I was a little surprised that we were able to find some quiet times while in New York City. 8.4 million people call this place home plus another 55 million more visit each year, and yet, even right downtown, our usual travelling trick of getting simply getting up early still gave us some reasonably empty streets. There’s nothing better than getting to watch a foreign town wake up in the morning, when you don’t personally need to get to work or anything – I think it might be one of my favourite things to do. Try it next time.
We were up early because we had a lot of sightseeing planned for the next couple of days, and we had to change hotels before we could get started. For various reasons booking two different places had turned out to be the best option during our stay, and while this seemed a little annoying as we were packing up that morning to move, we were very glad that we did – our new digs, The Evelyn, turned out to be awesome! They had fresh free coffee and pastries waiting in the lobby every morning, so we’d obviously have been sold on it from that point anyway, but it was also very comfortable, in a great location, and super trendy. I actually think if you asked most people to imagine a ‘cool’ place to stay in New York, The Evelyn wouldn’t be too far off. We both quite liked it, in case you can’t tell.
We’d arranged to meet the next of our friends who’d be joining us at the Roosevelt Hotel, where the he and the rest of the guys would be staying until we all left New York. After meeting everyone and leaving their gear, and wandered off to find our first attraction for the day: the Rockefeller Center, with its 70th-story viewing platform. B had done her research: the Empire State Building can often have lines of longer than two hours, whereas we wouldn’t have waited more than 10 minutes to rid the lift up to the Top of the Rock. Plus, while it is a few stories lower, from there you get to actually see the iconic Empire State rather than just stand on it, which I reckon makes it by far the better option anyway.
The views were sensational, as you can see from the photos below, although I’m told the experience can be slightly unsettling if you aren’t great with heights.
Next up we took in Grand Central Station, where we failed miserably to take a single nice photo (I’m sure most of you will know what it looks like anyway) and had some lunch (Shake Shack has a place there, for all those who care – Rob did – and don’t want to wait 45 minutes for a burger and shake from the original one down the road), then found our way to the East River Ferry terminal, just south of the United Nations headquarters. From here caught a boat to Williamsburg, where we planned on spending the rest of the afternoon.
I have only one bad thing to share about Williamsburg: we went to Blue Bottle Coffee, which was supposed to be one of the best places around to get a proper flat white, but it just wasn’t. I’ll even go so far as to declare mine my single worst of 2015, this from the top rated place in a hipster district. I was very sad. Americans unfortunately haven’t yet mastered the art of combining coffee and milk (I did have one excellent flat white while in the US from a place near Wall Street called Bluestone Lane, which, it almost goes without saying, was owned and operated by Australians).
Beyond that though, I loved the place. We visited a great rooftop bar to relax and enjoy the views back towards the city, but mostly to catch some air conditioning and a reprieve from the heat. We checked out the Brooklyn Brewery, which we’ve since discovered to be seriously prolific in their global distribution efforts (since that day I’ve seen their beers in the UK, Turkey, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Latvia), and tried out their fairly authentic-feeling beer hall. As the brewery has a bowling alley attached we tried that too, just so we could say we’d gone bowling in America. It was all great fun.
Beers and bowling took a bit longer than expected, and so we had to rush a little for the next stop: crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset. This experience was one of the things B most wanted to do in New York, and we had a perfect day for it. We decided to walk, and spent a bit of time idling around on a beach taking photos and getting lost. By about the halfway point, however, it became quite apparent that we wouldn’t make it in time and so had to flag down a passing cab. The cabbie wasn’t overly impressed about squeezing the five of us into four seats, but relented after we agreed to his rather steep fixed price for the ride and we made it there just as the sun started to go down.
Monday came, and we started the morning off on a more sombre note: a visit to One World Trade Center and the 9/11 memorial. One WTC, or ‘The Freedom Tower’ as it is also known, is built on the same site as the old towers, and although it may not show in the photos below is actually a very impressive height: at 104 stories and 541 metres, it is the tallest skyscraper in the western world and the 6th tallest in the world. Here’s a couple of fun facts about it:
- It is serviced by no less than 73 elevators. That’s about 65 more than any one building I’ve ever been in.
- In an act of extreme Americanism, the 541m height of the Freedom Tower translates to exactly 1,776 feet – a deliberate coincidence, as the year 1776 was when the Declaration of Independence was signed. ‘Murica.
