25.09.22 — Travel

New York with Megan

After saying our goodbyes and leaving the beautiful state of Vermont, Megan and I were then on a plane and on our way to our next destination: New York City! We arrived at JFK, waited an age for our bags, and eventually headed for the metro to take us into the centre of the Big Apple. On there, we observed some of NYC’s famed characters: it really is a melting pot for all sorts of people.

I was then surprised to be greeted by greenery as we climbed the steps out of the metro station that was nearest to the hotel we were staying. I knew that we were getting off at Columbus Circle on the corner of Central Park, but being greeted by trees instead of skyscrapers felt rather odd for New York. We then turned to face the classic sight of huge glass buildings and headed into the grid of streets to search for our hotel.

Our room was lovely, with views over the Lincoln Centre and the square in front of it, formed by the intersection of Broadway with Columbus Avenue. Now in the city, I began to wonder how I’d feel about being back, after my last visit nearly eight years ago left me admittedly nonplussed.

Once unpacked, we left the hotel in earnest as we were dying for something to eat and I’d decided that I really wanted to visit Katz’s Deli, a spot in the south of Manhattan which is famous for it’s huge pastrami sandwiches. I’d had one of these New York staples at some other random place last time I was in the city but I’d found it a bit lacklustre, so I was determined to try the real deal.

We arrived tired and very hungry, but we got chatting to some of the locals who said they came quite often and told us what we should order for the proper Katz’s experience. Once we’d then figured out how the ordering system worked, we got chatting to the server who let us try some of the famed pastrami. It was absolutely delicious and melt-in-the-mouth, so I proceeded to order the reuben sandwich as advised while Megan went to grab some chips and beer.

The sandwich was then as delicious as it was huge – and thank goodness that it was a decent size seeing as it had cost us $26! We didn’t really touch the chips as just half the sandwich each was more than enough to see us through until the evening. The craft beer was surprisingly good and the atmosphere in this New York institution was abuzz with people from all walks of live convening to chow down on Katz’s rye creations.

Reinvigorated, we then wandered towards the Brooklyn Bridge where we’d decided to watch the sunset. The walk took us past some very cool sights, lovely street art, and through some of New York’s iconic neighbourhoods such as Chinatown and Little Italy.

The streets of these neighbourhoods were buzzing with activity, from restaurant terraces to ambulant traders selling and moving their goods around. The sun was already low in the sky and golden hour was in full swing, so the walk over to the bridge was made all the more beautiful.

We arrived at the Brooklyn Bridge rather tired, but we headed out over the span regardless to take plenty of photos and enjoy the evening colours as the sun set over Manhattan. The weather made a decent change from the last time I was in New York and headed over the Brooklyn Bridge with the girls from my degree – that time we got stuck in a blizzard!

It was lovely to see the bridge at this time of day.

Upon arriving at the halfway point over the bridge, we decided that we’d go no further as our feet were killing us. We took refuge on a free bench to chat and watch the sky change colours over the Manhattan Bridge just across the way. The peace didn’t last long though, as a group of school kids descended on our spot and leant over the railing shouting “honk your horn” to the passing cars. It was quite funny, but we eventually grew weary of them and headed back on to Manhattan and the metro.

It was also great to be up there without being stuck in a blizzard…

Our next stop was Washington Square Park, a little park that was packed full of all sorts of characters, including a guy sat across from us who had some chill music playing. A police officer then came over and told him to turn it off, which made us as well as him quite cross as we were enjoying the relaxing vibes. We got chatting to the guy and agreed that there were more scandalous issues than some quite music to be dealt with in the park…

We then headed a few streets down and to the Comedy Cellar, where Megan wanted to grab tickets to see a comedy show. The standby line was huge, so we got chatting to a girl who was flying for the “Grisly Pear” just a block away. We decided to head there and have a drink as we were wilting quite badly after a busy afternoon.

The fun cocktails soon had us revived and in the mood for some comedy, so we bought tickets to the stand up show. I’d no idea what to expect as I’d never been to a stand up gig like this and I’d learned that American humour can be a bit odd, but I was excited as we headed into the little back room and the show began.

The show was absolutely hilarious, even if there were very few people in the audience. I couldn’t believe the number and variety of acts that got up on stage, which ranged from some great pieces to some that absolutely bombed. Those who were funny were hilarious, and it was then an interesting experience to see those who didn’t do so well and how they pushed on through their set. It really was a great new experience.

Megan and I left the comedy club pretty tipsy and hyped up, upon which we stumbled across a pizza place just next door. We grabbed two huge slices and sat on the terrace to eat them and take in the buzzing atmosphere of the street. From there we wound up sneaking into a bar so that I could go to the toilet, after which we headed down to the metro to be greeted by some unwelcome companions: rats! We took some photos of them, arrived (eventually) at our destination, grabbed some sweets from a 24h pharmacy next to the hotel, and headed to bed for the night.

What a wild first day in New York City!

