It’s hard to pinpoint when New York City first came onto my radar but it was a long time ago. As a little girl I grew up watching Sesame Street and although I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, the show is set in a street in Manhattan in New York City. Albeit a street which is home to a grouch, a large bird, a woolly mammoth and an orange and yellow pair, but a street in New York all the same. The city was real but the address was fictional, although we will never be sure as we were never actually told how to get to Sesame Street.
Like many Australian people my age we went from watching Sesame Street in our childhood to “Friends” in our teenage years. The ensemble cast in Friends made us laugh over and over again as they hung out at a coffee shop in Central Park and played out stories about living in New York City. We imagined what life would be like in the Big Apple as those Friends became our friends.
Then of course, there were the countless movies set in New York: Three Men and a Baby, Pretty Woman, When Harry Met Sally and Ninja Turtles, to name a few. There are also the songs such as ‘Empire State of Mind’ by Alicia Keys and the famous New York song by Frank Sinatra. Like it or not, New York forms a part of our landscape. Those bright lights, grey streets and walk up stoops are cemented in our memories as a ubiquitous part of our history.
Recently though, a show aired that put a ring on the finger of my love affair with New York City. Myself and so many girls of my vintage watched it over and over again, never getting sick of the strong female characters, the witty dialogue and the bold American nuances. It was the show of our generation; Sex and the City. It spoke to us, it was refreshing and real. A large part of the story centred around the city in which it was set. It is often said that Sex and the City had 5 lead characters; the 4 women and then New York herself.
So with all these references accumulating in my subconscious you can imagine my excitement when I finally booked a three week trip to go, with my husband, to visit the Big Apple. So far, in my life I have been lucky enough to have travelled a lot and I have seen many of the world’s great cities first hand, but for some reason I had not added New York to that list. I’m not sure why. Maybe I felt it needed its own trip. Maybe I felt it was too big and too grand to add onto some other travel plans. I’m not sure. Anyway, now finally I was not only going to the big city but I was to spend a glorious 3 weeks including Christmas and New Year in New York. How wonderful! How exciting!
The best way to describe New York City is ‘electric’, there is a buzz in the air that cannot be explained, it must be felt. The lights, the people, the buildings and the vague feeling that everything is somehow familiar but the knowledge that it probably feels that way because it has flashed before your eyes in the media is exhilarating. To be walking those streets, in the flesh, is a truly magical experience.
New York at Christmas time is especially stunning. Twinkling lights, festive decorations and shop windows with creative and beautiful displays line the streets. Familiar landmarks like the Empire State Building, Macys, Fifth Avenue, the Chrysler building and of course the billboards in Times Square add to the thrill of vague familiarity. It’s like being at a party and seeing a celebrity, you feel you know them on the surface but not enough to approach them, yet somehow being in their presence makes you feel strangely thrilled and comfortable at the same time.
I could go on and on about what we saw and what we did in New York but I will leave that for another post. This piece is about the intangible, the moments of magic, the adventure, the stories and about how it made us feel. I wrote a blog post the day before we flew out about the anticipation of going to New York and why it was so special to me which you can read here.
So, did it live up to the pedestal it had been placed upon? I will admit it took me a few days. Jetlag combined with the shock of the winter combined with the massive crowds combined with a feeling that everything seemed kind of dirty left me a bit cold. When you come from Perth which is so clean and warm and step into a city that large and that overwhelming it does take a little while to adjust. Plus 3 flights clocking up 26 hours in the air will make anyone see things a little sideways. But slowly over the first few days, I unravelled my wings and stepped out into the busy roads and the skyscraper lined streets and I began to feel the energy and the colour and the buzz of New York. And I began to fall in love…
They say that people in New York walk faster than they do in any other city and it really does feel like that. You have no choice but to stride along with the crowds or else you will be left behind and metaphorically, or perhaps even literally, trampled. It is almost impossible to get lost in Manhattan, everything runs on a grid of increasing and decreasing numbered streets so for someone like me with less sense of direction than a blind mole rat this was a Godsend.
We drank in trendy bars and we dined in wonderful restaurants. We ate in equally delicious New York pizzerias and in cheap quintessential American diners. We saw Broadway shows galore and marvelled at the sets and the costumes. We did all the major sights and walked around looking upwards for the whole three weeks. We went shopping and we did a horse and cart ride through central park. We spoke to locals and we spoke to the homeless, we saw celebrities and we went to a sporting match. We witnessed and experienced as much as we could in our three weeks and there is so much to see and do, but truthfully my favourite thing was just walking around the streets and relishing in the fact that we were in the Big Apple.
My husband and I did our own thing a few times, following our own interests and having our own experiences. I think it’s important to have freedom when you travel, plus it gives you something to talk about at dinner. For example; I went to see Kinky Boots alone, a fabulous musical starring a transvestite in red stiletto boots and he went to visit a workshop that manufactured old fashioned fireplaces out of steel. See, totally different. But that’s what makes things interesting right….
One of my favourite magic moments happened on our very last night. I made a last minute decision which ended up being the perfect way to top off my New York experience. I was all alone and had been to a stand-up comedy show and I was returning to our hotel in a taxi. It was 1:30am and 7 degrees below freezing and we were due to fly out the next morning. I didn’t know when I would be returning to New York so I decided that I had to say one more goodbye to the lights. I asked the taxi driver to turn around and please take me to Times Square.
Times Square takes your breath away at the best of times but late at night without the crowds and without the craziness it is even more breathtaking. I stepped out into the freezing wind and looked around. It was just me and the police and a few other crazy tourists. The sky was clear and the billboards were dancing.
I stayed like that for what seemed like ages. Looking upwards and savouring the moment. I took some pictures and wrapped my scarf tightly around my ears. Above my head, an ad for Bailey’s Irish Cream flashed repeatedly and laughed at me. Teasing and tempting. As I was gazing upwards a rubbish truck drove past with a large, jolly looking black man riding on the back picking up the bins. He looked at me and I smiled.
“You happy to be in Times Square?” he called out.
“Of course.” I called back. “What’s not to love?” I gestured upwards towards the lights.
“Baby girl……” he drawled “You got that right!” and he bellowed a deep hearty laugh as the rubbish truck whisked him away…..
It was the perfect end to a wonderful trip, forever etched in my memory as the first time I witnessed the City of Lights. Now, when I think of New York, I don’t have to reference Sex and the City or Friends or even Sesame Street, because I have my own memories. I have walked the streets myself. Those streets, which have always been a small part of my story, are now real. I have seen and felt them firsthand…. and it was fabulous.
The photos below show a few more of my snaps starring the big city…