New York: Are You in Love?
I had a wonderfully memorable taxi ride recently, a taxi ride that could only happen in New York City. After landing at Newark, I got into a taxi that smelt like some awful fish and chip shop. My first breath of air inside the cab almost made me retch. I could feel the smell rapidly permeating my clothes, and I was rather worried that by the time I arrived at the hotel, I would smell just like a very loyal fish and chip shop customer. Not very pleasant to the olfactory palate of others. Rather repellant in fact.
Trying to establish common ground with me, the cab driver claimed to be originally from Manchester. It seemed rather improbable, but I do have the tendency to be rather gullible at times. Perhaps living in New York city for 25 years makes you lose your native Mancunian accent; instead it makes you sound as if you had spent most of your life some place or other in the Caribbean. On a side note, he did admit much later that he was from Haiti.
The cabby was obviously having an off day. Or perhaps it was just the way he was. Or maybe he had just gotten really upset when one of the hundreds of street corner food vendors wanted to charge him TWO dollars for a can ginger ale, as opposed to his fair price of ONE. It was one of the funniest exchanges I have ever witnessed between two strangers.
‘What?! Do you want a Cola?’
‘JIN JOYLE!!!!!!!! You don’t speak English?!’
[I had no idea whatsoever what he was saying either, and I have tried to transcribe it phonetically as accurately as possible]
‘Oh, you mean a ginger ale? Two dollars’
‘TWO DOLLAS?!!!! Are you crazy?! I give you ONE DOLLA’
‘Go f*** yourself. I wake you up, and you charge me TWO DOLLA for that. You are crazy.’
I could not discern what he was shouting at first, but as soon as I did, I was in uncontrollable fits of laughter, which I tried with some difficulty to keep as quiet as possible. His JIN JOYLE sounded nothing like ginger ale.
A few minutes later, approaching a very busy pedestrian crossing…
‘If you hit one of these stupid people, you have to pay a $2,000 fine’, he mumbled rather loudly, with no concern for neither their well-being nor potentially severe injury that could have been inflicted if he accidentally hit them with his car. He went on, ‘Look at those idiots! Not letting me move. Stupid people!’. To emphasize his point, he starting honking his horn. The light was still on green for the pedestrians. I could see that he was itching to hit the GO pedal with as much power as possible, and run over as many people in one go as he could possibly manage.
As we came to a halt next to the hotel, a man, passing by, came over to the taxi and shut the boot, which had just been opened by the taxi driver. The following, rather entertaining conversation ensued:
‘What are you doing?! You want to go to jail?!’, shouted our cabby.
‘Sorry, I was just trying to help…’
‘You are crazy!!!’
A few seconds later was followed by, ‘ You want to go to Battery Park? GO YOURSELF’
It was a cab journey that would stay permanently imprinted in my memory. Too good and worth every single dollar spent on it. Needless to day, the clothes that I was wearing for that hour-long cab drive needed to go straight in the wash.
So what is it that makes New York stand out among other American cities, what is it that makes it so special?
New York is a city that makes you fall in love, either for the first time or all over again, either with itself or with the person that you are with. New York has that certain je n’ai sais quoi that makes you want to go there again and again, or if you are a native New Yorker, to never leave it. A good friend hit the nail on the head when she said, ‘New York is such an optimistic place. It makes you feel good about yourself.’ And it is. Perhaps, because it is such a fun and exuberant place, it places you in exactly such frame of mind while you are visiting, be it either a long weekend or two weeks.
New York is one of-a-kind city; it is a living breathing organism that never sleeps. The exuberant crowds that party until the early hours of the morning, the bars that stay open almost until the break of dawn, and the subway that runs tirelessly every day and night without stopping. You need endless reserves of energy to be able to appreciate this metropolis to its fullest. There is just so much to do and explore, an undeniable fact that leaves no time for sleep. But who needs sleep when you have so much fun with the city? I say, ‘Sleep is for the weak!’
New York is a great place to visit in either spring, summer, autumn, or winter; each season will provide you with a slightly different impression of the city. This year, I visited New York for the first time in the midst of winter, and I absolutely loved it, despite low temperatures accompanied by alternating snow and rain. Somehow the cold does not affect the dynamism of the city like it does in Europe. On the streets of Manhattan pedestrians scurry by, undeterred by the treacherous ice on the pavement. Central Park, which turns into a gorgeous white winter wonderland, is still bustling with people, who take advantage of the opportunity to go cross-country skiing or sledging, or to have an animated snowball fight or two. And another great thing about a winter visit is, of course, a lesser number of tourists! On the first morning after my arrival, as I looked out of the window, the city was waking up under a blanket of fresh snow, occasional fat snowflakes drifting down from the sky. It was completely transformed, almost unrecognizable, from the night before when the air was freezing and the streets bare. It felt like a romantic scene from a Christmas film based in New York; for me Elf, perhaps the best Christmas movie ever made, instantly comes to mind. One of the best and most amusing things to do in the midst of New York winter is ice-skating, and the city offers some great spots to do so. My favourite place is the ice rink at the Rockefeller Centre, but you can also go to Central Park, which unfortunately gets too crowded with children, or the Standard Plaza just by the High Line in the Meatpacking District.
