Our plane landed in New York just as our stomachs were starting to crave lunch. Our first view of the city was from the air train and I found myself filled with an almost unbearable excitement. I never thought I’d be spending my twentieth birthday in New York City, but here we were. I felt proud that we’d worked hard enough to get here. We’d scrimped and saved, taken the worst shifts and made whatever sacrifice we needed to. Originally we thought we’d be getting a train and staying in a budget hostel, but now we were booking in to a queen room in a Long Island hotel. And we were so excited! By the time we got to the hotel our shoulders were heavy from the weight of our luggage but we had too busy an itinerary to even think about relaxing!
Exiting the subway station in the middle of New York City is nothing short of surreal! You look up and the buildings seem to go for miles, as if they’re laneways reaching to the sky. Speaking of the sky-it was snowing. A lot. I saw more snow in New York than I’d ever seen in my life. In fact, the week before our visit all flights in New York had been cancelled due to the weather. Which makes me very glad that I wasn’t born any earlier! New York feels like a fairytail in Winter. As we entered Central Park I could imagine that a month earlier the place had been shrouded in Christmas lights and I thought how lovely it would be to witness that. Something about the contrast between nature and metropolis was magical as we witnessed the city skyline from the depths of the park. Looking around at the horse drawn carriages and stone bridges you could almost pretend you’d gone back in time, until you look up and see the skyscrapers reaching tall into the cloud brushed sky.
We decided the quintessential New York lunch was street vendor hot dogs in Central Park. After filling our stomachs and playing in the snow we made our way to Times Square. The subway here is a really convenient way of getting around, but if you really want to see the city you should walk! As you walk between destinations you’ll find yourself recognising lots of places along the way. I have to admit I got distracted a few times by the five figure price tags in some of the designer clothing store windows!
It was still bright when we got to Times Square but the heavy winter skies set the perfect back drop for the lights of this famous square. I’ve heard people say you should skip Times Square. They say it’s a tourist trap, not worth visiting, inauthentic etc. I think those people are crazy! I don’t understand this idea that we should avoid the touristy areas when we travel. If some where’s popular it’s for a reason! Sure, the crowds can be annoying and it might not be the best spot in the city, but it’s worth going and seeing what all the fuss is about. I thought there was a great buzz here, between the lights and the music and the excited visitors.
After doing some shopping (how could we visit New York and not buy some new clothes?!) we decided it was dinner time. We had chosen a restaurant recommended by our New York travel guide. Usually we pick whatever place stands out to us, but I’m so glad we followed the guide this one time! We ate at Back Forty West, a funky little bar/restaurant with delicious food combinations and a great selection of drinks. It isn’t particularly cheap, but we thought it was worth it. We paid $130 for two mains, one dessert, two beers and two wines.
The next day we grabbed some bagels for breakfast (again, one of those quintessential New York foods!) and headed to ground zero. I knew it would be sad but I honestly didn’t expect it to be so hard hitting to see these massive holes where two of the tallest buildings in the world once stood. The contrast with the surrounding buildings was striking. I found the memorial to be really well designed and tasteful. What wasn’t so tasteful were the many tourists taking smiling selfies in front of the memorial. It really annoyed me that so many people thought it was appropriate to take these kinds of photos in such a somber place. For this reason we didn’t take any photos while we were here. It’s definitely possible to take respectful photos of the memorial but we just felt it wasn’t necessary, instead we opted to be present and experience the range of emotions that comes with being in such a confronting place.
Next on the day’s itinerary was visiting the Statue of Liberty! We booked our tickets online about a week before hand. If you want to go all the way up to the crown you need to book about a month in advance as there are limited spots. Be sure to book through libertycruises.com as other sites charge extra fees. It’s currently $18 for an adult ticket and $3 extra for to access the crown.
Visiting the Statue of Liberty was another experience that hit me harder than I thought it would. As we pulled up to the island by ferry I thought about the many immigrants we would have arrived in New York by boat and seen the statue from the distance. It was a beacon of hope for so many people, a bittersweet symbol of the new life they were embarking on. Inside the statue’s pedestal the museum displays letters written by immigrants to the statue, and reading them was very touching. Especially as we are both immigrants ourselves, it was easy to relate to some of the things written in the letters; although of course in those times immigrating was much more dangerous and uncertain, with long treacherous boat rides and no real way to research your destination before arriving.
After visiting Liberty Island the ferry takes you to Ellis Island, the old offshore processing centre for immigrants. The museum here is huge! Be sure you give yourself a few hours at least as there’s tonnes of information to take in and lots of great displays. We had to skip a lot of the exhibits as we simply didn’t have the time, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to read about the lives of people on this island. It’s also nice to walk around the grounds here too, it was particularly pretty in the snow!
We spent so much longer on the tour than I expected we would (that always seems to happen to us in museums!) and we found that it was already almost time for dinner! We had reserved a table at La Sirene, a highly rated French restaurant in the SoHo district of Manhattan. There are three things you need to know about La Sirene:
- The food is the kind of sophisticated yet simple deliciousness that can make grown men cry
- The tables are so close together that you may as well be eating with the people next to you
- They don’t take cards, except American Express.
We really enjoyed our meal here but being so close to everyone else didn’t make for the most romantic atmosphere! Some people would call it cozy though, so it really depends on your own preferences.
Day three began with a trip to the Chelsea markets. Honestly, of all the places we visited in New York this was one of my favourites! Its not somewhere that I’d really heard of before, but I’m always on the hunt for good markets so when I read about this one I knew we had to make a trip there. Located in the meat packing district of Manhattan in an old Nabisco factory, this huge indoor market maintains a funky exposed brick factory appearance. There are so many options here, from vegan sushi to gourmet hotdogs, book stores an jewelry stands, you will almost definitely spend more than you had planned to! It’s also where the oreo was invented, and it’s always cool to visit the birth place of good food.
For dinner that night we made our way back to the Chelsea markets for the New York Chilli Fest! We had seen the event advertised when we were there that morning and we got a great deal on last minute tickets. The NYChili fest is an amazing event where food establishments from all over the city produce their own version of the tex-mex favourite, chilli con carne. Our tickets included all you can eat chilli, plus all you can drink beer and cocktails from the New York distilling company all for $40 each! The festival was a great way to spend our last night in New York. We ate and drank with locals, tried more types of chilli than we knew existed (chilli with Fritos, chilli with tripe, chilli with noodles?) and sampled local beers. It doesn’t get much better than that!
After we’d had our fill of the markets we went to the natural history museum. Wow is that place huge! It’s so much bigger than we were expecting it to be! We were there for about four hours and we only got to see a little over half of the museum. I definitely recommend setting aside the best part of a day to visit this museum. We particularly loved the Heilbrunn pathway and the Hayden Sphere. Tickets for the museum cost $22, but this is a suggested price and you can pay anything you wish at a service desk. If you do have the money I think it’s good to support this awesome museum.
We took so long at the museum that we had to run across town to make it to our time slot at the Top of the Rock! We chose the top of the rock over the Empire State building as we wanted to be able to see the empire state building and have it in our skyline photographs. We picked our time slot to be able to catch the sun setting. The views across the city on one side and Central Park on the other were beautiful. Watching this buzzing city from a distance was an almost surreal experience, like taking a step back to observe the world while everyone else is rushing around. I will say that some people were selfish about the whole thing and hogged their space at the wall. Try and remember that everyone else wants to get a picture too!
Our weekend in New York flew by but I really think we put our limited time to good use. We definitely made every day of our visit an adventure!