New York, my favourite city on Earth and a place so special to me for so many reasons. When I worked out that we could fly to New York to spend a week before flying on to India I was ecstatic. Not only because I could finally show Craig my favourite city but also because my mum and little brother Matthew were flying over for the week to see us too. When we went on our first backpacking adventure, my mum flew over to Australia for three weeks with a friend to spend some time with us after 5 months apart and it was wonderful and so needed as I missed her so much. This time I'd gone 8 months without seeing her and so the anticipation of a week together was so exciting.
Craig and I flew in from Cancún and landed in the afternoon, it took an hour and a half to get through immigration at JFK, the longest I've ever spent in a queue and on my own too as Craig and I had to go through separate lines. We caught the Airtrain and subway to our new home for the week in Brooklyn's beautiful Park Slope neighbourhood where we had booked an Airbnb apartment. The area was so quiet; independent grocery stores and coffee shops lined the street and a blossom tree was in full bloom right outside the local church we walked past. We immediately clocked a pizza joint called 'Joe's' on the corner and made a mental note to visit ASAP. The apartment was just two blocks from the subway station which was perfect, we got the keys out of the lockbox which reminded me of a Japanese puzzle box and let ourselves in. The apartment was bright and airy, with white walls, polished wooden floors, shelves full of plants and pretty ceramics. It was bigger than I was expecting but still a cute cosy space which would be just about right for the four of us. I felt relieved, finding a place to stay for 4 adults on a budget in an expensive city was challenging and caused a big headache when it was arranged. We left our bags in the pastel blue bedroom and nipped out to run some errands, we were in a hurry as it wouldn't be long before mum and Matthew would be getting in from their long flight from London and I'd promised we'd meet them at the airport. We grabbed some groceries from a local deli and dropped off our laundry as we weren't able to get it done in Cuba or on our last day in Mexico. Of course we stopped at Joe's for the much anticipated first slice of New York pizza and it didn't disappoint, a mammoth slice of tomatoey, cheesy goodness. We left to collect mum and Matthew from JFK and only waited a few minutes before they walked through the arrivals gate, mum did a little squeal of excitement as she does and I cried, we had a big hug and I immediately started winding up my little bro, I had 8 months of being the annoying big sister to catch up on after all! We headed back to the apartment and went to bed, we'd all had a long travel day.
The next morning was a beautiful bright and sunny day, Craig made American-style pancakes with syrup for himself and Matthew while mum and I had cereal, good cereal had been a luxury for me on our travels so I relished the opportunity to have it. I didn't want to plan too much as I wasn't sure how tired everyone would be so we took it easy and went for a stroll down the road to nearby Prospect Park. The stroller moms and dog walkers were out in force and you wouldn't even know you were in the city, it was so peaceful. We walked through to the other side of the park, saw the impressive Brooklyn Library and Grand Army Plaza and went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Amazingly enough the gardens were free as it was Tuesday and so we saved ourselves $15 each. It had been part of my plan to do as much as possible 'on the cheap' as I knew we'd all appreciate saving some money so to start the trip with a free activity was a bonus. We wandered in and of course it was quite busy as it was a free entry day, the people didn't get in the way of the beautiful blooms however which were stunning. There was a myriad of colourful flowers and the spring tulips, wisteria and blossom were still holding tight. The Japanese garden was lovely and the glass houses were full of tropical plants, bonsai trees and orchids. My favourite part was the Shakespeare garden full of English flowers and little signs with Shakespearean verse on them, maybe it was the little reminder of home that I liked best. We had lunch on the patio before moving on to the subway station to head for the Brooklyn Bridge Park and to glimpse the Manhattan skyline. It was only a few stops away, we left the station and walked past iconic brownstone houses, wondering how many millions it must cost to buy one. The park became visible and then so did downtown Manhattan across the East River. To The left was the Statue of Liberty and to the right was Brooklyn Bridge. One World Trade Centre was a beacon in the middle of the skyscrapers, shining brightly and imposingly. When I had last visited the city in 2010 the tower had yet to be built. We wandered slowly along the promenade, stopping to photograph the sights and to sit on benches and take it all in. Craig was as giddy as he had been when we first saw the amazing skyline in Hong Kong, he could barely tear his eyes away from the jungle of skyscrapers.
