Is it possible to experience nostalgia for a place you have never been? Before our first visit to New York City I had often pondered this question. I was raised on New York: Seinfeld, Saturday Night Live, the Sopranos and Friends were cultural behemoths in my youth. The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio and others defined the tastes of my formative music years in the early 2000s. Before walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time, I felt that I had crossed it daily, the setting sun casting a cascading yellow glow over lower Manhattan as I made my way into the city.
It’s strange feeling like you know a place, like you are back home, when you have never in fact been before. That was the feeling that I had the first time we visited New York, and it was the same this time around. New York had somehow managed to exceed my extremely lofty expectations during our first visit in 2015, and our hopes were even higher for the return. It’s a city that calls you back, that leaves you wanting more as soon as you fly out, the bright city lights shining like millions of stars as your plane ascends to the sky.
Due to the constraints of the ‘student budget’, we decided to spend two nights in New York City and see/do what we could in that time. I would highly recommend staying somewhere central. We opted for a hotel at 43rd and 9th, right in Hell’s Kitchen, walkable from Times Square and basically anywhere else in the city. The last time we stayed in SoHo, and as big walkers we definitely burned off our many meals, but it was excessive at times.
We arrived at night, the best time to feel the energy of a big city, particularly the city that never sleeps. It may be kitschy and riddled with tourist traps, but Times Square is a damn impressive spectacle for the uninitiated, and we spent an hour or so wandering around, eating some ramen and heading to bed before our jam packed second day.
The forecast was calling for clear skies in the morning, and we thought that it would be a good opportunity to begin our day by taking in the city from The Top of the Rock. Although a bit of a pricey ticket, it was well worth it. We arrived at 8AM and had the place practically to ourselves. The views over Manhattan are stellar, and as it’s a few blocks north of the Empire State Building, looking downtown you can see the instantly recognizable building, adding an incredible central element to the skyline that is so quintessentially New York.
From The Top of the Rock we made our way slowly downtown. Again, this weird sense of nostalgia kicks in as you pass famous landmarks and streets along the way. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Flatiron Building, Avenue of the Americas, Broadway, Chinatown, even if you haven’t been before, unless you grew up under a rock then you probably feel as though you have.
It was cold outside (not New Brunswick cold, but cold), but we wanted to cross the Brooklyn Bridge by foot and take in the views over Lower Manhattan from DUMBO in Brooklyn. It did not disappoint.
From Brooklyn the cold was beginning to get to us, so we took the train back into Manhattan and visited the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Central Park West. As huge fans of ‘Cosmos’, we were excited to take in the incredible Dark Universe show in the Space Theater narrated by the great Neil deGrasse Tyson. I would recommend this to anyone visiting New York, regardless of your initial interest in astronomy.
What to do in New York at night other than take in a Broadway show? Rather than shelling out lavish amounts for grand spectacles such as Harry Potter or Hamilton, we opted to see a smaller show with an impressive cast and took in Network starring the incredible Bryan Cranston and Tatiana Maslany, both of whom Jaime and I are huge fans of. Seeing them act live was phenomenal, and we even had a chance to say hi to Cranston after the show. I’m not normally a starstruck guy, but meeting Walter White/Hal Wilkerson/Tim Whatley was quite a moment, as you can detect by the gigantic grin on my face.
Our second day was to be devoted to a museum, and with so many world-class museums in New York, it’s difficult to choose just one. If you have only one option, though, I highly recommend the Met. No matter what type of art you are into, the array of options is insane. World-class Egyptian, Roman and Greek art greets you from all angles as you arrive, and with only one day you’ll inevitably have to cut many things out, whether you like it or not. Personal highlights of the museum included the Dutch Masters exhibit, the Epic Abstraction exhibit, and of course the phenomenal array of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork the museum houses.
‘Dutch Masters’ exhibit featuring many pieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer.
Three pieces by Jackson Pollock in the ‘Epic Abstraction’ exhibit.
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art from Renoir, Matisse, Van Gogh and Picasso.
Of course, no trip to New York would be complete without taking in the outstanding culinary scene on offer. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to eat in New York without spending a fortune, you just have to do a bit of homework and get away from Time’s Square (high prices, low quality). A few of our highlight meals were:
- Zucker’s Bagels and Smoked Fish
- Momofuku Noodle Bar
- Joe’s Pizza
- Liberty Bagels Midtown
- Shake Shack (found all over NYC but we ate at the location in the Upper East Side)
We had many other places highlighted, but we simply ran out of time. We chose to fly out of JFK at night so that we could maximize our second day, and we definitely did. We walked close to the equivalent of a full marathon (about 40km) over the two days, and while New York is never cheap, it didn’t cost us an inordinate amount. Alongside Paris and Tokyo, New York is one of my three favourite cities in the world. I cannot recommend it enough for those that haven’t been there, and for those that have, what are you waiting for? Visit again, I know we certainly will.