Epic? Awesome? Fun? Just fantastic? I don’t know how to introduce New York without saying something that’s probably been said a million times over. All I know is that we had the best time and I remember coming back home so depressed and wanting to just move out there for good (those feelings have now resided – probably because this post is about three months overdue – sorry!). It’s weird how familiar NYC seems when you go there, probably because of all the movies and stereotypes and cliches. And it actually really is all like that. The yellow taxis, hot dog stands, Lady Liberty, the “I <3 NY” t-shirts, skyscrapers – I mean wow these are only a few of the things about NYC that have become so iconic world around. I guess that alone is a sentiment of the city and how special it is. This place has a real impact and as soon as you step out of the subway you’re immersed in it – there’s no having to look on the map and search for it because it’ll hit you in the face. Loads of details after the pics!
I just loved the buzz of New York, it’s fast and manic and unapologetic. And OMG about the food – crazy good! But actually the really best thing about this holiday was the fact that we were staying with our friend Sonya (read her blog here). Not only was she the most perfect hostess but also the best tour guide. Although she’s only been living in NYC for a couple of years she’s really got to grips with it and made sure that we got to see it like a local. Every day she’d be excitedly planning our itinerary and giving us countless recommendations of places to eat at and cool spots to hit. See, although NYC isn’t a huge city, it can still seem overwhelming so I’m just so glad that we had Sonya there because otherwise we probably would only have seen yellow taxis, hot dog stands, Lady Liberty, “I <3 NY” t-shirts and skyscrapers.
Before we flew into NYC we had heard horror stories about JFK airport and how we should be prepared to be stuck there for whatever reason for hours. We must have been lucky because we were in and out of customs with baggage in tow in less than an hour. Sonya had given us extremely detailed instructions on how to get to Manhattan from the airport, the easiest option being a cab for about $50. We felt like getting stuck in from moment-go so we took the rail road from the airport and changed at Jamaica for the metro. We picked up the 5 day metro card which was a good call because we ended up using it a lot. As soon as we sat on the metro and the doors shut these two guys jumped up out of their seats and started performing the maddest body popping that I’ve ever seen – swinging and somersaulting from the rails and twisting their bones and joints in ways that they probably shouldn’t! Little did I know that this was the first of the countless street performers that we saw in NYC – musicians, singers, magicians – all talented and fun to watch.
We were meeting Sonya at Grand Central station and heading to her apartment from there together. The main terminal hall is a stark contrast to the dark and grimy metro. It’s pretty stunning and the vintage ticket kiosk and iconic four faced clock really hold the nostalgic charm. And then there’s the elaborate ceiling – it’s not what I was expecting to see but was a real treat. As we waited for Sonya I imagined that there must have been many romantic parting and reunion stories right here.
Sonya lives in East Village. It’s a really nice neighbourhood – leafy and green with dog-walkers and joggers aplenty and lots of cafes and shops close by. So even before dropping our bags off at her place we made a stop at Red Mango for some frozen yogurt. You pick your yogurt flavour, pile it high with your favourite toppings take it to the till and pay for it by weight. I can’t tell you how ridiculously happy this place makes me. We had it every day and I’m pretty sure every day the scales got heavier and heavier (for the froyo, but also probably for each of us)! For the rest of the afternoon we chilled at Sonya’s very American apartment and caught up with each other’s lives. We kept dinner plans low-key and local because we had already been up for about 20 hours and our body clocks were screaming night time. Near Sonya’s place there’s a little gem of a Mexican place called Hotel Tortuga and I think this was my favourite place we ate at throughout the trip. I’m telling you we struck Mexican food gold here! The fish tacos were divine and the eat as much as you like salsa and chips were delish, not to mention that home-made lemonade. The amazing food, heat and colourful decor of this place made me feel like I was sitting in some hole in the wall place in Mexico, that coupled with my jet lag left me so confused but so happy. Zarek and I battled our sleepiness as long as we could but finally gave in just before midnight.
The next morning despite sleeping really late to try and conquer jet lag, Zarek was up at 4am! And once I knew he was up I was all wide-eyed too. We were creeping around, all restless and excited but whispering so not to wake anyone up. Zarek was all like “Go shower, just do it” and I was like “no no I’ll wake them up”. So much early morning dilemma. Eventually I did and we were dressed and ready but just waiting for a decent hour to start our first day. Oh, and it happened to be my birthday too!
