Following on from my first post about New York pop-ups, I have focused this post on the attractions that will be there long after Central Perk has stopped serving coffee.
Of course we covered all the well known tourist attractions; Rockerfeller, The Guggenheim, The Empire State, and spotted all the famous shops, Bloomingdales, Saks, Barneys, and Macy’s which was worth popping in to just to ride the wooden escalators.
But, I want to try and draw out some of our more unusual experiences; those that don’t require a City Pass to escape the queues.
Seeking a more authentic New York experience than a hotel chain off Times Square, we opted for a studio apartment on the West Side in Lincoln Square. Check out airbnb for apartments and rooms available in NYC. So far our experience with the site, in New York and Italy, has been a success.
In typical New York style, the bed was in the living room and there was a bijou kitchen and bathroom. The owner left us a welcome basket of wine, snacks and New York guidebooks to set us up for our stay.
With no plans to spend any real time in the apartment, it was well located for the park and subway stations on two main routes downtown. I would recommend a weekly Metro Card as a cheap way to get around.
With a Magnolia Bakery on the end of our block, which was quieter than the downtown stores, and a Shake Shack close by, plus the Westside Restaurant for morning pancakes, we felt like we had stumbled upon a gem.
We spent our first day wandering around, taking in the all that the city has to offer. I don’t profess to be any sort of buildings expert but you can experience a real flavour of New York without spending anything.
Grand Central Station is a fascinating place for people watching and pottering.
After admiring the stunning architecture
we discovered a very swanky looking food market which sold the largest pain au chocolat I have ever seen, and would be a brilliant place to pick up dinner for the evening if you were lucky enough to pass through the station on your way home from work. It’s worth visiting the station just to soak up the hustle and bustle.
The New York Public Library was much quieter, but another beautiful building; free to enter, and interesting to have a nose around.
We stopped in the lobby of the Empire State Building, to take a photo, having experienced the aerial views from Rockerfeller.
3. Sex and the City
When describing her plans for the day, Carrie Bradshaw once said
“First a trip to the Guggenheim, and then lunch, and then… who knows? It’s New York”.
OK, this quote may have fitted better in to my pop-up post but I wanted to keep my New York sit-coms separate.
Anyway, she was right. New York is definitely a place where you see as much by walking around, looking up at the buildings, and observing the people.
At home I had considered the Sex and the City tour, but further reading suggested that it was essentially a trip that points out the bars, restaurants, shops and locations from the show. I figured I could see most of those on my own two feet, for free.
Despite avoiding the tourist trap of the bus, I just had to visit to Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone. It was strange to snap a pic on an otherwise peaceful residential street in the West Village. Fortunately for the residents the street is not overrun with tourists, but with no other “attractions” in the immediate vicinity, it wasn’t hard to work out where the groups of giggling girls were heading.
We also decided to catch a film at the Paris cinema. Just off 5th Avenue, it was surprising to see such a small cinema, which only has one screen and still has a curtain, occupying such prime real estate. The film, Ned Benson’s, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, was also worth a watch.
3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg
And so our New York wanderings continued. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge,
walking all the way to Brooklyn rather than stopping for photos in the middle and turning back.
From Brooklyn Bridge Park you get one of those iconic views of the Manhattan skyline and from there we watched the sun go down alongside the photographer masses, all waiting to capture “that photo”.
I don’t claim to have succeeded in that aim, but you get the idea.
Close to the park we also enjoyed our first Shake Shack experience. Walking in to the restaurant and seeing the order at the counter system, I was a little concerned that I had inadvertently walked in to McDonalds. Luckily I was there on a recommendation and I am so glad I didn’t run for the door. I am not the biggest burger fan and I tend to avoid them unless they are made from quality meat, but, when in New York…
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the Shack Burger, cooked medium, was juicy and delicious. The skin-on fries were crispy, a far cry from the soggy offerings that come alongside your usual fast food, and the strawberry milkshake was to die for. It was like Danny Meyer took everything that is wrong with McDonalds and made it all so so much better.
