“Start spreadin’ the news,
I’m leaving today
I want to be a part of it,
New York, New York…”
Those opening words from the famous song, written by Fred Ebb and John Kander, titled ‘New York, New York’, certainly made the writing duo a part of the great city.
The song was written for and performed by Liza Minelli, but when ‘old blue eyes’ Frank Sinatra began performing this tune, it became legendary. It has been embraced as a song of celebration by New York City and is often performed at public social events.
It has become New York’s unofficial anthem and has been performed and recorded by many artists over the years, including Tony Bennett on his album ‘Duets’.
Why is it a song like this evokes so many emotions, and not only for New York citizens? It causes shivers down the spine and brings feelings of compassion, admiration and desire for so many.
“I wanna wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep,
And find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap,
These little town blues,
Are melting away.
I’ll make a brand new start of it, in old New York,
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,
It’s up to you, New York, New York…”
I am totally hooked on this city, and I know I am not alone. Most people I meet have either been there and can’t wait to go back, or have it set in their sights as a ‘must go’ place.
It’s true, this city just never sleeps. You can walk through Times Square at any hour of the day or night and there will always be some kind of activity going on.
On one of my trips, it was the early hours of the morning, we were walking not too far from Times Square and a whole city block was barricaded off. I initially thought there had been some kind of coup or huge accident, but there were also crowds of onlookers, way too many for this hour of the morning and way too many for people just watching the aftermath of an accident. The crowd was all in good spirit, so what was it? They were filming a movie! Nicolas Cage and others were in the midst of filming an action scene and the crowd was mesmerised.
You will also see a large police presence; the city is very safe, which encourages activity to go on at all hours – people are safe to wander. Mayor Giuliani cleaned up NYC in the’90s when he imposed zero-tolerance on crime, making the city a very safe place to be.
It is very easy to fall in love with this city; your dreams grow, your inspirations increase, you really do want to be a part of it, part of this city that welcomes visitors.
You start seeing your career changing or moving, you start to identify with the people living there, and you become involved in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You really do start to believe that if you can just be there, live there, that you can make it there. And of course, if you can make it in New York, then it stands to reason that you can make it anywhere.
Don’t ask me how this happens, but once bitten, you are hooked.
The city has a program called Big Apple Greeter where a volunteer greeter will show you around the city, introduce you to New York’s big city with small town hospitality and show you the diversity of the neighbourhoods and the hidden treasures. Of course, you can always explore the city yourself, but should you decide to have a Big Apple Greeter show you around, book before you leave home as there are 300 greeters but thousands of visitors.
There are also hop-on hop-off buses that take you all around Manhattan and Brooklyn, and these are a great way to discover the city. The tour directors give great information about the city and highlight points of interest, which are everywhere. You can buy passes for these buses that allow you to travel for 48 or 72 hours, but even with all this sightseeing, you will have barely scratched the surface of this city.
Sightseeing cruises in New York City are extremely popular. You get to see the beautiful Manhattan skyline from New York Harbour and the Hudson River. There are speed boat rides, 2 and 3-hour cruises, and Harbour Lights cruises. From these cruises you will see Battery Park, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium, Columbia University and heaps more.
Museums in New York are in abundance; museums of art, architecture, photography, natural history, and television, radio and technology. There is also the Metropolitan Museum, Natural History Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Van Courtland House Museum, and the Museum of Sex, so you won’t be at a loss if museums are ‘your thing’.
Manhattan is huge but I found the best way to get around is on foot. The locals walk a lot and also use the subway, so doing your sightseeing on foot will make you feel even more like a local.
Should you find yourself a bit further from your hotel than you would like and are a bit too tired to walk back, cabs are in abundance, except at the end of a working day. We had one of those instances that you see on TV all the time – flagging down a cab only to have someone rush in front of us screaming ‘its MINEEEEEE’, jumping in and speeding off in the cab, leaving us with our jaws gaping! At other times, cabs are everywhere and very cheap (compared to those in Australia). You can get a fairly long cab ride, about 30 minutes, for about $15.
