I’ll be honest. I never thought I’d fall head over heels for a place like New York City. I mean, I get it. There’s a reason they call it the “greatest city in the world”. The towering skyscrapers, the glittering constellation of lights and billboards; the cosmopolitan, fast-paced, no-bullshit culture. But I’ve always been more of an European soul. And yet, I stand corrected.
It took me seven days to peel through the hard, gritty exterior of the city. And what I discovered at its core was a surprising warmth, resilience and a bold creative energy you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. So buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride!
The Highline Park is one of the best ways to put your finger on the pulse of the city. In the golden glow of the sunset, even a concrete jungle glittered like a cave of jewels.
The 2.3-kilometre park is built on an unused portion of the West Side Line running to the Lower West Side of Manhattan. It’s an elevated trail that winds through apartment blocks, skyscrapers, and across bustling roads amid lush greenery (or what was left of it for winter).
It was fascinating to see some of the old buildings up close, peer into the homes of New Yorkers (hehe), and even enjoy the colourful burst of graffiti and street art that surprised us at every corner.
My suggestion? Go have some amazing lobsters, oysters and sushi at Chelsea Market before taking a nice long stroll at sunset.
A visit to NYC would not be complete without immersing yourself in one of the most filmed locations in the world. It’s a National Historic Landmark sprawling 843 acres, and receives close to 40 million visitors a year! And no wonder. Just look at this gorgeous view.
There were horse carriage tours and joggers running even in the cold, but we held hands and strolled a good hour from Trump Tower across white bridges, reflective lakes and trees burning a fiery crimson.
If you need to get anywhere in the city, I recommend a scenic walk through Central Park. It’s wonderfully invigorating. Plus, if you’re dog lovers like we are, there’s plenty of furry eye candy.
Grand Central Terminal
One of the most iconic meeting places in the world lies in the belly of what is more famously known as Grand Central Station.
Opened in 1871 by the illustrious shipping and then rail moguls the Vanderbilts, Grand Central Station has become synonymous with American development and prosperity in its early years.
The giant star-spangled banner you see here was hung just a few days after the September 11 attacks. The astronomical ceiling painted with (an inaccurate) depiction of Orion, Pisces and Gemini. And it was said to be so covered with coal and diesel smoke that it was almost completely obscured until after a 12-year restoration project in the 1980s.
This four-faced clock here marks the famous meeting point right in the centre of all the bustling activity. It’s made of opal glass, and has an estimated value of more than $20 million. Damn.
I loved the details in the ornate ceilings, the shiny marble that covers most of the main hall and these elegant chandeliers that cast everything in a golden warmth. There are also many food options with locally-owned brands, fast food and even one of the oldest oyster bars in the city.
The terminal holds many secrets too. It was believed there were hidden passageways, lifts that took Presidents to special carriages and rooms. And it was all very fascinating to learn about the history of such a critical part of American economic growth from a passionate local guide.
Do sign up for these free walking tours here. The guides are friendly, well-trained and you pay as you like for a wonderful history lesson.
Washington Square Park
Another scenic albeit smaller park in the city is Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. The arch is the centrepiece of the open space which celebrates non-conformity.
And speaking of which, we ran into some very friendly furry friends there. It was so amazing to see huge squirrels with bushy tails scamper right up to us as kind elderly ladies fed them with pecans and peanuts.
Even the kids joined in!
And apart from enjoying beautiful nature in the middle of the city, there was also a busker playing a beautiful saxophone. The whole atmosphere was just so peaceful and sublime. We had a great time just passing through.
American Museum of Natural History
Nature aside, New York City is home to some of the most celebrated museums in the world. If you’re a dinosaur lover or anthropology buff, you absolutely have to visit the Natural History Museum.
We could spend hours in there not just ogling the preserved remains of prehistoric creatures but also understanding the development of our species and the rise and fall of ancient civilisations. Superbly fascinating.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
We were in two minds about MoMA. In general, I’m a little irreverent about some interpretations of modern art. Sometimes, I think the artists just create pieces like framing a white piece of paper, or crap in a can and write a complicated description just to pull a fast one on pretentious art critics.
