Most people who know me, know I love to travel.
I love heading to the airport with my trusty backpack, a guidebook I’ll barely look at and a rough idea of what the next couple of weeks have in store.
Planning and going on big trips is one of the things I missed most during repeated covid lockdowns, I missed the chance to go on an adventure, see new places, meet new people.
To be clear I have a very long list of places I want to go to, on that list was America, specifically a road trip….New York to New Orleans.
We had just two and a half weeks to do it in. We’d be calling at New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Blue Ridge Mountain parkway, Great Smokey Mountains, Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans.
The trick is finding the balance between seeing everything and it not feeling too rushed, so where do you start?
Well, to be honest, after an eight hour flight, a huge hour and a half queue at passport control, a taxi to Queens and arriving at the hotel at 7pm….you start with a quick bite to eat and a big sleep. So, on our first night in the city that never sleeps, we slept.
Day 1&2 New York
I’ve been to New York before, it’s my only experience of America.
I imagine New York is to America, what London is to England…..very much not representative of the entire country but visitors seem to think they are.
I love New York, I like the noise and chaos. Scott wasn’t sure if he’d like it at all, he loved it.
My last visit was in November 2017, so I was struck by how different it feels in the summer and I don’t just mean the temperature. To me, it felt a little more laidback, friends sat outside bars catching up, people sat basking in the sunshine in central park, crowds taking in the sights, sounds and smells. People seemed to move at a slightly slower pace instead of being huddled in layers of clothing, power walking to get out of the cold as quickly as possible. Don’t get me wrong New York was still frenetic, it just felt a little less stressed.
So, after kind of working out what kind of tickets we needed for the subway (seriously guys, you’d benefit from a tap in and out system) we headed out in the sunshine and into the city.
There is so much to see in New York, you need to have a plan and think about what it is you are planning to see whilst there. For first time visitors, a city pass is your friend. There’s plenty out there with different deals available.
We opted for the official pass for £110, it gave us entry into 5 attractions and saved us £75 each, and meant we had a good mix of sites to tick off, including our first stop, the statue of liberty.
A short boat ride from Battery Park that includes stops at Liberty Island and Ellis Island, be sure to head into the museums, as well as trying (and failing) to get the perfect selfie, it sets out the whole history of the statue, how it was made and what it symbolises. It really is worth the trip and it’s wise to give yourself a good few hours.
We then headed to the 9/11 memorial. It’s beautifully poignant, incredibly moving and quite overwhelming. There’s a hush around the area as people take in the scale of it, remember the horror of the attack and pay their respects. Each reflection pool is and acre in size with the names of all the victims carefully etched around the side. There’s now a memorial glade which officially opened in 2019 in honour of the thousands of recovery workers who have since become ill or died after being exposed to toxins. The 9/11 memorial is a must see, take your time reflect, remember and pay tribute to those killed.
After a quick refreshment, we headed back towards the water, specifically to Brooklyn bridge for a long across the river and down to Dumbo. The views from the bridge are spectacular, especially on a sunny day.
I’ll hold my hands up admit, we didn’t fully explore Brooklyn, instead opting to make our way to Manhattan bridge and into China town. I’m a firm believer that the best way to explore a city is to get lost walking. You’ll spot things you didn’t expect, come across little hidden gems and really get to know the place you’re visiting. That’s exactly how we spent our afternoon, allowing us to see different parts of New York that aren’t necessarily in the guidebooks.
Now, you can’t go to New York without going to the top of something, I think it’s illegal. At some point during your stay, you’re going to end up in a rather fast-moving elevator to the top of building or two. One of those buildings is more than likely going to be the Empire State (entry included on our city pass).
It’s a beautiful art deco building, it’s iconic, it’s also bloody hard to see from the ground. You get a stunning view of the city on a clear, sunny day, all the blocks just set out in front of you. Head up in the evening, try and catch sunset and see the city transition into night. If you’re decent at a photography, take a good camera.
So far, there’s been very little mention of food, that is intentional, I have a whole detailed food post on the way. I’m going to mention the pizza slice here for the fact we got talking to a bloke as we ate, the first of many random conversations we had during our tour, I can’t help it, I’ll talk to anyone. I feel I may have done American’s a disservice in the past because for some reason I was completely unprepared for how friendly everyone is, we had drink bought for us, been told the best places to go, heard about one couples mission to visit all 52 states, been given cards and cigars and had really interesting conversations and that was an unexpected bonus of the trip, so to all the people we met along the way…thank you, you were awesome.
As our first day drew to close, there was one place to head to, Times Square for a few beers. It’s probably not for everyone, I personally love the noise, lights and chaos. We’d clocked up more than 30 thousand steps, caught a bit of tan all in all, a success.
On day two, Scott was adamant about what he wanted to see, USS Intrepid. The huge aircraft carrier turned museum sits on the banks of the river Hudson. You can spend hours here learning all about its history, it survived five Kamikaze attacks and a torpedo strike. You can see how the servicemen lived on it. Anyone interested in military history should make this a destination, there’s so much detail to take in.
Make sure you go onto the submarine, USS growler. If you can, spend a bit of time talking to the museum staff on there who actually served on it. it’s eye opening while I was stood there thinking there is no way in hell I could live and work on this, one bloke was telling us how much he loved it, what it was like, what involved. It was a great touch to be able to get that insight.
Bad planning on our part, meant we ended up travelling across the city multiple times. So from Intrepid we made our way to Katz’s deli, a place Scott’s wanted to eat at since seeing an episode of Man versus food a decade ago. Be prepared for a big queue, make sure you have a big appetite and see where Harry met Sally.
Full of food, we made our way back across the city to Central Park. Again, I recommend getting lost, having a wander, and seeing what you come across on your way, or if you’d rather, rent a bike and explore.
The rest of our afternoon took us through Hells Kitchen as thousands of people clocked off for the day ready to enjoy a couple of drinks or food. We had another building to scale, The top of the Rock observation deck at the Rockefeller centre. Quite simply the best view New York, I loved looking out across to the Empire state. It tends to be a little busier close to sunset, but I’ll say it again, it’s the best time to go and just marvel about huge everything.
In two days, we managed to see and explore a huge chunk of New York, it’s one of those places you could go back to again and again and have a completely different trip. We didn’t visit any of the art galleries, we aren’t big art fans to be honest and we didn’t do any shopping, neither of us have any interest in that either.
Instead, we people watched, walked for miles and spoke to people. It was wonderful.
After two full on days we sat in a bar speculating about whether or not a group of people in there were journalists (we were close to the tv studios) and came up with a backstory for them, I’d have put my last pound on them having worked in news until the point a couple of them wanted to be the one to settle the bar tab for them all….definitely not journalists, we’re always hoping someone else will pay so we don’t have to.
Thank you New York, you were an incredible start to our trip…..next stop Philadelphia.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm