New York City: The verdict!

Here we are – the finale to my (June 2016) New York City series. For those of you who haven’t been following from start to finish I’ll leave links to previous posts at the bottom, however the rest of you will remember I started this series with an introduction of my high hopes for NYC.

I’m London born and bred and consequently still consider the city my home. I’d always said it was my favourite city in the world but I’ve welcomed the challenge to find somewhere that surpasses that. I love big cities and at this point of my life (June 2016) I’d been to some incredible places. Some of my favourite destinations I’d visited included the likes of Sydney, Berlin, Edinburgh, Budapest and more but in my eyes all fell short of the high standard that London sets.

My dream city / destination growing up was New York City and in my mind, if anywhere could surpass my love of London surely this city was as worthy a challenger as any. I’ve always held high hopes for NYC so after finally getting the luxury of visiting, how did it measure up? I reflected on a wonderful trip, New York City is an incredible city and somewhere I knew I could easily call home. Did that necessarily mean it was better than London though? I sat and pondered it, weighed up the pros and cons of both cities and eventually reached the below decision.

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New York City!

The Challenger: New York City!
Let’s begin with our challenger. I spent a week in the city and wow, what an incredible week. I went to NYC with high expectations and it didn’t disappoint. It lived up to the high standards I hoped it would do and as I said in my last post, I’d struggle to name just the one singular highlight.

It was a faultless week. There are a lot of similarities between New York City and London, both are cities I know I could visit time and time again and never get sick of. As a travel destination New York City has everything you could want from a city break and its diversity really does have something for everyone. I struggle to fathom that people would not enjoy New York City. Too loud? Visit Central Park or better yet, get out of Manhattan altogether. Brooklyn botanical gardens is still one of my favourite retreats in the city.

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Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Maybe you didn’t mind the loudness but couldn’t find something that aligned with your interests. “What!!?” Impossible. I’m not saying you have to like everything that NYC has to offer but if you found nothing on offer that you enjoyed then you weren’t looking very hard. Museum person? World class museums. Theatre – NYC’s perhaps the most famous Broadway on Earth. Sports? Pretty much every major (American) sport on display at the very least. Nightlife? City that never sleeps. Shopaholic? High end department stores, markets and antique places everywhere. Foodie? Multicultural city with every type of food on offer. I could honestly go on and on and on. NYC has EVERYTHING! I’ll give you a pass on saying you wouldn’t want to live there but visit? I can’t comprehend the logic in not wanting to.

“So it’s a faultless city?”

Ah, well no. I was desperate to look for some cons to NYC and the easiest came to me from a friend that once claimed New York City to be the best city in the world. Hang on though mate, didn’t you stay in New Jersey?

“Yeah to save..” – too late. Ha! How can NYC be the best city in the world if you can’t afford to say there? London wins!!

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London!

The existing champion – London!
Wait a second, London’s extortionate too! Damnit! I’m back to square one!

The one con I could genuinely find for NYC is the one con I have of London too. I love everything about London. It’s home and finances aside, it is faultless in my eyes. NYC can offer everything but similarly what does London lack? Museums, theatre, sports, nightlife, great food, multicultural etc etc etc.

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Green Park, London

NYC is without doubt an incredible city and worthy challenger to London but as far as I was concerned London could match anything thrown at it. Equal in pros, equal in cons.

“So it’s a tie? You pesky little fence-sitter!!”

Hang on, hang on. I didn’t say it was a tie now did I? Yes, it was an incredibly difficult call and I scratched my head long and hard over which city I considered my favourite and there was one surprising, and perhaps harsh, deciding factor that I’d yet to consider.

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London!

The decider

*drumroll*

“New York City isn’t London though..”

That’s right. I’d overlooked this city-defining criteria in my impartial adjudicator role. NYC wasn’t London, that definitely has to go down as a con against the former.

“Great system Jason, well done!”

Being objective, the two cities are incredibly difficult to split but my somewhat flawed system means that sadly NYC does fall just short of my favourite city in the world. Was it ever really in doubt?

New York City rose to the challenge and threw everything it had at me to sway my thinking but ultimately that emotional attachment means London is perhaps never likely to be surpassed as my favourite place in the world.

Nevertheless I couldn’t have loved NYC any further and it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be returning to.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the series, for those of you that haven’t caught my previous NYC posts you can read those below but it’s time for me to wrap this up.

Stay tuned for what’s next!

Jason

P.S – All other New York City posts
NYC Introduction
Manhattan
Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!
Brooklyn
Liberty and Ellis islands
Coney Island

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NYC: Exploring Coney Island

I’ve generally been trying to post once a week and I have been consistent for much of the year so far but ironically, as a “travel blogger”, blogging whilst I travel is something I’ve yet to master. I spent a couple of days this week in Germany and a couple of days in Belgium and whilst I could have put up a post from my phone, do you really want to be doing that when on holiday?