We ventured down a walkway to get closer to the waterfront and found an ice cream store, the line was out the door and as the sun was still shining we decided to treat ourselves. Once we tasted our cones we could understand why there was a big queue, the ice cream was delicious. We sat with a view of Brooklyn Bridge, trying to avoid the wind while we ate our treats and then went and had a look at an Anish Kapoor art installation in a green space, it was a whirling pool of water which was thunderous enough to attract a crowd. We walked inland and found some steps leading up to the iconic neo-gothic Brooklyn Bridge so that we could walk across to Manhattan. The wind had really picked up and nearly blew us off our feet, it wasn't the relaxing walk that I had in mind, the wind whipped my hair onto my face and cyclists whizzed past so fast I thought I might collide with one. It was a little stressful but made for an exciting crossing. We made it to the other side and took a walk through downtown Manhattan via the Stock Exchange and City Hall to Battery Park which seemed much bigger than when mum and I visited 7 years ago. As we sat on a bench looking out at the Staten Island Ferry making it's crossing we started to feel a little chilly and so walked to the nearby subway station to catch a ride home. Once in Brooklyn we had pizza for dinner at Joe's, purely because I wanted mum and Matthew to have a taste, obviously.
While in New York Craig and I wanted to arrange our visa for India by going to the Indian Embassy, our first task of the day was to get there and hand in the paperwork that we'd spent ages putting together. We got all the way to the Embassy to be told that the visa service had recently changed and been outsourced to a company in a different building. We got back on the subway to where we had been told to go and waited for an hour to hand in our paperwork. The very unobliging lady behind the counter sneered at our documents, she told us that we needed a signed letter from the person who had rented their apartment to us for the week as well as other bits of documentation. She also said that if we did get all this extra information then it would still take 10 days for the visa to be granted or rejected. Cue two very annoyed and unhappy backpackers! We felt foolish, despite doing a lot of research and spending time and money printing forms we still hadn't got it right. We blamed the lack of new information online due to the service being changed very recently and felt that there was no need for her rude manner. Feeling disheartened we left and agreed to enjoy the rest of the day and look into getting a visa online later.
We were in mid town right by the Empire State Building so after a quick stop for hot drinks at a cute café we decided to go to the top. As mum and I say, you can't come to New York and not go up the Empire State Building! That may be because mum and I are fans of the movies An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle though. Amazingly there was no queue so we got our tickets straight away and whizzed in the lift to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor. Despite being my third time seeing the views from the observation deck I was still in awe, each time offers something different and the feeling of being so high and looking out over the city is fantastic. The building itself is a wonder with its perfect art deco design. We walked around the deck so many times I lost count and as usual Craig had a ball taking photographs from every position imaginable. The clouds were starting to gather and the wind picked up which made walking around in a dress a little tricky, we ducked inside every now and again to warm up before braving the chill again until finally we felt we had seen enough. We got back to ground level and after lunch where we ordered way too much food we walked to Grand Central Terminal to see the famous turquoise and gold ceiling before walking up Fifth Avenue towards Central Park, stopping at mums favourite store to visit; Tiffany's. We admired all the jewellery that we couldn't afford and chatted to a lovely lady about the huge yellow diamond that they keep on display, the last person to wear the diamond was Audrey Hepburn for a photoshoot. We walked across the street to the Plaza Hotel and then went into the lower end of Central Park for a slow wander, the sun had decided to come out again and lit up the tree tops and buildings beyond. Once back at the apartment Craig and I completed our online Indian visa application. We hadn't done so before because the online visa only allowed for a 30 day stay but it appeared that just a couple of weeks ago that changed to 60 days which would be plenty of time so we were very relieved. All we had to do was take passport style photos of ourselves in the morning to upload and we should find out if we had been granted a visa in a couple of days.
We woke up and after a lovely breakfast in the apartment, made our way back to Manhattan for a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; my favourite museum. After a quick coffee stop we went in and paid our 'donation'. I had only realised through research that the $25 entrance fee is actually voluntary, you can give what you like. In order to help with our limited funds we donated $15 each which we thought was fair. The museum is a maze of exhibits covering everything throughout history that you could possibly think of. From Greek and Roman statues, Egyptian sarcophagi and Incan artefacts to modern abstract expressionist painting, Islamic art, Persian rugs and even a Japanese courtyard garden. With lots of energy we started in the Roman section, a highlight was seeing the artefacts from Central America as we had travelled through so much of the area on our trip. I walked around the Impressionist painting galleries several times, even walking all the way from the other end of the museum for one last look before we left. The Cy Twombly painting in the abstract expressionist gallery was another highlight and one that prompted a me to have a little reverse self portrait with it. Despite having visited the museum three times I still haven't seen it all but at least got round to seeing a little more than I have before, eventually I'll see everything.