The next day I awoke with a somewhat heavy head, which Megan fixed straight away as she’d been out and grabbed some bagels and cream cheese. They were probably the best bagels I’ve ever had, they were delicious and chewy and the cream cheese was super rich. We then headed up to one of the hotel’s best features, a rooftop pool with views over Broadway. The pool was small but a quick dip in its cool water fixed my headache in a flash.

Heading down to Central Park, we then hired a couple of bikes and set off for the day’s first activity, a cycle around the iconic park. After they’d taken my driving license hostage as a guarantee, the two of us joined the flow of cyclists doing the same and headed for our fist stop: the reservoir.

I wasn’t too fussed about visiting a reservoir: there’s plenty of them in my hometown back in the UK. It was only after we’d tied our bikes to a lamppost and reached the water’s edge that I understood what all the fuss was about. The clear space provided by the reservoir made for some impressive views over Manhattan and the reflections over the water were the cherry on the cake.

After this stop, we carried on to the upper end of the park. A huge drop past a construction site was a lot of fun, but what goes down must come back up. This incline took place on the aptly named “Great Hill”, and it nearly killed me off. I powered on, though, and we eventually made it back to the bike hire place and grabbed some huge milkshake floats to give us the energy to power on.

From there, we grabbed the metro down to Times Square, where we’d a plan in mind. I wasn’t too bothered about visiting the busy and pickpocket-ridden square, but we were on a mission to try and bag some cheap tickets to watch a musical on Broadway. We joined the long queue which had already formed, where we were told the wait would be around 45 minutes.

It was hot and we were tired and sweaty from our bike ride, but we persevered, motivated by the possibility of getting our hands on tickets to see the musical that we’d both agreed we wanted to see: Moulin Rouge. The queue inched on slowly but surely, and before we knew it we were at the ticket booths.

The rest is history as we managed to get hold of two tickets to watch Moulin Rouge on Broadway that evening. The tickers were cheaper but not exactly cheap at $115 each, but we realised it had been well worth it as we checked where we’d be sat: two rows from the front and just off to the right! We were both amazed and emotional but also hungry, so we grabbed a sandwich from a sketchy looking deli after chatting about our luck and pumping ourselves up.

Back at the hotel, we took our sandwich up to the rooftop pool, where we enjoyed our surprisingly tasty late lunch and had another quick dip in the cool water. We’d to then head to our room and shower and prepare for our evening: time was running out!

We grabbed a taxi down to the theatre, partly because we wanted to live the experience, partly because we didn’t want to ruin our nice outfits, and partly because we were running out of time! We arrived with just enough time to grab a gin and tonic and some water before the show began, after which we headed inside to the theatre proper.

I was absolutely awestruck upon entering the space. Everything was lit up in red and punctuated with little white lights and the scenery had a depth and detail to it that I’d never seen before. After taking some photos, we found our seats and the show began.

The show was absolutely spectacular. The lighting, the music, the costumes, the acting, the singing, the pyrotechnics, the story: it was all perfect. The sets and how they moved were breathtaking. It was an assault on the senses in all the best ways.

At the intermission there was a scramble for the toilet, so I headed off to buy another gin and tonic. I decided to treat myself to my gin of choice, Hendricks, which was a big mistake: it was $34 for the bloody thing!

The second act was then even better than the first. I cried my eyes out during the emotional moments as the story drew to its conclusion and then was completely overwhelmed by the finale, which was a crazy medley of music and dancing and singing and confetti.

Once it was all over and we’d taken some more photos in the confetti-covered theatre, we headed outside into the crisp evening air and began to look for something to eat. We were still absolutely buzzing and the crowds outside the theatre waiting for the actors to leave were wild, but we powered through them and eventually grabbed some grub in a greasy spoon along the way.

I over-faced myself by ordering fried chicken with mac and cheese and pickle coleslaw: I’d clearly forgotten that portion sizes in the US are huge. Megan knew what was up and just grabbed some sides. It was very delicious, however, even if I am still doubtful about the merits of mac and cheese…

We then headed back to the hotel on foot, passing by the Lincoln Centre and a silent disco that they were holding on the square outside the entrance to this iconic location. We took a few photos but were too exhausted to join in the boogying, so headed back up to our room and straight to bed.

It had been another absolutely crazy day in the Big Apple, one in which one of my dreams of seeing a musical on Broadway had finally been realised. We weren’t doing too bad at all!

The next day began quite late as I’d slept in once again. Megan had been out and grabbed some treats from a farmer’s market that she’d stumbled upon, so we shared some carrot cake for breakfast. I wasn’t complaining!

We then went for a walk through Central Park, where we saw some of the sights that we’d missed the day before doing our bike ride. We sat for a while to enjoy the music provided by a violinist, after which we headed down to the pond which was as busy with tourists as it was with turtles who didn’t seem to mind getting very close to the onlookers.