It’d no doubt be different if I was a full-time / professional blogger but this was a week away from work for me. Sometimes it’s just nice to have that break, blogging included.

Anyway one of the things I did experience in Germany was the Kölner Karneval (Cologne’s carnival). The city was beyond crazy so keeping on that theme, next up in the New York series is none other than NYC’s own home of crazy: Coney Island!

If you’re not already familiar with Coney Island, made a little more famous by the film The Warriors, then you should know that it’s NYC’s little beach resort. I don’t think it was something that had been on mine or Kelly’s list to see but Pran suggested we go, so on our last day in the city (June 2016) we hopped on the subway and went to the beach!

Whilst it is on the subway line, it is a bit of a journey so expect to be sat on the subway for a while. It’s a bit similar to getting yourself to Heathrow on the tube I suppose – it can take a while!

Nevertheless we’d arrived and were quickly strolling towards the beach. Before we’d got that far we stumbled upon a massive billboard which had caught my eye and perhaps indicated what kind of place Coney Island is – crazy! On this massive billboard was a countdown to July 4th (a little under a month away) and Coney Island’s annual hot-dog eating competition! “What?!”

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The countdown is on (June 2016)

Only in America right? With that said, as we strolled along Coney Island’s promenade the eye-catching Nathan’s establishment drew us (me and Pran) in to sample their famous hotdogs! Although we did settle for just the one rather than attempt in taking on Coney Island’s champions and record-breakers of the past.
In fairness, I thought the hot-dog was amazing. If you’re going to eat them in bulk, Nathan’s hotdogs are probably as good as you’ll get.

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No trip is complete without a hotdog from Nathan’s

Having appeased our appetite we continued to look around and personally it was really nice to be by the sea. I reckon it had been around 2 years since my last beach visit so whilst this certainly isn’t one of the world’s best beaches, it still felt pretty nice to actually enjoy a little beach time.

Coney Island’s boardwalk is full of a number of attractions to actually make it somewhere you could easily spend a day. You’ll find amusement park rides, street art, shops, restaurants, bars, an aquarium and no doubt much more. We strolled up as far as the aquarium, passing a pretty cool mural, but didn’t really intend to go in so turned back and made our way back in the other direction.

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Eventually we arrived at one of the entrances to an amusement park area and I was a bit surprised to find it was closed for private hire! Firstly, I didn’t realise that was something you could do. However secondly, from a boring accountancy viewpoint I found it absolutely mind-boggling. Closed on a Saturday, in the summer with glorious weather? I know you can’t necessarily anticipate the weather but a Saturday in June!

Let that sink in because what incentive is there to close off an area to the public on a day you’re likely to get a lot of foot traffic. Ultimately it has to be a financial decision so then you wonder how much you’d have to charge to justify the decision, how extortionate is the fee to hire it out and who has that much money to do so just in order to have it for themselves? Madness!

Fortunately there were still some rides accessible to the public, including Coney Island’s iconic ferris wheel. I hadn’t really anticipated spending money on any rides but Pran suggested going up which didn’t actually take much persuasion, Kelly decided against it so just myself and Pran went up for a short ride.

Fascinating for me was getting to the top and being able to see the city off in the distance. On ground level you feel a million miles away, relaxed by the beach but the reality is that the fast-paced life of the city is right there! Crazy! We weren’t on the ferris wheel for too long but it was fun and I’m glad we did it.

Having seen quite a bit of Coney Island we were contemplating leaving at this point but on route back to the subway we encountered a large crowd gathering and had to see what was going on first, only to discover that today was the annual…

Dog pageant!

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Admittedly I think the rules were pretty relaxed and open to other animals / pets but for the most part New York’s dogs had come out in full costume to win Coney Island’s annual dog pageant! Hipster skateboarding dogs, fortune tellers, lobsters and more. The creativity of the locals was quite a sight and we couldn’t take our eyes off the various contestants and their costumes.

As the judges got to work we had the luxury of getting up close to many of the stars of the show and getting a few photos in. We decided to stick around to see who the eventual winners and runners up were, I can’t quite remember now but my personal favourite was the skateboarder who happily rode along the stage (with a little help admittedly).

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The standard of contestants were fantastic!

Coney Island had been a good little daytrip for our last day in the city, showing off a different type of crazy to New York City. It’s weird and quirky and bizarre but there’s something about the place that draws you in, I don’t think I’d hesitate in going back to Coney Island and it’s a great escape from the city for the locals (and tourists).

