- Within 60 minutes of walking out of my hostel in New York for the very first time I saw all six feet of Bridgette Nielson step out of a limo with Flavor Flav in tow in Times Square, and then had my face plastered on one of the billboards in the same place. As the phrase goes ladies and gentlemen...‘only in America’.
New York’s streets are just like they appear in the thousands of films shot there. Thousands of New Yorkers zoom by you up and down Manhattan’s avenues; at the corner of every street, hot dog vendors attempt to lure you to their stalls to try and offload one of their frankfurters, while hardly a second goes by when you can’t hear the whining of car horns or sirens. Setting foot in it for the first time is just like setting foot into a postcard.
So much to do for free
In a city where the easiest pastime to get caught up in is spending money (once spending it is feasible of course), it’s good to know that finding things to do for free takes just as little effort. Times Square, right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, is an electric circus and walking down 7th Ave and 42nd for the first time is a pretty memorable experience. Neon lights jump out at you from all angles, naked cowboys yo-del-ay to their hearts content and it is difficult to set your eyes on any given object or person for intervals longer than 2 seconds. But if you must stare at something for a couple of minutes, find the Times Square Information Center between 42nd and 43rd on Broadway, locate the HSBC stand, say cheese for the camera (for free), then return to the aforementioned square and affix your eyes firmly on the HSBC sign. Your face will soon appear.
For views of Lower Manhattan you may have thought were reserved for those decide to fork out dollars for cruises around the Hudson River, the Staten Island Ferry is a free service which departs regularly from Whitehall Ferry Terminal and has done for well over 100 years. Within minutes of sailing off for the New York borough the view of the skyline is spectacular, yet somewhat chilling as you can’t help but think only 3 years ago two skyscrapers which mirror imaged each other also used to stand there.
Since that fateful Tuesday in September, Lower Manhattan’s skyline isn’t as instantly recognisable as it was. Midtown Manhattan’s, on the other hand, is. Halfway across the mammoth Brooklyn Bridge, both the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, two of New York’s best known skyscrapers, can be seen clearly overlooking their counterparts.
Even when the sun New York’s skyscrapers aren’t reflecting the sunshine you can still amuse yourself without spending a cent. Have you ever watched an American talk show and wondered how to get yourself a seat in the audience? If you did, I bet you didn’t think those seats were cheap, or even free! Well they are, and if you can get yourself to Times Square on a Monday or Tuesday you’re bound to hear somebody heckling ‘Free tickets for…’. Otherwise, visit www.nytix.com and follow the appropriate links.
Then there is Central Park, 'the lung of New York'. This park which rolls through the hub of midtown and uptown Manhattan is just as well-known as other attractions. You'll enjoy meandering past the rollerbladers and joggers on the way to one of its great lawns before lying down to forget you are in one of the busiest cities in the world.
Naturally not everything worth seeing in the Big Apple comes for free. From the observatory on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building (between 33rd & 34th Streets on Fifth Ave; admission $16/$22 with Skytour) the views are awesome, but the 2 hour wait to get to see them isn’t. If you have $6 to spare, get yourself the combination ticket for $22. You will save yourself anything up to 2 hours queuing in a stuffy corridor if you do. The enormous American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th Street; suggested admission $12) is also well worth a visit, although it is tough to know where to begin. One thing that is unquestionable about a visit here is that you will undoubtedly leave a more intelligent human being after a couple of hours in it.
Let your taste buds run rampant
America’s problem with obesity has been well documented by the media in recent years. Walking across the series of avenues in Manhattan, it isn’t surprising that the problem causes so much concern. There is hardly a block that doesn’t accommodate some form of eatery, be it a hotdog stand or a pizza shop. Not that I’m one to complain of course.
Unique New York delis are buttered all along 7th Avenue, from Central Park South down to Times Square. The aroma of fresh vegetables, bread and all sorts of meat is rather enticing and by about the 4th one, your brisk walk will slowly turn into a pensive stroll as you imagine what you could squeeze in. The Carnegie Deli on the corner of 7th Ave and 55th is one of the New York’s most renowned restaurants and most certainly its best known deli. Just down from it is Delicatessen 810, also on 7th Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets. While it won’t win any prizes in the ‘original title’ category, it could do for its extensive menu which has something that will suit every taste and budget.
For something a bit more civil, Downtown Manhattan is full of quirky little places to eat. Minetta Tavern (113 MacDougal Street) in Greenwich Village is an authentic Italian restaurant complete with pictures of Italian icons dangling from the walls and a fleet of Italian staff to boot. It also has a bar where you can sample Italy’s finest beers and a charming barmaid to keep you company as you do so. Just around the corner on Bleecker Street is the Red Lion where for $25 you can get a shared platter that is second to none. Local singers hoping that their elusive record deal is one the way also play on the small stage inside.
A city that never sleeps
There are so many areas to explore in New York after dark that you would need a week to do so, not to mention a bucket full of dollar bills. The general consensus with those living in New York is that the East Village is the city’s most active area. Once I visited the area after a white-knuckle ride in one of New York’s omnipresent taxis, I got to confirm this for myself.
St Mark’s Place, between 9th and 7th Streets off Third Ave, is a haven for New York’s more weird and wonderful offspring. This street is awash with bars and, if you don’t like one, you can always move on to the next. Taking into consideration that the first one I entered, Bull McCabe was serving $3.50 pints of Bud Light and Bud on a Saturday night, I took a shining to it pretty much instantaneously. Another part of the city where there are a very generous helping of late night haunts are Ludlow Street, Orchard Street and Stanton Street, also in the East Village.
If you want to investigate some of the bars in other parts of the city, Sutton Place between 53rd and 54th Street on Second Ave is a sports bar that attracts a more sophisticated clientele and boasts a rooftop with an amazing view of the surrounding skyline. Drinks in here are a bit pricier than other bars in the area, but it’s worth it if just for one, plus there are a few Irish bars where booze is cheaper just a block down. Also on Second Ave is Ship of Fools which can be found between 82nd and 83rd. This is where to come on a Saturday night to get a taste of an all-American sports bar – chip in with your friends for cheap buckets of beer, pick a game on one of the TVs which are abundant and get ready to cheer, or at least listen to others as they root for their respective teams.
New York is the ultimate city. It never sleeps. The sounds of car horns and sirens barrage you 24/7, as do the blinking neon lights in many parts. You also have to keep your wits about you as you walk down Manhattan’s avenues, battling with others for a steady line. It’s impossible to see it all in one visit, but knowing there will be so much to see for your second visit means that when you do return, it will be like a whole new holiday.
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