That's why I always urge the newcomer to surrender to the city's magic. Forget the irritations and the occasional rudeness; they bother New Yorkers too. Instead, go down to the North River and the benches that run along the west side of Battery Park City. Watch the tides or the blocks of ice in winter; they have existed since the time when the island was empty of man. Gaze at the boats. Look across the water at the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, the place to which so many of the New York tribe came in order to truly live.
Learn the tale of our tribe, because it's your tribe too, no matter where you were born. Listen to its music and its legends. Gaze at its ruins and monuments. Walk its sidewalks and run fingers upon the stone and bricks and steel of our right-angled streets. Breathe the air of the river breeze."
- Pete Hamill, Downtown: My Manhattan
I arrived in New York on a rainy Sunday evening. The ride from the airport to my hotel was a swift one as the driver was very experienced in driving to the conditions. I gazed out of the window as the first views of the New York skyline came into view, and tried to take some amateur photos with my Iphone through the glass and the rain.
I was a stranger, yet I felt this sense of familiarity, probably because the city had been immortalised so many times in books and movies. There were the yellow cabs, and the skyscrapers and the noise, oh my, the noise of the traffic, the car horns, the police sirens and the rain....
I had made it. I was in New York City!
I checked into the hotel, and I realised I was only half a block from Times Square. It was 10pm and I wanted to get out and explore, so I walked the short distance to the corner, and there it was.....Times Square, in all it's glory.
On a rainy Sunday evening, it was a visual feast which was almost overwhelming in comparison to the country scene which I see every day! Tourists and street performers, and food on every corner. I stood in the one place and looked up and I'm sure my mouth was open for some time, just in awe of the lights and colours of the billboards, and the brightness of everything.
It was exactly how I had pictured it.
I had found The Crossroads of the World!
I had five days to see as much of New York as I could, so on Monday morning, I armed myself with various maps and brochures and hit the "sidewalk"! I jumped on a grayline double decker bus and did my first tour of downtown. These hop on/hop off tours explore the various loops of New York - downtown, uptown, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Brooklyn by Night.
At every moment, there was something to see. Sitting on the top of the double decker bus allowed for a bird's eye view of the streetscape, and I found myself drinking in every sight, be it the facade of an unusual building, or the intricate details on the many fire escapes that I saw.
There is so much to see and do in New York, and my most profound experiences have come to me in retrospect, not realising at the time how significant they were, and what they would represent. I remember one instance where I'd decided to do a night tour which took in the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn. We had the best tour guide, and the only one to play music through our headphones to get the party started and make the other tour groups jealous as we passed them!
The rule was that when the bus was moving, there was no standing up, to prevent bloodied heads from street signs, traffic lights or low hanging trees! It was just on dusk as the tour began so by the time we arrived at the Manhattan Bridge, the city was bathed in the most amazing glow and the lights reflected in the water of the East River.
As we crossed the bridge, our super cool tour guide played this song, and said "You have the best photo opportunity right in front of you. Stand up, take your pics, and enjoy the experience".
All of my thoughts, and reflection and daydreams of New York culminated in that one instant.
Standing on the top deck of a bus travelling over the Manhattan Bridge, with Alicia Keys' chorus pumping through my headphones and the New York wind in my hair, I promised myself that I would never forget this moment.
If I can any offer advice to first time visitors, it would be this:-
See New York with a blank canvas. Paint your own picture of colours and lights and memories. The experience will be different for everyone, what you love may not be someone elses favourite thing.
Seek out the random, incidental wonderful things that New York has to offer. There is just no place like it. I was captivated and inspired, and even now I feel as though I've only peeled away the top layer of the city with so much left to explore.
Have you been to New York? I'd love to hear your stories.....