Again, it’s not the greatest beach in the world by any means but to be that accessible for New Yorkers is surely a plus. The city is busy and loud and can be overwhelming but there’s retreats such as Coney Island, the botanical gardens in Brooklyn or Central Park in Manhattan that show how diverse your options are when visiting NYC

Sadly it was time for us to start saying goodbye. We hopped back on the subway and made our way in to Brooklyn, leaving us just enough time to grab something to eat and watch the England game in some bar which was packed out with locals and Brits.

Following on from a typically underwhelming England performance (England 1-1 Russia) we made our way back to Pran’s, picked up our suitcases and ordered an Uber to take us to the airport. Our time in NYC was over with.

I had a brilliant time out in NYC, it really is a city that has so much to offer. Ask for a highlight and I’d struggle but the company was a factor in it being so enjoyable. However for those of you reading this series from the beginning, I suppose the real question is how did it measure up to London?  Had I finally found somewhere worthy of being called my favourite place in the world at London’s expense?

Sadly you’ll have to wait to find out! Next up on the blog: the NYC verdict!

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I love NYC but more than London? Verdict coming soon!

Stay tuned!

Jason

New York City: Exploring Liberty and Ellis islands

Welcome back to my NYC series! For those of you who haven’t been following along (why not!!?) then let me catch you up! I was in New York City for a week back in June 2016 and so far on the blog we’ve had a little intro plus looked at my time in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can catch up by clicking those links but today’s post is covering trips to two of the city’s famous islands.

I was somewhat tempted to include this in my Manhattan post which covered a lot of the touristy things the city has to offer, because I’m not entirely sure this justifies a post of its own, but my problem was that this isn’t Manhattan. It didn’t feel right to include it.

Anyway by this point in the week I think we’d seen a lot of the touristy stuff already which left one last “must-visit” thing to do: a trip to the Statue of Liberty! We’d seen it from a distance but hadn’t really got up close and personal with ‘Libby’ yet.

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Statue of Liberty with Manhattan in the background

You can take the Staten Island ferry which is free and will take you past the statue, however we wanted to visit the island itself and go up the statue which you have to buy tickets for. We pre-booked our tickets and opted for one of the earlier departures in hopes of beating the crowds a little bit.

Consequently we were up relatively early. We were staying in a 4 bed dorm in a hostel over in Brooklyn and it seemed one of our roommates had similar intentions, making an early start to her day so we got chatting about our plans. She was off to do a walking tour of the city but as it was we were going in the same general direction so decided we’d all go off together. Meeting other travellers is definitely one of the perks of hostel life!

Sadly delays on the subway meant that she missed her tour and had to abandon her plans. We ended up strolling past Wall Street which is in the heart of NYC’s financial district and we had a bit of a look around the area before making our way over to Battery Park, which was where our ferry picked up from.

Our new friend was tempted to pick up an on-the-day ticket to Liberty Island but decided not to, so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I figured we’d cross paths again but despite staying in the same room we bizarrely didn’t see her again before leaving. Admittedly I think we only had one night left at this point of the trip so must have just missed eachother. Sometimes that’s how it goes I guess.

Anyway, having arrived at Battery Park we were soon joining the queue to board the ferry. You have to go through airport-like security before being allowed on board but as we’d arrived early in the day it was a pretty smooth and quick process.

Once on board we went and found ourselves a prime spot to get some photos in the trip over to Liberty Island. We’d seen the statue before now but from the Empire State, Brooklyn Bridge or even at Battery Park I don’t think you truly appreciate how big the statue is. Movies and TV shows do little better in portraying the scale of this iconic statue.

As we passed by I was in awe at the sheer scale and magnitude of what was in front of us. Seeing ‘Libby’ in the flesh was impressive and you can’t help but admire Manhattan’s skyline off in the distance too. Soon enough we were departing the boat and walking on to the island itself. We quickly made our way to the entrance to climb the statue.

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We were quite lucky that we were one of the first going up. I don’t know if they limit how many people can be up there at a time but I’d hope so. It’s a pretty cramped space and you’d barely be able to move if it was a complete free-for-all. It offers some good views but honestly? It’s not worth going up!

It’s a bit like the Empire State but by going up you can’t really see ‘Libby’ in all her glory. You’re too close to get a decent view or photo. Additionally whilst the views of Manhattan are impressive, I’m not sure they’re any better than they are at ground level.

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View from up at the statue!

You’ve got a few options as far as Libby is concerned. You can go up the statue like we did, just visit the island or settle for passing by on a ferry. Personally I’m glad we visited the island, it’s not a big island but it was nice to walk around and take a countless number of photos in our own time. It didn’t feel like a rushed experience. Whilst you could go for the free ferry to save some money, I’d recommend visiting the island and benefit from that extra time to enjoy it. Going up the statue however just isn’t value for money. I wouldn’t do it again so if you’re looking to save some money, settle for just visiting the island.