My favourite things to do in New York City, if you have limited time there (it is extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few):
Top of the Rock
Catch the stunning Manhattan skyline with its abundance of iconic skyscrapers from the roof of the Rockefeller Centre, originally opened to the public back in 1933. It is a much better spot to get a bird’s eye view of Manhattan than the more popular observation deck of the Empire State Building: less crowded, the observation deck spans several levels, some open, some behind Plexiglas, offering sweeping views of Central Park and uptown, as well as a stunning view of the Empire Building itself.
If the sun is shining, and the air is pleasantly warm, a wander with a break for a picnic in Central Park is a must! The park is incredibly vast in size – a rectangle of nature in the centre of Manhattan spanning more than 843 acres – therefore, stay assured that you will find your perfect picnic spot. The park was created back in 1860s and 70s, as a destination of all New Yorkers, regardless of colour, class and gender, to get away from the chaos of city life and to immerse themselves in an oasis of serenity amidst the bustling metropolis. There is an incredible amount to explore in the park: a multitude of winding paths, lakes, forests, most notably the Ramble, a wildlife centre, Loeb boathouse, Bethesda fountain. Before entering the park, pick up an assortment of delicious food and a nice bottle of wine from Zabar’s, a gourmet food emporium on the Upper West Side.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Perhaps, the best and foremost museum of modern and contemporary art in the world. There is so much to see, one visit will never be sufficient! If you are remotely interested in art, you would need an entire day to explore the five floors of this vast art paradise. The museum is home to some of the most important and innovative works of art from late 19th and 20th centuries, and the whole collection encompasses more than 100,000 pieces. Here, you will find Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, and countless masterpieces by other blue-chip artists, such as Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne and Marcel DuChamp, as well as iconic works by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
This epicurean paradise, located amidst the shops in Chelsea , is a perfect place to have a feast for a lunch followed by the walk along the High Line to work off some of those calories. Here, you will find copious food vendors, purveying all sorts of delicious goods. When you first walk through this amazing food hall, it might seem a little overwhelming.
At the Lobster Place, a seafood lover’s paradise that can make you feel uncharacteristically gluttonous, you can start by sampling different types of American and Canadian oysters, as well as scallops and sea urchin at the raw bar, followed by a whole, fresh and meaty Maine lobster. These delicious lobsters come in varying sizes, and you can pick one depending on your hunger level; in my mind the bigger, the better! There is also an abundant choice of delicious seafood “ready meals” to take away. At Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, you can get a mouth-watering free-range roast chicken accompanied by sinfully good mac’n’cheese, or a scrumptious house-made hot dog. This shop is proud to handpick best quality, sustainable meats, including beef, pork, lamb and poultry. At the latest outpost of Ninth Street Espresso, you can drink one of the best coffees in the city, be that either an espresso, a mocha, or a latte. And pop into the Chelsea Wine Vault for an extensive selection of wines, including those made from grapes grown in NY state, or for a quick session in wine tasting.
Exploring the city on foot
Simply walking through various parts of New York is perhaps the best way to see the city. It can be tiring, and yet completely worth it if you want to get well acquainted with different neighbourhoods that are different from each other as chalk and cheese. My favourite neighbourhoods to explore on foot are West Village, Greenwich Village, SoHo and TriBeCa.
Wandering around West Village and Greenwich Village, occasionally getting lost in the quieter, smaller streets can be a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Both are charming residential Manhattan neighbourhoods, completely different from bustling, noisy Midtown. There are plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you entertained if you get a little bored with just walking. Here you will come across Carrie Bradshaw’s West Village apartment (64 Perry Street), which was recently up for sale for $9million, and the façade of the Friends apartment block in Greenwich Village (90 Bedford Street). You can stop for a bite of a perfect example of New York style pizza at Joe’s Pizza, a very famous and much loved pizzeria in Manhattan. SoHo (“SOuth of HOuston street”), on the other hand, is a picturesque and trendy neighbourhood with stunning cast iron architecture and streets cobbled with Belgian blocks, full of cool designer boutiques and restaurants.