This is a catch up post (we visited New York 3 years ago, in the Spring)
I have always wanted to go to New York, let’s face it who hasn’t? I think though, that at the time when I first met my partner, most women my age were massive fans of Sex and the City, which just made the urge stronger… So for my birthday, my lovely boyfriend booked us a long weekend trip to New York realise the dream. For me, it was also my first trip to the USA, AND a rare treat for us to escape and relax as a couple without the kids!
We flew over the day before my birthday and got a cab into the city, and I was immediately struck by the lack of regular traffic in the city centre. Everything seemed to be either black Lincoln cars with taxi plates, police cars, or yellow taxis! Not only that, but you could see steam rising from the subway vents in the road… This seemed very alien to me. In the UK, the tube system is far far under ground in most cases.
Both my partner and I remarked about how it felt slightly unreal seeing famous landmark buildings everywhere we looked, and the yellow taxis everywhere steam rising from the subways almost seemed too cliché – it felt more like we were stepping onto the set of a New York film or TV series than visiting a real city!
We were staying in a The Red Roof Inn, at 6 West 32nd Street. It was directly opposite the Empire State Building, which was pretty cool. The area where the hotel is located is known as ‘Little Korea’ and is surrounded by little Korean restaurants. This was actually the view from our room. Aside from the location, the hotel was pretty basic. It only had a couple of lifts, and being up near the top floor, this was rather annoying. The breakfast hall we teenie, and crammed with people, though the food was okay and over all, I think it was fairly good value for money; and lets face it, as the city that never sleeps: New York isn’t a place where you plan to spend a great deal of time in your room-that would just be a waste of a long weekend away!
On our first evening there, we walked up Broadway from our hotel, past Macy’s and into Times Square… I can’t remember where we ended up getting dinner, but it served great cocktails, and went to bed pooped after our long day and fun night.
The next day, we got up bright and early and headed straight to the South of the Island to Battery Park and around the business district where the World Trade Centre once stood. It was quite strange for me, to imagine that the Twin Towers once stood there. We expected there to be a lot more of a fuss made about 9-11 at The area now known as Ground Zero, but found that it was a large building site. There was a Ground Zero Exhibit in a shopping centre across the road , and you could pick up headphones and listen to the noise of the machines working on the site over the road. Although I think we had expected to see more made of the sad event; with hindsight, we felt it was quite nice that New York’s attitude was to pick up and carry on with less fuss than we’d anticipated…
From there, we walked down to catch the Staten Island Ferry. We caught it, mainly for the view of the Statue of Liberty, rather than to see Staten Island, as there was not much to do on the other side except look at Manhattan Island from a distance! After a short walk around, we caught the first ferry back and booked a helicopter tour of New York (we had planned to visit The Empire State Building or The Statue of Liberty the next day, but we were put off by the huge queues for the Statue of Liberty and a New Yorker, who was in the helicopter tour queue, told us that the best view of the Empire State Building was (in her opinion) from the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Centre). She also explained that there was a bar and a restaurant at the top called The Rainbow Room, and said that although pricey, if we ordered drinks or a meal there, we would avoid the cost of the viewing gallery (or the lift-I can’t remember?).
After looking around at various options, we decided to book our helicopter tour with a company called Helicopter Flight Services Inc. We booked The New Yorker Tour, since this seemed to offer the main attractions including a general view of Manhattan, with a look at the major tourist attractions including The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Central Park, New York Harbour, Ground Zero (seen in the picture to the right), the Rockefeller Centre, The Brooklyn Bridge and Greenwich Village. Our pilot also pointed out Rikers Island which is actually a prison island (one of the most notorious of the USA’s prisons with a history of violence apparently) that houses local inmates who cannot make bail (either because they cannot afford to, or because their crimes are deemed too serious to permit bail), for up to a year. I found it bizarrely fascinating and a little creepy looking down knowing that the island housed 14,000 inmates, many of whom are especially violent or dangerous.