Content that we’d spent enough time on Liberty Island we made our way back to the ferries for the second part of our trip. All ferries departing from Liberty island go to Ellis island which is included within your ticket. You then have the choice of exploring or catching a ferry on to your final destination (New York or New Jersey).

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Ellis Island immigrant building

We chose to stick around. Ellis Island was the landing point for all of the USA’s immigrants (illegal aliens, right?) and would be the first place you’d see coming in to the USA. Ellis Island is now home to a museum which delves in to the history of that and shows the process and various other bits and pieces in relation to immigration.

For a free museum it’s pretty interesting, they also offer an audio tour if that takes your fancy but I seemed to get mine out of loop and then couldn’t figure out how to reset it to go back to where I was. So I gave up on it as it was no longer relevant to where I was in the museum. It was still enjoyable though and seeing some of the processes for admitting / rejecting immigration status was particularly interesting.

You can go out the back of the museum which had an exhibit listing all of the names to have come through Ellis Island. It’s an incredibly long list, fortunately in an alphabetical order so if you wanted to you’d easily find your own family name.
Out back also provided some great views of Manhattan so myself and Kelly got a few photos before calling it a day.

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A moody looking Manhattan from Ellis Island

Given you have no choice but to visit Ellis Island, it’s a worthwhile inclusion. I think it’d be a shame to skip it and head straight back to the mainland. Overall we’d had a pretty fun day, by the time we were leaving it was a lot busier and as you can see the weather was also taking a turn for the worse so we’d timed it well by going early. The trip to Liberty Island in particular had been a trip highlight and something I’d certainly recommend.

Sadly as we near the end of the week we also near the end of the trip and consequently the end of the NYC posts. This was the last big thing to do on our list, we’d covered a lot of the must sees within the main part of the city. For that reason we were able to escape the city for a day at the end of the week and experience a very different side to NYC.

Up next on the blog? A trip to Coney Island!

Stay tuned!

Jason

NYC: Exploring Brooklyn

Continuing with my NYC series (June 2016) takes us on to Brooklyn! Most people visiting New York City for the first time will spend most of their time in Manhattan but our accommodation was over in the Brooklyn / Williamsburg area so we were fortunate to see quite a bit of Brooklyn too.

NYC’s (Manhattan) skyline is probably my favourite skyline that I’ve seen and one of the best places to view it is from across the water in Brooklyn. Consequently one of the first tourist hot-spots that we visited in Brooklyn was a trip down to Brooklyn Bridge park.

I say hot-spots but on the morning we visited it was actually pretty quiet. This little parked area is one of the best photo spots in the city as you can get right by the water and get some great photos of both Brooklyn bridge and the city’s skyline in the background. It also seemed a dog-walking favourite for some of the locals so the four legged ones approve of this location just as much! To be fair, if you’re going to walk your dog you might aswell do it somewhere with a view, right?

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Manhattan views from Brooklyn Bridge Park

After snapping plenty of photos we followed the signs towards Brooklyn Bridge as we wanted to tick off one of the bucketlist items for many visiting NYC, walking the bridge end-to-end. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if you walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan or vice versa but I personally felt like we did it best in walking towards Manhattan (and its stunning skyline) rather than away from it as there isn’t really anything noteworthy to see walking towards Brooklyn.

Much like Brooklyn Bridge Park, the beginning of our walk felt pretty quiet. We weren’t up obscenely early but given the bright blue skies I was a little surprised it wasn’t busier. Walking towards Manhattan provided us with numerous photo opportunities including that of the Statue of Liberty which was as close as we’d come to it at this point of the trip.

As we continued to stroll along it began to get busier, perhaps just because it was later in the day but it also felt like much of the foot traffic had started at the Manhattan side so inch by inch we’d encounter more people – many of which were oblivious to their surroundings and were consistent in their ability to get in to people’s ways, particularly cyclists who must hate having to tackle this bridge to get between the two boroughs.
Overall though it was an experience I enjoyed. It offers some wonderful views and for a city as expensive as NYC, it’s surely one of the best free activities.

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Brooklyn Bridge views on a beautiful summer’s day

I think we spent much of the remainder of this day in Manhattan so our next adventure on the Brooklyn side of the water was later in the week. Myself and Kelly planned to meet our friend Pran over near Brooklyn’s botanical gardens so made our way on the subway towards Prospect Park. Getting off the subway we decided to go and get a refresher. We were pondering the local options and just before we were about to enter one place, a local onlooker steered us away and advised us to check out a place further down the road.

