to be a part of it. I can confirm that you see some pretty weird things on the subway. Every now and again, if you are lucky, you will get a busker on your train. That’s right – the busker is inside of your carriage! My first experience of this was a lady with a guitar and a baby strapped to her back, rocking out Mumford & Sons in between stops. I also saw barbershop quartets, homeless people telling elaborate stories, and heard about a group of acrobatic kids who do flips and tricks on the hand rails in between longer stops.
At first I was a little confused, you have to be on the right side of the track, depending on whether you are going to Uptown or Downtown, I had no idea what this meant when I got off the plane, but my guess was correct. I also find the subways mixed with the numbered streets very disorientating. It’s tricky to figure out which way to go when you pop up on the street, so I generally find myself walking a full block to discover I’ve gone the wrong way. Perhaps I’m just no good at navigating. It’s quite funny listening to different people give subway directions. Everyone has a different idea of how to get somewhere, as there are a whole lot of different options that criss-cross each other.
The city doesn’t sleep. Basically ever.
No matter what time of night there is always something open, always something going on. In Manhattan, most places are open seemingly 24 hours. I went to a restaurant at 1am on a Thursday morning, and the place was packed, showing no signs that they would be closing soon. I’m not really into nightlife, but I hear it’s unlimited. I did find an amazing Jazz bar though, the best bar I’ve ever been to. They always have a Jazz band playing, couches, tables with chess, checkers, cards and scrabble, pool tables, shuffle board tables, and then the outside was lined with ping pong tables. I went there twice on non-weekend nights, and it was packed all night. I think what I liked about it so much was that it wasn’t just a big room for people to get drunk in (like basically every bar in NZ), it was just a great place for people to come and hang out and have fun.
Wherever you are, especially in Manhattan, you can just walk around staring at the buildings. They are really something else, with a lot of variation. Beautiful stone churches pop up throughout the city, as well as the rows and rows of apartment buildings with the intricate criss cross of bars on the doors and windows. Even the project brick housing looks nice, certainly a step up from Newtown Flats!
Generic Tourist Trail
There are a few things that when you are in NYC, you just kind of have to do. Like walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and seeing the City Scape. I went up the Rockefeller Centre rather than the Empire State building, as I heard that there were no queues. Even on a cloudy day, it was a pretty impressive view. Oh, and Times Square, of course. Times Square is hilarious. You can go there at 2am and you would think that it’s the middle of the day, the lights are that bright.
Grand Central Station was also very nice, although 90% of the people there were tourists.
The hustle bustle of the big city was starting to annoy me. When you’re walking down the street and the 5th person in the last minute bumps into you, despite their apologies, you just start to get really sick of it. I feel like people in the big city have no spatial awareness, slash, they only really care about themselves and what they’re doing. This is obviously a generalisation, but, it’ll be nice to go somewhere where I don’t have to dodge the umbrellas for fear of losing an eye.
I found a great coffee shop. Owned by Kiwis, all of the baristas were trained in the art of the Flat White and Long Black. I stayed a few hours here and had my first good coffee in a wee while. I also got to exclaim the classic line of, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” When a car tried to cut me off as I was crossing the street.
Oh yeah, it was also super cold. Some days it got down to -3 degrees! Unlike Sapa in Vietnam, I was prepared this time and had plenty of warm gear. As I sit here writing this post on the train to Philadelphia, it’s just beginning to snow. It feels a little magical, like New York is saying goodbye. It’s been a great stay, and I hope I’ll be back one day. Next up, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.