We left and walked to the park as the museum sits just beside it, we found the Alice in Wonderland statue next to the toy boating lake and then walked south towards Times Square. It was nearly dark out, we had a hot chocolate at a café next to the LOVE sculpture and then found the bright lights of Times Square, a sensory overload with bright neon and digital bill boards all flashing at you while people dressed in costumes take selfies with tourists. Not us though, we took in the lights and then headed back to our peaceful Park Slope neighbourhood, a stark contrast to bustling mid town Manhattan.
Matthew said that he wouldn't mind going to the Natural History Museum, I think most probably due to its appearance in the Night At The Museum films. It was a dreary wet day so another museum day sounded good. We got there by subway as usual and queued in the rain to get in, luckily we didn't have to wait long. The museum was again big, but not quite as polished as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We walked through the exhibition halls looking at the dioramas of people of different cultures, animals and landscapes. There was even a New Forest scene which is a national park just a short drive from our home in the U.K. It's amazing how quickly time goes when you're wandering around a museum, before we knew it we were edging closer to closing time and we hadn't even seen the main draw, the dinosaur exhibit. While Craig wandered on, mum, Matthew and I stopped to take a proper look around the crystal and meteorite hall before heading upstairs to see the dinosaur replicas, one of which was brand new and the biggest I've ever seen. Whilst in the museum Craig and I got an email confirming our Indian visas which was a huge relief.
We left the museum at closing time and made our way to the MoMA for the free Friday night event that they run each week. In an effort to save the cents we had decided to squeeze in a trip to see the artwork while it was free although the crowds made it near impossible to enjoy the paintings on display. Luckily mum and I have already seen the work inside the MoMA so I wasn't too annoyed and enjoyed getting to spend a few minutes with my favourite painting, Monet's water lily triptych. The hoards of people surrounding the Van Gogh painting were a sight to see, I love Van Gogh as much as the next person but I'll never understand how his work causes such a scrum. It's ridiculous.
The next day, with slightly brighter weather we went back to downtown Manhattan, this time to see the 9/11 memorial. When I first visited New York on a college trip in 2005 the events of 9/11 were still very fresh in everyones mind, still raw. Ground Zero was a mess and the catastrophic effects of the collapsing towers had left scars. In 2010 when I visited with my mum, the area had began to recover and now, seven years after that I could see a transformation. One World Trade Center was finished and the footprints of the original World Trade Center towers had been memorialised with two huge sunken pools, inscribed with all those who had lost their lives in the terror attack. What broke my heart most was seeing the names of a few of the women with 'and her unborn child' written by it. There were a few white roses dotted around, we learned that the staff put a rose out on the victims birthday.
After paying our respects at the memorial, watching the water cascade into the pools and reflecting on the site mum, Craig and I took a trip to the One World Trade Center observation deck while Matthew stayed behind. The $37 entrance fee was steep but we were interested to see the views from the top. The panoramic views over Manhattan, New Jersey, Brooklyn and beyond were impressive though not quite as charming as viewing from the Empire State Building, possibly because we were behind glass. I loved hearing facts about the building and the Twin Towers, like how when the towers were standing some workers on high floors would feel motion sick in windy weather as the towers would sway. We met Matthew back on ground level and walked to a nearby shopping mall that he had found to grab a bite to eat in the food court; there were no McDonalds or KFC's around though thank goodness. Instead there were a dozen boutique eateries and food stands to choose from, all as tempting as the last. From New York bagels to gourmet burgers, bulging burritos as well as Japanese cuisine and BBQ. We were spoilt for choice and all ended up choosing something different. With bellies full we left the mall and walked to the waters edge on the west side of Manhattan, we kept walking, admiring the Hudson River and the cluster of buildings on the other side. On and on we went until we reached The High Line, an elevated promenade which stretches from the Meatpacking District to Chelsea, the repurposed railway line has been made into a communal space full of benches, plants and artworks. We walked the entire length of the park and could see the West Side from a new perspective, apartment blocks adorned with anti-Trump street art, the Hudson and little local shops and business premises.
