Arriving in NYC
We arrived in NYC excited if not a little pooped. It had taken us the grand total of 35 hours to get from Cumbuco to New York including 16 hours in Rio Airport, some of which was spent sleeping on café tables and benches- not fun! We did sleep pretty much the entirety of our night flight to NYC though so it could have been worse.
My ma and pa had arrived in NY in the middle of the night from the UK (at least they were in a similar state to us) so we rushed off to meet them. It was so fab to see them! It felt like being home again, without the work of course! They had brought all of our favourite things from home, and, as Mike’s family and my sis had donated goodies as well, the stash was ginormous. Mike’s goodies consisted mainly of his favourite sweets and food and for me it was also a selection of clothes to update the backpack- heaven!
Mum and dad had also rented an apartment for the four of us in Midtown New York (I know- lucky us) which was super cool. It was a cute little two bed basement dwelling with exposed bricks, a posh kitchen and amazing shower. Not to mention the world’s most comfy beds with a feathered mattress topper as well as duvet- amazeballs. After filling the fridge and working out our favourite sofas it soon felt even more like home.
Sightseeing in the Big Apple
Sightseeing in New York is like walking on the sets of your favourite films and TV shows. In Central Park you think of Friends, at the Statue of Liberty you think of Hitch, at Time Square you think of Vanilla Sky, at the Empire State building you think of King Kong and at Central Station you think of Madagascar. This all adds to the magic of being in one of the world’s most iconic cities.
Our first stop was Central Park where the lake was still partly frozen over and there were piles of snow on the ground. Adding the fact that ice skaters were still whizzing around, the whole place had a strangely Christmassy feel to it.
We wandered aimlessly for a while before coming across street performers who went by the name of the ‘Sexy Black Men’. They were a real crowd pleaser with their impressive gymnastics, breakdancing and gift of the gab. Not liking to be at the front of these performances which often involve audience participation we tentatively moved closer to the show but as they kept telling us to move further and further forward we soon ended up at the front- error! Next thing I know the sound track to Dirty Dancing (I’ve had the time of my life) comes on and I have been lifted up into one of the ‘Sexy Black Men’s’ arms and am being swung around like a rag doll. They also somersaulted over mine and a number of men’s heads but not before trying to guilt us all into giving them a 20 note each, which I didn’t have to add to my embarrassment further! I told them Mike had all my money, but after they consulted Mike he responded ‘ah she’s only little, you’ll be able to get over her head easily’. At least I now know how much my safety is worth to my boyfriend!
Our next must see was the iconic Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Wrapped up like we were about to land in Antarctica we hopped on board a ferry that does a circle of these two attractions. The ride in itself was pretty great with amazing views of downtown NY as well as the very impressive Miss Liberty herself. When we found dry land again we grabbed a hot chocolate to warm us up for our walk around Liberty Island- she is very grand.
Ellis Island was equally as impressive, and, in my opinion more worth hopping off the ferry for. The museum explains the history of immigrants to America and how the Island itself used to be used as a huge Immigration office, where people’s health (both mental and physical) would be checked before letting them into the country, although at this point only 5% would be turned away.
For another amazing view of the city we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, from Brooklyn to Manhattan. This provides panoramic views of the cities skyscrapers including the Empire State Building, as well as the Statue of Liberty. The bridge also has an old sketch of the city’s skyline before 9/11 so you can see the dent that was made on Manhattan. Where the Twin Towers used to be there is now empty space but new buildings have cropped up around the gap. The World Trade Centre Memorial Park is being developed, new skyscrapers, and very impressive ones at that, are being added.
Visiting the WTC Memorial is extremely upsetting but also strangely peaceful. In place of the Towers are now 2 seemingly endless square waterfalls that fit perfectly in the space left behind. Along the sides of these waterfalls are the names of the 2,996 people that died on 9/11 (including at the Pentagon and on Flight 93) and the World Trade Centre bombings of 1993. The names have been thoughtfully placed so that people are next to their loved ones, friends and work colleagues and based on families’ wishes. The white roses that can be seen around the waterfalls are also very moving; they are placed on a person’s name on their birthday as a mark of remembrance.
In the middle of the park is one lone pear tree which stands out against all the other trees in the area that are uniformly placed Oak’s. The tree was found by firefighters as an 8ft stump in the wreckage of 9/11. It was rescued and, now at 30ft, it is kept as a symbol of survival, and certainly does lift the spirit during a visit here. Survival is also reflected by the new, very attractive, World Trade Centre buildings that stand defiantly around the edge of the memorial.
Only a short walk away is Wall Street and with it comes a complete change of mood. We first went to see the Brass Bull, which was surrounded by tourists fighting for the perfect photo op. Next we visited the New York Stock exchange all though we didn’t see much as security doesn’t allow you to get closer than a few meters. Finally we joined the traders for end of the week drinks at a slick bar with beautiful waitresses and promotional girls walking around in LBD’s. They were lovely though, as were the drinks and atmosphere. Watching suited older men try out their chat up lines on these stunning women also added to the people watching- I genuinely heard one guy ask ‘does it shock you every morning when you look in the mirror and see just how beautiful you are’- cringe!
A lot of our time in NYC was spent wandering around looking at all the incredible buildings.
