Monday, 13 February 2012

Christmas in New York City

When I set off to see the world with my sister, the first place we landed was the big apple, New York City baby. It had always been something of a dream of mine to spend a Christmas there, so off we went. We landed at JFK on the day before Christmas Eve, ready to experience the greatest city in the world.
We stayed in a gorgeous little place, Broadway Hotel and Hostel on the Upper West Side, but on our budget, we stayed in a not-so-gorgeous room. It did the job, a set of bunk beds, a mirror and a sink, with a shared bathroom down the hall. Our room was next to another occupied by a man who'll be forever known as "the cougher", day and night, he'd cough cough cough. It was quite a horrific experience having to share a bathroom with him and the mysterious occupants of the other rooms who never seemed to come out, but hey, we were in New York, live and let live! The downstairs living area was the best thing about this hostel, the warm brown tones, comfy sofas and chairs and really friendly staff made this the perfect place to come back and chill out in, after long days exploring the city in the freezing winter weather.

We crammed in a lot of the classic New York Christmas things to do while we were in the city, as well as the big tourist attractions. We spent much of 23 December travelling, finding our hostel, unpacking and trying to adjust our body clocks. On 24 December, off we went to explore. Victoria and I decided to go check out Times Square (of course) and the crowds were unbelievable. We were literally moving around in a sea of people, but whoa, what an experience. I understand what Carrie Bradshaw meant when she said how much she just wanted to get 'pushed and shoved' in a crowd of people, it makes you feel alive! We escaped the cold weather and crowds outside, and went into the Times Square Toys 'R' Us. But whaddayaknow, more crowds, and I loved it! It was like something out of a movie, mothers running around grabbing the last things off the shelves for last minute gifts. The prices were outrageous in typical New York City fashion, but my sister splurged on a bag of sweets that, from what I remember, the price of ran into double digit dollar figures.

We managed to weave through the incredible crowds in Times Square and walk up to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree on Christmas Day. We saw the massive crowd of people waiting in line for the ice-rink, but thought "hey, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, being in New York at Christmas", so we joined the queue. A brother and sister and their Grandmother were just ahead of us in the queue and I remember overhearing the Grandmother saying to her grandkids that there were so many people waiting around, just so they'd be able to say "I ice-skated at the Rockefeller Center rink on Christmas Day!" It was so true, but I'm so glad we did it. About two hours later we finally made it onto the ice, had a whale of a time and then witnessed a guy get down on one knee in the middle of the cleared rink and propose to his girlfriend. The Christmas music playing along with hundreds of people standing around clapping was so heart-warming, I was so glad to be there at that moment with my sister. 
We decided on Planet Hollywood as our destination for Christmas dinner. It's funny how different places can be with regard to Christmas traditions. In the UK, the outside world is like a ghost town on Christmas day, people rarely leave their houses unless it's to ride their new bike or play in the snow. But in New York, everywhere was rammed, the queue for Planet Hollywood extended the whole way down the stairs and almost out the door, it was an experience.

One of the more emotional things we did in our first city was visit ground zero and the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. I was only nine years old when the World Trade Center was attacked, but I'd watched umpteen documentaries as they were always shown on the anniversaries, and I've always had such a dream of going to New York, thinking about the attacks made me feel unusually sad. The site had a lot of building work going on at the time for the memorial which I'd love to see in it's finished state. The visitor center was overwhelming, photographs, video, artifacts, it was emotional to walk through but I'm glad I paid it a visit, I recommend it to anyone visiting NYC (and students go free).

We, of course, headed to the top of the Empire State Building to take in the breathtaking view of the city. I had always wanted to climb the stairs the whole way to the top, but apparently it was the lift to the top, or not at all. Bummer! But that view, there really is nothing like it. I hadn't realised the magnitude of the buildings until I was up there, and seeing how perfectly aligned the roads are is strange when you come from a country where 'blocks' don't exist. We took our trip up at night, so saw the big city lit up in all it's glory.

On 26 December, the East Coast, especially New York was hit by a massive blizzard that left snow knee, sometimes thigh, deep. There were cabs BURIED under snow. Strangely, that was the day my sister and I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Looking back, I realise we were idiots, the winds were 65 mph and the snow made it pretty hard to see your hand in front of your face. But off we went, made it half way, and then were forced to turn back. But hell, it was certainly a laugh. Unfortunately the snow meant that the ferry to Liberty Island was cancelled until further notice, which meant we couldn't go stroll around inside the Statue of Liberty, but we did take a trip on the famous Staten Island Ferry. We were pretty disappointed about the Statue of Liberty, but it just gave us a reason to go back and visit NYC again in the future.

On one of the days when the snow was still falling, we took a trip over to Central Park. It amazes me how, in the middle of one of the busiest, most built-up cities in the world, there can be such a massive area of green land. One of my favourite things we did in the city was visit the Strawberry Fields memorial for John Lennon and see the Dakota building, which is located directly across Central Park West from the memorial Imagine mosaic. It was a beautiful thing to see, especially the plaque which names all of the nations which contributed to building the memorial. A wonderful place to go and remember the wonderful John Lennon.

When the snow stopped falling and the city was left with a massive white blanket, we took the subway to see Greenwich Village. It was literally like we'd left the skyscrapers and cabs and hussle and bussle of the city behind, and landed in the middle of a village nowhere near New York. On the corner of Grove St and Bedford St, is the building that was used as the Friends building in the credits of the show. Seeing that ruled! As lifelong fans of Friends, my sister and I were amazed to see it.

Our time in New York City had to come to an end, we were off to our next adventure in Washington, D.C. (And boy, was that an adventure!) 
I could go on forever about New York City, it's probably my favourite place in the world. There's so much I still have to see and experience... Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Statue of Liberty, a Knicks game, a Rangers game, a show on Broadway, the new 9/11 Memorial Site...

Look out New York, I'll back soon.

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