"Hot, noisy, crowded...." New York City by leics

New York City Travel Guide: 15,726 reviews and 31,518 photos

Ok....so let's be honest. I have never had any searing desire to visit New York: I'm into history and architecture and walking and landscape rather than cities and shopping and clubbing and shows. So what could somewhere like NY offer me?

But visiting has become necessary because my son lives in the US, and NY is the obvious place to land if I want to see him and his wife. So I went to NYC in 2011 for the first time...and was surprised. Not as surprised as I had expected to be (this part of the US was not the massive culture shock I had anticipated), but I did find much to interest me, and even some 'historical' elements.

In 2011 I'd expected it to be hot in July but I arrived in a heatwave (interesting to see that US news channels make as much fuss about the weather as UK ones do!). Temperatures of 100+, and a heat index of up to 115, made exploring on foot much more difficult. But I managed by getting up and out early (it was 90 by 9am most days) and returning to the hotel for a rest and cool-down mid-afternoon. So 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. So I still haven't seen Ellis Island, explored Greenwich Village or visited the tenement museum. I did manage to see more of Central Park, and I walked halfway across Brooklyn Bridge (too hot to walk further), and I discovered the rather lovely High Line, which I walked early in the morning and thoroughly enjoyed. Meeting Travelmad478 and Xymmot again for a drink was a big plus.

I'm well aware that I've only scratched the surface on NYC: the weather simply hasn't enabled me to do my usual walking-for-miles exploring. I'll have to try to visit at a more sensible time of year in future! :-)

So...my first 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 liked those, because it seemed to me that they were 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 acres of concrete and tarmac and stone.

Huge buildings which make most streets into canyons, continual vast quantities of traffic and its noise and pollution, so very many steetpeople (sad to see so many ferretting through rubbish bins for plastic bottles etc), so many busybusybusy people on their way to and from wherever. I walk quickly and can entirely understand why New Yorkers find dawdling tourists such an irritant; they certainly irritated me!

The wind off the sea whipping its way around corners because the grid layout allows it to do just that...no wandering streets to block its route. The sea-breeze was much appreciated in the heat but it must be freezing in winter; I can better understand the line in the Pogues 'Fairytale of New York': 'the wind goes right through you, it's no place for the old'.

Onward into the fray.....

My hotels have both been in Midtown Manhattan, near the Empire State Building, which actually makes easier in terms of exploration on foot. I've used the Subway and the buses too...buses are better, imo, because not only did they let me see more but they were considerably cooler. Subway trains have air con, but the platforms don't..and in the extreme heat they are no fun.

I loved the fact that buses still have a 'rope' to pull for the bell. I thought that was one of the ideas I had about the US, gleaned from TV and books, that was from the past. But it's not and I happily pulled that rope when I wanted to get off. I also came across children selling lemonade at 'roadside' stalls (really!)....something else I thought was in the past...and those huge, boxy trucks which look so classically 'American' (I thought they would have been superceded by a more modern design, but it is clearly not so).

New York is perfect for people-watching (another of the things I enjoy) but I hadn't realised quite how perfect for eavesdropping it would be. It seemed to me that many people were surprisingly happy to discuss really quite private matters in loud voices, in person or on the phone....fascinating stuff! I had a '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, 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). :-)

So what have I managed to see and do? Well, both times I've just walked and walked and walked, finding far more interesting 19th and early 20th century architecture than I'd imagined (see travelogues). I explored Grand Central station, the Cast Iron District, a little of East Village, some of the Flatiron District....

...enjoyed Bryant Park and Madison Square Park and Union Square Park, found the Irish Hunger Memorial, watched brilliant breakdancing in Herald Square (one of the very few street performances I came across in either trip).....

...walked by Ground Zero, saw the partially-built and then almost-completed 'One World' building, visited the Memorial Preview Site (but not the Memorial itself), found the oldest church in NY (Trinity) and was moved by the 9/11 displays inside it (the church offered food, shelter, sanctuary and rest to the rescuers)....

....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 absolute epitome of Roald Dahl's 'Miss Honey', floating about with a dreamy smile on her face, squirting water on her charges using a plant mister....perhaps she was in love? :-)

...saw the Statue of Liberty, albeit only from the ferry..

...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 (rather bossy, imo) 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....

...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 though..not at 3-4 USD *per minute*!

......and walked....

....was amazed by the sneer grubbiness and (in the extreme heat) smelliness of much of the city. My second hotel was on W 32nd Street, heart of 'Koreatown' and lined with restaurants. By 6 am, the restaurant rubbish piled high at the roadside stank to high heaven and was seeping through the bags and into the gutters. And the pigeons (probably the rats too, though I didn't spot any) were enjoying their breakfast....... :-(

...walked through the park from 5th Avenue to the Met and then explored a little of that magnificent museum, especially the Ancient Egyptian galleries. Now, having seen such a great wealth of artefacts and sculptures and artwork, with so much more presumably in storage, I better understand why Zahi Hawass (in charge of archaeology in Egypt) is so reluctant to allow outsiders to dig there. And maybe I also better understand the desire of Greece to have their marbles back from the British Museum....

