"Hot, noisy, crowded...." New York City by leics
New York City Travel Guide: 15,956 reviews and 32,179 photos
If I'm absolutely honest I've never had any burning desire to visit New York. I'm into history and architecture and walking and landscape rather than cities and shopping and clubbing and shows.
But visiting NYC regularly has become necessary because my son lives in the US, and NYC is the obvious place to land if I want to see him and his wife. I first visited 2011 and have been back to NYC three times now (on one visit I flew into and out of Chicago, avoiding NYC altogether).
In July 2011 I'd expected it to be hot but I managed to arrive in a heatwave, with temperatures of 100+, and a heat index of up to 115, which made exploring on foot much, much more difficult. I managed by getting up and out early (it was 90 by 9am most days) and returning to the hotel by mid-afternoon. I saw quite a lot, all things considered, and what I missed because of the heat (Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, the Tenement Museum, Ellis Island, Greenwich Village, much of Central Park) I thought I'd see on my next visit.
As it happened, my 2013 visit also coincided with a heatwave, with temperatures up in the high 90s. I saw a bit more of Central Park, walked halfway across Brooklyn Bridge (before realising it was really not a good idea in such heat) and discovered the excellent High Line. Meeting Travelmad478 and Xymmot again for a drink was a big plus.
My 2014 visit (in two short segments, topping and tailing my US trip) was much better weather-wise. Dry and mostly sunny but with manageable temperatures peaking in the 80s. The city was still grubby and smelly and polluted and full of busybusybusy people but this time I was able to walk much further than on previous visits.
I finally managed to walk the whole of Brooklyn Bridge and spent several hours exploring Brooklyn (a very pleasant place and the only part of NYC I've yet visited which felt like a 'proper' community') before taking the Staten Island ferry to see if I could get some better shoreline photos without the heat-and-pollution haze (result above). I spent another day wandering East Village and Chinatown, experiencing a mega-thunderstorm and torrential downpour (very exciting), and another walking through Central Park and back to Midtown via Hell's Kitchen.
My 2015 visit was even shorter, just one (expensive) night topping-and-tailing a weekend spent in Connecticut. Being August, the weather was still hot and the city grimy but I wasn't there for long. I stayed in Midtown, visited The Cloisters (way out by 190th Street) and tried to walk the new High Line extension, only to find it closed for a period of renovation. And did a lot of walking and looking around, observing both people and architecture.
So...my impressions of Manhattan? A vibrant, heaving beehive of people, so many buildings and so many humans crammed into such a relatively small area. Little islands of green dotted about at random...I like those, because it seemed to me that they are spaces for those who lived in the area to 'breathe' a little. I particularly like Bryant Park, and the miniscule green spaces of the adjoining Herald and Tribune squares....but mostly it's just acres of concrete and tarmac and stone. And there are so very few places to sit, apart from those little parks. I assume this lack has something to do with the number of homeless people who exist in the city. I noticed plenty of metal studs placed in areas which might have otherwise provided some shelter for the night.
Huge buildings which make most streets into canyons, continual vast quantities of traffic and attendant noise and pollution, so very many steetpeople (it's really sad to see so many ferreting through rubbish bins for food and drink....and it's even more sad to see so many who are clearly mentally ill), so many busybusybusy people on their way to and from wherever.
The wind off the sea whips its way around corners because the grid layout allows it to do just that. There are no meandering streets to block its route. 'The wind goes right through you, it's no place for the old' is the absolute truth. But the old still have to exist. Many of the poorer old seem to spend their days collecting plastic bottles and cans from rubbish bins......
New York is perfect for people-watching (another of the things I enjoy) but I hadn't realised just how perfect for eavesdropping it is. It seems to me that most people are surprisingly happy to discuss really quite private matters in loud voices, either in person or on the phone.
