Travel Diary: New York City

Last month I visited New York City for the first time with my family and I'm already hoping to visit again. It is no lie that it is one of the greatest cities in the world and I can officially confirm to you that it is all that the internet and movies make it out to be (with a few exceptions but we'll get into that later.) The main reason I'm writing this blog post is to create a small photo diary of my trip (so I don't forget all the important and smaller memories) but it may also be useful if you are planning a trip to New York and want to find out some interesting and new places to visit!

Day 1: Travelling and Night-time Exploring
Our flight from Manchester was at 1pm so we arrived in JFK New York at 8pm UK time (1am New York time) which meant that we were unusually awake for the time-zone. We took the Airtrain and then the Subway to our hotel in the Upper West Side close to Broadway. 

It was after we checked in that I had my first New York pizza in a small take out called Europan which by the way, sells the BEST hot chocolate I've ever drank in my whole life, (or maybe it felt that way after my long-haul flight.) Our little recharging session was followed by a walk along Broadway. This was my first real impression of New York at night, obviously at 2 in the morning you'd expect it to be quiet. Not in the city that famously doesn't sleep! We walked to the Lincoln Center which is a stunning building that has a beautiful light-up fountain in the square in front of the building. This was surreal to watch, there was around a dozen people just sat around watching in awe at the fountain's changing patterns and shapes. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Fairway (small supermarket) to buy some essentials before we slept for bloody ages - jet lag will be your worst enemy if you ever travel across the Atlantic and enter past time-zones.

Day 2: Ultimate Tourist Day
First we visited the Rockefeller Center and to the 'Top Of The Rock' for the afternoon skyline view. This is the moment where it finally hit me that, yes, I was in New York and I am starting it in the face! There were 3 viewing decks and I don't think anything beats the view that is New York City. It is the sort of viewing are where it is impossible to get a bad photo, making it definitely worth the money to go up. It is also the best place to take pictures of the Empire State Building from afar. This is when I saw Central Park from the sky-view and it surprised me so much how almost out of place it looks, yet it is so necessary for the city to maintain it's character. I'm going to let the photographs do the talking for this. Make sure you check the visibility before you visit as you may not be able to see the sights on a really cloudy day. It was slightly hazy when I visited and it wasn't too shabby, but that is just something to keep in mind when planning a trip (that your visit may have to be altered based on the weather.) 

Next we found Times Square, which was admittedly quite underwhelming for the hype it is given. It is literally just a road with loads of screens and advertisements, in the afternoon it wasn't as spectacular as I expected. Following Times Square, we walked to Bryant Park, which I thought was such a beautiful representation of New Yorkers. There were hundreds of people sitting around in the sun; enjoying their lunch breaks. They also had board games available to play on the benches, it had a really lively and excitable atmosphere. Plus it was in one of many parks, which add a bit of green to the concrete overloaded city. The thing is with the parks is that not many people living in New York have any form of garden, so the public park is used as a public garden for everyone. The parks are also an escape from the traffic and hustle on the pavements (in case New York is already getting a bit much for you!) But I loved how you could see the skyscrapers towering over the green park, the contrast was stunning and it just worked perfectly!
Just next to Bryant Park, is the New York Public Library. We didn't go in here for long, but they have a great gift-shop if you are looking for some tasteful souvenirs that you will actually use (e.g notebooks, calendars, tote bags.) The architecture of the building is beautiful, it has a much more classic feel than the modern architecture that surrounds it. You cannot look around the entire building as there are lots of people using the space to work in, it is still worth a quick look around though. We also stopped inside for a drink at the small cafe inside (I had some of the infamous Hubert's lemonade for the first time.)

After our little break in the library we walked over to Grand Central Station. For me the station was a little underwhelming, it is interesting to see the location due to it's appearance in many films. But the building itself wasn't particularly special. I was looking forward to it because of it's feature in Madagascar, and they did animate the building pretty accurately to how it looks in real life - I can confirm for you! The station is also a great spot for catching the 4, 5, 6 and 7 subway trains.

