New York. Where do you even start?
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to have a reason to visit New York. It was a bit of a spur of the moment trip, not entirely planned and at first I was a bit hesitant to spend the money. But then it’s New York. If there’s an opportunity to go, how much of a reason do you need?
I don’t even know where to start. What can you say about a city that has just so much of everything. So much energy, excitement and drive. So many people on a tiny, tiny island (or just next to it if you’re in Brooklyn). So many things to do, see and taste. I’ve been to New York twice and each time I’ve left wondering if the city might be a little too much for me. But while I’m there I’m going to do as much as I can.
I won’t take you through a blow by blow recount of my 5 days in New York. But I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite memories.
Central Park, Strawberry Fields and Horrible Coffee
I’ve always really enjoyed Central Park. As a new Vancouverite, I often found New York’s lack of nature a bit daunting. There are small parks here and there, and there is the waterfront. But 90% of the day you won’t be able to see any natural scenery. Unless you’re in Central Park.
Central Park feels like a tiny escape from the craziness of New York. Sitting just outside the park’s border is traffic and road works and million tuk tuk drivers wanting to take you on a tour. But inside it’s quiet, people are leisurely riding bikes around and it feels strangely isolated for a park that’s only 3.4km2 in area.
The Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park is both dedicated to the life of John Lennon and marks the spot where Yoko Ono scattered his ashes. It’s a really lovely part of the part. A little more crowded with all the tourists taking selfies of themselves on the mosaic. But people’s interest in the memorial helps give the space it’s energy. There were also a number of buskers at the memorial, playing Beatles songs of course, and it was a lovely place to have your morning coffee.
The only sad part about the park was my coffee. We did a quick google for the best coffee in the area and came up with The Sensuous Bean on W. 70th St. At first I was very excited. The cafe had the makings of really great coffee. It’s more of a coffee bean wholesaler that happens to also make coffee and it smelt absolutely amazing. Sadly, however, the coffee tasted nothing like the smell. It was easily the worst latte I’ve had in North America. It was weak, thin, bitter and utterly disappointing. The only thing worse was my friends brew coffee, which was so weak she could have been drinking water. Who would have thought you could get coffee that bad in a city like New York?
It’s so common it’s almost a cliche isn’t it. Everyone who visits New York goes to a musical. It’d be reasonable to think that, in a city of over 8 million people, there are other things to do than line up with the rest of the camera wearing tourists in Times Square for cheap tickets?
The things is though, musicals are amazing.
I saw Matilda and it absolutely blew me away. I hadn’t read the book since I was a kid and if I’m honest, we only chose this musical because Wicked was sold out. But I was always completely drawn in by the atmosphere and emotion of Tim Minchin’s musical. The play was uplifting, the way the book was when I read it as a child. But it also maintained the dry whit and sarcasm that separates it from other children’s stories. It kind of looks down it’s nose at fluffy, disney tales while still conveying to the audience a sense of hope and possibility.
I think the Youtube clip below says it all. The cast in the clip is the cast in the Broadway production. How can you be anything other than impressed by so much talent from such tiny, tiny children!
Food is everywhere in New York. All those Sex and the City jokes about using your oven for storage must be true. I personally find it hard to imagine a life without cooking. It’s one of my favourite past times and an important way I unwind. But I completely understand that if you lived in like New York, it would be easy to forget how to use your oven.
There’s such a strong culture of eating out in New York. Restaurants are everywhere and open all hours. Best of all there’s a million different choices. You can find cheap street food (like enormous slices of pizza) and gourmet restaurants all jumbled together in the same block. And that applies to almost every block in the city.
Below is a picture of my favourite snack of the trip. It was a really cold day and after many tiring hours of shopping, we stopped by the Northside Bakery in Greenpoint. It’s a classic, unpretentious bakery with a wall of breads and a cabinet of baked treats all ready to tempt you off that diet (no carbs doesn’t work anyway!). It also has a hot food cabinet that serves pierogis and these. I don’t know what it’s called but the dough was poatoey and it was filled with meat. The perfect way to warm up on an autumn day.
The first time I heard about the High Line was Gary Hustwit’s documentary Urbanized. I was impressed by the way the project brought together so many important urban design issues: issues around reusing spaces while maintaining their history, around revitalising areas while still trying to preserve their own personality. I’ve wanted to visit the High Line ever since.
The High Line is a public park built on an old, elevated freight line. It’s a stretch of nature that weaves through New York, intermingled with art projects and an often stunning views of the waterfront. It elevation allows you to view the city from a different, slightly removed perspective from which you start to appreciate it’s true enormity and controlled chaos. While the project isn’t criticism free, it has connected with a lot of people and helped start a dialogue about how we want to manage our cities.
It was autumn when I visited so all the seasonal plants were a bit muted and subdued. It would be amazing to visit during the summer. But I think this subdued form, in a way, makes the High Line more authentic. It follows the seasons and allows people to connect to nature within the concrete jungle that is New York.
One difference between this trip and my other visit to New York was this time I stayed in Brooklyn. It’s got all the fun of the island: the bars, the restaurants and tattoo parlours (there’s on on every block). But it’s not a built up and the skyline is lower. You feel like you have a bit more space in Brooklyn, a bit more room to breath. It’s true that I don’t know much about New York, but Brooklyn was the area that I could most image myself living in.
And if you’re looking for a tattoo, I highly recommend Greenpoint Tattoo. I’m no tattoo aficionado, but they’re friendly, helpful and I really like their classic style.
Ahh New York. It’s a city that’s inspired millions; both those who are lucky enough to live there and those lucky enough to visit. And I can’t wait to come back.