I had a true 'Woody Allen' moment whilst enjoying a burger in Madison Square Park. The chap next to me was discussing with his female friend, at great length and in great detail, just how his therapist was helping him with his divorce 'issues'. I know I shouldn't have been listening but it was, frankly, impossible not to do so because he spoke as loudly as if he were addressing a class of children. Absolutely enthralling (and the burger was pretty good too). :-)
Each time I've visited I've walked and walked, finding far more interesting 19th and early 20th century architecture than I'd imagined existed. I've explored Grand Central station, the Cast Iron District, a little of East Village, some of the Flatiron District and more....
...enjoyed Bryant Park and Madison Square Park and Union Square Park, found the Irish Hunger Memorial, watched brilliant breakdancing in Herald Square .....
...walked past Ground Zero, watched the 'One World' building develop, found the oldest existing church in Manhattan (St Paul's) and was moved by the 9/11 displays inside it ...
....took the Staten Island ferry in the company of 30+ very sweet and very excited Hassidic schoolgirls (aged 5-7) and their organisers, all of whom were extremely harassed except the one in charge who was the epitome of Roald Dahl's 'Miss Honey', floating about with a dreamy smile on her face, squirting water from a plant mister onto her charges. Perhaps she was in love? :-)
.....watched a group of new mums and their strollers (plus babies) running along the Battery Park City waterfront (it was perhaps 90 degrees, although a cooling wind off the water helped), their bossy female trainer urging them into more and more energetic exercises using the waterfront steps (much to the amusement of the many male onlookers in the little park)...
...watched (in total amazement) the numerous joggers in Central Park on the hottest day of my first visit, with temperatures already in the mid-90s at 9am and the humidity very, very high. The carriage horses aren't allowed to work in temps over 90 and yet here were all these people, pouring with sweat and looking...well, quite frankly most of them looked pretty ill by the time I saw them. I began to wish I'd taken up the offer of full first-aid training....
...had a most interesting chat with Sean, a tri-shaw rider from Ireland led by happenstance into pedalling tourists around Central Park in 90+ degree heat. I didn't take him up on his offer of a ride though..not at 3 USD *per minute*!
....have been totally amazed by the sheer grubbiness and (in the heat) smelliness of much of the city. By 6 am, the restaurant rubbish is piled high at the roadside, stinking to high heaven and seeping through its bags into the gutters.
...walked through Central Park from 5th Avenue to the Met and then explored a little of that magnificent museum, especially the Ancient Egyptian galleries.
.......and had a lovely evening meal in 2011 with several VT-ers (thank you Solodancer, Donna_in_India, Travelmad478, Xymmot and Nicolettart!!)
But generally I've just walked and walked, looking up at the architecture and people-watching and popping into the occasional shop to gauge prices.
You *can* walk in Manhattan. On foot you get a much better feel for what daily life might really be like, you overhear interesting bits of conversation ('Who the **** is this? And why the **** are you phoning me?'), you can observe how people dress and what they do in their 'leisure time' (walk their dog, in many cases).
Food? On my first two visits it was too hot to eat much. I drank gallons of water and quite a lot of beer (proper draught beer, not the bottled stuff) and really ate very little. In 2014 it was still a bit warm for me to eat much, but...to be frank...what was on offer near my hotel didn't really appeal and seemed overpriced for what it was. So I was very pleased to find a branch of Pret a Manger where I could have a salad and a dessert (UK portion sizes) and a decent coffee for less than 15USD...and even more pleased on my 2015 visit to find that Pret now has at least 4 branches in Midtown.
Is it safe? Well, as a solo middle-aged female I can honestly say I have felt no more at risk in my wanderings than anywhere else I've been. But I don't walk around by myself very late at night, in NYC or anywhere else, nor do i wander though deserted or unlit areas after dark. To me that's just basic commonsense..
I do largely enjoy my visits...exploring anywhere new (or newish) is always interesting. But NYC would never be on my 'places to revisit' list were it not for the family connection. For those who love cities and shopping and modernity I'm sure it must be heaven on earth....but it's just not 'me'.
- Pros:All the sites and sights.
- Cons:Air pollution, grime, litter, hassle, crowds.
- In a nutshell:Brash, blowsy and busybusybusy
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