And so to NYC, my dream destination since growing up in the 90s watching Friends and seeing its prominence in so many great Christmas films.
With this in mind, we decided to go just before Christmas, at the end of November. This meant our holiday also happily coincided with Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Macy's Parade.
Manhattan is such a weird place to walk around, because you're constantly just seeing things that you've only ever seen on TV or in films, so it feels like you're in a strange alternate reality sometimes - I was pretty surprised to see a yellow school bus, because I assumed they were just a made-up thing in Sesame Street. Some places looked just as impressive in real life as they do in films. I kept on seeing names of places I'd seen in books (like Catcher in the Rye, one of my all-time favourites - although Penn Station as Holden Caulfield saw it could not have been more different today). Speaking of Holden Caulfield, the New York Times published this guide to where Caulfield goes in the novel. I wish I'd seen it before we went, but we went to a lot of those places anyway - one of which was Grand Central station.
It's still in great nick (unlike Penn Station) and has an amazing constellation mural on the ceiling.
Holden also goes ice-skating at the Rockefeller Center (well, he says Radio City, but it's the closest rink). We went up during the parade, which along with the snow meant it was super-quiet up there.
Not the most inspirational views, but it was then or never. It was cool seeing the end of the parade from above, far from the crowds.
I know the Empire state building is tourist central, but again, we went up during a blizzard so there was hardly anyone there. Here's a video of what it was like. I loved all the pinky-orange mist, like a giant snowy cauldron underneath us.
I also loved the mail chutes inside (because really, are you going to get the lift all the way to the mail room every time you need to post something?) (excuse the awful photo - phone shot). Sadly they're no longer in use but I was happy to read on Wikipedia that a lot of skyscrapers DO still use them - so quaint.
Our teeny hotel, Pod 51 on 51st Street, had a roof terrace with classic NYC skyline views. We went up all of once, because it was really, really cold, but James was enchanted (the guy LOVES skyscrapers. He's completed fascinated by them, because Shetland is so flat).
The new World Trade Center buildings are really gorgeous. Their reflective surfaces are perfect as a compliment to the memorial pools below, entitled "Reflecting Absence". They're really eerie to stare into as all the water flows down a dark plughole, seemingly endlessly. It's like an abyss that you can't see the bottom of, and it brings home the reality and trauma of the horrific events of 9/11. As a tribute to the dead, it's extremely powerful. The mirror-like building reflecting the clear blue skies bring a sense of relief and hope.
We got the Staten Island ferry (which is free, by the way) to see the Statue of Liberty a bit closer-up (my boss, a native New Yorker, told me not to bother going because it takes up a whole day). My lasting impression of the statue is that it's a lot smaller in real life than it looks in films. The views of Manhattan on the way back were great, though, and we met a man called Patrick who had been a teacher in Brooklyn. He got talking to us about where to stand on the ferry to best see everything, so we asked him a bit about New York. James asked what had changed New York most in recent history and he answered without pause that it was 9/11. His wife was about to go into the Twin Towers when the first plane struck, and he watched it happen from across the East River in Brooklyn. He said when he picked her up her face was covered in such a thick layer of dust that it was like old-fashioned pancake make-up. She left her job soon after that.
Since we watched Wolf of Wall Street, James had wanted to go and see Wall Street itself (even though Stratton Oakmont was seemingly in Long Island). We saw the stock exchange, but there weren't a lot of Patrick Bateman types around - I always look for them at Canary Wharf too, but I'm just not sure there are that many people working to a stereotype.
We went shopping, of course, though thankfully mainly not on Black Friday - it's a shame that we don't have Fishs Eddy or ABC Home here, because I was a big fan of both. We went to Tiffany too, of course - you can't not if you've seen the film, and it didn't disappoint. The staff are so friendly and attentive you feel like you've stepped back in time, or into a higher salary bracket that grants you some kind of special benevolence.
We found a Bad Luck Spot by Union Square but it was pretty ineffectual because, well, I stood in it and nothing bad happened to me. Apart from eating a Nathan's Hot Dog - that was horrible.
Before the Thanksgiving Parade (or Macy's Day Parade, as we both tended to call it because of the Greenday song) there was a protest about the Ferguson case, where a white policeman shot and killed a black teenager.
Helicopters hovered, and we heard a smash but they were round the corner of the block from us by that point so who know what was happening - six people got arrested, and everyone cheered more for that than they did for the protest.
Snoopy! It's funny seeing giant balloons floating between skyscrapers.
Apparently the new Paddington film is actually good - can anyone confirm? I personally am looking forward to the new Cinderella - we saw the ad when we went to see It's a Wonderful Life the other night, and it looks like the animation but with real people in it.
We spent an hour cycling around Central Park, and we didn't see it all, but it was refreshing to see a bit of greenery in a concrete jungle - there are even horse and carriages for hire. We checked out the Plaza Hotel, just to see what it was like, because of Home Alone - the staff in the Palm Court seemed a bit rushed and stressed, so we decided not to stay for breakfast, but instead snuck upstairs to see the Grand Ballroom (pictured below).
I'm glad we hit all the tourist spots this time, but I look forward to visiting again when we'll see the more alternative NYC. Watch this space for part two!