Travel Diary: New York, New York

Posted by Catherine Elms on November 30, 2018 Blog posts | | No comments

In October my partner and I went on a week-long holiday to New York. I’ve never been to the US, but always wanted to go, so it was amazing to finally be able to travel there. We packed in so much sightseeing and tasty food during the seven days we were there and it was easily the best holiday I’ve ever been on!

Day 1: Midtown

The first day was the most tourist-y of them all, spent entirely in Midtown. We started at  Times Square and had a wander through the nearby area, soaking up the sights. Photos don’t really do it justice – there’s so much to see at every turn, in every direction. One of the NYC faux-pas is to stop in the street and look up at the surrounding tall buildings, so I resisted the urge to do that as much as I could. Times Square is insane and beautiful in its own way.

We visited the nearby Rockefeller Center, which is a shopping center with an observation deck at the top of the building overseeing the city skyline called Top of the Rock. We bought our tickets for the observation deck using the New York City Pass, where you pay a slightly discounted rate for a bundle of major attraction entrance tickets – although I wouldn’t particularly recommend this, as we ended up getting stuck chasing attractions to get our money’s worth, and it didn’t save us much money, maybe a few dollars at most.

There was a mini-exhibition about the Rockefeller Center on the way up to the observation deck which wasn’t that interesting and had a weird focus on revering JD Rockefeller as a shrewd business man, rather than focusing on the building itself and its history (it felt like a very American approach to the exhibit). The exhibition wasn’t much to write home about, but it didn’t matter, because the city views at the Top of the Rock were beautiful and totally worth the ticket price. After taking a load of pictures, I sat on a bench and had a 20 minute jetlag snooze.

We had lunch in sandwich bar Tri Tip Grill listening to mid-00s pop rock playing in store (including ‘1985’ by Bowling for Soup! What a deep cut!).

After lunch we walked around Midtown and visited the New York Public Library, Bryant Park, Grand Central Station, and Midtown Comics (a huge comic book store).

That evening we bussed back to our flat in Weehawken, New Jersey, where we admired the gorgeous view of the nighttime NY skyline from across the Hudson River. <3

Day 2: Weehawken, Midtown, Broadway

We spent the morning exploring Weehawken, and visited Hamilton Park and the Weehawken duelling grounds, where Alexander Hamilton was shot and killed by Aaron Burr (I recently saw Hamilton in London for the first time, so was pretty excited to visit the duelling grounds). The park also had a beautiful view of the New York skyline – we sat in the park eating savory crepes looking at the view, it was lovely.

Afterwards we went back to Midtown for some shopping (including the M&M store, where Daf accidentally spent $20 on a custom bag of M&Ms), then had dinner in Virgil’s Real Barbecue. We just stumbled across it and decided to eat there because it wasn’t too busy – turns out it’s one of the top 10 barbecue restaurants in the US, and the food was incredible!

That evening we saw Chicago on Broadway – we’d managed to get hold of discounted tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square, where discounted tickets are sold every day for performances that evening. We got 2 very good seats for less than £100 (front row of the mezzanine)! The show was brilliant, and I particularly loved the live jazz band on stage.

Day 3: East Village

In the morning we caught the free Staten Island Ferry across the harbour, where we saw the Statue of Liberty – she was much much smaller than I expected, but still beautiful.

That afternoon we caught the subway over to East Village for an LGBT history walking tour led by Christopher Street Tours, which took us around the LGBT history monuments and historic sights in the area, including the Stonewall Inn, the site of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The tour guide Michael was super friendly and knowledgeable, and we learned so much.

Afterwards we visited Washington Square Park, then walked over to Madison Square Park for a Shakeshack burger (named one of the city’s best burgers by Anthony Bourdain) and some amazing bacon and cheese fries which were freaking delicious.

We spent the evening in The Stonewall Inn having some drinks – that evening they had a Mean Girls screening and 90s karaoke going on!

 

Day 4: Central Park and Upper West Side

We spent the morning walking around the lower half of Central Park (it’s so much bigger than you’d think; we walked for about 2 1/2 hours and saw less than half of the whole park).

We spent the afternoon in the American Museum of Natural History – a deceptively huge museum, we walked around for about 3 hours and only managed to see 7 exhibitions! My favourite was the North American Mammals exhibit, which featured animal dioramas in beautifully painted backdrops (e.g. the lovely Alaska Brown Bear diorama). Included in our entry fee was a ticket to a space show inside the Hayden Planatarium about dark matter – my first time in a planetarium, although I have to admit that I was so exhausted from all the walking that I fell asleep for most of the show.

