When I was asked at work if I would be willing to travel for a training course that I had heard good things about, I was of course very happy to go. When I was told it was to be held in New York, the offer became so much sweeter. New York. A city I had wanted to visit for years, but had put off time and again due to the cost of accommodation (those single supplements can sting!). But here was my chance – a training session that ran Thursday-Friday that gave me the weekend to experience the city!
Looking back on my time in New York, I realise how incredibly surreal a lot of it was. Leaving the airport and jumping in my first yellow taxi was like something straight from a film, and my first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline from the taxi made me scream inside a little – I thought when I left my house that morning that I was heading somewhere magical, and already the city was living up to these high expectations.
I’d booked a flight that would allow me a few hours in the afternoon to get my bearings. My first foray out of the hotel took me through the financial district, past Federal Hall, the Stock Exchange, the Charging Bull, through Battery Park and around to the Staten Island Ferry. I was instantly in love with all the accents that were around me, even in the financial district, what could have been a sterile area, New York was showing me that it is a true melting pot of different people, and I immediately felt at home.
Following the advice of family who had previously been to New York, and given the limited time that I had to fit as much as possible in to my trip, I relied on the Staten Island Ferry to show me the Statue of Liberty, and it certainly did not disappoint! The ferries can hold seemingly endless people, it’s all well sign-posted and it’s easy to make the return crossing (you just have to dash around to the next ferry to leave), a truly excellent way of seeing Liberty herself if you don’t have the time or inclination to venture over to Liberty Island.
With some time to spare, I found myself walking back toward my hotel via the World Trade Centre Memorial. Another strikingly strange moment, as I realised I was there and my heart skipped a beat, the scene of such devastation that I could remember so clearly watching on the television as a child. The serenity of the area, in stark contrast to the images ingrained in everyone’s minds was quite overwhelming, and the polar mix of people – those quietly taking everything in, and those who walk through it every day, added to this feeling. I decided to go to the memorial museum, the path through which is so carefully thought out, at times shocking you with images as you walk around a corner, taking you by surprise, as one would have been shocked seeing it unfold in real life.
The following day and a half were training days in our New York office with more moments of surrealism as I left the hotel and ‘went to work’ in New York! At midday on the Friday, I was released from work, and the countdown began to fit in as much as was physically possible.
The Brooklyn Bridge was first on my list. Seeking the views back to Manhattan from on the bridge was my main intention, but the architecture of the bridge itself is beautiful, with its large arches and criss-crossing metal frame. A delight to be seen on such a cold and crisp day! From here I decided to see the city in the best way I know how – on my feet. Zig-zagging up toward the Empire State building from Downtown, through West Village (an area I would spend the next two evenings), and upwards. I spent hours walking around and breathing everything in, until my phone ran out of battery and I was left without a camera or accurate map! I reluctantly headed back to the hotel to charge my phone (turns out that iPhone batteries do not last long in the cold!) and decided to head to One World Trade to see my first skyline views. If I had not already fallen in love with New York, then these views would have sealed the deal. From the moment that the view is first revealed to you, to being able to walk around with 360 degree views for as long as you like each time seeing something different, until you leave, the experience is fantastic. I highly recommend getting up there about an hour before sunset so you get to see the city’s lights coming to life and showing a whole different side to it. Finally deciding to pull myself away from these views, I decided I was not done with my day, and so headed up to Times Square at night, where all the tourists seemed to be (having seen almost none all day, including no line at One World Trade!). The Times Square area forms quite the contrast to almost everywhere else in Manhattan – something that should be seen, but didn’t hold much pull over me to return.
Nothing could quite prepare me for the following day. Another planned day of walking, going to the Empire State and Rockefeller buildings, via sights such as the Flat Iron building and Central Station. I set out to be quickly greeted by snowfall which would last for at least 12 hours, bringing difficult walking conditions, freezing temperatures, and quick changes to my plans! A new destination – the New York Public Library – provided some shelter, and a very informative and free tour that I would certainly recommend for its architecture and information on the vast collections of books and first editions that are housed there, even if you can’t actually see many of these books themselves. Having walked through the driving snow for what felt like a lifetime (no one told me that the wind blows down the blocks like nothing else!) I stopped for lunch to recharge and decide what to do with my afternoon. With a reservation to go to the Top of the Rock in the evening, I decided to spend a few more hours sheltering inside and headed to the Museum of Modern Art – an open and inviting space, with famous pieces that for someone who is not artistically literate, were very welcome to see.
Despite knowing that the visibility was going to be atrocious (and despite being told over and again that visibility was zero), I headed to the Top of the Rock – I figured that few other people would have had a snow hazed view from there so I saw it as a rare opportunity! I could see almost nothing. Just some lights from the Empire State and surrounding buildings, and I did find myself laughing aloud to myself – another surreal moment in New York.
On my final day, the skies cleared so I headed to the Empire State. Snow was everywhere on the ground, and it was absolutely freezing at -9c most of the day. My trainers were not cut out for the job, and I could barely feel my feet for most of the day, but it was worth it for the snow topped views! I only had a few hours before my flight home, and the last main place for me to visit was Central Park. I’m sure it’s a beautiful place to spend time in the summer, but it was truly magical that afternoon: ponds spectacularly frozen over, families out with sledges, and few landmarks meant you could get completely lost; I kept walking far further than I meant to even though my feet were numb, until I really had to stop, and head to the airport.
There are few places I’ve travelled that I would not want to go back to, but I know I’ll usually never re-trace my steps. But I believe New York will be an exception – I’d love to go back and see it in the summer, even though it would be full of tourists (benefit of going in winter is that it is cheaper and there are no queues anywhere!). I absolutely understand why people love it, I’m certainly a victim of its charm, and would never hesitate to recommend any going there!