We left The High Line and walked around Chelsea looking for a café, eventually we stumbled upon a pâtisserie where we stopped for hot chocolates and a delicious fresh cream pastry. We wandered on and found Chelsea Market, a characterful indoor marketplace with exposed brick, twinkling fairy lights and a homely yet industrial feel. The market was full of shops of all kinds, a bookstore, a clothing shop in flea market style, a cookery shop and a whole host of eateries. I was tempted by several beautiful books and art prints in one store but was sensible and walked away, next time I'll return to the city with a big suitcase when I can fill my boots with all the lovely things. As the sun was setting we walked back to the Hudson River where Craig managed to capture some dramatic shots of the incredibly moody sky and sun rays peeping through. A little wander through the pretty brownstone neighbourhood of the West Village was our last activity of the day, we stopped by a convenience store to grab some Twizzlers an American sweet confection; I also picked up a slice of takeaway New York baked cheesecake to eat while I walked, yes a mere couple of hours after our pâtisserie stop and I'm not even ashamed. The area was becoming more lively as it was a Saturday night, if only we had a table reservation and empty bellies, it looked like a great place to get dinner.
We started the day with a walk around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir in Central Park, a little further up the park than we had explored so far. As it was Sunday morning the joggers were out doing their circuit and friends had gathered for a relaxed stroll. We walked from the south side of the water all the way round to the north west side where we stopped at a greasy spoon style café on the Upper West Side for a no fuss hot chocolate to warm ourselves up. As the week went on the weather seemed to get chillier and more overcast, that first day in the hot sun in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden seemed like a distant memory! We caught the subway to Chinatown, the district is in complete contrast to the parts of the city that we had been to so far; suddenly Craig and I felt some familiarity as we walked past hawkers, it really is like being in an Asian city. As we wandered by the shops selling trinkets and the dim sum restaurants with steamed up windows the rain started to fall. We ducked for cover then pulled on our rain macs to brave the weather. We walked on leaving Chinatown behind to the East Village to find Crif Dogs, a hot dog place that I'd researched earlier as they offer vegetarian dogs. We gorged on hot dogs with avocado and all the condiments with a side of potato tots and I was not disappointed. I'd always wanted to try a New York hot dog like the kind you see on a street stand but my first visit to the city in 2005 was six weeks after I became vegetarian so I never got the opportunity before.
We caught the train north and visited Bloomingdales department store before taking a last walk around the lower end of Central Park, unfortunately it rained again so we sought shelter under a bridge and got chatting to an interesting businessman. He gave us some tips on where to go in the park but it was just too wet and was our last full day so I was a little disappointed not to get to the places he suggested.
We woke up on our last morning together, I was feeling really sad. The week had been so fun and jam packed that I didn't want it to end, we'd seen so many sights and walked miles, eaten lovely food and enjoyed lots of art too. It had been my favourite kind of week and now it was at an end. Luckily mum and Matthews flight wasn't until the evening and Craig and mines was very early the next day so we had a few more hours to go yet. We took ourselves out for breakfast for the first time; I had delicious egg, cheese and avocado on sourdough. Craig went to get a haircut as the last time he had it done was in Bolivia where his hair wasn't really cut so much as hacked at while the rest of us went for a walk around Prospect Park. The sun was out which was joyous so we did a loop before meeting Craig and taking an easy stroll around Park Slope and South Slope. Our last dinner was at Joe's pizzeria, our go-to place for the week due to it's amazing quality and cheap prices. We chilled out in our lovely apartment until we had to take mum and Matthew to JFK, we tried packing their bags with a few things to take home for us but their 10kg each weight limit didn't allow for too much. The farewell was sad and to tell the truth I could easily have got on the plane back home with them. We rushed back to the apartment to pack up and tidy up as it was already gone 11pm, in just a few short hours we'd be back at JFK for our flight to Delhi.
New York video:
Have you been to New York? If so, are you as in love with the place as I am? Maybe you're planning a trip, I've got tonnes of advice and tips I can share. Let me know in the comments below.
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