DTour Part 10: And last but not least… New York City!
After two incredible weeks of travelling the length and breadth of the United States, I finally found myself in no other than New York City. What a place to keep until the very end of the DTour! The city immediately sucked me in, as I was staying bang on Times Square, on the 43rd (and top) floor of the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel. Having been treated to four incredible suites on my DTour (did you see the one in Vegas??), it’s going to be hard to readjust to hostels and standard rooms. I can backpack and slum it with the best of them, but when you do stay in somewhere particularly special it does make you crave luxury from then on! Times Square is one throbbing hub of activity, advertising floods your pupils at every turn and hoards of tourists block your every step. Times Square’s central-Manhattan location is perfect for exploring the city, with plenty of metro lines passing right underneath and lots of interesting places within walking distance, but the square itself is overwhelmingly brash and geared for tourists. After the first day I was sick of squeezing my way through the crowds to get anywhere, but I can’t complain. And just look below at the view from my room!
After checking in, I went for a meander through the streets to get my bearings. I came to New York on a school art trip when I was 17, back in 2006, and so I didn’t feel the need to revisit the same galleries and sights as before, like the Empire State Building for example. I wanted to focus purely on new things. I headed for the Highline, which is an 1.5-mile abandoned train line running above street level through the now-fashionable Meatpacking District, which they’ve now given a facelift with wooden walkways, greenery and art installations.
The next day I headed over to Brooklyn to meet Mark Levy, who along with the rest of his family offers a number of tours of Brooklyn. Julia Dimon, an inspirational travel journalist who gives me serious travel envy, had picked out an Edible Ethnic Brooklyn Eats tour especially for me and I was lucky enough to have a private tour. I met Mark at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall and he began by explaining the borough’s history, which set the context for the rest of the morning.
It was a gloriously sunny day and we walked through Brooklyn Heights to the Promenade, from where there’s a truly stunning view of Manhattan’s skyline. We headed through various streets to seek out some of the oldest bakeries and delicatessens, sampling Syrian Baklava, Italian Lard Bread (with ham baked inside the dough), Sicilian Arancino (fried rice balls covered in breadcrumbs) and Soppressata salami along the way. I enjoyed the food tour but imagine that it might be better suited for someone who hasn’t lived in Italy for over a year in total, and it was unfortunately that I had tried Baklava just two months beforehand in Turkey.
Leaving Brooklyn I visited the very tasteful 9/11 Memorial Site (which hadn’t yet been built in 2007 at my last visit to NYC) and peeked at the New York Stock Exchange on the infamous, but smaller than expected, Wall Street.
Next up was a tip from a fellow blogger: a round-trip on the Staten Island Ferry, which is completely free and passes Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, not to mention the fantastic view it gives you of the southern Manhattan skyline.
Before grabbing some cocktails with a friend at a great rooftop bar called 230 Fifth Ave, complete with views of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, I popped into Grand Central Station and the majestic New York Public Library, both of which I know from several appearances in a certain favourite TV show of mine (which shall remain unnamed in order to protect my reputation as a respectable journalist, as opposed to a trash-TV-watching-girly-teenager…) If anyone can guess which TV show I’m talking about then please keep it to yourselves haha! 230 Fifth Ave does both cocktails and food and felt inimitably like New York – we simply don’t really do rooftop bars in London. We lack the skyscrapers for it, and the weather.
The next day came with a surprise and very opportune stroke of luck for my friend, who won tickets to see the Late Show with David Letterman being filmed in the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Broadway, and I was the lucky recipient of his second ticket. In order to get your paws on these you can apply online or in person and they call you up on the day to tell you where you need to be. He and I, both British, openly admitted to never having seen a full episode of the Late Show with David Letterman, but soon got into the enthusiastic atmosphere drummed up by the staff who were desperate for us to laugh our heads off. The show is filmed in the afternoon before being broadcast a few hours later and has been running for 20 years, drawing ratings of over 3 million viewers per night. The guests on the show we saw were Rob Lowe (an actor), Scott Dixon (a car racer) and Alan Jackson (a country musician who performed with a band). We headed for a typically huge and American meal afterwards: “mac and cheese” and a big enough slice of toffee cheesecake to feed an entire family for a month.
On my very last day in New York I strolled north along Fifth Avenue towards Central Park, picking up one or two bits and pieces on the way. On my last visit, I hadn’t been that blown away by Central Park, perhaps because I was living in the English countryside at the time. But now that I’m a Londoner and treasure every inch of green space, Central Park suddenly transformed into some form of paradise before my eyes! I would have happily spent all day exploring the pathways, lakes and scenic bridges of Central Park and I began wishing that I had in fact managed to drag myself out of bed and go for a morning run (as I had promised myself I’d do every morning…)
I headed up the Mall past street entertainers enchanting children by blowing 5-metre long soap bubbles, towards the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, where a soul band was serenading passers-by and from where you can look out over the lake towards the stunning Loeb Boathouse, whose restaurant has an outdoor terrace on the waterfront. I imagine it must be hugely popular in summer – I at the very least would be there every day if I could…
After happily losing my way along the banks of the Lake and the Pond, and getting a little overexcited with the camera, I reluctantly made my way out of Central Park, as there was one last very important place I wanted to visit before packing up my bags and checking out at the end of my incredible DTour. I’m talking about the view from the top of the Rockefeller Centre, which is 70 floors high (259m high) and allows you look over the whole of Manhattan, including the iconic Empire State Building. The last time I was in NYC we went to the top of the Empire State Building, so I wanted to get another perspective, and I think I preferred the view from the Top of the Rock in actual fact. It was a good finale to New York City and my entire DTour around North America and I loved being able to observe and contrast two of the world’s greatest cities, London and New York City, from up on high, after my visit to London’s tallest building, The Shard in August.
Struck by the views over NYC, I began to contemplate this whirlwind 17-day trip and I realised there was far too much for one mind to take in in one go. This is where either keeping a personal diary or writing a blog is so essential for me. Back in England now it’s all too easy to slip back into a routine and let my mind fill up with mundane thoughts and tasks, but I feel it’s so important to remind myself of everything I experienced and learnt on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And not just what I learnt about the United States and Canada (I have to admit to having my preconceptions totally and utterly thrown out of the window), but also what I learnt about travelling around by myself for the first time. And no matter how small the world may seem sometimes, one thing about this trip flying great distances across North America that boggled me was the sheer size of the country, and therefore the sheer size of the world. I mentioned in my New Year’s Travel Resolutions that I wanted to get outside of Europe this year and for good reason – there is so much beyond Europe that I am yet to explore and this DTour with DoubleTree with Hilton has given me that breath of fresh air I so badly needed to remind me of everything awaiting me beyond the tiny confines of Europe.
I find that every good trip ends a little philosophically, and I certainly spent a lot of the flight home thinking about life and the universe, and I think that’s also a consequence of travelling alone. The trip physically wore me out but also mentally refreshed me and I couldn’t feel more fortunate to have had this experience. I met some wonderful people, had my eyes well and truly opened and loved every minute of it!
[I travelled around North America as a DTourist on behalf of DoubleTree by Hilton. You can find out more about how I won this incredible opportunity here]