I struggle to believe it’s been over a year already since our trip to New York at the end of October 2015. I often catch my mind wandering in a corner of Central Park or admiring the view on Manhattan’s lights from the top of the Empire State Building. Only recently I finally ordered the print of the 160 selected pictures from the thousand my husband and I took during that epic holiday, for us to go through those images again and again as in a dream, exposed in a lovely photo album that we keep like a coffee table book. That was a trip that will definitively remain in our hearts for ever.
When my younger aunt (who was more like a mother to me) was diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 2011, with a ‘death sentence length’ of 4 to 5 years maximum, I did not think it twice: I took the first Eurostar train with my 3 months old son and my husband accompanying me (as currently in between jobs) and we spent 4 weeks with her in Brittany to encourage her with the first chemo treatments that would have bought us some time. Since then, I would regularly book our ferry tickets and we would visit her twice a year at Easter and Halloween, no matter what, not an hesitation in our minds, not ever a budgeting cut into account.
When in January 2015 the doctors announced my aunt they would stop the treatment as the state of her metastasis had regressed again and continuing the chemo represented a waste of French NHS funds, we knew the end was near, it was just a matter of months, probably up to 6 they forecasted. My brother in law and his wife in the meanwhile had just confirmed they could come to London from Italy to look after our 2 little ones in October that year for my husband and I to finally realize our dream trip we had been talking about for ages.
The October before (in 2014) my aunt had given me, totally unexpectedly, some money as a gesture of appreciation for our constant presence to support her through her illness. I was very embarrassed for that and attempted to refuse it but she prayed me to accept it (it was not much but a lot for her) so I understood I had to accept her gesture to accept her love and how she could show it to me at the time. I told her that I would keep it safe and use it only to pay our accommodation for our NY trip when we would finally manage to accomplish our dream to travel over there.
My aunt passed away on the 16th of August 2015, knowing we would go to New York 2 months later as our flight was already booked by then. It was our first holiday as a couple since we had become parents and the first proper new destination we were visiting since she got diagnosed (both events in 2011). She absolutely loved traveling and was very happy for us as her mind was very present until the very last weeks she was alive. I connect the dots only now, 15 months after her departure, how much I love traveling too and how I had unconditionally accepted to renounce to this passion of mine for the years we had left together to make the most of it. I had not been traveling, not even considering new places I would have loved to visit since she was diagnosed (expect for a short weekend in Bruge for my 30th and a hen do weekend in Barcelona), as we had no annual leave or money left after visiting her twice a year (and my husband family in Italy during summer and Xmas time). But it was precisely that very same love for visiting new places that defined us both and united us in our likeliness. I couldn’t travel and discover the world with so much enthusiasm and joy as well as she would if she could not do it herself neither, stuck at home, weak due to her illness.
It was by going to New York that I seriously started my grief process and my remembrance of her. On our last day there we discovered a tiny little beach underneath Manhattan Bridge from which you have an amazing view on Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan skyscrapers. There was such a magical atmosphere, lots of people sitting on those steps, not just tourists, New Yorkers as well having a break with a coffee or a good chat with a friend… Tears started rolling down my chicks whilst I was laying there with my head on my husband lap, we both remained in silence. That moment, New York made me realize that no matter how many years will pass, my aunt will always be the first person I would want to tell about an amazing view I discovered on this planet or share my joy and pain with… She will accompany every new journey I will make and every landscape I will find moving as I will see it with my eyes for both of us.
Here is how we discovered Manhattan in 5 days.
Day I – Central Park and 5th Avenue
Do not underestimate Central Park and its size. If you think that you can get away with a few hours or even just a half day, that’s where you got it all wrong. Visiting Central Park is like visiting Hyde Park, St James Park, Regent Park, Holland Park and Battersea Park all in one go, as if their borders were touching each other, imagine! So it took us the entire first day of our trip over there!
It was a beautiful and sunny day and we had waken up quite early due to the jet lag and an horrible whistle sound produced by the pipes of the heating system in our old flat booked on Airbnb on upper east side. Since we did not know we would be blessed by an amazing Indian summer for our entire stay expect for one day of heavy rain, we thought we better get to Central Park whilst the good weather lasted and it was the nearest attraction to our address anyway.
A must (starting from the center of the park following the map and walking down towards 59th street and Grand Army Plaza):
- Turtle Pond
- Belvedere Castle
- The Ramble
- The Lake
- Bow Bridge
- Loeb Boathouse
- Bethesda Terrace
- The Mall
- Chess and Checkers House
- Wollman Rink
- The Pond
(No need to describe them, just go and see it for yourself!)
If you have more time to visit the park in the other directions west, north and east, worth seeing as well:
- W – Strawberry fields (there is always someone playing Lennon’s songs, very close to the famous Dakota building);
- E – Conservatory water (small racing boats pond same level as the Boathouse);
- E – New York Zoo;
- NW – Delacorte Theater (next to the Turtle pond);
- N – Great lawn (we have been told small teams play baseball you can watch for free every Thursday afternoon);
- NE – Metropolitan Museum of Art (apparently you don’t have to pay a proper ticket but you can make just a donation at the entrance, claimed a New Yorker but we had no time left to go and visit it);
- N – Reservoir (Beautiful massive circle of water where New Yorkers often go jogging around);
- NE – Conservatory Garden (Beautiful English style garden at the very far end of the park, probably best to plan a stop by metro rather than walking there).
At the end of this tour you can only end up in front of the Plaza where you inevitably step into your childhood imagination if like me you watched Home Alone II a million times!