Leaving the other end of the park, we headed to our first museum for the day: the Neue Galerie. Megan wanted to see a Gustav Klimt piece, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, so we headed in and straight to this famous painting. I was fascinated to learn of the history of the piece, but also discovered the works of Egon Schiele, another expressionist painter who’d been mentored by Kilmt.

From the Neue Galerie we crossed the road and headed in to the behemoth of a museum that is The Met. It was as huge and overwhelming as I’d been warned about, so we decided to follow the suggested route and see some of the highlights. I was keen on catching a glimpse of the Temple of Dendur, a sister temple to the Temple of Debod here in Madrid which was also moved stone by stone from Nubia in Egypt.

It was awesome to see another of Nubia’s temples in such a cool space.

We spent a while admiring the temple, which is showcased in a striking huge room within the museum. I was torn by this approach to preserving the ancient structure when compared to the temple in Madrid. In New York it is kept in an air conditioned room and in perfect condition, whereas in Madrid it has been left open to the elements – but on the flip side, Madrid’s temple is fully accessible and open to all, whilst New York’s is kept behind acrylic screens and a paywall.

Other exhibits I enjoyed from the museum were the reja del coro (the choir wall) from the Valladolid Cathedral here in Spain, a diamond encrusted snuff box, and a Faberge bunch of flowers. We also had a good snoop around some recreations of rooms from aristocratic houses and palaces from Europe before heading outside for some lunch.

Lunch took the form of a greasy mess from a food truck just outside the entrance to the museum. As museums and New York itself are great at wearing people out, I wasn’t surprised when Megan said that she didn’t fancy going back inside and was going to head down to a shop she wanted to visit. We parted ways for the afternoon and I headed back inside the enormous museum to see what else I could see.

I began my solo visit with a look around Chroma, an interesting exhibition which sought to reveal the original bright colours of much Roman and Greek sculpture and architecture which we usually only see in plain stone and marble. I then headed off to a photography exhibition featuring the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, after which I finally tired myself out poring over some technical drawings and headed out of the museum myself.

Even the architecture of The Met was like an exhibit in and of itself.

From there, I hopped on a bus down to the 5th Avenue Apple Store and its famous glass cube. Since my last visit, the glass stairs and lift had been replaced with steel and mirrored counterparts, and the surprisingly vast space downstairs had been completely remodelled with trees and new skylights which let in an impressive amount of natural light.

I didn’t see anything else of interest, so I grabbed another bus and carried on southwards to the next stop on my solo journey: Grand Central Terminal. Entering the famous train station, I found that I was much more moved than I thought I would by the cavernous concourse and its high ceiling.

Now pretty tired myself, I headed out of the terminal and hopped not he metro back to the hotel, upon which I discovered the source of an annoying music box rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel” that we’d been hearing on repeat from the hotel room: an ice cream van parked just outside the Lincoln Centre.

Reunited with Megan back in the hotel room, the two of us had quite a substantial nap which left us feeling a bit groggy. I took some photos from the window of the room before the two of us headed up to the roof, where I gave my sister Ellie a ring to wish her a happy birthday. It was quite the video call: she was back at home having drinks with Johann and my parents, and I was showing them the sunset over the skyscrapers of Manhattan from our vantage point over the city. It was lovely.

It was awesome to see the sunset and watch the world go by from the top of our hotel.

From there, we showered and headed out to 9th Avenue just by the hotel to grab a drink before something to eat. We wound up sat in a lovely little Italian restaurant down a side street, where I had one of the most delicious cocktails I’ve ever tried. Animated by the lovely drinks, we ordered some food after a woman next to us at the bar recommended some dishes.

This cocktail had gin and many other excellent but alas unknown things in it.

The food was lovely and we were hugging a great time, but we decided to end the night there and head back to the hotel as we were pretty tired. On the way back we did nip into another 24h pharmacy to pick up a few more snacks, which came in handy as we watched a couple of episodes of Derry Girls in bed as we were kept awake thanks to our long nap just a few hours earlier.

It wouldn’t be New York City without a random pipe in the street emitting steam.

The next day we woke up somewhat late and neither of us rushed out of bed, as our only plan together was to go out for brunch. For this, we headed a few streets up Broadway from the hotel and to a local diner that Megan had found by doing a bit of research. We had a lovely chat over breakfast, where I was thankful to finally be served a cup of half decent coffee after a lot of dodgy brews since I’d arrived in the US.

We then headed back to the hotel and I rested for a bit whilst Megan packed her suitcase. I then accompanied her down to the local metro station as it was time for us to say our goodbyes. After three weeks together in Canada, Vermont, and now New York City, we were parting ways. Megan was now to fly back to Burlington to begin work the next day and I was to have one more day alone in the Big Apple before heading on to my next and final destination – but all of that shall be revealed in due course.

For now, I was sad to see Megan head down the stairs and on to the metro back to the airport, but I was also excited to see what I’d do with 24 hours alone in the huge city that is New York…