I was fortunate enough to visit New York for the first time around 7 years ago and, as a rule, I don’t return to the same place twice because I feel that you are missing out on somewhere else.
However, I had unfinished business with NYC and my first visit consisted of rushing around like a madman trying to see as much as I could racing to the top of the Empire State, Statue of Liberty and the Rock frantically attempting to tick as many things off my bucket list as possible.
Now that Grand Central Station, Central Park, Times Square, Wall Street and Brooklyn Bridge are a fading memory, I thought it was time to return and soak up the other things that New York has to offer at a more leisurely pace with 5 full days for our return visit.
Arriving into Newark on an internal flight at 21:45, we got the train from the airport to Penn Station for only $12.50 which was only a 2 minute walk to our hotel the New Yorker and there were no safety concerns at all and everywhere was very busy despite the arriving in Manhattan quite late.
It was time to learn and conquer the New York Subway so purchased a one-week unlimited subway and local bus pass for $30. NYC is a big place, so having the ability to zip around the city without scrambling around for loose change was the best decision I could have made.
Understanding the metro system offered a slight learning curve, but again the beauty of the unlimited pass means any mistakes were quickly rectified when I understood the difference between uptown and downtown or express and local service.
Next to the New Yorker Hotel Tick Tock restaurant is a subway station that allowed us to hop on the A, C or E line downtown to ground zero where the freedom tower has recently opened. Upon leaving the subway station, we were a little disoriented and unsure which direction to take but we turned a corner there it was and the sight takes your breath away.
Before I visited, I had concerns that the area that was witness to such a horrible tragedy would now be full of tourists and selfie sticks soaking up disaster porn of sorts. Thankfully, it was not full of tourists smiling for photos, but just people who were reflecting and gathering their thoughts on how this could have happened.
The whole experience was incredibly moving, and some of the stories told by a firefighter who was clearly reliving everything as he spoke will stay with me forever.
While in the area, we then had a stroll around Wall Street before heading back to the hotel to prepare for a fun night out with John Cleese and co.
It was the 40th-anniversary of Monty Python & the Holy Grail and the Beacon theatre was showing the film as part of the Tribeca Film Festival followed by a Q&A with the Pythons so it was a no-brainer to get my hands on some tickets.
Seeing the Pythons behaving like naughty school boys despite being well into their 70’s was a whole heap of fun. Poor John Oliver quickly lost control when they switched seats or walked on and off the stage, but I learned a valuable lesson that it’s fine not to grow up after all.
A busy day ahead of today as we embarked on two walking tours that come highly recommended as we hopped on a subway to Greenwich Village.
The Original Greenwich Village Food and Culture Tour was an absolute delight where our food-tasting journey included tastings from Murray’s Cheese Shop, Joe’s Pizza, Milk and Cookies Bakery, Rafele Ristorante and Rocco’s Pastry Shop to name but a few.
Eating in NYC can notoriously be expensive, so to sample food from so many different restaurants that all seem to have Hollywood elite as their clientele was an experience in itself.
The tour was also perfect for movie buffs as we hit Joe’s Pizza, which many of you will remember from Spider-Man 2 and there are a few photos of Bill Murray on the wall too which left me thinking if their pizza is good enough for Dr. Peter Venkman, then it’s good enough for me.
As a fan of the Godfather and the line “leave the gun take the cannoli” it was quite fitting to end the tour tasting my first cannoli at Rocco’s.
I highly recommend Food Tours of New York and this experience was one of our favourites of the whole holiday.
After the tour, we took a short stroll to Washington Square Park, which was the perfect place to spend an afternoon people watching the many eclectic characters frequenting the park. There is something for everyone in this iconic area with street performers, couples, people playing chess and even someone playing a piano that left me pondering the logistics for a few moments.
Leaving the park, we then decided to take a colourful walk through East Villiage with a simple brief of “meet your guide at East 10th Street – Lanza’s Restaurant” for the rise and fall of the American Mafia tour.
Whilst waiting outside Lanza’s with around 6 other people, we were approached by 2 guys, one looked like he just walked off te set of the Sopranos with a leather coat and cap combo but said very little. Meanwhile the other approached and said “What are you waiting for?” When we explained we were waiting for a tour, he replied “I’m coming on the Mafia tour, but I ain’t paying for no mafia tour” and the scene was set, this was our guide.
