Norwegian airline had this funny ad when launching their flights to USA. We see typical American images – Italian mafia-looking guys on the corner, roller-skating girls on a beach promenade, policemen holding a coffee cup and a donut – everyone on hold, every movement frozen. Then the red-tailed Norwegian plane lands and – “action”. Traffic starts moving and honking, Italians start talking, the policemen bite those donuts, the girls roll. Two Norwegian girls cross the street and a handsome guy asks them “How are you doin’?” And they say excited to each other: “Just like in the movies”.
What can I say, folks, about my first time in NYC? It’s just like in the movies! I kept on recognizing everything that I’d seen million times before. The subway entrances, the smoke from the sewer, the steps leading to the front door (like in “Sex and the City”), the fire staircases on the facades. And no matter the cold, the noise, the overpriced dinners – it was a thrilling feeling.
My first impression of New York was a night ride by our transfer. A nervous mini bus zigzagging all over Manhattan it seemed, pushing itself through the traffic – and this at midnight. We landed at 9pm and arrived to our hotel around 1am. Though I was tired after 8h flight and a long waiting at the border control (where the officer commented on my Micki Mouse t-shirt: “Nice shirt”), I was a mix of wrecked and happy. I never needed a night city tour after this :))
My second impression was our hotel on West 32nd Street which is marked as “Korea way” on the map (this I found out later :)). The street was full of Korean restaurants, nail salons, and from our window on the 10th floor we saw a disco and karaoke at the height of 6th floor. The city that never sleeps was welcoming us – in Korean.
My third impression was the next morning when I woke up at 6am and could not sleep, jetlagged and hungry. So I crawled out of bed and went out on the street to find some food. The first person who met me outside was a black guy selling weed. Well, good morning, New York! Next, I found a pharmacy on the corner and bought some yoghurt and cookies. Yes, strange thing but you can buy lots of different things in a pharmacy, my go-to place to find some food. Why do they call it pharmacy?
New York was cold. Though it was early November, there was a sudden drop of temperatures and in the wind it felt like freezing. Arriving from warm Barcelona we had to pull on all our clothes, bite our teeth and push through. New York was noisy and overwhelming. I can get easily overstimulated, and this is just the place to bombard you with lights, people, sounds. But it was also possible to find some pockets of peace in this seemingly crazy city. So here I will share with you my finds, maybe some will find it useful and others entertaining (after States it is not easy to consider myself entertaining, because they are doing it best).
(click on any photo to view it full size)
Staying and walking. So we stayed in Midtown, on a small street between Broadway and 5th Avenue. The location was top. In the walking distance from our hotel there was Empire State Building, Grand Central station, Times Square, Macy’s. We walked to the Central Park and we walked home from Financial District and Seaport. After a day in NYC it is really easy to navigate because the city geometry is all squares and straight lines, and the streets have numbers.
What was not so top staying in Midtown is that it’s much about huge buildings with little charm, noisy streets and franchise restaurants. If I can come again, I would like to experience a stay in a neighborhood more charming like Greenwich Village.
Getting around. We stayed 3 days in NYC and we wanted to take a hop on hop off bus on one of them. Man, are they not cheap in this city! I still remember how I paid 18€ in Rome for this bus. Well, here one day was about 50$! There was a charismatic black guy who talked us into buying two-days ticket instead, and he also gave us an extra day on it. That costed us 60$ and included a boat trip to Statue of Liberty. And the company has 4 loops, one main in Manhattan, one to Brooklyn, one to Harlem and one to Upper East Side. They also had a night city tour but after our first night’s transfer we opted out :)) The company’s name? Big Bus. And they have nice guides, with some real New Yorker roll. One of them, Darius on Upper East Side loop, was mega entertaining and I was wondering why this kid is not working on a radio at least.
Fast visiting. When you have just three days in New York (and you are jetlagged), what do you do? The wise thing to do is to realize your limitations. Serious. The worst is to have a long to-do list and them jump around restlessly. So I had accepted before arriving that I will not see everything I’d like to see. I would not think towards museums and that “Friends” building, because that would be just too much. Instead, I did a small research on Google, wrote a small list (including neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and Little Italy) – and for the rest I went with the flow.
