My mum and dad sat opening a small rectangular present on their 29th wedding anniversary. A photo frame. They both said thank you and we asked them what the picture was inside. They both looked at the unmistakable black and white photograph of the New York City skyline at night, as we told them that we would replace that with our own photo in New York just before their 30th anniversary.
So in March 2013, my mum, dad, sister Bridie, her fiance and I boarded a plane headed for the Big Apple. We had the most amazing week staying at the Hudson hotel near the south-west corner of Central Park and explored the sights of the city that never sleeps. We had sun, snow and rain and squeezed in as many bucket list things to do for our parents.
Being the frugal traveller and wanting to get the most out of our time, I decided we would get the subway and walk everywhere. We walked a lot! After making a list of the things we all wanted to see and do and grabbing a map, we headed straight out and went to Central Park on our first full day. It was chilly but the walk is beautiful curving through the sculpted gardens and zoo with the enormous skyscrapers bordering the edges. It is peaceful and picturesque and has a feeling of escape from the city. A world of its own and one we were happy to pass a few hours in.
I think my favourite way to see New York City is from the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center) during the day and from the Empire State Building at night. I was given this advice before our trip and we weren’t disappointed. The Rockefeller Center is colossal and standing at the bottom, I felt quite small and inconsequential. It hides a wonderful secret at the top and I would encourage anyone to wait in the long queues to go up and be stunned by the view. Elevated above the crowded streets, you can savour the architecture and vast settlement of Manhattan Island and across the river. I’ll let some of the unedited pictures speak for themselves!
Then as the sun goes down the metamorphosis begins. From a striking city during daylight, to a glittering and magical place at night. We waited for hours in long, hot and frustrating queues to go up to the top of the Empire State Building. I would always pay extra to queue jump after that experience. It was tiring and we had already had a full day of exploring but it was worth the wait to see the city come alive.
We went to bed on day three and woke up to a white city. We had snow! It was a hushed and unhurried place compared to the day before but that didn’t stop us from walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was incredible. Transformed this time to an icy metropolis, powdered with a layer of snow and almost abandoned for us to enjoy. The crazy Europeans!
At night, we relished in the dazzling lights of Times Square and went to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. The first time we walked through Times Square, I remember the buzz and the crowds of people. Huge screens with advertising and famous buildings surged into view from every angle. Inviting us in and overwhelming our senses. The yellow cabs passing in droves and intermittent sounds of music playing as we walked past each store.
Food as always needs its own section! Our first night, we went to a place called the Brooklyn Diner, not far from our hotel, and I had a gargantuan slice of cheesecake that was mouth-watering. I had arrived! An Italian meal in Greenwich Village was one of our family’s favourites with Titanic sized meatballs oozing with mozzarella and smothered in rich, ragu sauce. Like a mamma makes! We were never let down with the cuisine. From big breakfasts in Hell’s Kitchen to quick afternoon snacks from local delicatessens, New York City was a treat for the taste buds.
We were unable to go out to the storm damaged Ellis Island but still took a trip down to Battery Park and looked out to the Statue of Liberty. This is one part I would go back to and take a ferry out to see that first glimpse immigrants for generations would have seen. Walk in their footsteps and find out more about their stories.
Each neighbourhood has its own treasures and on the advice of our concierge, we headed out to the Meatpacking District and took a stroll down the High Line. This elevated walkway was the perfect place to meander on a weekend with benches and great views.
The architecture was my obsession during my time in New York City. From the elegance of New York State Library to the sleek, shimmering skyscrapers of grey steel and glass to the unique structure of the Flat Iron Building.
Shaped by different generations, the diversity of the cityscape tells a story. The one small two storey house between two huge towers, or St Paul’s Chapel standing solemn in the midst of contemporary chaos. We were all touched by the magnitude of what had happened at the 9/11 Memorial. The stories and pictures of devastation were one thing to watch on television but completely different standing in front of the remembrance pools. That day we saw a city that had come through a tragedy and a city rebuilding itself. A photograph of us around the survivor tree has its place in the photo frame now.
I fell in love with the Big Apple because it is exciting and full of things to do and see. I fell in love with a big and beautiful, old and new, unashamed city. My whole family did and we take away wonderful memories.