Walking with giants in the Big Apple
STEVE WOLLASTON ENJOYS THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME TO NEW YORK CITY
IT had always been my dream to visit New York.
The skyscrapers, the hot-dogs, the yellow taxis and that piano on the floor in the film Big... From an early age, I wanted to experience it all. It took me a lot longer than I thought, and in my 42nd year, I finally convinced my wife to book a trip.
We decided to go big and visit at Thanksgiving, Black Friday and the start of Christmas celebrations. If you are going to do something, you may as well do it in style.
Arriving in The Big Apple hits you hard and fast. JFK is a sprawling airport and the subway ride into the city is an intoxicating attack on the senses.
New York City, I quickly found out, is exactly what you expect – steam rises from the manhole covers, the sights and sounds take your breath away and hot-dog stands sit on every street corner.
We got lost within three minutes
of exiting the Subway and the first time I asked for directions I was greeted by ‘How ya doin’ Buddy?’.
The pace of the city is the biggest challenge, my meticulous itinerary and plans were gone in minutes as we started to appreciate the scale of our surroundings.
In our four-day break, we experienced the very best of the American way of life; we had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in a BBQ restaurant and we witnessed the sheer force of nature that is the Macy’s Day Parade.
This spectacle is watched by millions and has been featured in countless films, but nothing had prepared me for the grandiose nature of the experience.
We joined the crowds lining the streets in temperatures of –5°C, waiting for the parade. New Yorkers chatted happily with us and regaled us with tales of the parade’s history and what to expect.
Police officers high-fived children and people shared food and drink and played games to pass the time. The sense of community spirit was truly incredible. It felt like the eighth wonder of the world, from the triumphant marching bands, to the hundreds of dancers. The giant balloons were up to 60ft high and came in all manner of shapes and designs. Laced between the performers and the balloons are huge floats with stars such as John Legend and Diana Ross waving to the fans. It was very surreal, truly historic, and gloriously over-thetop. Everyone should try and see it.
We also witnessed Black Friday, the infamous sales frenzy that we have tried to copy. In NYC though, it’s a serious business.
People queued for hours for bargains and the bright lights of Times Square seemed even more intense when saturated with shoppers after a good deal.
This is the time of year when the holiday season kicks in, the Christmas decorations go up, the festive window displays are lavish and the world famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is lit.
Tradition is everywhere, none more so than just across 5th Avenue at the legendary Radio City Music Hall where we saw the ultimate
festive experience, the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular.
If this 90-minute display of song, dance, special effects and all things Santa doesn’t get you in the Christmas spirit, you are the Grinch incarnate. There was even a Nativity scene with live camel and sheep; it’s a wonderful show and it’s been going since 1933!
The vast auditorium is pristine, opulent and the walls are aching with the history of the global superstars that have graced the stage before you.
You could spend weeks in New York and not do everything you wanted to do. We booked city passes through Attraction Tickets Direct and they allowed flexibility to make sure we could cross off the main tourist sights, from the haunting and humbling 9/11 Museum, to the dream trips to the top of
the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center.
We walked the avenues, we rode the Subway and we took a ferry out to Staten Island to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration centre.
We booked our tickets for the statue six months before our trip, giving us a once-in-a-lifetime experience of walking the narrow steps into the lady’s crown, an experience I will never forget.
The Natural History Museum, we quickly realised, wasn’t something you could do in an hour, a vast, multi-floor journey through the history of the world. A return visit is a must for us.
One of the biggest joys as you amble around the city is finding places you have only seen on the TV, from the Ghostbusters HQ to the John Lennon memorial, from the Friends building to the Wall Street Bull.
For all the money that the city is happy to take off you, the best things were probably the free things. Walking around Central Park is magical and strolling around famous shops such as Bloomingdales and Macy’s puts a big smile on your face. A walk over Brooklyn Bridge is about as close to perfection as you can get.
As first-time visitors, we crammed in as much as possible and walked until we could walk no more.
We left with a happy heart and a head full of memories.
Book months in advance to walk up to the Statue of Liberty’s crown
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day to be Parade is a spectacle not City missed if you’re in New York