I’ve lived in New York for 6 months now, and we recently had some friends come to visit for a 3 day weekend. I wanted to share the highlights of this big city without overwhelming them or costing them the earth. When I think about my favourite thing in New York, I have to say it is simply walking around and taking it all in. As this is a vague, non-committal and somewhat unhelpful answer, I have tried to describe the highlights of a walk that we took on a random Friday in October. We were out all day from 9.30am until around 7pm and there were times when we were hungry, tired of walking and desperate for the bathroom. As we sat there in the evening with our feet up and a glass of wine in hand it was clear that they were falling in love with the city and amazed by the amount of things you can see and do in just one day. I would like to share the highlights with you now, in the hope that it will give you an insight into what to expect from a walk around this patchwork metropolis that I have the privilege to call my home. To the New York experts, I apologise in advance as I have probably missed a million things along the way but please forgive me, I am just getting to know her myself.
Brunch At Sarabeth’s on Central Park South
Sarabeth’s is a beautiful, Manhattan upscale diner made famous by Sex and The City, so this place is awash with gaggles of females fuelling up for a shopathon or couples with the woman craning her neck to see if she can recognise where Carrie and the girls sat, while their bewildered other half studies the menu for the most testosterone fuelled items. The general hubbub, art deco décor and no-nonsense New York waiters provide a lively setting for your first venture into New York dining. The all American brunch menu is excellent. The lemon ricotta pancakes, where the ricotta is actually in the batter, are light, fluffy and simply gorgeous. If eggs are more your thing or the thought of ordering something “fluffy” is simply too emasculating for words, try the equally fabulous eggs benedict. Coffee is free refill and you need all your energy for the busy day ahead so be sure to fill up!
Come out of Sarabeth’s and walk towards 5th Avenue, on the corner is the Plaza where the family stayed in Home Alone 2. Carry on straight ahead to the Apple store, open 24/7 365 days per year. If you are thinking of getting on the apple band wagon or adding to your collection, it is worth spending some time here as apple products are, at the time of writing, cheaper here than at home. Next door to the Apple store is the FAO Schwartz toy store, New York’s answer to Hamley’s. The actual piano from Big is on sale there, yours for only $250,000. If you don’t feel like lugging it around all day you can just have a dance on it for free. You can make your own Jim Henson muppet, buy an everlasting gob stopper or just indulge your inner child and marvel at the sheer array of cool toys on offer.
Head south for 17 blocks on 5thtowards Grand Central Station, on this twenty minute walk you will pass some of New York’s iconic buildings, take in the romance of Tiffany’s, the brash masculinity of the gold Trump Towers, the height of the Rockefeller Centre and the peaceful serenity of St Patrick’s church. 5th avenue. The romance and majesty of the circa 1800 marble buildings softening the modern sky scrapper juggernauts, interspersed with street vendors and chaotic streets creates an exciting air of power, ambition and quality.
Grand Central Terminal
Turn left on 42nd street and 5th towards Grand Central station and head through the marble passage to the Main concourse. This is my favourite place to visit in all of Manhattan, possibly the world. Despite the 750,000 tourists and commuters that pass through this working station floor daily, the softly lit marble and the turquoise ceiling give this vast atrium a romantic glow and timeless feel that allows you to imagine all of the hopelessly romantic hellos and goodbyes that have taken place in front of the ticket office clock tower over the decades. Head down the stone steps at either end to the food concourse to Junior’s cheesecake café for a slice of New York’s finest cheesecake and yet another coffee.
Grand Central Food Market
Head back up stairs to the atrium and find the Grand Central Food Market. The sprinkling of frosting on the gleaming fruit atop the tarts at the patisserie, the smell of the freshly baked, oversized bread plaits at the bakers mixes with the musky, exotic smell of freshly ground coffee beans in the brimming sacks at the coffee stand , the vibrant oranges and greens of the winter vegetables displayed in traditional woven baskets. This artisan market is part commercial and part fine art gallery for the city’s food lovers. I dare you to leave without at least buying a small cake or nectarine.