From the station, we took the 4 train to Bowling Green and walked to the Staten Island Ferry port. The ferry is free of charge and runs about every 15 minutes. It passes the Statue of Liberty and gives a great view of Governor's island and the Manhattan skyline. Staten Island itself hasn't got very much to offer, the boat trip is worth doing though as you get a free sea view of New York (without having to go on a tour boat.) However, if you are looking for a Dollar store, there is one on Staten Island (we dipped in to grab a few bits and bobs) so I guess it is not that boring of an island!

Day 3: Nature, Culture and RAIN
Following yet another late morning start (jet-lag is a bitch), we walked from our hotel to Central Park and explored. Across Central Park from where we were staying we found a small cafe called Le Pain Quotidien next to the Conservatory Water pond and watched the model boats sail around the water whilst topping up on caffeine (and for me a fresh lemonade a.k.a the best USA drink that doesn't exist in the UK.) We walked around Central Park for a while, which I actually found was not as big as I expected. Although we didn't go into the zoo, we looked at the entrance (shown in Madagascar the movie, noticing a trend here?) The weather was extremely humid, making our speed of sight-seeing much slower. 

Afterwards we made our way from Central Park to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. One thing you should learn about New York in summer is that all the public buildings are air-con blasted to death - this meant that whilst in The MET, I got quite cold in my shorts and crop-top. I took a step outside into the humidity and it felt NICELY warm, like stepping into a warm bath or inside a cosy building in Winter. We spend a few hours in The MET, they have a small cafe, so we stopped off there for lunch. Once we had finished looking around the museum, we discovered that it was no longer hot and sunny outside, but drenched from never ending torrential rain. Of course having dressed for 35 degree heat, we did not have a raincoat or umbrella, so my mum, brother and I ran in the rain to the nearest subway station (5 blocks away) and looked as though we had jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed.

Day 4: Thrifting in Manhattan
In the morning I thrifted on my own around Manhattan while my family looked around the National History Museum (not in my close interests to visit.) Beforehand, I used Google Maps and marked all the thrift shops close to my hotel so that I could easily locate all the shops. I also recommend you save the maps so you can view them offline (just so that you don't need to use your data to load the map!) I delved into various Goodwill's and Housing Works, picking up quite a large amount of items all for under $20 (I will be doing a New York Thrifted items post soon, in case you are interested in what I bought.) However, the best thrift shop for me was the Salvation Army on West 46th Street. I wouldn't even call it a thrift shop, more like a thrift warehouse! The shop had so many items to look through, I loved the challenge, the prices were also extremely cheap, my favourite item being some I.AM.GIA trousers for $6! I also explored the area of Hell's Kitchen and bought my first ever $1 pizza slice before flicking through the rails of L Train vintage (a vintage thrift shop that reminded me of the shops in England.)

Day 5: Relocating and Beach Day
After the last night in our hotel, we repacked our bags and took the subway across New York to our booked apartment in Brooklyn. My conclusion of this journey was that 20kg suitcases and subway stairs are not a good mix! Since our apartment was in Brooklyn, later that afternoon we took the train to Rockaway Park, a touristy area with beautiful sandy beaches. It was so relaxing to escape the loud city environment for a few hours. The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and soaking up the sunlight with the sound of waves crashing in the background, rather than police sirens and traffic.
Day 6: Intense Sightseeing
Yet again another day spent doing what is best in New York - sightseeing. In the morning we walked across Brooklyn Bridge, luckily it was a super clear and sunny so the views of Lower Manhattan were spectacular. The skyscrapers still looked like a little model city, so plastic and false.

From the bridge we made our way to Wall Street where I was disappointed that you couldn't just walk into the New York Stock Exchange (maybe I should have researched beforehand but never mind.)

Of course the main event of Lower Manhattan is The One World Trade Center, which I actually learnt from a tour guide on a boat later on in the trip that the sides of the building have the illusion of making the building look as if it points upwards from certain angles. However it is exactly perpendicular to the ground and does not slant inwards as it increases in height. (Most of you probably don't care about that fun fact but I found it particularly interesting.) We didn't go inside the trade center but we looked at the 9/11 memorial, which is absolutely stunning. The size of it is magnificent.

