I’m thinking of a vibrant place in which the air is filled of excitement and possibility, a city which can only fully be appreciated from up a height, and a city that glows with opportunity – that’s right I’m thinking of New York, the big apple, or as it’s quite rightly nicknamed; the city that never sleeps.
I found out I was going to New York on my 26th birthday when my boyfriend surprised me at the end of December. I was shocked and excited, mainly shocked that he’d managed to keep it a secret for 8 months and excited that I would get to visit a place which I’ve always wanted to go.
We arrived on Thursday afternoon at 1pm – perfect timing I thought for half a day of exploring. Well I was slightly wrong about this after our half a day was cut short by an almost three hour wait to get through JFK security! But nevertheless we would not let this dampen our mood as we travelled via the Subway to our hotel, longing to see our first skyscraper.
Our final stop was the World Trade Centre and we were overwhelmed with what we saw as we took our first steps out of the station. Was this place actually real? I am I actually standing in a place I’d imagined in my head all of my life? We didn’t speak for a good few minutes as the city sights around us literally left us speechless. We pressed on with beaming smiles as wide as the Brooklyn Bridge and walked across the road to our hotel.
We stayed at the Millennium Hilton Hotel in Downtown Manhattan which was a short walk from Wall Street and directly opposite the One World Trade Centre, also known as the Freedom Tower. On arrival we were greeted by a friendly receptionist and a lovely perfumed smell welcomed us into the building.
A speedy ride in the elevator took us to the 39th floor. The hotel was well presented, grand and exuded elegance that gave it a charm that I believe you can only get in New York City.
As we opened our door we weren’t prepared for the view that met us. The city was lit up and electric with the night time hustle and bustle. I’ve grown up watching many American films that were set in New York, but yet witnessing this sight in person made me feel like I was looking at the backdrop of a set and I wondering when the director would shout ‘cut’. I didn’t know if it would ever really sink in.
After dropping our bags we enthusiastically headed straight out in search of the Staten Island Ferry. This was a short fifteen minute walk which allowed us to take in our surroundings and get our bearings.
The Staten Island Ferry is a free service which runs from Manhattan to Staten Island approximately every 15 minutes. It takes half-an-hour and goes past the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. You also get incredible views of Manhattan.
If you want a close-up view of the Statue of Liberty I would recommend taking a separate ferry as you don’t get that close, but we were satisfied by the distance as you could still appreciate this beautiful landmark. Another thing to note is that the ferry is sheltered so you can sit inside, but they have also have outdoor observation decks.
On the wait for the return ferry I tried my first New York coffee – and I was not disappointed. Feeling a little bit tired from our day of travelling I needed a little kick to wake me up and this creamy cappuccino served at drinking temperature did just that. Holding a nice warm drink on the way back was a perfect way to heat up my ice cold fingers in the cold January wind whilst sightseeing.
Our night ended after a flame grilled burger and a ‘Rhapsody and Cue’ which consisted of Memphis baby back ribs, Backyard barbecue chicken, smoked sausage, pulled pork and beef brisket at an atmospheric restaurant called Blue Smoke.
We awoke in an enormous and incredibly comfortable kingsized bed at 6am full of excitement and possibly jet-lag eager to start our day. First on our agenda was a sightseeing bus. There were many choices of buses but we opted for the City Sightseeing Bus.
We hopped aboard on Wall Street and plugged in our red earphones in ready to hear about the history and culture of the city. Now we maybe just got on the bus at the wrong end of town but we both found the bus quite boring as they told us facts about apartment blocks and the men that used to own certain streets. The highlight was seeing the UN buildings. After an hour we got off the bus in Times Square. As a huge theatre nerd, this was the place I’d most wanted to see – and it lived up to all of my expectations.
By this stage we’d worked up quite an appetite so we went in search of breakfast. We’d heard good reviews about a place called Junior’s from friends and family so we went on the hunt, hungry and anticipating great things.
Junior’s is the epitome of America. If you want to get a taste for authentic American breakfast in a glamorous diner setting, then this is the place to go. But that is not all they do, Junior’s is actually famous for it’s cheesecake. However we had bacon and pancakes in mind and didn’t hesitate to order just that. I choose scrambled eggs and American bacon with toast and home fries (which were little seasoned potatoes). My partner-in-dine choose griddled cakes (a.k.a. American pancakes) with bacon. What a taste sensation, I enjoyed every single minute. This is a place not to be missed, and can be located on 45th Street in Times Square, although there are also others around.
Bellies full and enough fuel to get us up the Empire State Building we headed into Time Square for some enviable photo opportunities. There is a huge red set of stairs which make getting the best ‘gram worthy photo possible.
Once we’d exhausted our camera lenses we set our sights for a browse around the shops. This included the famous Macy’s which is the world’s largest store. We only visited it a small section of the store and like children were attracted to a section which you could play the piano on the floor by standing on the digital keys. One more bum note later it was time for coffee.
There’s something magical about sitting in a little centre of New York surrounded by green shrubbery sipping a coffee that makes you feel content.
This caffeine boost was needed as we strolled a block to get to the Empire State Building. Admittedly I was slightly nervous about venturing 381m to the top. The journey began with an insight as to how and when the building was erected in 1931. It also displayed photos of all the celebrities that had been up to the top and a video of all the films it has appeared in. Eager to get to the top we nervously stepped into the lift, which took us to the 80th floor where we could see views out of the windows. It took less than a minute to reach this floor. Next it was up to the 86th observatory deck where we were treated to panoramic views of this magnificent city. I won’t say much but because the view speaks for itself so I’ll just leave these photos here…
A pit stop at the hotel and a costume change later and we were back off to Times Square excited as we had booked tickets to Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre.
But first we needed food. Admittedly I wasn’t starving after I’d eaten a lot for breakfast, but when in New York and with a restaurant on every corner it would have been rude not to! We were slightly pushed for time, and struggled slightly to find somewhere where there wasn’t a 30-minute wait time, but eventually we settled at a cute Italian restaurant in the Hell’s Kitchen strip of town, called Il Forno. I had a Chicken Marsala with wild mushrooms and Marsala wine and my boyfriend had Lasagna con Broccoli. Considering I wasn’t hungry this meal didn’t touch the sides and Ed enjoyed his meal too.
Next was the moment I’d possibly been the most excited about. The Phantom of the Opera. Our seats were in the rear mezzanine on the second for last row. We were very high up and although we saw the whole stage I found it difficult to make out faces, which was tricky as the moment Christine takes the Phantom’s mask off was slightly lost on us. The show overall was phenomenal and the singing was unbelievable, the cast were rightly met with a standing ovation at the end of the show. The only slight niggle we had (which was nothing to do with the show itself) was that fact that we had to ask two people to get off their phones, and there were other people too far away from us to ask, also on their phones. Our only regret was not buying better seats, but overall it was a great evening and one I’ll remember for a long time.
This ended a perfect first day and having had a taste of New York we wanted to take another bite of the big apple.
Read part 2 here.