When we finally ventured out of our room, Sonya and other half, Justin, surprised me with birthday treats – they’re the sweetest and I knew it was going to be a great birthday! We didn’t have any strict itinerary for the day so we just decided to walk around and get a feel for the place. And actually the nicest days for me are the ones where you walk and walk and maybe get lost but find cool things because of it.
We started walking and the first of the famous spots we hit was Union Square. At that time of the day people were commuting to work with their morning coffees in hand and we caught sight of the many rough sleepers near the metro station. It was like a whole community of people and was pretty eye opening. We headed towards Chelsea, walking slowly taking in all the sights and scenes like the convenience stores with the bright display of fresh flowers, the countless bagel stores and coffee shops, the construction workers and the first peeks at the Empire State building from afar. We walked past the Flatiron and through the Meatpacking District which was once an industrial area but now is far more hip and fashionable. The weather was glorious and we made it to the High Line just before the mid-day heat set in.
I love the idea of the High Line – an old freight train track that was used to transport goods to and from the Meatpacking District. It was designed to run through buildings and as it was elevated it would cause minimum disturbance. With time, more and more goods were being transported through other means like trucks and eventually the railway became redundant and the site soon became a derelict ugly eye-sore. A non-profit group made up of local residents saw potential for this as a public open space and it was transformed into this wonderful suspended park dotted with plants and art and places to grab snacks not to mention the great views of the city. We picked up some ice drinks from People’s Pops and took a breather before we headed down looking for lunch.
After getting off the High Line we conveniently happened to fall upon Chelsea Market where we were spoilt for choice of what to eat. There were lobster roll places, cookie and cake shops, burger joints and loads of other yummy looking places. We tried a few things from different places including fish and cactus tacos and a delicious prawn Vietnamese roll. We looked around a little more and caught bakers doing their thing and professional chefs shopping for kitchen overalls and knives.
So after this we walked through the charming West Village where the streets are lined with trees and the houses are pretty with front stoops. There are tiny and probably overpriced boutiques in the area and I also spotted the Magnolia bakery made infamous by Sex and the City, although it had been cleaned out by that time which was just as well because I was too full from Chelsea Market to be tempted. I saw a group of people snapping outside a house on Perry Street and I knew it must be Carrie’s house. On a closer look it was, and the front of the house was chained of with a polite notice to inform people that “real” people do live here so please keep off the steps. We stopped at Washington Square Gardens and it’s not the prettiest park that I’ve ever been to but again it’s got that buzz about it. We sat and listened to a jazz band and watched the man with his crazy pigeon followers. It was soo hot by this time so we copied all the others who had taken off their shoes and taken to the fountain. We had a second lunch at The Smile because Chelsea Market was more like a brunch. It’s the new “it” place and even when we were there it was packed with super tall and ultra skinny models, photographers discussing their next shoots and countless other showbiz types. From here we walked back home, but not before grabbing our Red Mangos of the day – you know had to be done.
Zarek was complaining of heatstroke as usual so he chilled at the apartment while me and Sonya got our nails done at a place downstairs. I’ve only had my nails done like twice in my life (both times around my wedding) so it was lovely to have someone else do them, even if she was so fast at it that she made be bleed but then blamed my “too thin cuticles”… whatever, I was still happy! Sonya had booked a fusion restaurant in the Hell’s Kitchen area for my birthday dinner and had invited a few of her friends too. We got ready and caught a yellow taxi there. Since Manhattan is fairly small, you can get from one end to the other really quickly (depending on traffic). So when we were feeeling a bit hot and bothered we usally just jumped into a yellow cab – it’s part of the New York experience after all. Dinner was real good at Ember Rooms. We had miso glazed aubergines for starters and calamari and then delicious tamarind prawns and a whole crispy sea bass which looked pretty scary when it came but tasted great. It was such a nice meal with a great bunch of people. We walked to the metro afterwards and caught the bright lights of Broadway and Times Square before finally heading back to recharge for the next day.