Grand Central Station is one of the many must-see places. The history behind this place is amazing, the movies that have been filmed there, the architecture; everything about this place is mind-blowing. For me, even buying a train ticket was a buzz. To be in this place where presidents and movie stars have walked was a very surreal experience. The grand stair cases, the massive windows with the sun streaming through, the different concourse levels, the stores, the market place, it would be very easy to spend a whole day just in the train station.
We were there buying tickets to the Bronx where we were going to Yankee Stadium to catch a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Tamper Bay Rays. I was quite nervous travelling the New York subway to the Bronx – from all television accounts, this was going to be quite a dangerous expedition, but it was as safe ‘as houses’.
The train had a conductor; I don’t know if this is the normal thing but it was quite ‘nostalgic’ trip. It was lovely to have a little old man, wearing his uniform and cap come and ‘clip’ our tickets.
Getting off at the E153rd St Station was a breeze and just a short walk to Yankee Stadium. The ballpark was originally built as a home for the New York Yankees in 1923, closing in 1973 and then re-opening from 1976 to 2008. It has since been rebuilt in public parkland adjacent to the original facility. The stadium is massive, hosting huge banners of players that hang from the walls and the ceiling. Taking your seat in the grandstand and looking down onto the diamond is another surreal feeling.
The game we saw was hugely exciting, I loved it, but I was still testing out things I have seen on TV – I wanted to order a beer and ‘dog’ and see if they would pass my money down the row of people and pass my food and drink back to me. They did! It was another exciting and surreal feeling!
Of course, no trip to New York would be complete (as if any trip there would ever be complete), without visiting the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty.
The Empire State Building is yet another brilliant architectural structure that has a very interesting history. Firstly, it is the building King Kong climbed when he was fleeing the throng of people chasing him.
Also, there have been 30-plus suicides from the top of the building, with the first occurring even before the building was completed. Bizarrely, in 1979, Elvita Adams attempted to kill herself by jumping from the 86th floor, only to have strong winds blow her back into a window on the 85th floor rendering her with a broken hip.
During thick fog in 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith, Jr, crashed into the north side of the building. One of its engines flew through the skyscraper and out the other side, landing another block away and starting a fire that destroyed a penthouse apartment.
An elevator operator, Betty Lou Oliver, survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall recorded.
Today, this magnificent piece of architecture is adorned with art-deco features and highly polished inlaid timber. It has more than 100 floors, 73 elevators, 6,500 windows and 1,860 steps from street level to the 102nd floor. Floodlights illuminate the top of the building each night, with colours of the lighting changing to match seasonal and other events such as St Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Independence Day and Bastille Day.
To enter the building, you must go through security check points. It’s a little daunting but with the interesting history and high security levels all around Manhattan, it’s also strangely comforting.
I don’t know if you are allowed to walk up the 1,860 steps to the 102nd floor, it’s not something I cared to find out about but riding an elevator takes you to the observation deck quickly. Once there, the views are amazing, as 110-million people have discovered. The day we were there was slightly misty, but there was still a magnificent view and you could see that Manhattan goes on and on and on.
The Statue of Liberty is situated on Liberty Island, in the middle of New York Harbour. It was a gift to the United States from the people of France and is a structure of a robed female figure representing the roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. She is holding a torch and a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law), upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
There are many ferries/boats that will take you to Liberty Island, where you can wander around the whole island. Occasionally guests are allowed to climb up the inside of the Statue, but be warned again, security is extremely tight, both when you get onto your boat from Manhattan and also when you go into the Statue itself. There is an audio tour around the island, which tells of the history and construction of the statue and views back to the Manhattan shoreline are magnificent.
These cruises are often somewhat similar to the ‘hop on – hop off’ buses, allowing you get on and off at different islands. One of these is Ellis Island, which houses the Immigration Museum and is also steeped in history.
If you just want to cruise past the statue, you can jump on the Staten Island Ferry, which is free. You will go from Manhattan to Staten Island, passing close enough to the statue for great photo opportunities. Once you reach Staten Island, you have to disembark the boat but you can re-board straight away if you wish and head back to Manhattan, or you can stay and explore Staten Island.