But the museum space is beautiful. Ceiling-to-floor glass that lets in natural light, some pretty interesting trippy exhibits. Don’t miss out on some Van Gogh and Monet pieces hidden at the top floors. And P.S. the slow drip coffee there is a glorious pick-me-up, especially if you’re suffering from a food coma.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
On the hand, I can completely relate to the masters. The Met left me mind boggled as to how one building could house so much beauty and so many celebrated, precious works of art.
There were an array of artists featured like Picasso, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and one of my personal favourites, Claude Monet. I could get lost in his pieces for hours.
And then there was this beautiful exhibition of a traditional Christmas tree. The intricate details make the tree come to life! I wish they still did them up this way. How pretty.
From religious artefacts, to famous sculptures, to delicate ornaments like this beautiful painted fan, there is definitely something at the Met that will take your breath away.
Rockefeller Centre/ Christmas Tree
And since it was Christmas, we had to see the tallest Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre. There was so much Christmas cheer in the air. Everyone was laughing, taking photos and even bursting into spontaneous carols.
We also happened to come across someone proposing to his lover on the skating rink there. How sweet!
I’m not a big fan of musicals in general. But I do enjoy the tragedies like the Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and maybe Avenue Q. But Jersey Boys has always been something Sean and I enjoyed together. In large part because of the music of Frankie Valli. And also because it was about to be discontinued on Broadway. So how could we miss it?
It was thoroughly enjoyable, and wonderfully entertaining. Perhaps it was knowing that we’d be one of the last to see it performed again that made it all the more poignant.
And now, for a quick look at some of the more defining skyscrapers of the Manhattan landscape starting with this one.
Flat Iron Building
A triangular 22-story steel-framed landmarked building located at 175 Fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan. It was considered to be a groundbreaking skyscraper, the tallest at a time. Shaped like a clothes iron, it’s a very unique part of the skyline.
And then, there was my favourite skyscraper built in a distinctive Art Deco style. It’s gorgeous spire once made it the tallest building in New York, now of course overtaken by that made famous by King Kong’s infamous climb.
Which brings us nicely to…
Empire State Building
Curiously enough, despite being the city’s tallest, we were told by our guide that the building initially had a lot of trouble filling its floors. People weren’t impressed by the architecture, there was heavy competition at the time, and its timely saving grace came in the form of its appearance in the movie that made it a cultural icon.
I’d initially thought it would be a bit of a tourist trap. But Sean convinced me that the trip would not be complete without that panoramic view of the city.
And of course, he was right. He took me up two elevators to the 86th floor and we pushed past the glass doors into the cold, windy night. All around us, in all directions the city sparkled. Sean took out his earphones, placed them gently in my ears as the cold air whipped around us amid the countless galaxies of lights from skyscrapers miles around.
Frank Sinatra’s smooth voice of gold flowed like warm honey into my soul. I couldn’t help it, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. It was incredibly overwhelming. The city was so beautiful. It glittered like a lake of stars, and I felt so thankful to be there. I hugged him close and smiled at the thought of how we will always remember moments like these when we’re old and grey. Words couldn’t describe how much I felt right then and there.
Right in that magical moment, I finally fell in love with New York, and even more so with my best bud in the whole world.
Just a short subway ride away from the mad rush of the city centre, is a welcome change of pace. Brooklyn had a more relaxed feel, a somewhat creative energy bubbling beneath the surface.
Apart from an unparalleled view of the city, there was also Sweet Chick which we both loved. Nothing like hearty Southern food for a cold winter.
There were other things I loved about the city. How people were so passionate and willing to fight for causes they believed in. These activists were braving the cold to protest outside Canadian Goose for allegedly being cruel to animals.
And the subways were some of my favourite places to people watch. There was so much talent showcased from artists, to solo musicians and singers. It was just always full of colour and life. No trip was forgettable. People always surprised me here. Sadly, there were also a big number of people who were homeless. But more on that another time.
And finally, the place that defines New York as the city that never sleeps.
Even at 3am in the morning when we’d just finished a late-night party, it was still swarming with people. Food joints and restaurants opening till late and it was amazing just strolling arm in arm in the cold air, the flickering lights of the giant billboards reflecting off of our smiling faces.
New York City is truly incredible. Much has been said about the decline of US. But with its rich history, its people and its roots, I still sense a great hope in the land of the free and the home of the brave. God bless America.