Here the hop on hop off bus comes handy. It takes you to all major sites which you can just watch from the bus, without hopping off (Hello, Flatiron building, hi there, Brooklyn Bridge!). We hopped off in downtown, in the Financial District and explored the rest of the day by foot. I will later write a post about my favorite walks in New York.
Where one must really walk to is Central Park. Well, they have the service of a horse carriage or a bike taxi over there too – but I would insist, guys, that Central Park is for walking. We were lucky to be there on Sunday, watching New Yorkers walk their dogs and skate on the rink.
I would love to see more of Brooklyn and Upper East Side, walk there, stop to eat – but I consider myself already lucky that I have seen it once from the bus (even though it was so cold during our Brooklyn ride that I had to go downstairs from the upper deck and that was less spectacular).
Finding peace. Are you the kind of person who needs a hideaway when the surroundings become overwhelming? I am that kind of person. As adventurous as I like to consider myself :), I can get easily overstimulated and stressed, be it crowds, lights and sounds, or traffic. On the night of the first day we found ourselves on Times Square. First day which is already too much, because New York is too much of everything – plus Times Square. This is when I felt for backing out of it. I couldn’t take in all those people and neon lights.
Another luck – just some blocks from Times Square we got into Bryant Park. Some hours ago I had stated that New York can do everything but cozy – well here I had to swallow my words. It was all about Christmas market, food stalls and cozy. There was a skating rink, people merrily sircling on a Saturday night. And there were chairs under the huge trees where we could sit in peace and breathe in breathe out.
New York is called a concrete jungle, and deservedly so. But still there are small parks and squares which can be your tiny pocket of peace. Look out for them on the map (I was not that ready) or notice when you pass them by – they may just serve you one moment.
Another nice stop was the museum of Native Americans on the stop in downtown where we hopped off. Our guide said they had free toilets. That’s why we went there. And to get a bit warmer. There is also peace and quiet if you need it in a not-crowded museum like this. And great architecture as a bonus to the exhibition.
Eating. Food in NYC can be a sad song. I’d say it is more a sad than a happy song. Coming from Barcelona we were so spoiled by finding good food in any simple restaurant – and for 11€ you can get a menu of the day, which is two dishes, a drink and a dessert. All for 11 Euros! Here just a basic burger at Friday’s would cost you 20 bucks – plus tax, plus tips. You cannot leave without tipping, obviously.
So on my first day I already arrived at the conclusion that food in New York was no good, boring and expensive. On my second day I made some research and discovered that you can eat great (and even not so expensive) – but you had to do your research. And then to go find it, sometimes even reserve a table or show up early for some specially popular places. Sounds like too much of a hassle for a first-timer. Yes, it is.
So this is what I learnt about eating in New York. We had to find all our meals outside of hotel. Which can be straining. And in the end of the day I felt more like falling down on my bed instead of finely dining out (after finding a place for a breakfast, then lunch). What we did: for suppers we bought salads and easy food at the pharmacy (CVS and Walgreens are the most popular ones). And ate at home, that is in the hotel room, sometimes also with a bottle of wine. Once we bought a take-away pizza (just slices, because they are huge), took it home, turned on the local tv and felt like a real New Yorker 🙂
Diners are delis. These are great places to 1 – feel like a local, 2 – save some cash. We found this Diner “The Mill” on the 5th Ave, not far from our hotel, and would get a pretty big breakfast – for the price of three lattes in Starbucks. And then there are delis which serve warm food, and it can be fast, but it is not McDonald’s (I don’t to McDonald’s). And you don’t go through the long dance of ordering, waiting, asking for the bill and tipping (tada!). Then they say, the best cheesecake in town is at Junior’s (and the best pizza is at Joe’s which is easy to find by the long line on the street), but we didn’t do this stuff. Another time, New York!
If you don’t want to do a research and go to a specific place on TripAdvisor (I am not good at it), but want a good restaurant meal, the best idea maybe is to go to Little Italy and find a decent restaurant. They seem to be plenty enough there. Good pasta is always a good idea. They surely do other dishes too, but when in Rome… I mean, when in Little Italy, – eat pasta!
If you have some tips for a first-timer in New York, feel free to share them with me here. Though I may never be a first-timer again, but they can always be handy. Do I want to visit another time? You bet. Did I like New York? I loved it! And how can you not?
What about you? Do you like it? Have you been there? Or ever dreamt of visiting?