You might think a trip to New York is quite conventional and quite expensive. Millions of people travel there as tourists and on business every year. When I told people I was visiting for the first time, I got loads of advice about the “10 things” I must see and do. Of course I wanted to see everything, but I only had five days and quite frankly I hadn’t got that much cash. But most of all I wanted to get a feel for the place, the kind of feel you can only get by hitting the pavements. Initially I intended to travel alone, but my sister decided to join me. The journey to Manhattan was a little unconventional. I had my budget head on, whilst my heart dreamt of Manhattan. We flew from Heathrow to Moscow to John F Kennedy Airport. Aeroflot (Russian Airlines) offered me a price I just couldn’t refuse. We arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow at 4.00am and loved how modern and efficient everything was. Of course we rushed around buying souvenirs with “Welcome to Moscow” on them and took loads of selfies in front of Russian billboards. Four hours later we were on our way to JFK. We were booked in at the Pennsylvania, Midtown Manhattan. It was the shabbiest hotel I have ever stayed in, but I adored its old world charm, despite the frayed carpets and chipped paintwork. The Pennsylvania is five minute walk to Times Square, a block away from The Empire State Building and directly opposite the subway: New York in all its fabulous glory.
What can I say about the city that hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing. But it truly is a city of contrasts and there is still much to be discovered by the curious traveller. After blowing off steam in Times Square on the day we arrived, we spent the following morning quietly contemplating the West Side by walking along High Line Park. This fantastic walkway is 2.33 kilometres long and is the result of the transformation of an old elevated railroad which runs above 10th and 12th Avenues. It is now an aerial park. We walked from our hotel on 7th Avenue, to Chelsea, a rather lovely part of Manhattan, to the steps which led up to the old rail track. We ambled above the avenues of Chelsea and the famous Meat Packing District, eating ice cream and enjoying the view. The High Line was closed to trains between the 1960s and 1990s. It wasn’t long before plants and wildflowers reclaimed the abandoned tracks. Volunteers in New York began tending the overgrowth and the line was eventually reconstructed by the city to become a beautiful escape from the busy streets. The High Line is free for all to enjoy. If you look carefully as you walk along the tree-lined pathways you can catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.
After spending the morning exploring the High Line we jumped on the subway to South Pier: where better to see the fabulous Manhattan skyline? We’d splashed out on tickets for the Empire State Building the evening before, and it included a free ferry trip. So having got my first view of the iconic skyline from the giddy heights of the Empire State, I saw it again from the Hudson River. The lady herself, resplendent in her green robes, glittered in the afternoon sun. I was reminded of the millions of immigrants whom she’d welcomed to her city. The Statue of Liberty was not always green. Originally she was copper but time has oxidised the lady, turning her a majestic Emerald green. That evening we went to see a Broadway show. It was our only concession to ‘blowing a load of money’, but we couldn’t resist seeing Les Miserable’s, our favourite musical. The New York version, starred Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean.
Wednesday was spent in Central Park. We hired bicycles and in scorching heat, cycled past Sheep’s Meadow, where sheep once actually grazed and onto Bethesda Fountain and the beautiful lake. The park is man-made, though you wouldn’t believe it. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1850s. Perspiring profusely we ate pineapple ice lollies on Bethesda Terrace and listened to a young woman singing opera in the Bethesda mosaic arches below us. Both my sister and I are Hollywood movie fans and we spent our time in Central Park identifying places where movies were filmed: Maid in Manhattan, Home Alone 2 and many more. Walking along the pathways in the Rambles, a wooded area which stretches above the boating lake, it was hard to imagine we were just a short distance from the busy 7th Avenue and the bustle of 59th Street. Exhausted, we spent that evening munching on Pastrami and Rye sandwiches in one of the many delicatessens in Manhattan, before staggering back to the Penn.
Our final day in New York was probably the most memorable. We took a water taxi (35 dollars for the day) at South Pier and did a stop-off tour of Brooklyn, the financial centre and finally Times Square to eat. In Brooklyn we visited the iconic Juliana’s Pizzeria, and Jane’s Carousel, a 1920s renovated carousel located in what is known locally as the Dumbo area. (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Rain eventually broke the heat wave but it didn’t spoil our visit to the top of One World Tower, the new Tower One of the World Trade Centre. The observatory was almost deserted because of low visibility but we couldn’t resist the ride up its 104 floors (in 28 seconds) to see what we could. Rain or not, the views from the observatory windows were stunning. A visit to the memorial site of the twin towers finalised our trip to this iconic city. It was September 9 the next day: the anniversary of the world trade centre disaster. It was a sombre visit as many friends and relatives of the victims were placing red and white roses on the memorial walls. My sister said the rain represented the tears of all those families who lost loved ones. It was a fitting reminder of how dynamic New York is. The city is tough and resilient. It shows in her architecture, her brashness and her determination to be free. I can’t wait to return.
This trip with four nights at the Pennsylvania, together with flights, food and entertainment cost me just under £1,000.
This post can also be accessed at thetraveltrail.com