.......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.

Yes, you *can* walk in Manhattan. It's a big island and you'll need to take bus or Subway as well, but walking is by far the best way to explore anywhere. On foot you get a 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 observe how people dress and what they do in their 'leisure time' (walk their dog, in a lot of cases).

Food? Well, quite frankly both times it's been too hot to eat much. I drank gallons of water (avoid 'Dasani' like the plague..it's horrible, and it's only purified tap water anyway...get 'Poland Spring') , and quite a lot of beer (proper draught beer, not the bottled stuff) and really ate very little. I've not properly explored what NYC has to offer in the way of food...

Was it safe? Well, as a solo middle-aged female I can honestly say I felt no more at risk in my wanderings than anywhere else I've been.....but I don't walk around by myself late at night. I was surprised by the lack of visible policing (apart from near construction work, where there was always a police officer in attendance) but only once felt I needed to remove myself from an area: in my experience, if cannabis is being openly smoked on the street then chances are that part of the city is not tightly-controlled, and thus the chances of me being pickpocketed were higher.

I did enjoy my visit...exploring any new place is always interesting...but NYC would not 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'. Both times I've been pleased and relieved to get out to New Haven, a much smaller and greener place (albeit one with a very high crime rate).

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:All the sites and sights.
  • Cons:Air pollution, grime, litter, hassle, crowds.
  • In a nutshell:Brash, blowsy and busybusybusy
  • Last visit to New York City: Jul 2013
  • Intro Updated Jul 31, 2013
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Reviews (15)

Comments (8)

  • betska's Profile Photo
    Aug 4, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    NYMA sounds like a good budget choice, thanks for the info

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Aug 5, 2013 at 1:18 AM

      It's certainly in a good, safe location, clean and efficient...and full of Europeans when I was there. :-)

    • betska's Profile Photo
      Aug 5, 2013 at 5:02 AM

      HANGING to get back there......yep a hotel is just for sleeping, looks good plus fridge always a bonus!!!!! love the location too. xx

  • gwened's Profile Photo
    Jul 31, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    great page on one of my favorites cities, used to lived for 13 yrs across the Hudson in NJ. NYC was my first car trip after getting my license to see the Yankees (baseball); and my English and schools thru High School comes from there in my youth days.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Sep 25, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    I’m glad to hear that this part of the US was not the massive culture shock you had anticipated. It was for me, the next-to-last time I was in New York. That was in 1981, exactly twenty years after I finished my studies there, and the main topic of conversation was how to get from A to B without being mugged. Now I understand the city is much safer, and they have even started closing off streets and putting in bicycle lanes, so maybe I’ll give it another try sometime.

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Sep 25, 2012 at 11:18 PM

      I understand that NYC is indeed much safer now than it was. It was still a culture shock..the US is much more so for me than any European country...although not as much as I had initially anticipated. But I liked Iowa City much more! :-)

  • mariahc1's Profile Photo
    Apr 26, 2012 at 3:24 AM

    Manhattan? My favourite place in the world! I don't know if I'm gonna still say this after I'm 60 but I love it now, have always loved it actually. I live in Cyprus and I trip to NY is neither cheap nor short but I've been there 3 times alreayd, so you can imagine how much I love it! My first two times where in the summer (crowded, crowded, crowded) but the third time was last November. Believe me, the city was totally different! The changing colour of the leaves in Central Park, the vibrant city being calm at the same time, the locals who were unexpectedly nicer... My husband and I definitely enjoyed NY in fall better. It is highly recommended.

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Feb 28, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    I reads like you took in Manhatten and wore off some shoe rubber to "boot". It really is a vibrant area, compared to the burroughs, but way to crowded and upscale and diverse for me. Glad you got to see our #1 city of people.

  • ViajesdelMundo's Profile Photo
    Nov 12, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    well, finally! spending an overnight in NYC on my way back from Israel and Jordan, but hoping that since it will be early Dec. that I have clothes that are warm enuf! also hope to get into my hotel early, as I will arr 6am after overnight flight fr TelAviv and all day playing tourist in Amman--ugh! but then a small VT dinner meet!

  • Paris92's Profile Photo
    Sep 7, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    Great pages--I grew up about four blocks from Madison Square Park--used to be a druggie gathering place. Can't believe what it's become!

  • hawkhead's Profile Photo
    Aug 21, 2011 at 6:43 AM

    Next time you will have to go in winter - not so much for the heat issue but really to see how life is lived in the deep freeze!


“'Take clothes you can layer....' :-)”

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