September 18, 2013

New York City

"The wanderer in Manhattan must go forth with a certain innocence, because New York is best seen with innocent eyes. It doesn't matter if you are younger or old. Reading our rich history makes the experience more layered, but it is not a substitute for walking the streets themselves. For old-timer or newcomer, it is essential to absorb the city as it is now in order to shape your own nostalgias. 

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.

 It was very surreal to see the Empire State Building right there, and the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge oh my god it's real! I did seven of these bus tours in all, using the convenience of hop on/hop off to stop at museums, and buildings and places of interest, always knowing I'd have a way of getting back "home".

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.....


Vicki Thorburn said...

Amazing pics and well written story, Michelle! I have a letter from my late mum when she was in New York staying at the YWCA. She described how they were going to build these twin towers that would house 3000 office workers! She was there in the early 70's and the twin towers were the talk of New York.....and she watched them come down on 9/11.I also have a book of The Big Apple from that time.You might be interested to see it some time!

fromsophiesview said...

You are so right, experience the city as a blank canvas and paint and keep painting. Loved your angle of presenting your trip, drew me right in, so well done. Next time we go we'll do the "hop on/hop off" routine as well. Walking everywhere and a couple cabs , just for the roller coaster ride was all be attempted, oh yeah a subway ride too! We experiences New Year's Eve there in 1987/88, so cold and so many people. Unreal, it was! Again thanks for this and YES you WILL return because the 1st layer has been lifted....oh such excitement, I tell you !!

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Excellent advice.
When I was hired to cover NYC I was so excited. Like you it was a blank canvas. I loved discovery the little neighborhoods. The different foods and flavors of this city take a long time to enjoy. And enjoy I did.
So glad you did as well!!
This is my 2nd favorite city in the US after Chicago. So glad you got to view both.

A Farmer's Wife said...

Having trouble with the comment form so apologies if you have this twice.

My brother-in-law and his wife live in Manhattan. Earlier this year we took our two farm kids and rented an apartment in the building next to my brother-in-law for a few weeks. It was amazing. The kids loved it and are still talking about it often.

For the first few days we had to stop the kids walking into things as they were so busy looking up.

River said...

It all looks so fabulous! I've never been to New York and probably never will, so I'm glad to see great photos here from you. I like the idea of hop on hop off bus tours, it's a good way to see a city when you don't have much time.

jeanie said...

Hey there - thank you for taking us on "tour".

I hope everything is going okay for you?

Carly Findlay said...

Love this post, love these photos :) so glad you enjoyed yourself!
I went last year and I wanted to love it but I only liked it - it was far too hot. But I am going next year, in April, and cannot wait! It will be a blank canvas.

Denyse Whelan. said...

Michelle, thank you so much! You gave me such a great look at the city that never sleeps. Your words and pictures were so good! What a magical account. D x

Mimsie said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I am so glad I saw New York through your eyes as you explained it all so well. My granddaughter and her husband were in New York for Christmas several years ago and she was delighted that on Christmas morning she pulled up the blind to find that it had begun to snow. They too loved that wonderful city (even though he had his wallet stolen it didn't detract from their happy memories. The bank were find so all was well in the end). Thank you again for the story and those wonderful pictures you took on your hop on hop off tours.

Farmers Wifey said...

Thank you for sharing my most perfect memories xo

Unknown said...

Wow, your pictures are amazing Michelle. I have never had the travel bug, and it's only now that I am starting to get interested in seeing other parts of the world. One day I'll see New York and we can compare stories then. :-)