The memorial itself was very moving. I was kind of aware of the general design, but the scale took me by surprise. It comprises of two massive sunken lakes in the footprints of the Twin Towers, fed by the two largest man-made waterfalls in the US. Around the edges, the names of all 2,977 victims of 9/11 and the six killed in the 1993 bombings there are inscribed into bronze plates, and the whole area is surrounded by nice trees. It is a very reflective place, and at least a couple of our group were very moved by it all.
Heading south on foot towards Battery Park, we’d all been fairly keen to ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty up close. Once we arrived and saw the lines that idea was abandoned immediately. We wouldn’t have even been able to go up the statue itself anyway – tickets for that are sold out something like three months in advance, over summer – so all we would have achieved from travelling out would have been look at it from a closer angle, at the cost of half a day. No loss, I don’t think.
Instead we walked a few blocks back north to check out Wall Street. I found it a lot less impressive than I expected, to be honest. The exchange itself was cool, but smaller than I thought it would be, and we didn’t actually even get a chance to see the charging bull statue properly. All we we got was the top bits sticking out of a tight crowd of Chinese tourists, who were all jostling for a chance to touch it, for some reason.
Shortly before we went on this trip, I remember reading a story about how the whole subway network in New York is being run by a system that would have been an age out of date 40 years ago. Today it is a literal antique. I was actually astounded that such an important thing relied on technology so old, and so constantly on the edge of breakdown. Here’s the article – check it out, if only for the photos. You’ll be amazed.
We rode said subway north, and to my mild surprise it didn’t even break down once during our journey. Our destination was Central Park, to explore for a while and then indulge in a light game of catch (I’d bought myself a baseball along the way). Impressions of the park: absolutely huge, and quite possibly the making of New York City. What an amazing concept, and even better that despite being what must be some of the most valuable real estate in the world it has remained a park all these years. We wandered around for an hour or so, before settling on the Great Lawn to settle for a rest and to toss the ball. On a somewhat related note – it is likely baseball players wear gloves because without gloves, catching a baseball at speed will badly damage your hands.
After the sun had set we went to a very cool bar – Mad46, on top of the Roosevelt (where the guys were staying). This place was fantastic, I’d thoroughly recommend a least a quick visit if you’re ever in town. It’s free to go up and cheap to have a drink (relative to London at least; the guys from NZ didn’t like the prices anywhere we went), and the backdrop of skyscrapers at night is amazing. For any fans of Gossip Girl reading this, you might want to make a special effort to get there – a mate of mine from London went there for a drink when she was visiting, and happened to run into none other than Chuck Bass (not a real name, non-fans, but a TV character) and proceeded to have a drink with him. If it is good enough for Chuck Bass, it is probably good enough for you.
Our final full day in New York began with a lot of rain. B and I retrieved coffee and pastries from the lobby of our awesome hotel and wisely spent a few hours just relaxing in our room before venturing outside. We definitely needed a rest anyway (the other guys failed to make it up until early afternoon, which made our mid-morning start look very respectable), and by the time we left the rain had eased off. B had set aside a day for shopping, which is mostly what we did aside from a small break for an excellent lunch at Second Ave Deli. This place is a bit of a NYC institution, serving delicious, proper Jewish food. Check out my lunch:
Finally roused, we met the guys over on Broadway to catch a show in the early evening: the Book of Mormon. If you’ve not seen it, I can’t urge you to go enough. The audience was a fairly diverse range of people, but everyone seemed to be loving it – we didn’t see single person who wasn’t having a wonderful time. I almost thought I did for a second, an old guy on our row with his mouth hanging open during one of the more potentially offensive songs (i.e. all of them), but at the end of the number he was on his feet applauding with everyone else. I never thought I’d say this about a musical, but – you need to see this.
As our final act for the night, and indeed for New York, we decided to check out something that is becoming a bit of a ‘thing’ in popular American culture – the dive bar. Well, I can now report back and tell you that the name is entirely accurate, in that the one we visited was a total dive and it served us drinks. I’m being a little mean, actually; it was a pretty fun, pretty relaxed place to enjoy a beer with friends. Even better, we soon found out that with every drink bought you were entitled to one free hotdog! Although, this excitement was fairly quickly dampened as we found out the reason they were free was, well, because you probably would have struggled to give them away.
And that was about all we had time for on our visit. I wish we’d had a little longer there, although I guess in a city so big there will never be enough time to ever get to know it properly. We’ll definitely be returning one day though.
But for now, we were about to set off on an American road trip, heading north towards New England. See you there soon.