Never been to New York before? No, neither had I until 7 days ago. In fact, I’ll raise you one more, I had not even stepped foot on American soil. As a mere Londoner travelling to the biggest – and so the films tell me, greatest – city on earth, I was intrigued, apprehensive and just a little excited to explore this iconic city. After great deliberation, here are my top eight observations about New York.
- Queue’s – you think you’re first, you’re not. You’re probably third.
I am now back in the safety of London and I’m still confused by the three-queues-but-pick-the-shortest-one-and-wait-for-ages-and-at-some-point-unbeknown-to-you-suddenly-it’s-your-turn.
Erm, who made up that system?
And even then, once you’ve been told to go, what if someone else thinks it’s their turn also? Naturally, when this happened to me, like any other British person, I took a step forwards, then back, then awkwardly, suggestively stumbled forward again, bumped into my competitor, stood there blustering mumbling apologies (as us British do), then got barked at to walk to till 19. Somehow I left unharmed with all my groceries. But any explanation or insight into this would be hugely appreciated.
- Everything is ginormous
I keep getting told that ‘ginormous’ is a child’s word, but ‘enormous’ and ‘gigantic’ do not do New York justice. The meal sizes (huge, bigger than UK size plates); Pavements (sorry, ‘sidewalks’) necessary considering it’s basically the heart of the world,
but still so wide!; Buildings (every single building, including an average apartment block is what I consider a London skyscraper); The Views (not one is average), and Drinks (a double, G&T? oh my) – honestly everything is ginormous. Then there you have the size of Central Park – after walking the streets of New York extensively, I see what happened here. New Yorkers appear to be allowed to have one humungous Central Park (basically five Hyde Parks) all squished into the one space, or no park. And finally, cost of anything in NYC – well yeah, thanks Brexit.
I have thought this for other cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Vienna, Budapest, Prague), but
this more than ever stands true for New York. Run, go running. First thing. Whilst the skies are still hazy and New Yorkers are still snoozing. Run up fifth, see the library, the Empire State, jog further over and pass The Chrysler Building, just keep running.
Another day, join New Yorkers and jog around Central Park. Tip: Be sure to stay in the running lane and move in the correct direction. These people are not awkwardly polite like Londoners, they will nudge you out the way.
Be selfish, see the John Lennon memorial, the reservoir, the boathouse, Strawberry Fields, see it all. The day after that (or maybe have a rest day first), run over Brooklyn Bridge. And experience each of these at sunrise because the morning light catches each of these moments with almost a poetic beauty. Not to mention the city is empty and you get each of these breathtaking views all to yourself.
- The films don’t make it up
Firstly, it’s true, New Yorkers love to honk their horns. All day, in all scenarios, with full force, for absolutely what is longer than (in British opinion), necessary. I found it loud and hilarious.
Secondly, screaming “TAXI!” in a high pitched voice with Carrie Bradshaw levels of sass, is so satisfying and just as thrilling in real life.
- Don’t hire bikes to cycle around Central Park
There will be countless sales people at local bike docking points, and bike company representatives hovering around park entrances and nearby streets trying to sell you their bike services. My advice is don’t do it!
In theory cycling seems like a great idea because the park is huge. But because the park is so big, docking every half an hour is incredibly limiting (getting lost is half the fun, right?!)
Also, hiring bikes from a company is deceiving and equally limiting because you can only really use the main paths for cycling. There are countless footpaths, fields, narrow bridges, random steps up to a different level, and busy areas, all of which are fun to explore. But only possible and from my experience more accessible and enjoyable on foot.
- Yellow buses from Recess and Lizzie McGuire actually exist
I saw one with my own eyes! Mind.Totally. Blown.
(Also I think I completely bewildered the driver trying to get these close up shots of what I am sure, in her eyes, is just a mundane dilapidated school bus).
- Chance on a flea market!
There are random pop-up flea markets all over the city. Before I went, I didn’t really understand what a flea market was, sure Lorelai and Rory visit a bunch in Gilmore girls, but I don’t think a British person can quite grasp it unless you experience one yourself.
In England, we have very organised weekly markets that all have items in specific stall categories; the banana guy, the make-up stall, the pets stall. Flea markets? There are old baseballs, old baseball gloves and hats (I’m taking 60s, 70s vintage), quirky artwork, vinyls, masks, old trinkets, rings, vintage jewellery. Maybe less practical than the organised typical British market, but for a New York virgin like me? So cool. p.s. I got this beautiful elephant bracelet there.
- Live Music
My last and final point is the most important: Go and hear live jazz. My evening at The Blue Note Jazz Club was one of the best live jazz nights of my life; it truly gives London’s Ronnie Scotts a run for it’s money. The Blue Note Jazz Club has been graced with icons such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson and Ray Charles. On the history alone, it’s a great place to settle to a night of brilliant entertainment (and delicious food if the budget allows).
I also took a trip up to Harlem to watch the infamous ‘Amateur Night’ at the iconic Apollo theatre, famous for launching Ella Fitzgerald’s career and the same event and location that saw Jimi Hendrix win first place in 1964.
The Apollo in Harlem (famous for being a space for African-American artists to perform since 1934), has been home to swingers such as Duke Ellington and Chuck Webb, and gospel legends Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. It has also housed soul legend Otis Redding and megastars James Brown, and The Jackson 5 just to name a few.
Again, either of these nights are a must do. Tickets for each were similar if not cheaper than visiting views at the top of the Rockefeller and Empire State.
I may be bias, but music has the capacity to transport and inspire anyone to a different place if they let it; Jazz and soul live allows every part of your body to wake up, it lets you feel, endure, hear, and see more than any view ever could.
You can’t go to New York City and not experience live music.