Walk­ing with giants in the Big Ap­ple

STEVE WOL­LAS­TON EN­JOYS THE TRIP OF A LIFE­TIME TO NEW YORK CITY

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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

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