Everything's out to impress
Eleanor Currier didn't want to go to New York but after 85 hours in the city that (mostly) never sleeps, she's sold.
Between you and me, I’ve never wanted to go to New York. It’s never been on my bucket list, never interested me. Over hyped, over sold and over the top: the epitome of American braggadocio and excess. I was told repeatedly how much I’d love it, the city that never sleeps, how you could do anything at any time - make it there, make it anywhere. Oh puleeze. Just stop. Over it before I’d even got there.
I’d been invited to a wedding in Brooklyn...
...and had allocated a whopping 3.5 days (including the wedding and jetlag recovery) to ‘do’ the 58 square km (22¼ square mile) island of Manhattan, one of the five boroughs that make up New York City (NYC).
5.30am on Thursday morning my plane arrived, and the city that never sleeps was slumbering. However, after catching the Subway into Times Square, by 6am it was most definitely awake with workers crowding onto the train carriage, to make the journey to NYC to start their day.
Wanting to stay somewhere central, the price of accommodation around Times Square was pearl-clutchingly high. All the major hotel chains of the world were there, with the 5+ star accommodation well out of my price range. I ended up Airbnb-ing it, which, while decidedly cheaper, meant the luxury level was commensurate with the price. However, I only had 3.5 days so wouldn’t be there much!
As anticipated, New York didn’t get the memo about subtlety
Everything is out to impress, from the people, to the parks, to the architecture. There are skyscrapers everywhere, all jostling to claim as much upwards space as possible above the sidewalk. They loom large, and reflections of light and steel bounce back off each other turning the streets into a proud hall of mirrors, each trying to impose their own image and their shadows onto one another.
The Flatiron Building (AKA 'that triangle one') has always intrigued me. A towering, ornate stone construction, its distinctive flat-iron shape is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and it has appeared in countless films and television shows. It completely hypnotised me and I made two trips to it to ensure the building did indeed actually look like that. It stands imperiously at the intersection of Broadway and 5th Avenue, the traffic slips either side of it on the incessant journey up or downtown.
The Guggenheim Museum, on 5th Avenue is a work of creative genius itself and staggeringly impressive, whether or not you venture inside to see the artwork. Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘inverted ziggurat’ built to house the collection opened in 1959 and rather than having a series of connecting rooms as most museums do, the internal spiral ramp circles upwards to the domed skylight, illuminating the masterpieces on its walls and allowing visitors to see the artwork simultaneously from multiple vantage points. It was by far the most beautiful piece of artwork I saw (with apologies to Picasso, Kandinsky, Pollock et al).
The Brooklyn Bridge, proudly called the 6th Wonder of the World by the locals, is worthy of the moniker. Built in 1883, there is no mistaking those high arches and stone slabs that descend into the water of the East River - you know exactly where you are. Six lanes of traffic use it to cross between Brooklyn and Manhattan, while the pedestrian footbridge is thronged with tourists and cyclists all traversing this iconic structure.
NYC's iconic sights: the Guggenheim, Flatiron Building, Fearless Girl and Brooklyn Bridge.
Just when you think that Manhattan is solely dedicated to concrete edifices, your assumptions are proved entirely wrong
The name ‘Central Park’ doesn’t do justice to this enormous (843 acres/341 ha) rectangle of calm. It’s filled with great lawns and ancient trees, ponds, bridges, an enormous reservoir, bike and running tracks, boating lakes, streams, sculptures, fountains, dragonflies and squirrels. It is a beautiful, lush wonderland: a contradiction to the exclusive Manhattan property bordering it, and the high rises, neon lights and traffic a short distance away. I was back in one of the great parks of London with the only difference being the vast quantities of residents who were on show!
Yes, New Yorkers look good! Sculpted and waxed, coiffed and cultured. Small tops, short skirts, bronzed skin and glossy hair. They look immaculate and here it is perfectly natural to show the results of hours in the gym in outfits where more skin is shown than covered. Tourists looked hot, sweaty and positively Victorian in their attire, while the locals’ tans glowed, their teeth shone white and their eyes glistened with dewy lustre. The dedication to their appearance was obvious and enviable - kale smoothies, yoga and HIIT classes, haircuts-every-5-weeks…..the price of living in NYC - to see and be seen. I could feel the conversion coming on … and it was wonderful.
This is a place where everything you’ve known all your life, actually exists
Around every corner I gaped at what I saw – not for its strange, reality changing perspective, but for the opposite – the familiar, come to life.
There was the machismo of the Charging Bull and the defiant Fearless Girl standing her ground, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Macy's. Traffic lights hung from wires, coffee and bagel street vendors sold their wares on each corner and metal fire escapes zig-zagged up and down the side of buildings, crying out for a chase scene. As the evening draws in, the steam venting from underground is revealed. Chinatown bustles with locals and tourists jostling for sidewalk space as plastic-lined cardboard boxes extend out from shops, selling a microcosm of flora and fauna for consumption and decoration - sometimes both. In Little Italy the restaurants spread out onto the sidewalk, and each maître d’ tries to entice you in, promising pasta and prosciutto unlike any you’ve ever experienced before.
To my delight and confusion, New York wasn’t at all what I was expecting - and yet it was exactly so. Completely over the top, it is packed with self-aggrandising evidence of why it is so pervasive in the world’s culture, currencies and consciousness. And yet it was wonderful - familiar yet unknown, as anticipated and yet full of surprises, frenetic and calm all crammed together in a single island.
Despite myself, I am sold. I loved it. Go.
New York's typical apartments, Central Park, pigeons at Central Park (there's no escaping them) and this lady needs no introduction.
- While walking is a great way to see the city, the blocks are enormous, full of tourists and most have traffic lights so take much longer to walk than anticipated. Take the Subway between destinations, as they’re quick and clean and like any major city, there’s plenty of space outside of rush hour!
- Hop on a tour bus - they leave from all over the island and you can take up/downtown tours, depending on interest. Your ticket will include a ferry ride covering the Hudson and East Rivers, Brooklyn Bridge and of course the Statue of Liberty.
- The only time the city actually rests is early Sunday morning. Prior to my flight out, I headed to the Rockefeller Center to tick the get-a-photo-from-somewhere-high box. I arrived at 7.35am and was first in the queue for the opening at 8am. By 7.55am there were about 100 tourists queuing.
Contributor: Eleanor Currier with some photos by Kevin Nansett
Updated: 22 October 2017