Probably the most impressive was the Empire State building. We travelled to the 86th floor just before dusk which meant we got to look down at the city when the sun was shining on it (ish) during the day, when its lights were twinkling in the dark of night and most stunning of all, during sunset when the sky was seemingly on fire. The 86th floor also provided wonderful views of the Chrysler Building, probably my favourite in New York due to its Art Deco design giving it an antique feel. The Flat Iron building also stood out amongst the others, with this the clues in the name, it was built in this way due to the strange shaped land it occupies.
We also stopped off at Central Station, a building too pretty to be a train station, to look at the beautiful ceiling and watch the people rushing around in true New Yorker style. Then it was to the Rockefeller Centre, the largest privately held complex of its kind, financed by Rockefeller himself, to watch the ice skaters. Unfortunately the famous Christmas tree was not around at this time of year.
Last but by no means least was our trip to Time Square. The bright lights and hustle and bustle of this place always leaves me feeling like a dear caught in headlights. You walk down the street and anyone from Batman, a Mignon or Mario may say hi and offer up photo ops. There are huge moving adverts on almost every building urging you to buy something and the streets are filled with classic American restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp and Hard Rock Café just calling out to you to come for a bite to eat. It’s perfect for an evening stroll although when we were there it was a tiny bit too chilly to hang around long.
One final must do when in New York, no matter how skint you are, has to be a stroll down 5th Avenue, if only to window shop. This street is filled with the shiniest, most inviting designer stores imaginable, including the world famous Tiffany’s New York. Visiting this store is AMAZING, no matter how shabby you look the staff will treat you like you’re Princess Kate. Actually in most of the shops we visited the staff were wonderful, adding to the whole experience (not that I bought anything but mum had the obligatory holiday gifts to get). While we were on our mini shopping excursion the men found a cute little Irish Bar which we joined them in for some drinks and great bar nibbles.
Basically there is never an excuse to be bored in NY. Even travelling around the city can be entertaining. It’s not uncommon to see performers in the subway stations and sometimes even the trains. We saw fabulous dancers, an epic jazz performance and soul signers. Even better, we also saw the local New Yorkers dancing away to these performers and loving them as much as we were.
Eating our way around NYC
New York eateries have taken their cue from the cities nickname- The Big Apple. All their food is big. Big jars of sauce, big chicken wings, big portions of fries and big bottles of coke- everything is big. Luckily a lot of it is also very yummy as well- their slogan should be quality and quantity. We sampled a fair share of what they had to offer thanks to the ‘rents treating us on a number of occasions.
Our first food stop was to the farmers market at Union Square to stock up the fridge. It was brill. With a huge selection of fresh produce such as cheese, bread (including wheat free), meat, crisps and more it’s no wonder it’s a locals favourite.
One of our best meals was in Virgil’s, a typical American dinner just off Time Square, however this place takes big eats to another level! We ordered ONE starter between the four of us and would pretty much have been satisfied with this alone- shame we had already ordered our mains! We shared nachos to start and then Mike and I also shared ‘train wreck fries’ (fries with cheese, bacon, jalapenos, spring onion and soured cream) and buffalo chicken wings for mains. Despite it all being absolutely delish I only managed three fries and two wings because I was sooooo full!
Another fav was lunch at the famous Lombardis pizza located just under Brooklyn Bridge (on the Brooklyn side). We had to wait 30 minutes in the freezing cold but it was worth every minute. The pizzas were bloody brilliant and there was enough to take away and have re-heated for dinner. Given that the pizza is so good and restaurant so famous I was expecting big prices but to my surprise it was also seriously cheap. This place is unashamedly down to earth with tiny tables and cobwebs in the corners of an otherwise beautiful building.
E-ss- Bagel is similar in that sense. They do bagels and they do them well but that’s all they do and there served in an old school deli with plastic tables and chairs. The bagels were lush though. With a million and one choices of bagels and fillings including a thousand choices of cream cheese (both sweet and savoury) you could have almost every combination imaginable.
I also could not resist the chance to stop off at one of my favourite American chains- Chipotle. This place offers fast food burritos but you can choose your meat, salsa, accompaniments, and, if you fancy it, you can have a Margarita on the side- who wouldn’t like it?
One last meal that can’t be missed off is Mum’s home cooking. We were all feeling pretty wrecked on our first night in NY so thought we would stop off at the local store and grab a jar of pasta sauce and some spaghetti for a quick bite at home. However mum being mum could not resist the urge to ponce the dish up a bit and as always the results were yummy! Unfortunately this is not a skill that I have inherited.
Getting out of NYC
So before we left New York Mum and Dad treated me one last time- Mum and I went to the spa for a pedicure, massage chairs and all, while the men went wandering. The whole experience was super relaxing and our feet looked beautiful after.
Mike and I then headed off to pick up our new home for the next two and a half months from a very cute area in Queens. Winnie (short for Winfred), our new camper, turned out to be a bit different from Toady (our Patagonian camper) and also reminded me slightly of the prints on jumpers you can buy on the home shopping channel but with time we were sure we would come to love her. Plus she is a better drive than Toady and has some cool gadgets like a fridge and a dual battery system which means we can charge things when the engine is off- very useful.
We drove back to Manhattan for our last lunch with Ma and Pa (another wonderful restaurant- a burger joint this time) before a sad goodbye and a scary drive out of New York past the Empire State building.
Next stop….we’re not sure……