For the next 3 hours we visited the former haunts of Joseph Masssaria, Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, Albert Anastasia, Joseph Colombo, Joe Gallo, Paul Costellano, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti, among others.
There were countless colourful anecdotes about the lives and deaths of the mob bosses whose names we all know from “Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas,” “The Godfather,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and other movies and TV shows.
My favourite part of the tour was the guide’s silent friend, who acted like a bodyguard of sorts who was always checking out the surroundings. When a member of the tour was seen taking notes, he suddenly said in a deep New York Italian-American accent “Do you want me to shake him down for you boss” This tour is a must for anyone that loves gangster movies and will appeal to both native New Yorkers and tourists alike.
Our original plan was to spend the day in the Bronx by taking in the Bronx Zoo, Botanical Gardens for the cherry blossoms and a trip to the real Little Italy over on Arthur Avenue, but our legs were worn out after the two tours yesterday.
We opted instead to have a lazy day soaking up everything Central Park has to offer.
After a lazy day soaking up the sun, it was time to head for my first baseball game at the Yankee Stadium for a game between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets.
As a British 41-year-old male, I was somewhat amused by all of the stands refusing to sell me a glass of beer because I was not carrying any ID. It often felt like I was talking to a computer as my “but I’m in my forties” speech was greeted with “Sorry sir, no ID no beer.”
Luckily there was a happy ending to this story as the “Beer Here” sellers who bring beer to your seats were a little more understanding about my plight. With a bucket of food that would feed an entire family and a few beers, we were ready to immerse ourselves in the atmosphere.
As a Brit abroad, it felt quite alien to see fans of both sides sitting together who were also fierce rivals exchanging banter throughout the game. If you put Arsenal and Spurs fans together in a Premiership game, there would be a full-scale riot within minutes, but maybe that says more about how mindless our tribal sports fans can be in the UK.
Sure the food and drink were expensive, but spending a night at the Yankee Stadium was enough for me to leave my frugal nature at the turnstiles and remember that we are put on this planet for a good time and not a long time.
We had an amazing night and left fully subscribing to the American dream, the stadium was full of people from all backgrounds and yet despite any differences they were all united in the love of their country that is something we are sadly missing back home in the UK.
The best Manhattan skyline views are from Brooklyn Heights, so we got the subway and spent some quality time in Brooklyn before taking a steady stroll back to Manhattan over the bridge.
It’s great to get away from the crowds and see the City from another perspective and also the perfect location for a run with the iconic scenery as your backdrop.
I also created the artwork for my first album, the only problem is I have no musical talent whatsoever, but that doesn’t seem to stop people getting album deals, so there is still a hope for me yet.
Once back in Manhattan, it was time to explore the High Line.
The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long New York City linear park built on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line.
Being elevated above the streets on the West Side is the perfect way to see NYC from a different angle and also explore Chelsea and the Meatpacking District.
At night, we reluctantly re-visited Times Square which always looks much better on TV, but the reality is it’s quite garish, tacky and overcrowded with slow walkers and people trying to sell you stuff at every opportunity.
However, we went along, got our pics and got the hell out of there.
Our final full day involved making the most of our unlimited subway pass and headed over to check out the Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge which inspired the The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Simon & Garfunkel and the backdrop for Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
The Subway pass can also be used on the Roosevelt Island Tramway so highly recommend a trip over to Roosevelt island have a quick wander and take the tram back again for a unique experience.
Upon leaving the tram and landing back in Manhattan, we stumbled across Serendipity which you may remember from the Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack movie. Just a few minutes later it was time to fill up on a wide range of sweets from Dylans Candy Bar store, before hopping on the subway to Chinatown and Little Italy.
Little Italy is rapidly being swallowed up by Chinatown, but we headed over to Lombardi’s Pizza where legend has it an Italian immigrant reinvented a Napoletana staple food into one of the world’s most eaten foods back in 1897. In 1905, Lombardi’s was licensed by the City of New York, becoming America’s First Pizzeria.
Everyone in Chinatown seemed to think I needed to buy a watch, so didn’t hang around too long and once again hit the subway to find the real soup man from the Seinfeld episode.
I still have unfinished business with the big apple and promise to return one day and ride the Cyclone at Coney Island and stroll along to Brighton Beach eating a Nathan’s hot dog or go on an album cover tour. This is the beauty of New York, there is always something else to see, somewhere else to go.
So until next time, here were our best bits…