For all the talk of New Yorker’s being unfriendly, she was one of many we encountered who again took time out of their day to help us. We followed her towards this tiny little shop selling juices of various kinds. The woman was fascinated with our accents and was friendly with the shop assistants too, she was definitely a regular so added a homely and local feel to the place.

The verdict on the juice was a little less positive and more of a mixed bag. Personally I was quite fond of mine but Kelly was less convinced, I think we’d both appreciated the effort of a local recommendation though. Soon enough we’d waved goodbye with our juices and found ourselves a little shaded spot in Prospect Park to enjoy it (or not in Kelly’s case haha).

Unfortunately for us Pran was on the other side of the park and waiting over near Brooklyn’s botanical gardens so we had to navigate our way over to meet him before making our way in to the picturesque botanical gardens.

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Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

There was a small entry fee but personally I felt it was value for money. The botanical gardens are quite large, stunning and felt really relaxed. Locals can acquire an annual membership (I think) and I had envy of those sat in the shade with a book which gave off the impression they were locals and frequent visitors of this beautiful part of Brooklyn. It’s a little out of the way for those staying in Manhattan, perhaps even ourselves to some degree but it was worth a visit and somewhere I’d definitely go back to. If I lived locally I think I’d frequent it a lot as an escape from the chaotic city.

Eventually moving on from the botanical gardens we ventured in to Prospect Park which was equally peaceful. Central Park is one of my favourite parts of Manhattan and Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s less touristy equivalent. There perhaps isn’t as much to do here but tell that to the locals who were out basking in the sunshine whilst enjoying a variety of activities: picnics, reading, sunbathing, kite-flying and more. Similarly to Central Park, I could easily see myself spending many an afternoon here as a local. There was the right balance between having a bit of life to it whilst maintaining a level of tranquillity. Along with the botanical gardens, it offers the perfect escape from city life.

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The peaceful Prospect park, Brooklyn

Beyond those two days the main activity throughout our time in Brooklyn was eating and drinking. Our hostel was in Brooklyn anyway so it was somewhat convenient but Pran also lives in the area so we had the benefit of some local insider recommendations which perhaps let us experience the best of Brooklyn / Williamsburg for food and a couple of beers. We checked out a few places, including the ‘famous’ Robertas which delivered on its reputation in offering (one of) the best pizzas in New York City. I know everywhere probably says they have the best pizza in the city but the waiting times here go some way to suggesting the locals agree.

Sadly between Kelly not drinking at the time and Pran having to work throughout the week we didn’t have any crazy nights out, nothing more than a couple of beers at a variety of different places but given some of my hangovers traveling it’s probably no bad thing. At any rate, I knew New York City was somewhere I’d definitely return to so I could forego drunken antics on this trip and instead could embrace the company and enjoy a more relaxed evening.

Despite not being crazy, some of the bars we went to were pretty cool. The Wythe hotel’s rooftop bar offered great views of Manhattan and there were others (I can’t remember the name of) with a much more chilled vibe. One of my favourite evenings was quite early in the trip. I couldn’t tell you the name of the bar but we picked up some beers inside and then found ourselves a table in the street. We watched the sun go down and just talked away for a couple of hours which was really nice, particularly having not seen Pran for a while before this trip.

With the exception of a couple of nights, which were also fun, we didn’t really see much of Manhattan’s nightlife but Brooklyn / Williamsburg felt hip and a fun place to enjoy an evening.

I think on a first visit to NYC it’s easy to overlook Brooklyn and spend all of your time in Manhattan but there are a few gems to be found in Brooklyn too. I’d probably stay in Brooklyn again when I return to NYC. Not only for the above reasons but there were a few things we didn’t get around to visiting. We did pass the interesting-looking library but missed out on going in, similarly Pran raved about Brooklyn’s museum which we ran out of time to enjoy.

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Brooklyn Library

Nevertheless it was a good first introduction to the borough and one I thoroughly recommend making time to explore. That wraps up this portion of NYC. Next up on the blog? Trips to Liberty and Ellis islands.

Stay tuned!

Jason

NYC: Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!

Alright, time to move on to the next part of this NYC series (June 2016). Last time out on the blog I was talking about all things Manhattan but there was one noticeable absentee from that particular post: the Empire State building.

“Whatt!!? How can you blog about Manhattan and not include the Empire State Jason? You’re a terrible travel blogger!!”

You’re right! The Empire State is perhaps the most iconic piece of Manhattan’s famous skyline but there was good reason for excluding it last time round so stick with me!

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One of the debates people have when visiting NYC is whether to visit the Empire State or the Top of the Rock? Don’t get me wrong, if you can visit both then they’re both great and offer fantastic views of the city but if you’re looking to save some money somewhere and can only do one I’d personally recommend skipping the Empire State and visiting the Top of the Rock. Surprised? Let me tell you why!