Brooklyn is also home to the famous flea market. We decided to head to the Williamsburg flea, wanting to see another location and we were rewarded with a unique shopping experience,
and another fantastic view, this time from the East River State Park, which looks over the Hudson towards Midtown – the Empire State and the Chrysler Buildings.
We decided to take the water taxi back to Manhattan to get an even better view from the river.
We ran out of time, but the Staten Island Ferry is a good way to see the downtown skyline for free, and it takes you pretty close to the Statue of Liberty if you don’t want to buy a ticket to Liberty Island.
4. Wall Street
Walking round Wall Street not only allowed us to snap the Stock Exchange
(from the outside, although, given half a chance, and I believe they don’t come along often, I would have loved to go inside) but also to stumble across a much quieter branch of Tiffany than it’s 5th Avenue Flagship, which is quite literally crawling with tourists. I wouldn’t have noticed it but for the man with the bowler hat opening the door.
Having already purchased turquoise boxed delights, I had no excuse to go in, but I get the impression that if you want to shop at Tiffany, rather than window shop at Tiffany, it may offer a calmer experience.
5. The High Line
We had been recommended to walk the High Line and many New York websites suggest it. A disused railway line,
converted in to a public green space, it is an oasis of calm above the city streets. It’s a place to watch the sun go down,
to walk amongst plants and trees, and to take in some unusual art work.
There are many convenient benches and seats along the route from which to pause, soak up the tranquility, and do a spot of people watching.
6. Little Gems
Meandering down West 34th Street in the direction of Macy’s after leaving the High Line, we stumbled across another New York gem. Our eyes caught the blue signage of the gated “Alice’s garden”, which looked like a well tended, almost secret garden.
It was worthy of a photo, and reading on my return tells me that the garden was tended by a lady named Alice Parsekian in the 1960’s. After her death in 2010, the garden was locked and allowed to overgrow. Two years later, following much attention by volunteers and community groups, the garden has reopened for the benefit of people living or working in the area. For the general passer by it’s worth taking a pause to appreciate, even if only from the gate.
For our last night we had tickets to for the Basketball. Brooklyn Nets v Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Barclays Stadium. It seemed wrong to go to New York and not watch either a baseball or basketball game. Being the only New York team which seemed to be playing at home during our visit we were not disappointed by the pre season match.
The atmosphere of a NY sports game was an experience in itself. Each ‘time out’ was sponsored by a different brand, there were the obligatory cheerleaders, and a children’s match at half time. The family in front of us even won return flights to Israel by catching the tickets, which were rolled up in one of the Nets t-shirts thrown in to the crowd.
Although Mark’s view was that watching sport (as opposed to playing sport) isn’t that exciting if you need to be kept entertained by other means, the whole event was rather more civilised than we were expecting. We were just disappointed not to be able to find anywhere to purchase a giant foam finger.
8. Central Park
Yes, this is one of the known and busy tourist sights, but it is free to enter, and we found a variety of ways to experience it. With our apartment being only a block away from the park we wandered through it on several occasions during our stay, watched newly weds having their photos taken by the fountain, saw turtles swimming in the lake, and even got asked to join a conga line – sadly for them, that idea didn’t catch on!
On the Sunday we decided to get up early and join the locals for a run. We hadn’t realised that we would actually stumble across a half marathon. There were lots of people running in the opposite direction to the race but we decided that we wouldn’t cause too much trouble if we got involved. Whilst we didn’t complete the course, we managed a lap of the park, which ended up being one of the easiest and most enjoyable 10k runs I have taken part in, and was a brilliant way to see the North end of the park too.
We spent our last day idling away the hours in the park, relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. We sunbathed and watched a group of friends throwing an Aerobie (ring shaped frisbee) in Sheep Meadow,
Mark rowed me round the lake while we ate Magnolia Bakery cupcakes,
we enjoyed a glass of Prosecco at the Boat House Restaurant,
admired the Alice in Wonderland Statue,
and listened to a man playing the saxophone as we wandered along the Mall.
We were a little early to experience the Fall colours at their best, but with the sun shining and the leaves just starting to turn, it was a beautiful end to our New York experience.