Then you enter the famous 5th avenue you have systematically heard about when someone was talking of New York! Admire St Patrick Cathedral on your left whilst walking down south and the Rockefeller Centro on your right, with its gardens and its ice rink. From there we turned right and walked up to Radio City Music Hall. At that point of the evening we were so exhausted that we decided to return home to have dinner and go to bed, still very jet lagged and our feet in so much pain! We did not go on top of the Rock as we had the impression that the tickets were based on time slots only and you could not stay up there as long as you wanted (but we may have misunderstood the ticketing system).
Day II – Midtown landmarks, cruise on the Hudson River and lights of the city from the Empire State Building
On our second day we walked a lot again and discovered in these order:
- Park Avenue and Madison Avenue
- Walford Astoria
- Chrysler Building
- Grand Central Station
- Bryant Park
- New York Library
- Time Square
- Herald Square
- Flatiron building
From there we needed to be back on pier 84 to go on a short cruise with Circle line on the Hudson River all around Manhattan so we took the whole of 23rd street going east and discovered the High line, a garden made on an old unused elevated train track which took us from the 23rd street back north up to the 30th.
The cruise on the Hudson is really a must especially if you don’t have time to go to Ellis Island as the boat will cruise south, stop a few minutes in front of the Statue of Liberty and then take you west towards Brooklyn bridge and go up north again passed Manhattan bridge to then cruise you all the way back from where you left.
When you buy tickets for an attraction such as this cruise, it is advisable to use one of those websites (just google NY tickets or similar) that can sell several museums tickets at once as you get a discount by accumulating more attractions together. We chose to pay for the cruise together with the top of the Empire State Building so we headed there as soon as we got off the boat as it forecasted rain on the following day and the one after that we had a musical on Broadway already booked.
When you go up the Empire or the Rockfeller it is advisable to calculate well the time. Check at what time sunset is during the weeks you are going to New York and count an hour of queuing. This way, if you enter the reception on the ground floor 90 minutes before sunset you will be able to enjoy the view up there both with the light, at sunset and with the dark (on the Empire you can stay as much as you want – not sure if you have only a 30 minutes window on top of the Rock).
Day III – 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street, Fulton Street area, Tribeca, Lower Manhattan and Mike Stern at Greenwich Village
It was the only rainy day of our stay and since lower Manhattan was the area we had not visited yet, we decided to pop into the 9/11 memorial museum to find shelter hoping it may improve later on to wander around and also because we were 20 when the twin towers attack happened so we remembered those hours very well. Unfortunately I was quite disappointed by it as I never bought into the official version of the events and always believed it was partially an inside job – a small group of high placed people who closed an eye to let to happen to meet traversal interests at stake such as the perfect justification to start a war. The museum had a small section on all the rumors and the victims’ families complains on the investigations quickly disregarded as a mistake! I personally saw this simplification in a black and white version of the events of the 9th of September 2001 showed all around the museum as an insult to the people who lost their lives in those attacks, when it is actually meant to be a memorial for all of them…
Unfortunately the weather remained horrible all day and our feet were in a lot of pain after 2 days on intense walking so once we left the museum we wandered around the area but did not make the most of it as we were soaked wet and exhausted. We will definitively try to return on a sunny day on our next visit. At least we ended the night at Bar 55 to see the amazing Mike Stern live, where he often plays on Wednesday and Friday nights!
Day IV – Harlem, Columbia University, Broadway and dinner in Hell’s Kitchen
My husband is a musician so it was out of question to miss the Apollo Theater and the whole neighborhood where jazz was born! The area was just a bit rougher than central Manhattan, a sort of Brixton in 2005 (pre Foxton and renewed posh area!). From there we got to Columbia university which made us feel totally into a classic American TV series with its campus and the students strolling around!
We could not help to return to Central Park for a few hours being its atmosphere so magical… And then we headed to Broadway exiting the park into the 7th avenue this time as we had tickets to see An American in Paris. To finish off our day we had a massive American size burger on the 9th avenue in Hell’s Kitchen and wondered in the streets of the movie ‘The Sleepers’!
Day V – Battery park, Brooklyn, Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, China town and Little Italy
We started our last morning with a stroll in Battery Park, where immigrants saw New York for the first time if they had passed the checks on Ellis Island. It’s a beautiful walk where you can see the Statue of Liberty far on the other side of the river.
Then we jumped in the metro to get on the other side to Brooklyn, getting off at Court st stop and we walked back towards Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The view that opened on Manhattan as soon as we got nearer the Hudson again was really remarkable. We walked north towards Brooklyn bridge park which is a lovely garden and the atmosphere underneath the bridge itself is amazing, full of little nice restaurants and a small beautiful garden in front of the quite expensive River Caffè. The walk continues from there towards Manhattan Bridge where there is a breathtaking old style massive merry go round and soon after that little beach where people relax enjoying the view on Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan as I mentioned at the beginign of this post. From there we came back and walked on Brooklyn bridge itself which is an absolute must as unique in its style. We ended the day before heading to the airport in China town and Little Italy, even if we found them quite disappointing as very touristic. Hopefully this account of our own trip will help you to make the most of your holiday when flying to discover New York!
To resume our New York top 5 spots were:
- Central Park
- Midtown landmarks with top of Empire State
- Hudson Cruise
- Columbia University
- Battery Park followed by Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge
Things we definitively won’t miss next time or we need to see properly again due to lack of time:
- East Village (stroll around)
- Metropolitan Museum of arts
- Museum of modern art
- Ellis Island with Statue of Liberty and immigration museum
- Greenwich Village (stroll around at day time)
- Hell’s Kitchen (stroll around at day time)
- Lower Manhattan/TriBeCa/Bowery (on a sunny day)
- Brooklyn neighborhood (not just around the bridges)
PS All pictures in this post were taken by myself in October 2015.