New York Skyline
After 10 years I was excited to go back to New York and show Tyro around. We caught another greyhound bus down from Boston arriving in the city just after lunch on the Monday and checked into our hostel which was only 2 blocks away from time square before it was time to go exploring.

First stop was lunch -I had been hanging out for New York Pizza! With slices the size of your face you only need one piece to fill you up! We stopped in at a little deli on 7th street and ate our pieces watching the guy behind the counter knead the dough and throw it in the air to make the gigantic bases.

It turned out that on our first day there the Lakers basketball team were playing at Maddison Square Gardens and Ty was pretty keen to see if we could get some last minute tickets, but unfortunately they were all sold out.

We wandered our way towards Times Square, stopping to check out the Empire State Building. We decided that since it was crappy weather we wouldn’t bother spending the $25 each to catch the lift to the top. Walking past the NY Public Library we decided to pop in to warm up for a few minutes – wow its cool in there! It’s the library that they filmed the NY scenes of ‘A day after tomorrow’ in and it is a beautiful stately building on the inside. 

New York Public Library
Ty and the Empire State Building
Ty and the Wall Street bull
We arrived at Times Square as dusk fell and all of the neon’s came to life. I was interested to see that they have pedestrianised part of the road through the middle, and that the numerous street artists and show touts had disappeared, which is great for walking around but reduces some of the hustle and bustle that gave it its own special feeling of chaos. I wonder if the street vendors will be back in summer. The red ‘last minute’ broadway ticket booth has had a makeover from its former shipping container self into a sleek glass fronted permanent structure.

Heading back to Maddison Square Gardens we tried our luck with the scalpers but even after the game started they were asking crazy high prices so we gave the game a miss.

We spent 6 hours on Tuesday on a ‘free’ walking tour – seemed like a great idea when we booked on it a few days earlier, but as we were trudging through the frozen streets of little Italy in the snow it didn’t seem like one! To our guide’s credit she was enthusiastic most of the day and let us pop inside a few places to warm up along the way. Despite the cold it was a great way to see a lot of the city in one go and learn about some of the history we would have missed doing it on our own, like the fact that wall street is called that because there literally used to be a wall running down the middle of it or that the apartments in Chinatown is the densest population outside of India!

Our tour finished at the High Line, a project that had just been proposed last time I was here. The Meatworks community used to be a rough part of town, but has gone through a period of intense gentrification and the residents were upset about the former raised train lines being torn down as they felt they were a key part of the identity of the area so they petitioned the council to allow them to turn it into a raised park. It took 10 years but it’s finally completed. It’s a pretty exposed place to be during winter but I can imagine it being a great place to hang out in summer!

Brooklyn Bridge
Grand Central
Ground Zero memorial
After the tour we caught the subway to check out Grand Central station. The main terminal is the most beautiful train station I’ve ever been to, and I was excited for Ty to check it out. Hannah and I missed a train one night during my last stay here and spent a great couple of hours people watching. Sadly for me Ty wasn’t as impressed as I felt he should have been (too much expectation?!) but never mind.

Our tour guide had told us about a place called ‘Juniors’ which had won the ‘best cheesecake in NY’ award last year so we headed there for desert aka dinner. Have to say, Ty’s momma’s cheesecake beats Junior hands down. Perhaps we should move to NY and set up a cheesecake restaurant and show them how it’s done! We were pretty knackered after the full day of walking around in the cold so we headed back to the hostel for an early one.

The next day we headed to Downtown Manhattan to visit the World Trade Centre memorial. The rebuilding of the site into a new office park and memorial museum is still ongoing but the main memorial has been completed and is open to the public with advance tickets. They have chosen to build two memorial pools/fountains in the footprint of the twin tours that fell on September 11th. Etched in copper around the edge of each pool is the name of every victim, not just of the towers, but also at the pentagon and from the previous terrorist bomb attack on the towers. The names have been arranged as their families requested with brothers, work colleagues and good friends placed next to each other which is nice. The plaza is full of trees and has a peaceful feeling to it despite all the construction going on around it. It makes me think about the kids who with us at Camp America who were directly affected by the attacks and wonder what they are doing these days. I wish I was allowed to keep in touch with some of them. It makes me sad to visit this place but not know the names of their parents to be able to identify them on the pools.

We wandered quietly along the waterfront afterwards down towards the Staten Island ferry. Unfortunately the Liberty Lady herself is closed at the moment due to damage from Hurricane Sandy last year so we couldn’t get off and visit but it’s a nice ferry ride anyway and is a great way to see the Manhattan Skyline (plus its free!).

Stretching our legs a bit more we walked up to, and over the famous Brooklyn Bridge. We had wanted to visit Brooklyn and check it out but it was getting pretty late in the day, really really cold and we were both getting tired and hangry so we decided it will have to wait for our next trip. Ty spotted an infamous burger and shake joint that morning and by the time we got back Uptown there was a queue along the block – at least we know its popular!!

On our last day we headed to the UN Plaza. We both read so much stuff about the UN during our development studies classes at Uni, so it was pretty cool to see where everything had been written and the big decisions made. The building looks like it hasn’t been touched since the 50’s when it was erected so it will definitely benefit from the renovations it is undergoing later this year. There were no sessions this week so we were allowed into the security council and general assembly rooms to have a look. We spent much more time at the Plaza than we meant to and so had to quickly mission it uptown to Central Park before we had to leave. It looks so different in winter with all the leaves gone from the trees and the lakes all frozen over. Still beautiful but much more barren. Central Park looks like such a permanent part of the environment I had been surprised to learn in Albany that it used to be farmland and it wasnt until 1857 that   William Cullen Bryant, and by the first American landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing,  began to promote the need for a central park space like Hyde Park in London. It has been designed down to the placement of the big rocks that are used in so many Hollywood movies. It is wonderful to see how it has turned from farmland into a thriving ecosystem.

Wandering through Penn Station we were stopped by two local policeman who asked whether we have visited all of the places that we have patches of on our backpacks. ‘Why yes officer’, we answer, ‘we have’. Hilariously his next comment is ‘what are you guys, some kind of environmentalists’. ‘Um, no, just interested in travelling.’ ‘Oh’ he says ‘where do you stay? Communes or something?’. ‘Ah…nope, usually hostels….’we answer, and wander away leaving him with a baffled look on his face. I mean we were looking a little tired but I didn’t think we were radiating the typical ‘hippy’ look. Classic!

Heading back to NY I was interested to see what had changed and what hadn't since I was last there, and whether I would still have the same affection for the city that I did when I last left. After travelling so many large European cities and living in London, I noticed the lack of tourist infrastructure we had come to rely on, like maps outside every tube station entrance and ‘point of interest’ boards at important places. Despite our tour guide claiming that it was the most efficient system in the world the Subway was dirty and less frequent than the service we have become accustomed to in London. New York feels like London’s ragamuffin younger brother. In a hurry, but less bussling, dirty but alluring in a bad boy kind of way. You can’t help but love it!

Next stop: Philadelphia


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