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

New York City Travel Guide: 15,893 reviews and 31,981 photos

I 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 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 visited NYC in 2011 for the first time and have been back twice so far.

In July 2011 I'd expected it to be hot but I arrived in a heatwave, with temperatures of 100+, and a heat index of up to 115, which made exploring on foot 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, and discovered the rather lovely 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 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 (very exciting), and another walking through Central Park and back to Midtown via Hell's Kitchen.

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 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 it's acres of concrete and tarmac and stone. And there are 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.

Huge buildings which make most streets into canyons, continual vast quantities of traffic and attendant noise and pollution, so very many steetpeople (sad to see so many ferreting through rubbish bins for food and drink....and 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'...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......

Onward into the fray.....

My hotels have all been in Midtown Manhattan, near the Empire State Building, making it easier for me in terms of exploration on foot as well as access to and from airport and railway stations.

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. I also came across children selling lemonade at 'roadside' stalls ....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 seems to me that most people are surprisingly happy to discuss really quite private matters in loud voices, in person or on the phone. 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). :-)

Each time I've visited I've walked and walked, finding far more interesting 19th and early 20th century architecture than I'd imagined. I've 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 .....

...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)...

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

...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*!

....am amazed by the sneer 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 bags into the gutters.

...walked through the 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 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 a lot of 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.....

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 late at night.

I do largely enjoy my visits...exploring anywhere 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'.

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 2014
  • Intro Updated Jul 31, 2014
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Reviews (19)

Comments (13)

  • EasyMalc's Profile Photo
    Aug 16, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    An excellent portrayal of New York from an Englishwoman's perspective.

    • EasyMalc's Profile Photo
      Aug 16, 2014 at 11:00 AM

      I know what you mean J. I found New York exciting to be honest but I wouldn't want to live there, but everyone to their own. I was somewhat younger then. It was so long ago that I was there that I even went up to the top of one of the Twin Towers.

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Aug 16, 2014 at 11:06 AM

      I'm just not a city person, that's the root of it.

  • Ekaterinburg's Profile Photo
    Aug 1, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    J, I'm not feeling the 'lurve' here but an interesting take on New York.

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Aug 1, 2014 at 11:53 PM

      I'm afraid the 'lurve' does not exist for me, only an acceptance that things are as they are. Much the same as I felt about London 20-30 years ago, but without the historical elements. But NYC is my entry point to the US for the forseeable, so I'll be walking its mean streets annually for a while. :-)

  • pieter_jan_v's Profile Photo
    Aug 1, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    J, You are the only one that manages trips with heat- or cold waves :) PJ

    • pieter_jan_v's Profile Photo
      Aug 2, 2014 at 12:18 AM

      Oh Sure! I expect to see 30 deg C today with high humidity. It reminds me of our Philadelphia years. PJ

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Aug 2, 2014 at 12:20 AM

      Not the type of weather in which I function well, I'm afraid. :-(

  • alza's Profile Photo
    Aug 1, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    I really enjoyed your Introduction to NYC, which I don't think I'd seen before (not sure.) Your descriptions are vivid and I could see and feel the urban landscape unfolding before me.
    I happened upon St.Paul's Chapel from Fulton Street (its South side) as I walked to the 9/11 Memorial. The spire first attracted my attention so I approached & was quite enthralled by the atmosphere of the Churchyard, the portico in the dark, a large bell outside on North side) & the elegant wrought-iron gate all around. Signs of the comfort this Chapel brought to everyone touched by 9/11 touched me & prepared me for the very impressive Memorial.
    Since coming home, I've been reading about St.Paul's Chapel & Trinity Church... rich history as places of worship, of comfort and refuge, and in nation building. Your exchange below about oldest building sharpened my focus around dates etc. It can all get seriously convoluted -- I had to make an effort to stay sharp, what with life going on around me & distracting me from writing. :-)

    • alza's Profile Photo
      Aug 1, 2014 at 10:58 AM

      True about the "Englishness" of some old U.S. churches, I noticed the same, particularly this time. Just saw old prints & watercolours of Trinity: it's striking to realise its key location & how it came to be enveloped by skyscrapers. Its spire really was a beacon originally (brought memories of my first sight of Salisbury on returning by country road from Stonehenge.)
      Now workers in the Financial District are seen in the Trinity burial grounds at lunch time, looking at gravestones, finding some peace.

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Aug 1, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      It was very strange to me to see such standard English churchiness enveloped by such looming (ugly?) modernity. Remind me to tell you about English prehistoric sites, standing stones, stone circles and leylines some time...... :-)

  • goodfish's Profile Photo
    Jul 31, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    I like Bryant Park too! I don't suppose you popped into the library next door to meet the REAL Pooh bear, Piglet and gang? Check your notes on Trinity to see if you're confusing that one with St. Paul's Chapel? It's close to Trinity, and provided TLC for the 9/11 recovery crews; they had very poignant displays when I was there. Because they're so close - and covered on the same website - it can be easy to mix the names. General Washington prayers there before his inauguration in 1789, and the post ceremony service was there as well.

    • goodfish's Profile Photo
      Jul 31, 2014 at 10:01 AM

      PERFECT! And thanks for being a sport; I just know what a stickler for detail you are so figured you wouldn't mind. :O) Feel free to delete this thread!

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Jul 31, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      'A sport' is probably the very last thing I am, as you well know...but I do like facts to be straight. :-))

  • 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.


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