Since it was my birthday, we decided to reserve a table for The Rainbow Room restaurant on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller centre afterwards. Although it was a Saturday, we were able to get a table, and we waited for a while so that we could get a window seat. The food was nice, but not memorable, unlike the price tag and the stuffiness of the waiters and the general atmosphere of the place. The clientele were mostly older people and the decor was dated too. I always think it’s a shame when you have to put up with a stiff atmosphere in the name of good food…
The other slightly shocking thing was that the restaurant added a mandatory 20% service charge to our bill which we thought was cheeky-especially since we didn’t think the service was particularly wonderful any way. Maybe it’s because we’re Brits, but the tipping culture in America seems more than a little crazy; I was raised to believe that a tip is a discretionary bonus for excellent service, but in the States tipping culture seems absurd. People seem to assume that a payment in the region of 15-20% automatic (in fact, when we were subsequently in Las Vegas, we were even asked in The Buffet at the Wynn, whether we wanted to pay our tip in advance of even being seated to eat! This I found offensive, since the waiter could see the receipt, and knew we had not yet tipped us, and as such, I felt he deliberately gave us poor service (perhaps assuming that we had no intention of tipping him)? Any way, I’m getting side tracked)… Back to New York! I am a little surprised (but I guess not very, considering the comments above) to learn that The Rainbow Room is not currently open as a restaurant. This message was displayed when I hit their website whilst looking to check out their website today.
On our last full day there, we wandered up to Saks on 5th Avenue-though I didn’t buy anything, as it was very expensive and mainly high-end labels, but it was nice to look. We then wandered up to Central Park. It was a beautiful hot sunny day (much hotter than it would be here in the UK in the Spring-I even managed to get sun burnt-oops!) Since the park is pretty vast (843 acres). We decided to rent a bike to cycle it (FYI, if you are thinking of doing this, you get a 10% discount for doing so online here).
You can do bike tours of the park, but we didn’t want to be held back by people who were possibly not used to cycling regularly, and since we had a map of the park, we were not fussed about having a tour guide. I would thoroughly recommend renting a bike, as this was a really lovely way to see the park, and save the balls of your feet from aching with all the walking you will do in New York. It was also possible to cycle around the perimeter of the park in a reasonable space of time, although it was strange getting used to breaking by pedalling backwards rather than squeezing on a hand brake, which is what I am used to.
Whilst on our bike ride, we followed a map, and managed to gate-crash a tour guide talking about the Strawberry Fields Garden in memorial to John Lennon who lived adjacent to the Garden in the Dakota Apartments with Yoko Ono, and was shot right outside his home there in 1980. The garden is 2.5 acres in its own right, and the centrepiece of this teardrop shaped garden is the Imagine Mosaic which is decorated with flowers every day by a man called Dos Santos. He was there talking to people gathered around to look at the mosaic when we were there.
On our way back, we went into Grand Central Station. My partner insisted this was a tourist attraction, but I was sceptical that I would be impressed by a train station. I was wrong. This is no ordinary train station. It is a very well looked after building, with marble floors, and a huge ornate clock in the centre of the room and a huge American Flag hanging from the ceiling above. My partner actually took a great shot using a slow shutter speed that really captures the energy and buzz of the place.
This was a lovely weekend, and I think we managed to achieve a lot in our short stay. If I am ever lucky enough to return, I would like to take in a show whilst I am there, and possibly get up early enough to visit the Statue Of Liberty
Travel Must See Rating? – 10/10 – New York is chock-full of iconic skyscraper architecture and lives up to it’s reputation of being the city that never sleeps. Our ‘long weekend’ there was lovely, and I think it is possible to see and do a lot to fill your time here whatever your budget. I particularly loved the helicopter tour of the city and the time we spent exploring Central Park on foot and by bike. Although, personally, I felt that the shopping in New York was somewhat overrated, this did not detract from my overall experience. I think there is truly something here for everyone to enjoy, although for ma, a week would have been too long.
- If you plan to see The Empire State Building OR The Statue of Liberty, get there early because the queues get huge, and if you leave it until late, you might not get in
- If you want to get the real ‘awe’ factor when you visit Times Square… Go at night rather than during day light hours
- Take a comfortable pair of shoes to wear, you will be walking for MILES!
- If you plan to hire a bicycle to ride in Central Park, book it online. You will Save 10%
- If you want to look like a full on tourist, have a horse drawn carriage ride in central park
- If you are a UK traveller in your 20s, be sure to take photo ID to bars with you. The lagal age for alcohol consumption is 21 (not 18 like it is in the UK). I was ID’d even though I was about 10 years over the legal age for drinking, and so was my partner!