The New York Public Library
The romance is far from over as you head back onto 5th Avenue, next stop is the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. Outside the library, just up the stone steps there are wrought iron tables and chairs where office workers bring their lunch and tourists rest their feet in the summer. New York’s celebrated Food trucks circulate this area and if you are lucky enough to be there when the dumpling truck is outside you are in for a cheap, delicious oriental treat. Incidentally, it is on these steps that the first ghost appears in the 1984 Ghost Busters movie.
Enter the library through the huge, iron double doors and walk to the far left corner of the room. There is an intimately lit, beautifully presented museum space that displays free exhibitions on literary figures, in 2012 there has been both a Shelley and Dickens exhibit. Take the sweeping staircase in the main entrance, where Big jilted Carrie in SATC, and step back in time to the reading room on the third floor where Paul first tells Holly Go-lightly he loves her in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The beautifully preserved tin ceilings and thick book shelves, heavy with books on every imaginable subject surround line after line of heavy wooden tables gently lit with brass reading lamps captivate your imagination and take you to a by- gone era. Today, the room offers a respite from the hectic streets of mid- town for those looking for a glimpse of old New York, there is even wifi throughout so you can tell the modern world that you are not to be disturbed.
The Empire State Building
Head down the library steps between the iconic lions back onto 5th Avenue until you reach the Empire State building, the most iconic building in New York. The sheer size of the building and the persistent ticket touts on the ground make this attraction difficult to miss. If this is your first time to the city, you have a head for heights and there is no low clouds or fog then a trip to the main observation deck on the 86th floor is worth the $47.50 where, on a clear day, you can see for more than 200 miles. The audio tour is delivered by an Italian American local whose family arrived from Italy in the early 20th century and built their legacy within the fabric of the American dream. Take in the dramatic views of the city from the highest vantage point while he animatedly guides you around the deck and New York’s ever changing landscape. Whilst I am not suggesting you forgo a trip to the observation deck, it is worth visiting another vantage point, such as the Top Of The Rock to take in the magnitude of this building which is one of only two buildings in the United States to have its ownzip code, the other being the Pentagon.
From the Empire state building head across to Broadway and take a slight detour uptown to see the commercial epicentre that is Times Square. TV shows and mega brands plaster their brightest stars on digital screens and gigantic posters spanning entire buildings to grab the attention of the ever upward looking tourists. While on the ground the stores, sorry “worlds”, vie for your attention with the call of the latest One Direction numbers enticing you to enter their lair, unlocking a previously undiscovered need for a giant cushion of your favourite candy and only allowing you to fight your way out through the throngs of tourists once you have had a photograph with a giant New York themed plastic statue, which you will feel compelled to put on Facebook immediately so that your friends will have to visit on their next trip. Add to the mix the chain restaurants offering stereotypical all American fare whose portion sizes would feed the people of Tunbridge Wells for a week and the hyper – extrovert street performers wearing nothing but tight white Y fronts, a smile and an Indian head dress. Times Square delightfully surpasses ever stereo type the world has ever had about the modern American psyche. It is outrageous, in your face, completely over the top and at times alarming but go with its childlike enthusiasm and it is a ball. Approach it with preconceptions and British decorum and you will quickly be in need of a tablet and a lie down.
The Garment District
Leaving the commercial cacophony that is Times Square behind you, walk down Broadway towards Flatiron. Within a few blocks the landscape changes as the store fronts move from nationally recognised brands to souvenir shops selling 5 I Love New York t shirts for $10 and keeping the novelty fridge magnet industry a float. A few blocks further and you enter the Garment district, at 39th street walk one avenue over to 7th Avenue to the Needle Threading A Button sculpture. This symbolises the dominant position in the global fashion industry that this area has occupied as a result of fashion houses such as Oscar de La Renta, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan having their operations based here.
Lots more to write about, but that’s enough for my first blog!