The view from the top of the Empire State is fantastic but as we clarified above, it is the iconic standout of Manhattan’s skyline. Whilst you can certainly admire the view of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State, you can’t see the Empire State itself!

Much like my post on Florence (here), the Duomo is the standout piece of architecture in Florence which makes the views from Piazzale Michelangelo the best in the city because you can see the Duomo in all its glory. It’s exactly the same here. One of the reasons that the top of the rock is better is because you can see the Empire State!

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The Empire State shining brightly!

 

By contrast the Rockefeller centre is nothing special, a bog standard skyscraper among many in the city. If you’re at the top of it you’re not missing out by not seeing it.

Additionally the Rockefeller centre is closer to Central Park so you get better views from here of it than you do at the Empire State. Lastly it’s actually cheaper! In my opinion you’re getting a better view at a better price. It’s a no brainer which you should visit if you can only do one!

Nevertheless, myself and Kelly decided to get tickets for both.

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View from the Empire State!

The Empire State!
Of the two, we visited the Empire State first. We went quite early in the week too so it was a great first chance to explore the city without Pran (the friend we’d gone to visit). I think we got off at Union Square and decided to walk it from there so we could have a stroll along 5th avenue and do a little window shopping on route.

Soon enough we’d arrived at the impressive empire state building and I was a bit in awe. Say what you like about which view is better, you don’t get the same “pinch me” moment at the Rockefeller centre. Perhaps that is one thing that tips the scale back in favour of the Empire State. Seeing it and experiencing it in the flesh does feel a little more special.

We made our way in, followed the signs as appropriate and a little ahead of us was an escalator. Nothing too unordinary but on the escalator was a familiar looking back of the head – surely not?

My grandparents were spending a month in the USA visiting the likes of Boston, DC, New York City, Dallas, Las Vegas and more. I knew our time in NYC would overlap but as they were only in the city for a couple of days we didn’t make plans to meet up.
They went to the US a few days before we went to New York and they’d gone AWOL and had yet to make contact with anyone back home so I’d been given instructions, jokingly, to “go and find your grandad”.

As we’d walked up 5th avenue I’d been looking out on the unlikely chance that they’d be whizzing by on one of the sightseeing buses, thinking it’d be funny if I actually spotted them but it’s a big city full of millions of people on any given day, what are the odds of actually seeing somebody you know?

So back to the empire state building – “I think I’ve just seen my grandad” I said to Kelly. As we followed up the escalator we then entered the queuing system and as the queue began to zig-zag left and right I confirmed my suspicions! That was my (sunburnt) grandad! Unbelievable! A few moments later we were embracing eachother in disbelief at the situation before sadly going our separate ways.

We’d booked our tickets in advance so skipped to the fast lane, whereas they were booking on the day and had a bit of a longer wait to buy tickets. “Maybe see you up there!”

On our way up I had to make use of the building’s Wi-Fi to message home to my mum. “Guess who I’ve just seen!?” – that’s right, I found your father! All it needed was for me to hop on a plane and I’d found him within 48 hours of being in the “little apple”.

Sadly we didn’t see each-other at the top. We did wait around for a bit, probably longer than we’d originally intended to but either they hadn’t come up yet or we just missed them. It was a little unfortunate as it would have been cool to have got a photo of us there given the opportunity.

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Company aside, the Empire State is cool. You can visit the 86th floor and the 102nd floor, I think my grandparents only did the former and might have been where we missed eachother.

I feel like I’ve been overly critical of the Empire State but given the choice again I wouldn’t go to the 102nd floor. The 86th is an outdoor viewing platform and gives you great views over the city. The 102nd is in this tiny cramped, poorly lit room which wasn’t great for photos. The view isn’t really any better, just higher and isn’t worth the extra fee to go that high. It’s worth going up but I’d personally recommend sticking to the 86th if you do.

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Central Park views from top of the rock!

The Top of the Rock
A few days later we went to the Rockefeller centre, home to much more than just the viewing platform at the top. You’ll find a host of shops, restaurants and even TV networks broadcasting your chat-show favourites in the Rockefeller Centre. We grabbed dinner at one of the restaurants before making our way up, intentionally timed to coincide with NY’s sunset.

I was interested to see how the view compared to the Empire State and wasn’t disappointed. For the most part you’re outside and have the luxury of 360 degree views of the city.  As I suggested above, the highlights for me are the close vicinity to Central Park and then the luxury of seeing the Empire State in all its glory too.

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Sun down, lights on in Manhattan!

