New York, the Big Apple, so good they named it twice. Even if you haven’t been to New York there is something alluring about the idea of a city that never sleeps, haunted by the tragedy of 911 in a way that nobody else but native New Yorkers can understand. The pain runs deep, and makes the inhabitants of this small island more patriotic, more proud and more determined to live life to the full. They have an appreciation of how fleeting and delicate human existence can be when they saw it crashing down in rubble and bodies. They work hard, party harder, and take advantage of every opportunity the bright-lighted city has to offer. The energy is palpable, a thrum that is infectious. It is a city with two faces: glamorous on one side, and rough as a diamond on the other. From the beautiful joggers and dog-walkers in Central Park, to the Fifth Avenue designer shops, to the seedier but more interesting neighbourhoods where local flavor lines the streets in small delis and Mom and Pop stores, and shifty characters lurk on corners and in alleys. You can walk Manhattan in less than a couple of hours, and depending on what route you take you can experience every facet merely by crossing into the next block. There is nowhere like it on earth, and I fell completely in love.
This isn’t my first time in New York. In 1990, my first love and I flew into New York with the sole purpose of buying a car and driving round the States. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, we ended up purchasing a Nissan 200SX for $300 from a lady in Queens, and drove it over 8,000miles around the country, sleeping in truck stops and camping with our crappy 20 quid Argos tent as we went. New York was a whole different experience back then. For one, we couldn’t drink. We both looked younger than our 19 years anyway. The city had an edge, and we ventured into some of the more dangerous neighbourhoods trying to find a car. Getting lost in the Bronx, we followed two cops who eventually realized we were nervously stalking them and escorted us back to the subway station with much smirking and eye-rolling. The subway was scary, the streets were dirty, but New York still had that indomitable energy. I remember as we went into a local hole in the wall pizza shop, a man yelled out “Best calzones in New York!” He was right, my first slice of New York pizza pie was remarkable. I don’t remember where that shop is otherwise I would have gone back for a second visit.
If you love movies and TV, then New York is a familiar background. Immortalised in Woody Allen films, glamorized in Sex And The City and Friends. From the Cosby Show, to Ghostbusters, any Scorsese movie, Midnight Cowboy, Rosemary’s Baby, the streets of New York and its iconic landmarks are as familiar as our own face in the mirror. Intimidating it may be, but once demystified anyone can feel at home in the Big Apple. That’s part of the magic.
One of the best things about New York for me was catching up with people I hadn’t seen for a long while. Claudia, my beautiful Namibian friend who I met in a pool in a gym in London in 2005 (that’s not as seedy as it sounds), her sister Katya who was also over for a visit, and my friend Dave who I met on a train in Thailand in 1997. People are so friendly here, Claudia’s boyfriend Joey made me feel immediately at home in his flat in Queens, and introduced me to some super cool people. My friend Robyn put me in touch with two fabulous fellas: Andrew, who despite never meeting me before let me stay in his flat in Union Square whilst he was on holiday, and Steve who took me to a cool bar in the lower East side and brought me DVD’s of the Walking Dead as he’d picked up I was into zombies from Facebook (best pressie ever!).
I spent nearly 10 days in New York, roaming the streets, visiting a few well-known film and TV locations, like the Friends building in Soho and the Dakota off Central Park West (Rosemary’s Baby). I was incredibly lucky with the weather, with only one rainy day. The only bummer was that my Wicked tickets booking got screwed up, but I still hold out hope of seeing it when I’m back in June.
I visited Little Italy, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Soho and Tribeca. I walked several times to Central Park (from E 18th to Central Park is over 60+ blocks), Times Square, and went up the Empire State Building. I walked round Brooklyn and Battery Park. I shopped till I dropped. I ate in great restaurants, including the Spotted Pig in the Meatpacking District, drank in some awesome bars – from dive bars to hang-outs of the rich and beautiful. I traded my backpacker gear for glampacker gear – gorgeous dresses and heels, although I still like my Daisy Dukes for day wear! I chatted to dog-walkers and owners in Central Park, found a baseball which I’ve kept as a souvenir, had some brilliant personal training sessions and slept very, very little. But that’s New York for you, dah-ling.
Next up, some of the must-do highlights of my New York experience.