I recently took a trip to New York City, that favourite place.
It came about because my Dad was on holiday and coming into New York for the final leg. My sisters and I began to imagine the possibility of being in New York City, in Autumn, together. Once in a lifetime perhaps? Sign us up! (The brothers were invited too, for the record).
My sisters and my Dad looking not too shabby on The Highline
If you’ve been, you don’t need me to tell you that New York is a very special place. It is authentic in the extreme – people are straight-talking, they are open, they are hard-working, they are survivors. What you see in the city and its people, is what you get. Manhattan is all personality, each part so different to every other part, each neighbourhood wearing a distinct vibe influenced by the nationalities and history that evolutionised it.
Everyone owns New York. My sister Linda and I moved there exactly half our lifetimes ago – she stayed a Summer, I stayed a year. Along with some friends we squatted in Columbia University until we finally found digs in the Bronx and we both got office jobs in Manhattan – her on the cusp of what would became Ground Zero, me in mid-town. We were truly and utterly broke (I remember my wage not going into my bank account and not having the subway fare home until I luckily came across a five dollar bill on the street) so much of our free time at the weekends and evenings was spent walking Manhattan, soaking it up and breathing it in. We were right at our beginnings, but taking the subway, eating pizza slices, going out in the Village, greeting workmates in a high-rise made us feel like we were really doing it. Like we owned a small part of the city. Native New Yorkers.
New Yorkers are the nicest people you’ll meet – interested, chatty, genuinely welcoming. OK, some of them are crazy – but at least they get to live their madness. In most places crazy is for keeping locked away, for storing deep down. We couldn’t look at the subway map but be asked if we needed any help – ‘enjoy your vacation’, ‘have a nice day’. One day in Bryant Park a young lad was (quite obviously) dared to come up to sing a song to us. He didn’t realise that what he might have assumed to be a quiet bunch of women was actually a gaggle of gay men only waiting to unleash their inner Britney as he launched into ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. The FUN! How many times are you allowed to say ‘Only in New York’ in one holiday?
New York has attitude. On a different trip some years back I had stopped a shabbily dressed young man as he swept the floor in the city’s main bus terminal. I needed directions and opened my conversation with the very Irish, ‘Sorry, but…’. He raised his hand, saying, ‘You are in New York. You do not need to apologise. Here we say ‘excuse me’. How can I help you?’. New York teaches you to find your voice, no matter who you are or what you do, without apology. If it’s out there, you have the right to strive for it. If you can make it there, you can make it any where.
We all had a ball, packing in a little of the Arts, some history, a good share of coffee, much pavement pounding, and probably too much food. For Linda and I the visit was particularly sweet. We were now grown-up tourists with a few bob in our pockets and leisure time to spend with our three sisters and father in arguably the world’s finest city. New York shone in the Autumn sun. The buildings, the streets, they were all like old friends welcoming us back – full of memories and evocative of a great time spent living there. My sister reckoned it might be New York giving back after everything we put into it all those years ago when we were aged just 19 and 20. I wondered if it could possibly give any more.
In Bryant Park – The Beautiful, The Favourite
My Favourite 5 FREE Things To Do In Manhattan
- The Highline – A walk on an elevated, reclaimed train track. Peaceful, beautiful and great views.
- The Strand Book Store – Read and peruse all day – so full of history and great books. Independently owned and run by a family – a rarity!
- The Staten Island Ferry – Take in the New York City Skyline, as many times as you like, for free. Leaves from the Whitehall Terminal.
- The Parks – Bryant Park is my favourite, but Central Park, Madison Square Park, Battery Park, Washington Square Park – the city is full of beautiful places to spend time, to sit or wander.
- The New York City Public Library Tour (Free daily at 11am & 2pm) – a new one for me after this trip and some arm twisting by my sister Evelyn to go see. It is simply one of the most interesting and pleasant tours I’ve ever been on.