The timing perhaps also made this better. We’d visited the Empire State around lunchtime, whereas we visited the top of the rock just before sunset. There’s no limit as to how long you can stay up there (at either attraction) so we got the bonus of seeing NYC before and after dark which was quite nice and we ended up getting plenty of photos before calling it a night.

I have to say I enjoyed both so if you can do both I’d certainly recommend doing so. They were memorable moments of our time in NYC and surprisingly gave me a unique story to tell of “that time I saw my grandad at the Empire State..”

Anyway that truly wraps up Manhattan. Next up on the blog? Exploring Brooklyn!

Stay tuned!

Jason

New York City: Exploring Manhattan

In my last post (read me) I gave you a little prequel / introduction to my New York City series. In reality it was just a bit of a filler post, I’ve really been struggling to write about New York because I want to do it justice whilst additionally keeping it personal. The intro was just me buying some time to adequately put New York City in to words.

I’ve approached it in different ways and drafted several efforts but whilst they haven’t necessarily been badly written, they’ve just felt a bit generic. Trying to find the balance between writing about the destination and writing about my trip specifically can sometimes be tricky and this has probably been my toughest effort to date.

I visited NYC (June 2016) for a week which is a long time so subsequently I’ve decided to split this over several posts, beginning with my time in Manhattan.

Manhattan is really the Hollywood of New York City. It’s weird as a first time visitor because it is a huge city with massive skyscrapers which can make you feel very small, it could easily be overwhelming but in many ways it’s also incredibly familiar. Our (me and Kelly) flight to NYC was delayed by a bit and then the queues for border control were quite long so by the time we got out of the airport I suggested we just get a cab, our first yellow taxi experience and already a sense of familiarity having seen them across countless movies and TV shows. It was a sign of things to come – you feel like you’re constantly walking into movie sets wherever you are in the city.

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Exploring Brooklyn

Leaving the airport we headed for our hostel. We were staying in Brooklyn but didn’t really do much after arrival, opting for an early night and raring to go the next morning. We had a little wander of the area before meeting up with our friend Pran, a mutual friend who was inspiration for the trip (not that myself or Kelly need much excuse to travel).. We met Pran at some subway station, popped to a diner for some breakfast (pancakes!!) and made our way in to Manhattan for the first time.

Pran had to work whilst we were in NYC so knowing that we’d do some of the more well-known tourist spots on our own, he took us over to the High Line for our first stop in Manhattan. The High Line is an increasingly popular tourist attraction, built on a former train line it has been transformed in to public gardens and exhibitions and also hosts some small local businesses selling stuff. One of the best things about the High Line is that it was previously an elevated train line too so you get some great views of the city, the weather wasn’t fantastic and there was a bit of fog so some of the skyscrapers such as the Empire State got a little lost but it was a fun first stop in the city. Definitely worth a visit, me and Kelly even returned on another day to look around a little more.

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Returning to the High Line on a sunnier day

From there we made our way over to Times Square, another Hollywood moment in NYC. Instantly recognisable and for that reason its inevitably a tourist hot-spot. It was cool to see Times Square in person, the fog kind of added to the atmosphere of the place too. It was spectacular to look at with so much in your face and for that reason I kind of like Times Square but for the most part I hate it.

It’s SO busy and just feels a bit tacky. I’d seen it once but that was it for me, I’d happily not go back to Times Square. You spend so much of your time hurdling foot traffic that you just want to get out of there ASAP. We did pass through a couple more times in our trip but on the whole I’d happily avoid it altogether. Unless you’re venturing there in the early hours of the morning with nobody around, I’d suggest steering clear.

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Times Square. Again, a return on a sunnier day

Next on our list to see was New York’s famous Grand Central train station, it was easy to see why it was so popular. It looks incredible inside and you quickly forget that it’s an actively used station, as keen as we were to get some photos it’s also worth remembering that commuters are actively passing through and probably don’t appreciate dawdling tourists slowing them down! After a few photos we moved on to..

I don’t really remember.

I remember everything we did in New York but breaking it down day by day is a bit of a blur. Pran unfortunately had to work Mon-Fri which left me and Kelly to explore by ourselves throughout the rest of the week. Early on in the week we made our first trip to Central Park which is probably one of my favourite parts of Manhattan. I don’t think you appreciate how big it is until you’ve visited but it’s huge! The plus side to that is that although it inevitably attracts tourists, it never felt crowded when we visited. It felt peaceful and there’s plenty of interesting spots within the park itself, I think if I lived in NYC I would spend a LOT of time here and probably still discover new things and spaces to relax.

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Little castle in Central Park

One of the other things we were keen to visit whilst in New York was ground zero, the site of the 9/11 attack and home to a memorial in remembrance of it. It’s crazy to think that you’ve now got adults that are too young to have any recollection of this even happening. Whilst a tragedy, it’s one of those historic moments where you’ll remember where you were as the news unraveled.

