New York. I put off going and put it off again, and I still don’t fully understand why.
New York is not just somewhere on every travel lover’s bucket list, it is on everyone’s bucket list. No-one doesn’t want to go to New York. My dad insisted for years that he didn’t, and then he went, and he loved it. Of course he did. Because you couldn’t not.
I think perhaps the reason I delayed my trip was that when I did finally go, I wanted to do the city “properly”. And by properly, I mean I wanted to stay for a while and let it wash over me and absorb me. I didn’t want to do a whistlestop tour and feel like I had “seen” New York. I wanted to feel it.
So when my friends moved from London to an apartment in Chelsea last autumn and kindly offered to host me for eight days, I finally felt the moment had come. I was due to be in the US anyway for a trade show anyway last January, so I decided to book my return flight from New York on the way home.
When I told people I was going to New York in January they looked at me as if I was mad and warned me I probably would freeze to death. I knew I was taking a risk, but it was a risk that paid off.
I stepped out of Penn Station after an overnight flight from Las Vegas and was greeted by crisp skies and the leftovers of a flurry. In the ensuing eight days I feel like I saw the city in many seasons. The snow came and went and came and went. The cold mostly persevered, but there was a warm snap when I went out wearing only a t-shirt.
One night it rained big spring movie rain as I walked home. Fat droplets snagged between my lashes and pooled in my tear ducts making my eyes sting. The following day I walked through Battery Park and it looked like autumn had come around already.
But mostly when I remember this trip, I picture the abiding blueness of the sky and the way the wintery light shimmered up and down avenues that seem to stretch into infinity.
I went everywhere you’re supposed to go when you visit New York for the first time, but in between those places I walked miles and miles not wanting to miss a thing.
I wanted to take it all in — the fire escapes snaking their way up buildings, all wrought iron and jagged angles, the water towers perched on roofs — some like shiny spaceships, others like clapboard shacks. I rounded corners that felt like they could be in any city anywhere, only to see the Empire State Building poking through a gap in the buildings and smoke puffing up through metal grates in the road.
Even the landmarks I though I knew had the capacity to take me by surprise.
Times Square felt more like Tokyo than Tokyo. Brooklyn Bridge was not just another silhouette on the landscape, but a perfectly pieced together puzzle of steel tendons and artful brickwork. Central Park was an enigmatic wonderland that I barely got to know at all.
I always presumed that it was from New York that London inherited its chain shop and restaurant culture. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Independent shops and cafes and bars and restaurants dominate here, and every neighbourhood feels different and like its own box of treasures.
I travelled to three boroughs trying to notice everything, trying to let nothing escape me. I ate my way through bagels, babka, ramen burgers and matzo ball soup slowly and with purpose. I went blocks out of the way just so I could stand and stare at an unusually ornate hotel or office building or church and try to consider them in the context of the entire metropolis. I read every single plaque on Library Way.
The most frustrating thing about being in New York as a visitor (and possibly as a resident, who knows) is that is that it is impossible to fully get a handle on the city. Just like London, it is this huge living organism that changes constantly thanks to a mass of people and events and weathers. And while you might be at one end of the city observing one such change, there are a thousand other changes, large and small happening elsewhere. This makes it frustrating, but that’s also kind of the beauty of it.
So, was eight days enough for me to “feel” New York the way I hoped to? Well yes, but the other side of that coin is the city, perhaps inevitably, got well and truly under my skin.
Now I want to go back, and the question is not if, but when. It will have to be in summer or early autumn, so I can see a different side to the city.
I’ll be keeping an eye on flight deals, but in the meantime I’d love to hear your tips for what to do in New York second time around — and preferably outdoors!
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