That evening we cruised down the Hudson River with North American Lobster Company – a “floating lobster shack” with a full bar on every deck, you just pay $10 to get on the boat and can stay eating and drinking for as long as you want. I had lobster rolls and margaritas on the top deck of the boat, overlooking the evening NYC skyline – it was perfect.

Day 5: The Met and Brooklyn

The Met is another deceptively huge place; we could have spent the entire day here, if our feet could only hold up for that long (seriously, check out the venue map – there’s SO much to see here, spread over 6 floors). I loved the modern art gallery, and the musical instruments exhibit.

After lunch in a nearby deli, we had a whale of a time in Spirit Halloween, a store that exclusively sells halloween costumes and accoutrements

Next we caught a subway over to Brooklyn, had a brief wander around, and then walked across the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan, and enjoyed the beautiful city views. <3

We spent the evening having dinner and drinks with our lovely hosts Andrew and Betsy, where after almost a week of meat and carbs, we were delighted to eat a meal that actually contained vegetables.

Day 6: Chelsea, Tribeca, Chinatown

Today New York Comic Con was in full swing, and had I been more organised, I might’ve tried to get tickets for it, but they sold out before I got a chance. Still, it was so much fun to see all the people in cosplay milling around all day.

We walked along almost the entire length of The High Line, a public park built on a historic freight rail line above the streets of West Side featuring mini gardens, street overlooks, and art installations. We got off at Tribeca where we visited Chelsea Market (an indoor food market; it reminded me a lot of Camden Market actually), where I had the best tacos I’ve ever eaten in my entire life, hands down!

After stopping by the Ghostbusters firehouse in Tribeca, we visited the nearby Mmuseumm, a “modern natural history museum” located inside an abandoned freight elevator, with temporary exhibitions/collections dedicated to documenting modern life. When we visited, their exhibitions included modern religion, counterfeits, and “bread clip taxonomy”. They even have a museum gift shop!

That evening we went over to Chinatown, which genuinely felt as though we’d stepped into a completely different country. It was packed with restaurants, bubble tea shops (I had one because I’m a basic bitch, and it was delicious), open air market stalls, and souvenir shops. We spent a bit of time resting our feet in Columbus Park, then had dinner in Nom Wah Tea Parlour, the oldest dim sum restaurant in Chinatown.

 

Day 7: Coney Island

We spent our final day on Coney Island – my favourite activity of the whole week, and an amazing way to round off the holiday! After a wander along the boardwalk, we spent most of the day in Luna Park, the main theme park on Coney Island. The weather was hot and sunny all day, we ate Nathan’s Famous hot dogs on the beach, went on almost every ride and barely had to queue for anything… so perfect!

Reflections

  • I have some thoughts on expectations vs reality of tourism, which was particularly striking on this holiday. We were obviously expecting huge crowds of tourists, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t annoying to have to constantly side-step people who stop in the middle of a walkway to take a photo, or people who crowd around a pretty monument to get a selfie with it, or being blocked from a nice view by a sea of cameras and selfie sticks. Not that I can complain, because I was one of the annoying tourists myself, of course – though I tried to be mindful and not block other people’s views where possible. I’m adding “being a tourist” to the list of things that are fun to do yourself, but annoying when other people do them. (Photos on the top from various travel sites online, photos on the bottom by me)
  • New York city is enormous. New York state is enormous. America is enormous. We spent almost a full week in Manhattan, which is 1 small borough in New York city, which is a tiny city in the state, and we barely saw any of it. It’s crazy! We structured our holiday well and saw the main things we wanted, and we managed to travel all along the length of Manhattan and see loads of different neighbourhoods – but we definitely want to go back sometime and see some of the things we didn’t have time for.
  • On that note – NYC is ridiculously busy almost everywhere, but mostly people were polite/pleasant. The only rude people we encountered were tourists, and the aggressive CD guys who made some gross comments when I wouldn’t buy CDs from them (although we only saw them near Times Square).
  • The food was, of course, incredible. I didn’t have a single bad meal, everything was perfect.
  • Watching American TV was so different to UK TV – everything was so much more flashy and dramatic, and it was weird to see adverts for healthcare products and political candidates. One of our favourite TV curios was a news story that a torn US flag that survived the high winds of Hurricane Florence sold at auction for $11,000, as a symbol for the spirit of the American people. The patriotism is wild – if this happened in the UK, we’d all just laugh at the flag and turn it into a meme.
  • The NY subway is a great system, good value for money, and pretty easy to use once you get your head around it, so I do recommend getting a subway card and subwaying around the city.
  • Stores adding VAT at the till rather than in the item price is so confusing. AMERICA EXPLAIN.
  •  If you visit NYC, you will walk everywhere and your feet will thank you for a pair of good comfy walking shoes.

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