Here I sit, nearly 2 weeks after returning from my first proper visit to New York City and it’s still fresh in my mind though the blisters have now healed. I say “New York” but really, like most tourists, I mean Manhattan since that’s where most of us tourists visit and sight see.
People ask how did I like New York and what did I think of it? I think I need to go again to really get a good feel for it because mostly this time we were on tour busses and seeing the famous sights. To really get a sense of a location, you need to spend time in the neighbourhoods like Greenwich Village, SoHo, or the upper East or West sides at the very least. You need to shop, visit galleries and museums, and dine in restaurants, drink beer in pubs and sit in cafes watching the world go by. We did a little of that but not enough. The first time is your time to see the iconic New York. After that, you can relax into the vibe of the city.
Stating the obvious, New York is big. Very big. Even Manhattan, a small island, is packed with so much that you could spend all your time and visits there and never be unsatisfied. In fact, most people only see the bottom half of the island from Central Park south. It’s also flat for the most part, from Central Park to the south. That is not it’s natural state. One tour guide told us that the land had been leveled as the city grew. Flat makes it easier to walk and it is very much a walking city in spite of the thousands and thousands of vehicles that often clog up the streets and avenues.
It’s a colourful city. The most noticeable is the bright yellow from the streams of yellow taxis. There are street vendors with brightly coloured umbrellas and carts. There are street news stands. Advertising on buildings, be it painted on, or billboards is everywhere. Neon is King in mid-town Manhattan even putting the Times Square district aside.
We visited in May, not high tourist season of the summer but in New York, it’s always tourist season so the sidewalks are always busy with people, both tourists and residents. Lunchtimes, evening rush hour and, in the Times Square area, after theatre (10 – 11 pm) are when you’ll find the highest volume of people on the sidewalks. Post-theatre people are all happy, strolling, chatting and excited. Morning, lunch and after work, the people are more business-like, intent on their destination. Don’t get in their way!
Some people we encountered in restaurants and shops were very nice but there were some in some shops that were dismissive and rude. The friendliest seemed to be those that appeared to be from elsewhere, at least, their accent seemed to indicate they weren’t born and raised in New York/America.
New York is very multicultural as you would expect from a city which was the entry point for millions of immigrants. Many just stayed where they arrived and many are still coming. It makes for a much richer experience for the visitor in more ways than just having more variety of restaurant choice. We spoke with one man in a deli who was from Yemen and another very helpful fellow in a souvenir shop was from India. The wait staff who served us in every Irish pub we went to had an Irish accent. One tour guide had a strong Arabic accent and another was Spanish, though he was a bit cranky at times.
New York is one of the most famous cities in the world, for the culture, the finance, the icons, and The Great American Dream. It is similar to London in that there is something for everyone and you’ll never get tired of it. When one is tired of London, one is tired of life. That is true of New York even though the city has a different vibe as all cities do.
New York is crowded, it’s expensive, it’s got world class entertainment and museums. It’s a city of many different types of neighbourhoods, each with a different look and feel. The city is very good for keeping the historical aspect alive these days, and the older buildings with the wonderful detailing are maintained wherever possible.
They are still reeling from the tragedy of 911 but, like Londoners in the Blitz, refuse to be beaten down by adversity. They talk about it, they think about it and they remember it. It’s always there in the background in spirit. I think that visiting New York is in itself an act of defiance. You are not letting fear keep you away. Even if you don’t see the Ground Zero site, you’re paying your respects and showing your support just by being in the city.
As I said, we mostly did touristy things, visiting some of the famous and iconic sites, taking tour busses around, doing some walking and taking in a couple of museums and a Broadway show. We didn’t do much shopping and we would love to have had more time to see a few more museums and shows. It’s expensive but there are always ways to save a little money. There aren’t as many free museums which is a shame. That’s one great thing about a city like London, most of the major museums and galleries cost nothing. Transportation is efficient though we didn’t use it other than the taxis.
Would I go again? Yes I’d like to but there are plenty of other places I want to go first. Our next few holidays are already in discussion. A road trip around Scotland this fall, possibly a road trip around Ireland next spring and maybe a road trip to Boston in late summer or early September. We’ve also thought about Iceland as a destination, as well.