The Chrysler Building is another art deco-style skyscraper, located in Manhattan’s east side, at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. It’s another building that is architecturally brilliant but go inside and you will find that it is decorated in art deco opulence.
The corners of the 61st floor are graced with eagles; while on the 31st floor the corner ornamentations are replicas of the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps. The building was declared a national Historic Landmark in 1976.
The Brooklyn Bridge is yet another piece of architectural brilliance and is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. The bridge took 14 years to build, reaching completion in 1883 and connects Manhattan with Brooklyn, NY’s most populous borough.
You can join the hundreds of people who walk across this bridge every day; it’s a beautiful walk crossing the East River. The day we went was very hot, so we decided to do this walk, and leisurely explore Brooklyn before catching a water taxi back to Manhattan.
Once arriving at the platforms to catch our water taxi, we found the river had been closed. A river closed? Never heard of such a thing! In fact, the river had been and would continue to be closed for a few hours – how many hours was unknown – because President Obama would be ‘on the water’ at ‘sometime’.
It was way too hot to walk back over the bridge, so we had to wander around Brooklyn and to find a cab. We discovered cabs in Brooklyn are nowhere near as abundant as they are in Manhattan!
There is always something going on in Times Square – from body painting, bands, dancers and singers to deck chairs in the sun for you to just sit and relax and watch the world go by. The precinct is full of massive brand-name stores, and uncountable tourist shops, like the M&Ms store, and the biggest billboards I have ever seen in my life. It’s the place where tens of thousands of people celebrate New Year’s Eve, and the area becomes a 17-block party that is an alcohol free zone and is patrolled by more than 1,500 New York Police Department officers.
Times Square is full of what are claimed to be the best restaurants, clubs, bars and lounges in New York. Maybe this is the case, but from my experience, excellent restaurants, clubs, bars and lounges are available all over New York.
Don’t be afraid to explore, I found what I would call the best rooftop bar, although there are hundreds of them and every one I tried was ‘the best’. Maybe it was because I had ‘the best’ time! How could it not be the best time? A roof top bar, NYC, views of other roof top bars, roof top pools, the Empire State Building, drinks flowing, music playing… it’s all the best!
Restaurants are all over NYC; any style of food you can imagine is available. Again, don’t be afraid to explore, sometimes the most innocuous little doorway will take you into a hidden gem restaurant.
One of my favourite restaurants is a place called Carmine’s. Carmine’s is a family-style concept restaurant in the theatre district of New York and is extremely good value for money. They strive to serve every meal in the style of an Italian-American wedding feast.
On our first visit to this restaurant, we placed our order for two people – a salad and pasta to share. The waiter asked us if we realised that Carmine’s was a ‘family restaurant’, we obviously didn’t understand what that term meant.
We were firstly served a basket of bread, with too many varieties to count; this was soon followed by the salad and then the pasta. We were overfull before the pasta arrived and the salad looked barely touched. The meals were massive and would have very easily served six people, or a ‘family’, hence the term ‘family restaurant’.
The service is impeccable; the wait staff are extremely helpful and attentive to your needs. The restaurant is beautifully decorated, with dark timber panelling, massive wrought iron light fittings timber framed photos on the walls and it’s very stylish but not at all pretentious.
There are a few restaurants in the Carmine’s group, but the one I have been to is on West 44th Street, just off Broadway, so it’s a great place to go if you are planning on catching a show.
The things I have written above are things that I feel are 100 per cent must-do’s while you are in New York, but there is heaps more to do. I have been there a few times now and know that I have barely touched the surface.
New York City is a place to explore; it’s a place of excitement. The people are friendly and welcoming and there is a very strong feeling of ‘family’. It’s very easy to feel a part of the family, to feel that you belong, to know that New York is for you.
Two tips I’ll give you for your trip to New York. 1. If you are flying in, don’t get a shuttle bus to your accommodation; cabs are much cheaper, much more direct, and much safer. 2. If you are driving into the city, don’t do it in peak hour.
So, from me to New York…
“Start spreadin’ the news,
I’m leavin’ today (not quite today, but soon!),
I want to be a part of it,
New York, New York…