New York didn’t give us a warm welcome like the other cities had done. The airport staff were abrupt. The shuttle bus driver packed us in and as we drove down Broadway he constantly yelled at pedestrians trying to cross the road. Ours was the last stop on 7th. It was a cold night, raining and I was experiencing culture shock. The hotel room was tiny but comfortable. We were a 5 minute walk from Times Square and after a cuppa I was feeling human again.
There was no waiting for the morning to get a taste of The Big Apple so off we went. The bestie and I were reunited with our other 2 travel companions who had already been here a few days while we were in New Orleans. Crossing roads seemed a challenge at first so we waited for the locals to attempt it and we followed very close behind.
Here we were standing in front of the TKTS Pavilion, the red stairs in Alicia Keys video for Empire State Of Mind. Musical posters plastered the screens all around us. Chicago, The Lion King, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera… On our left was the MTV Studios, on the right we had Toys R Us and the Disney store. On this night we were standing center stage in the city that never sleeps.
It was so overwhelming yet exciting to be surrounded by a sea of people, hotdog stands on street corners and cafes with giant pizza slices. The night was cold but we didn’t care.
I embraced the child in me browsing through the aisles of the Disney store and Toys R Us. I annoyed many New Yorkers by walking too slow and stopping to take photos of the Times Square neon lights. We grabbed huge slices of pizza and said goodnight to the lively city at 2am.
After an early rise, breakfast and finally finding the Grayline office we had our 72 hour hop-on hop-off bus tickets. Our first route was the Uptown Tour. We sat up top. The air was cold but the sun was warm and trying it’s best to keep us comfortable. This route travels around Central Park past the Apollo Theatre and the Harlem markets. I have to admit Harlem surprised me. I had a very closed minded view of this area but after being there in person I was so glad I was wrong. Buildings with famous residents were pointed out. Restaurants with the best burgers and hot dogs were given a shout out. We were constantly reminded to stay seated as the low hanging street signs could easily take our heads off.
Our next route was the Downtown Tour which took us past the Empire State Building, Madison Square Gardens, Macy’s and the Rockefeller Centre. We travelled through the Flat Iron District, Theatre District, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo and finally hopped off at Battery Park. The sky was now overcast. We were wrapped up in beanies, scarves and coats, hands stuffed in pockets. Across the road was that heavenly glowing Starbucks sign. My hands caressed my hot chocolate tightly braving our exit back into the outside world.
We walked across Battery Park to the ferries. There is a monument dedicated to the lives lost and those injured in the 9/11 attacks known as the Sphere. It is a large metallic sculpture that sat between the Twin Towers. A squirrel was keeping himself warm close to the eternal flame that burns near the monument. There is some sadness and eeriness that still surrounds this tribute.
We had just missed the last ferry to Ellis Island but we did manage to get tickets for the next day. The Grayline 72 hour ticket allows free entry onto the ferry and Ellis Island. We got back onto the bus and headed back to Times Square. We weaved our way through the hundreds of people, cut through Macy’s and found our way to the Nike store. After buying some jerseys with famous players numbers we headed to H&M and stumbled on a lovely vegetarian cafe. On our way back we passed the ice rink in front of the Rockefeller Center. With aching feet we made our way back to the hotel grateful to have a hot shower and decent rest.
We were back on the mainland in no time and on the Downtown bus again. We hopped off at the NBC Studios. As part of the Grayline ticket, entry into NBC with a tour is included. So is a pass to either the Rockefeller Center or the Empire State Building. While the Empire State Building is iconic, friends strongly recommended to visit the Rockefeller Center instead. I’m glad I listened to their advice as the Rockefeller Center sits higher than the Empire State Building and offers uninterrupted views of Central Park and the Hudson River.Our NBC tour took us front and backstage to the SNL studio. From there we were taken to the Dr Oz studio as well Jimmy Fallon’s, and finally into a newsroom where we got to practice reading the news on camera. We headed downstairs to Magnolia’s Bakery for some key lime pie and hot chocolate. I had done a lot of walking, my body gladly welcomed the calories, and many there were but delicious it was. From here our travel companions headed back to Times Square. The bestie and I were off to the Upper East Side to buy some wax for his dreadlocks. The store had started closing for the evening however after pleading that we had travelled all the way from Australia they let us in. It was late in the night so before turning in for the night we grabbed some McDonalds which tastes exactly the same as home. Of course it does.
Our final day was spent in Times Square. Applebee’s make good breakfast but the coffee tastes like dirt water. We had hoped to catch a Broadway show but did not realise Mondays are off days for the cast. Even on holiday Monday still sucks unless you work on Broadway. After some wondering, and a very delicious and satisfying lunch at a deli we headed to Midtown Comics which stocks collectables and comic books. It still surprises me how much cheaper products are in the US compared to Australia.Our final night saw us experience a movie in a US cinema and visiting Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. The detail on these wax figures is eerily amazing. We took fun shots with our favourite celebrities, the closest we’ll probably ever get to meeting our crushes and idols.
The next morning came by very quickly. Before long we were checked out and on our way to the airport. The US leg of our round-the-world trip had come to an end. I did not get the chance to visit Ground Zero or cross over the Brooklyn Bridge. I missed out on seeing The Lion King on Broadway and standing in Grand Central Station. I never got to experience being an audience member for one of my favourite tv shows. So much was missed but so much was done. A very good reason to make my way back to this incredible city.