If there is one American city I have always been drawn to, it’s New York City. I can’t even pinpoint what fascinates me so much. It’s probably a combination of the mix of cultures there which influence everything from cuisine to music, the artistic feel of some neighbourhoods, the complete embrace of performing arts, the student neighbourhoods, Central Park… and architecture. That’s right. I’m the granddaughter of an architect. Never underestimate the attractiveness of architecture when it comes to a destination!
When I arrived in New York, I did so fresh off the bus from Newark at the Port Authority and there was no warning before I got swept up in the hustle and bustle of this great city.
Within minutes, I was in possession of a subway ticket and making my way underground with hundreds of others. Navigating the subway, and the city, was child’s play. It’s so very straight forward and the city is on a grid, as you probably know, so getting lost is quite hard, unless you get lost intentionally.
I only had four days in New York, and as it was my first (and so far only) time there, I went exploring. Armed with a map of Manhattan and Brooklyn (my YMCA was in Manhattan), my camera and a general idea of what I wanted to see, I set out to find that New York I longed to see.
One of my first stops, after getting a breakfast cream cheese bagel and coffee for $2 from the vendor on the corner just like every other person, was the Statue of Liberty. The boat trip there was one of the few things I had calculated into my budget. It was also, potentially, the most time-consuming, so I wanted to do that first. Just knowing it from film and TV and books, of course, I always assumed that it was a lot closer to Battery Park than it is. Ellis Island was also an eye-opener, knowing that distant relatives had passed through there in its heyday.
There are a few things that seem clichéd to do in New York, but that you probably end up doing anyway. Like getting to the top of the Empire State Building, visiting Times Square or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. I did all of those. And even though I’m not a “girly girl”, I did at least go window shopping on Fifth Avenue. Oh, and I crossed “ride in a NYC yellow cab” off my bucket list, even if it was just for a few blocks.
To many people, New York means Manhattan, just because that’s where most of the tourist attractions are. New York is home to several colleges and universities, and I love a city with a vibrant student culture. So once I was across the Brooklyn Bridge, I walked around Brooklyn a bit, from the Brooklyn Bridge Park to Flatbush Avenue, looking for student shops, books and decent coffee. And I realised that I really want to live in New York at some point. For a year, or so, to experience the city throughout the seasons.
Central Park was a place I always wanted to see, mainly because I never believed it could actually be such a massive green space in the middle of such a hectic city. There was one place in particular I wanted to go, and that is Strawberry Fields. However, I didn’t know where to look for it and asked an officer – who didn’t know either. Turns out we were just a few yards away from it. A guy in a John Lennon t-shirt gave me the vital clue.
Making my way past those iconic brownstones and back to the subway, I eventually ended up in the financial district. Construction had just begun on One World Trade Center. The whole mentality of Lower Manhattan seemed so at odds with the more artistic and slightly bohemian one I had just left.
People watching is one of my favourite past times, and New York is perfect for that! And everyone has a story to tell. I guess that’s one of the reasons I find the entire city so inspiring.