New York City. It’s long been a holy grail for travelers. One might say it is the default capital of the world, but I’ve always harboured a suspicion that New York City is nothing more than – a city. Sure, it’s hard to deny that it is a big city, a city filled with history and one of the more instantly recognizable centres on the planet, but after all, isn’t a city just a collection of buildings?
EARLY BIRD: Photo from the escape window in our hotel.In short, the answer is yes, but that does not stop New York from being awe inspiring, enchanting, and quite unique among the places I’ve travelled. I only had three days in the city, which anyone will attest, is nowhere near enough time to see what is a truly immense place. In fact, I barely scratched the surface of the most well-known borough – Manhattan.
We arrived at JFK after 30 hours of travel and immediately joined the peak hour rush. The first glimpse of any new place has the power to keep me awake, but there was no way I was going to miss driving in to New York, regardless of my level of sleep deprivation!
We drove through parts of Brooklyn (actually getting lost at one stage) before skirting Queens and crossing the East River at the Queensboro Bridge. We crawled along 57th Street until we reached our hotel – The Watson, which was less than a block from the CBS studios.
After a good night’s rest, I rose early for a quick walk through the chilly streets – and being November it certainly was chilly! Next it was off to Broadway to catch a tour bus – something I’ve always avoided, but considering the limits on time, a necessary evil. I took breakfast at a diner on the corner of 47th and 8th, quickly realizing I was a block from Broadway, and Times Square. Naturally we squeezed in a quick look and were promptly set upon by scammers selling their latest ‘albums’. Being nearly parted with our gullible dollars, we retreated to the safety of the bus which took us north past Strawberry Fields (and the site where John Lennon was murdered) through the Upper West Side to the General Grant National Memorial before moving on through Harlem.
We passed (but could not stop at) the Apollo Theater before heading back down the Upper East Side and through Midtown. Heading South, we saw the Guggenheim, Plaza Hotel, The Met, and even the famous fountain from the opening credits of Friends! We eventually stopped for lunch at the One World Trade Centre. On our route we passed the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building as well as Rockefeller Centre.
We took the opportunity, during lunch, to take a walk down Wall Street and managed to walk right across Manhattan (although at one of the narrowest points). We even found our way to Trinity Church, resting place of Alexander Hamilton. After lunch we paid our respects at the 9/11 memorial and then took a ferry ride around the island and down the East River. Naturally we paused in front of the Statue of Liberty for a photo with the lady, before alighting at Pier 78 and walking along 34th Street to the Empire State Building.
By this stage it was getting dark and it had started to rain, so once we’d toured an almost deserted Empire State viewing platform we returned to rush hour traffic, rain and cold. Unable to flag a cab at peak hour we walked until we reached Grand Central. Having no more luck hailing a cab from the station (and having failed to board the subway some blocks before thanks to the crowd) we decided to accept our fate and walk back to our hotel on 57th and 10th – a total distance of 57 blocks north plus more than the total width of the island all told. Having done this in the rain and cold, I felt that we’d had a suitable introduction to Manhattan, and as I stood in front of Maddison Square Garden waiting to take the train to Connecticut, I was totally ready to spend three or four days in New York. I loved NYC for its size, history and well known sites, but after all is said and done, it is still a city – a massive, sprawling, behemoth, but a city nonetheless.