I spent this Christmas in New York city, otherwise known as The Big Apple, or The City That Never Sleeps, or NYC, or The Place So Good They Named It Twice. I have a few names of my own for it now, too…
Perhaps I should explain why I spent Christmas in New York. Well, why not? I’m living in the States, and I won’t be forever, so I have resolved to explore as many different parts of it as I can while I’m here. I have realized anew since I have been here just how big the USA is. I mean, I knew it was big – I can read a map, after all – but it wasn’t until I arrived here and have lived here that I realized just how big. There’s the sheer vastness of the landscape and the basic numbers that make it big: England is, give or take a few thousand square miles, roughly the same size as North Carolina. But then there’s the fact that no two states are alike. In any way. From food, to turn of phrase, to customs and culture, North Carolina is about as different to New York as Sheffield is to Swansea. Honestly, I’ve started to think, instead of the USA as a country, of each state as a different country.
Back to New York. Let’s face it, who doesn’t have New York on their bucket list? It was on mine. I suppose I have a lifetime’s worth of movies and TV shows to thank for that. And my expectations were high.
Let’s break it down, first, to the things I did do and the things I didn’t do.
I did: spend several hours exploring Central Park, visit The MET on a drizzly day, stand in the cathedral-like majesty of Grand Central Station, explore the fantastic Rose Reading Room at the Public Library, buy Christmas decorations at Macy’s, lose myself in the 18 miles of books on offer at The Strand Bookstore, visit Bloomingdales and gaze longingly at diamonds, hail a yellow taxi, cross without waiting for the man to flash (it’s okay, everyone does it in New York, it seems), see the Christmas tree at The Rockefeller Center, visit The Empire State Building, visit a deli, walk miles, stand in Times Square.
I didn’t: see a Broadway show (I’m not made of money, you know, and let’s face it, the West End is just as good), visit the Statue of Liberty (how was I supposed to know you had to pre-book?), view the city from the Top of the Rock (it was very misty, and I was not about to pay $35 to look at clouds), ride the subway (I’d rather walk, thanks), eat pizza or bagels or pretzels (thank the gluten intolerance for that one), or build a snowman in Central Park (no snow).
I also came up with a few new names of my own for New York, New York.
1) The City with Amazing Bakeries for Awkward People Like Me
I’m gluten intolerant. I also can’t eat cheese. These are usually somewhat problematic when looking for cake (which, on a side note, I always am). But New York makes that less problematic. I walked 2 hours to find one particular gluten-free, dairy-free bakery and it was so worth the walk. I enjoyed chocolate brownies, cookie sandwiches, cupcakes, brioche and freshly baked gluten free bread. That’s not to mention the pumpkin bundt cakes and cinnamon rolls and apple crumb cake (and, consequently, tight-fitting clothes and an extra chin by the time I left).
If you’re ever a gluten-free traveller with a sweet tooth, make sure you visit NoGlu, By The Way Bakery, and Erin McKenna’s Bakery. And take clothes with elasticated waists.
2) The City that is only like The Movies if you’re a Movie Star
Let’s be clear: I had a good time in New York. The Strand Bookstore was paradise, the cake was good, and the architecture was beautiful. But Times Square? Not actually that big. The MET? Great exhibitions, but too crowded to enjoy them all. Central Park? Beautiful for a post- Christmas feast walk, but it would have been better with snow. Macy’s? Do yourself a favor and wait for the sales.
Long story short: Don’t expect picture perfect movie scenes, unless you’re a glamorous movie star with a budget to match. Either save before you go to New York, or else be prepared to be creative with your itinerary to match a smaller budget. Luckily, I was creative.
Tip: visit The Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue. It’s cheaper than The MET and smaller too, but less crowded and a truly interesting and worthwhile place to while away an afternoon. Also, ditch the taxis – you’ll find more hidden gems walking that you ever would being driven to the main tourist spots.
3) The City for Bookworms
I’m a bookworm. Absolutely and unashamedly so. There’s nothing I love more than curling up with a good book and a hot chocolate (or a cold glass of wine, depending on the day I’ve had). New York is great for book lovers. There’s The Strand Bookstore which boasts 18 miles of books and is just as good, perhaps better, than you imagine it to be. And Central Park is just the perfect spot to take a book, read and watch the world pass you by. There are also numerous quirky coffee shops and delis to sit down and read in while you sip some much-needed caffeine.
Tip: visit The Strand Bookstore. It’s amazing, but during the holiday period gets incredibly busy. Wear layers (it gets hot inside) and set aside an hour or two for your trip. Make sure to browse the stacks of bargain books outside the shop and take the elevator to the top floor to peruse the rare and antique books there.
So that’s my trip as a Brit in The Big Apple. Will I go back? Maybe, maybe not. Am I glad I went? Yes. Was Christmas there as magical as I imagined? Maybe if there had been snow…