After this we took the subway to Washington Square Gardens and sat by the fountain for a while to cool off in the heat. Considering my family name is Jones, we has to visit Jones Street whilst in Greenwich Village and take an iconic photo (success!) My younger brother is really into heavy metal music so we found a record shop called Generation Records and browsed in there for a while.

As it was a Friday we went to the MOMA (free entry on fridays) in the evening. My favourite part of this art gallery was seeing the Van Gogh 'Starry Night' in person. I actually preferred the MOMA in comparison to the MET as I like modern art better than the renaissance era works - so if you like modern art better, the MOMA is for you.

We also went up the Empire State Building in the late evening. I loved seeing the art-deco style inside the building, and of course the view from the top. New York is spectacular in night-time. It sounds creepy but if you use the binoculars you can even see people in their offices of the buildings just living their life. I'm glad we went to the Empire State at night rather than the Top of The Rock because you can't really see all the buildings at night-time, you cannot see central park at night either, so it's much better to see the Empire State in the daytime from the Rockafeller Center.

Day 7: Williamsburg, Thrifting and Little Italy
Williamsburg was only a walk away from our apartment in Brooklyn. However, the thing that was interesting about our walk to the area was walking through the neighbourhoods in the way there. We walked through an area largely populated with Orthodox Jewish people. It was fascinating just seeing the ethnic split between the neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, the area I stayed in was largely African American, but only a mile down the road and the culture changes completely. The shops were all closed in the Orthodox Jewish area as Saturday is their day of rest, which meant that just walking through that area felt like walking in an empty New York City. 

Williamsburg is renowned for being very up and coming for the young professionals. Whilst in the area I went into a small cafe called the Bee Hive Oven Biscuit Cafe. The thing I learnt here was that Americans call a savoury scone a biscuit (which really baffled me.) They also had free coffee refills, which to my brother's happiness meant he could have 2 pints of coffee for the price of one! Next I went into Buffalo Exchange, (as recommended by Hitomi, who I watch on YouTube) which is almost like a mix between a charity shop and vintage shop (they filter out the poor quality or non-stylish items.) Sadly I didn't find anything I liked enough to buy, but I enjoyed looking! 

Next we took the L train to Little Italy for dinner, on the subway there was a very cute Bichon Frise, who's owner even told me had an Instagram page. The owner was lovely and what surprised me is that he asked me what I do, to his dismay as I told him I was still a student. Which was quite amusing considering that I'm still just about getting away with a child ticket on the bus at home, let alone have a full-time job. We were so distracted by the dog that we missed our stop and had to change trains to make our way back along the L line to Little Italy. That evening we ate in an Italian restaurant (who'd have guessed that?) as it started to rain outside. If you know anything about rain in New York, you'll know that if it rains, it RAINS and to avoid the repeat of the previous storm experiences, we bought 3 overpriced umbrellas from a souvenir shop and remained dry for the rest of the evening!

Day 8: East Village, High Line, Times Square at Night
Seeming as my family didn't want to do any more thrift shopping, I went alone to explore the East Village - which was thrifting heaven! Again, beforehand I had mapped out which shops I wanted to go to and I created a route and away I went. This was my first time going alone on the subway, it made me feel unusually independent and adult-like. I loved the feeling of nobody knowing who I was, what my story was or where I was going. That was something I found really intriguing about New York, that everyone was there for different reasons, or even the same reasons. The subway brings all kinds of people together in one place. My favourite thrift shop in the East Village had to be Beacon's closet, they had so much American Apparel I ended up with an armful of clothing (I'm a sucker for American Apparel, as anyone close to me will know.) I loved how the shop was sorted into colours so it was easy for me to find items that would fit into my outfits I already wear! Afterwards I met up with my family again and we had coffee in a small cafe on the Hudson River front.

Following our small pit-stop, we walked onto the Highline, which is a park space built on an old raised railway line above the city. There is a path running along the whole park, with views of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. It is also where I took perhaps the best photos I have ever taken (shown below in all it's glory, looking like something straight off my Travel board on Pinterest.)

