New York 2006

Day 1   –   December 26th 2006

This was a long time coming. I had dreamt of going to New York since I was little. Immortalised by film and television, I had a clear picture in my head of what I hoped it would be like.

I travelled to NYC on Boxing Day of 2006 with my good friend Clare who I had worked with for several years. She was a lot of fun and so easy-going, I was looking forward to seeing the sights with her. This trip would be my first holiday outside of Europe. Growing up, my parents would take us to Scotland and Ireland for family holidays (my Mum and Dad being Scottish and Irish respectively). Those holidays were fun, getting to see family and the green pastures of the countryside, but this was a wholly different trip. Another continent, just friends, big wide world, one of the greatest cities on the planet. Needless to say I was beyond excited!

We landed at JFK sometime on the evening of December 26th and I just wanted to get from the airport to the city as quickly as possible to begin exploring. When I booked the trip, I included a Shuttle Bus option to take us from the airport to the hotel for ease and convenience. Totally regret that. Hindsight is wonderful. This van arrived outside the terminal picked us up and then proceeded to drive around all the other terminals stuffing more and more weary travellers into its cramped backend. There were literally people squatting on the floor by the door with the suitcases crammed up against their faces. Good start! Anyway, we finally made it onto the freeway heading to the city and my excitement levels were building steadily. Bless Clare, she was so tired after the flight she nodded off on the bumpy ride.

The famous skyline came into view after 25 minutes or so and I felt the urge to gently prod Clare in the side as if to say “Wake Up and appreciate this sight!” I think it meant more to me than it did to her as she politely gave a half-smile and acknowledged the lights of the city before putting her head back and falling back to sleep. I was hoping we’d enter the city over the Brooklyn Bridge but the driver opted for Manhattan Bridge instead. It must’ve been after 10pm by this point, on Boxing Day, so everywhere was pretty quiet. We drove through Chinatown and were told we would be dropped off first.

We were staying at the Marriott in the Financial District. Rather swanky, but when booking, this offered the same rates as some of the other hotels in Mid Town which looked a bit manky and flea-ridden. So we jumped out of the wagon to the sound of Christmas carols being played from the hotel’s entrance. Awkward moment as I suddenly realised I should probably tip the driver (for what? Being bundled into the back of a van for half an hour) and Clare was half asleep to get any rational sense out of her. I ended up giving the driver $20 which again in hindsight was WAY too much. You live, you learn! I’m not cheap thank you very much.

So, arrived, in the Big Apple, approaching midnight, but we were in the city that never sleeps. We dumped our luggage in our very nice room. At the time, nicest hotel I’d ever stayed at. A view of the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty, that will do nicely. Clare and I decided to go for a quick jaunt around the local area. At first I was a little apprehensive about this as I was a long way from home, had dubious travel insurance and in a potentially dangerous neighbourhood (after dark), but with all the adrenaline in my system, off we went. We wandered over to the World Trade Centre site and saw the huge construction zone. A strange experience, it may have been tiredness from the flight, but I didn’t get the wave of emotion I thought I would when seeing this first hand. As I’m sure everyone who watched the horrific events of 9/11 unfold, I thought seeing this site would cripple me. It still didn’t seem real. Having not stood in front of the Twin Towers and seen them first hand, I guess I had no frame of reference of before and after. The images I saw on the tv that day still seem somewhat like they couldn’t possibly be real. Don’t get me wrong, I paid my respects at the bronze plaque and remembered those who had lost their lives.

We moved on to Wall Street and saw the huge Christmas tree lit up with thousands of coloured bulbs and then headed over towards the East River. I didn’t tell Clare this, but I knew where I was going. Being slightly geeky I had familiarised myself with the rough geography of our hotel’s neighbourhood before the trip. I coaxed her on a little here and there eventually aiming to get over to the East River to see the Brooklyn Bridge. All the while walking in this foreign country at night, I felt completely safe. There were plenty of building security guards milling about so I was fairly sure we were safe. Eventually we got to the river and I was somewhat underwhelmed by the bridge. It was in fairness still quite far away, but I had an image in my head of this beautiful piece of architecture all lit up in light. We could barely see it as the structure itself was dark and the only thing we could see was the bulbs strung across the top of the cabling. We did however get to see our first rat, scuttling past the river’s railings and down out of sight. And so ended our first day in NYC. We headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep ready to get up early to hit the streets.

Day 2   –   December 27th 2006

Literally hit the ground running, I was up out of bed, dressed and raring to go within 15 minutes, which is very unlike me. Our second day was completely unplanned as sometimes the best exploration is when you have no itinerary to weigh you down and surprises lurk around each corner. We knew we wanted to see a little more of what we’d seen the night before, so again we pottered around Downtown for most of the day. Leaving the hotel, everything seemed that much more daunting in the daylight with the hustle of the many lanes of West Street greeting us, taxi horns blaring and people on their way to places in a hurry. After a quick Starbucks in the hotel lobby, we headed down to Battery Park for a wander about and to buy ourselves some Metrocards at the South Street Seaport. As we were there we thought we might as well jump on the Staten Island Ferry for a free return jaunt across the harbour all the while catching the sights of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline. Much better than paying for a boat tour as it was all included in the price of our Metrocards – genius *cough – CHEAP*

It was a beautifully sunny, fine crisp morning and the views were beautiful. Arriving at Staten Island we, re-boarded the same ferry and returned to Manhattan…Things to do, Places to see! Staten Island will have to wait until another time. Back on dry land, we were coerced by a ticket rep for the helicopter tour companies near the Seaport to look at their very reasonably priced exclusive tours of the city. It was a bit of an extravagance, but how else can you see the city but in style. I’d never been on a helicopter before either so two birds with one stone, off we went. After an excruciating wait to board, our group of four left the building onto the helipad. It was deafening with all the helicopter rotor blades whizzing around our heads, we could barely hear the tour guide shouting to us about staying within the yellow markings on the tarmac to stop us getting our heads lopped off by a stray helicopter. After 10 minutes (it felt like a lot less) we touched back down to safety and the whole experience had me buzzing to see more. Our tour had taken us over the harbour, around the lower tip of Lower Manhattan and up along the Hudson River as far as Central Park, before doubling back and over to circle the Statue of Liberty and back down to land. A short trip, but we saw so much and from a unique perspective.

From an experience like that, we had a much more chilled out day. Grabbed my first non-European McDonald’s and was surprised to see how they tasted the same. Next we headed over to the World Trade Centre site and joined the throngs of people all paying their respects.  It was a bit more real on the second visit as we went down in what would (I think) have been the PATH railway station and looked at the gallery of children’s images which were done to honour fallen fathers, mothers and relatives. Very sad indeed!

Adjacent from Ground Zero was Century 21, which we had been told was a shoppers paradise. Hmmm, phrased slightly incorrectly! It is either a ‘bargain shoppers paradise’ or a ‘shoppers nightmare’. I was pushed around, jostled and squashed into all manner of shapes, but after 10 minutes or so of this, I wised up and came out of it all with two new pairs of shoes, a pair of Levi’s and some CK boxers. Good work. The rest of the day was basically mooching around, traipsing up Broadway looking in various shops (I loved Yellow Rat Bastard), getting about as far as Canal Street before heading back to the area around the hotel. Quite exhausting as we’d been up very early. As far as I can remember, we both fell asleep in front of telly a little too early that night. The City That Never Sleeps would be ashamed of us!

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