I thought the memorial was incredible and really does justice to the memory of those who lost their lives there. The name of every victim is listed along the memorial and I did find it quite moving seeing the vast number of names, including emergency services that risked their lives. Occasionally there’d be a flag or flower attached to certain names, the latter actually left by the memorial employees and indicates the birthday of the name its attached to which I thought was another thoughtful touch.

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There is also a 9/11 museum you can visit, we did take a look around but it’s quite big and we went late in the day to take advantage of their weekly free admission so didn’t actually see much. If you want to visit for free you still have to reserve tickets in advance through their website.

The rest of our time in Manhattan was a little more relaxed. We explored various neighbourhoods including Chinatown, Little Italy and the financial district but we didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy. It was a fun city to explore, on foot we’d get friendly locals coming up and chatting to us (usually because we looked lost).

Additionally when not on foot we made use of the subway and every subway journey was an adventure of its own. Live music and performers were always in either the subway stations or on the subway itself which added a bit of liveliness and atmosphere to our travels. Again, it’s perhaps more frustrating for the daily commuter but as two travelers it was something we personally enjoyed.

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The constantly lively Union Square

Overall we had a great time exploring Manhattan together, we’d ticked off pretty much everything that we’d both agreed upon seeing but there was one last thing I had to try and do whilst here. I couldn’t come all the way to New York City and not meet up with the Cattry sisters if they were free.

I’d met Navdeep, Pardeep and Ravi online through our mutual love of Tottenham Hotspur and it only seemed right that we tried to meet up whilst I was in town. Fortunately they were free so we planned to meet up for lunch one afternoon. The invitation was extended to Kelly but she didn’t really fancy it so we split for the afternoon and arranged to meet up a bit later, Kelly took it as an opportunity to visit some Star Wars exhibition instead which was probably equally enjoyable for her and not something I personally had any regrets at missing (I’m now awaiting the wrath of the Star Wars fanatics).

It was nice to finally meet the three of them in person. We picked up some lunch to go at some nearby place which Ravi was insistent on paying for (thank you again!) and then headed over to the picturesque Bryant Park to enjoy it. With the sun shining it was a beautiful spot to eat, catch up, discuss all things football and get some more tips for things to see whilst in NYC.

Ending the post on one of the trip highlights, that roughly rounds up our time in Manhattan. You might be curious at the fact that the Empire State is a notable absence from this Manhattan post, there is a reason for that but you’ll have to wait to find out why!

Next up on the blog: The Top of the Rock and the Empire State building, including a surprising encounter!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Introducing New York City!

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, be it on the blog or other social media, then you should know by now that London is my favourite city in the world. I was very fortunate to have been born in the city, spending a chunk of my childhood there and I still very much think of it as home.

I had the luxury of hosting Haleigh in England recently and I was particularly keen to show off London. It was nice to be the host rather than the traveler for once.

I moved out of London in 1997 so I’ve spent most of my life in Peterborough but whenever I’m asked where I’m from I always throw in a little disclaimer – “I live in Peterborough but..”

“I’m from London..”

“You haven’t lived there in 21 years Jason – stop saying that!”

It’s true though. It isn’t meant as disrespectful of Peterborough but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that same pride that I do for London. I’ll always think of London as home and the reality is I’ll probably never even live in the city again (although if you’ve got a few million spare give me a heads up).

The interesting thing is as a traveler, you’re regularly asked where your favourite place is and as tough as that can be to answer genuinely, it does often lead to me throwing in another disclaimer.
“Excluding London my favourite..”

“Excluding London? So your favourite place is home?”. It does somewhat make a mockery of the question. I’ve visited several places now and perhaps that’s one of the motivations and reasons I travel so much. London sets the standard so keep traveling until I find better, right? I’ve never said London would always be my favourite place in the world and I’m happy to be proven wrong: enter New York City!

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New York City!

I love big cities and if there was anywhere that could challenge my love of London, surely this was the one? A city full of culture, history, diversity and a city that supposedly never sleeps – NYC was my dream destination to visit and one I had high hopes for.

Come June 2016 I was finally visiting for the first time with my friend Kelly. Kelly is my fellow travel-obsessed friend and the chance to go and visit a mutual friend (Pran) who lives over there was as good a reason as any to travel, not that either of us need much excuse. So off we went to NYC for a week!

At this point in time I’d been to the likes of Sydney, Berlin and Amsterdam and whilst worthy challengers I’d yet to be convinced on a London successor to earn the title of “best place in the world”. Could NYC finally surpass London’s high standards?

Stay tuned to find out. NYC part one is next on the blog!

Jason