Surprise, surprise, it started raining again, so we went on a search for food and found a cafe called the Bus Stop Cafe in the West Village. I'm not sure if it was purely how hungry I felt, but the burger and chips I had there were incredible. Also a side note, this is where I made my first British tourist mistake, I asked if the burger came with 'chips' received a funny look from the waiter before correcting myself to 'fries' - slight embarrassment but also hilarious (imagine having Pringles with a burger at a restaurant.) We then walked around the West Village and saw the 'Friends' apartment building, as we were exploring the area, we thought we'd take a quick look!

Later that evening we went to see Times Square at night time, it poured down with rain, but that made the experience much more exhilarating!

Day 9: Department Stores and The Flat Iron
Day 9 was not as jam packed as the other days on this trip, my mum really wanted to go in the departments stores, so we looked around Macy's and Bloomingdale's. The significant part of this day was seeing the Flat Iron building in all it's glory. Earlier that week there had been the small explosion by the building, so we avoided that area for the week to ensure it was safe.
The pleasant surprise near the Flat Iron building was watching a street performer. This man had created his own instruments with pots and pans and pieces of metal and was simply making up his own beats. On my trip I saw many amazing street performers, one in particular was a duo of a man playing the violin and a man playing the cello. The concept of their performance was basic, but the environment of their playing (in a subway station) created such a mellow atmosphere in the evening, it was relaxing to listen to in comparison to the constant buzz of the streets above the ceiling.

Day 10: Boat Trip and Coney Island
In the morning, my mum and I went on a Boat Tour trip along the Hudson River. The thing is with New York is that as the buildings are all so tall, it is difficult to appreciate their height and architectural excellence from the ground, so the boat trip enabled us to view the city from a stand-back perspective and really understand the sheer size of the city. The tour guide was also nice for us to hear, as if you don't look for touristy information in New York, you won't just stumble upon it. The guide shared lots of facts about the building, including the fact I shared with you about the One World Trade Center on day 6. If you are thinking about going on a boat trip, I suggest you arrive early, as the seats upstairs on the deck fill up fast. Mum and I sat inside, which turned out to be great as we could stand up easily and go out onto the bottom deck (as you can see in the picture of me on the boat.)
After the trip we went back to our apartment and got ready to go to the beach again. This time we went to Brighton Beach (which I can tell you is much sandier than the British Brighton Beach) to sunbathe and enjoy the tranquil sound of the sea again. Then we walked along to Coney Island (a place which I only knew of due to Lana Del Rey's lyric 'Coney Island queen') and bought food, went on some of the fairground rides and watched the sunset (the sky looked like a painting!)

Day 11: Last minute exploring and travelling home
For our last day in New York, we explored the area of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and the piers along the coast of Brooklyn Heights. On this day it was rather grey skies, but the humidity was 99%, which I can tell you is not that enjoyable of a weather condition. Our exploring also led us to finding the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain. If you are ever in the area of Prospect Heights, I highly suggest you visit the place. They sell milkshakes, ice cream floats, GREAT food, ice-cream and the service was amazing, all the staff working in there were ever so nice. The cafe itself has a beautiful interior that reminded me of the art deco era. I ordered the cookies and cream milkshake and it tasted SO good, I would definitely go back. That marked the end of our New York trip. We went back to the apartment to pick up our suitcases and subway'd down to JFK airport for our flight. 
In summary, New York City is damn cool. If you are ever in need of inspiration, it is the place to go. I saw so many beautiful things, people wearing amazing clothes, just watching people go about their daily work grind. I feel that I don't need to go back to New York any time soon, but that won't stop me from visiting ever. I'd decided that I'd love to live there, even for as little time as 1 month, just to experience the New Yorker lifestyle. I wrote this post to remind me of what I did on my trip, as I did a lot so I wouldn't want to risk forgetting any amazing memories, but also to inform people of some smaller places to visit, or things to do if they ever visit New York themselves. If you have any places in New York that you would recommend for others to visit let me know in the comments! I'd love know!


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