New York City
NYC: Taking a little bite out of the big apple.
New York, the city that doesn’t sleep. Home to 8 million people. The most cosmopolitan city in the world. 800 Languages spoken. I heard at least 138 of them. A city that operates at only one pace, flat out. If you close your eyes it sounds like you are at the sea. There is a constant buzz of traffic, air conditioners and people. To not look like a tourist you need to walk fast, speak loudly and never look up at the towering buildings. I got asked for directions several times, so I can only imagine how often it happens to the locals, who are outnumbered 4 to 1 by tourists.
I arrived late at night at my less than pleasant accommodation on 106th Street. I booked it as it borders onto Central Park. I had aspirations of morning runs and afternoon strolls. Needless to say this hardly actualised as there is always so much to do in The Big Apple. Having done all the tourists stuff on a previous visit, I just focused on enjoying the ambiance of the city. It truly is a city that doesn’t sleep and I never made it to bed before 2:30 in almost 2 weeks of traveling.
One of the many advantages of being South African is that we live with a natural sense of dread and are therefore tuned in constantly to possible dangers. For this reason I have felt safe travelling anywhere in the world. From Mexico City, Hanoi to the Bronx late at night. South Africans expect danger and so know when not to walk down a dark alley. We don’t leave valuables lying around or do anything obviously life threatening that can be general expected from the very different 1st world tourists. I bet that if a study was done about the vulnerability of tourists, Canadians would be at the top of the list (Yes Rob, no South African would trust the water in India) and South Africans would be near to the bottom.
So I didn’t mind being in NYC by myself and I enjoyed wondering the endless streets day and night. I spent hours sitting in Time Square watching the crowds (http://www.earthcam.com/usa/newyork/timessquare/). I explored the stores on 5th Avenue, like the new Apple store (http://www.apple.com/retail/fifthavenue/ ) open 24/7/365. I ate great local food like cream cheese bagels for breakfast and tons of pizza and strawberry/kiwi Snapple.
China town is always interesting and worth a visit. (http://www.explorechinatown.com/). As one would expect, the array of smells assault ones senses. Strange dead animals are always on sale along the street, next to watch and handbag stalls. I ate truly great street food in China Town and decided to just pretend it was chicken.
One evening I took myself off to Cirque Du Soleil which was incredible (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/zarkana/default.aspx). It was at the legendary Radio City Music Hall situated in Rockerfeller Center (http://www.radiocity.com/). This is the oldest theatre in NYC. It seats 6 000 people and has 4 levels of seating. The stage had been specifically designed for the Cirque Du Soleil show, complete with HD digital screens. It was a real wow experience. (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/zarkana/default.aspx)
I spent a day at Woodbury Commons (http://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlets/outlet.asp?id=7) which was an hours bus ride out the city (it took 2.5 hours back so best to plan around the traffic). Woodbury Commons is a 500 designer store outlet mall open till 9pm daily. My feet swelled and my credit card exploded somewhere between the Gucci and Pringle store. It is brand paradise, if that is your thing. After a full day of carrying multiple packets I eventually headed back to the city for a nap… before heading out again. The city felt a lot safer and friendlier than what I recalled from my visit 10 years earlier. Locals are friendly, greeting you randomly in the street and are happy to tell you if they like your dress. With it being a 24 hour city the subway is still packed at 3am and even walking the streets at this time I generally felt quite safe enough.
I visited the advertising agency (where I worked at the time in SA) Ogilvy New York and was given a tour of the buildings’ 11 floors. About 2 000 people work across disciplines in this bustling creative hub. The view of the city from the Ogilvy roof is amazing and the open plan offices are filled with good looking, stylish people from around the globe.
Rob my favourite Canadian, flew down to visit me as a surprise. After a tear filled and dramatic reuniting in Central park we spent 2 days together. We had dinner at a lovely French restaurant. It was run by the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain who I’d never heard of but was assured was quite important. (http://leshalles.net/brasserie/). We hiked across Brooklyn Bridge at dusk and walked the streets debating life at length. We visited 52nd and 10th Ave to see where Ryan and I had lived when we’d spent 3 months in NYC in 2003. Lilly’s gift store which was below our building was now a pet store but the mountainous stairs up to our apartment remained. Amazing how even though things change, they stay the same. After meeting for ‘kawfee’ and cream cheese bagels in the park it was time to part ways. Like a scene from a James Blunt music video we said a dramatic farewell on the subway, knowing our paths would cross again.
Needing to be cheered up I visited a friend I’d worked with at Ogilvy Johannesburg. Mark had moved to NYC a few months before and so I visited him, in a far calmer and quieter Brooklyn. We had a fun evening exploring the local bars and listening to the locals shout out their impolite commentary about the Olympic opening ceremony. We played a typically American arcade game, where we had rifles and shot deer. While on route to a house party we passed a crime scene where someone had been shot. We ended up on a rooftop overlooking NYC. It was a long night and the perfect end to the trip. I arrived back in Manhattan just in time to pack my bags and head straight to the airport.
I went from a glorious 36 degrees to a chilly 6 degrees on arrival in SA but there is no place in the world like home!