New York is a city of neighbourhoods, each with their own vibe. Nolita is a tiny area of cobbled streets, cool bars and funky shops, sitting just north of little Italy (hence the name No-Li-Ta). Close by are the restaurants of Little Italy, the busy emporiums of Chinatown, and the upscale shopping of SoHo. We had great fun exploring the local neighbourhoods of lower Manhattan, and even tracked down some suitable coffee!
New York is a busy, vibrant city, a melting pot of ethnic diversity and multi-culturalism. Walking down the street you hear lots of languages as many nationalities live in close proximity to one another. There’s also lots and lots of tourists running around! It’s not the cleanest city in the world – certainly there was plenty of garbage down some of the back and side-streets. The New York subway, rightly much-maligned in the past, is now pretty clean and relatively safe, though the subway system (with some lines named as letters, some numbers) takes a degree in logistics to properly understand.
We had allowed ourselves plenty of time to hang out in NY, time to wander the various areas and truly get a feel for the place. There was still a whole pile of things we managed to fit in, from the usual top sites – a trip up the Empire State Building, a walk around Central Park, a meander through the neon explosion of Times Square – with some more obscure attractions – the Museum of American Finance in Wall Street for example, and the Museum of the Skyscraper in Battery Park.
Most poignant visit was definitely to the September 11th memorial site. The footprints of the Twin Towers are now quiet pools of reflection, while underneath the site is an extremely well curated, extensive museum that explains all aspects of that fateful day.
Another highlight of any visit to NY is a trip out to the Statue of Liberty. An icon of America, standing proudly out in the harbour, the Statue was the sign for millions of immigrants that they had arrived in the New World. It looks impressive and slightly surreal when seen from the southern tip of Manhattan, and equally imposing as the ferry docks at Liberty Island. Admittedly, the organisation inside and incessant security checks dampened the mood a little, but the small museum in the base of the statue, and the view from the observation deck make it definitely worth a visit.
From Liberty Island a ferry pops over to the immigration museum at Ellis Island, a large almost foreboding complex that was the first stop for all those millions of new arrivals. Super-Storm Sandy, which pummelled New York in October 2012, had damaged the museum’s climate control systems, so it was slightly disappointing that many exhibits had been removed for their own protection. We did however get an insight into the experience all those new migrants faced.
Super-Storm Sandy also wreaked havoc in the South Street Seaport district, the old port district of Manhattan. Recovery is slow, and many renovations are still going on, but the area has a certain charm to it, with old warehouses on cobbled streets nestled under the wonderful Brooklyn Bridge.
While the small ferries to Liberty and Ellis Islands get you out onto the harbour, nothing beats the free Staten Island ferry for amazing views of the New York skyline – particularly impressive late in the afternoon as the sky darkens and the twinkling lights of the giant buildings are coming on.
Many sites are free if you go on the right day, but one that is free all the time is the Highline, an old railway line running down the lower west side now turned into an elevated pedestrian walkway with stunning views of mid-town and across the Hudson to New Jersey.
We dived into the local cultural offerings while in town, including a night out at the famous Comic Strip comedy club, an evening at an off-Broadway play, and free chess in Central Park. We also spent some serious time in exhibitions at New York Public Library, the massive New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Impressive collections in impressive buildings. Talking of impressive buildings, we also took particular delight in the art deco splendour of the Chrysler Building, the awesome Grand Central Station, the bizarre Flat Iron building, and the monumental Rockefeller Plaza.
We tracked down some wonderful cafes and restaurants during our stay – the city obviously has so many great culinary opportunities. One particular night was extra special as we celebrated Kirralee’s 30th birthday at a magnificent whiskey bar / restaurant, with a fine dinner, cocktails and live jazz.
The rest of our time was usually spent in a close examination of the retail experience – ie, shopping. We liked wandering Broadway, visiting discount department store Century 21, 5th Avenue and SoHo. There seemed to be many small, highly specialised stores – Danish stationary anyone? One day, while exploring mid-town, we chanced upon the Columbus Day parade, a kind of Italian flavoured St Patricks Day copy, complete with marching bands and colourful floats.
And so we gradually came to the end of our wonderful trip. Sitting at our JFK departure gate, watching the grey afternoon slowly darken over the New York skyline, we contemplated what we had done – seven months, 40 states and 24,500 driving miles since landing in Dallas, after our mini Mexico and Cuba adventure. We have had an amazing time in America, a truly diverse and great country. We have memories that will last a lifetime, and it was with really mixed feelings that we took off and watched the US gently fade out beneath us.
“…leaving new york never easy, I saw the lights fading out…”