Posted by: alexswallow | December 2, 2013

New York, New York and a dream fulfilled

empire view from rock

View from Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller

Last week I managed to fulfil one of my lifetime ambitions- to go to New York. I’ve spoken in a previous post about how much I wanted to go there.

I was so incredibly excited- I actually cried on the plane out there. Although that may have partly been due to how happy I was at getting free legroom due to us sitting next to the emergency door. The reason I finally had the opportunity to go is that my fiancee Nisha’s sister is out there for work so we thought it would be rude not to visit for a few days.

After landing at Newark I just couldn’t wait to get to Manhattan. I felt that even if I was there for a few minutes and then for some reason I had to leave again, I would always feel that I had managed to live my dream. The train from Newark to Penn station was pretty interesting. It reminded me that the US is not really the land of public transport.

Anyway, when I first laid eyes on Manhattan, all of that was forgotten:

first time

The first ever time I emerged into Manhattan!

I just couldn’t believe that I had finally made it!

We got to stay in an apartment high up in a great area between Times Square and Central Park and over the next few days I set about ticking all the main things I most wanted to do off my list. Within about 2 hours of going out I had tried my first New York hot dog, pretzel, pizza and coffee and seen Times Square, the ice rink outside the Rockefeller Centre and the Cathedral.

Aside from just wanting to stand with the skyscrapers around me, the thing that I most wanted to do on the trip was to go to Katz’s Deli- you know, the one in ‘When Harry met Sally’. There is even a sign saying ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ above the appropriate seat! I am quite a foodie and I’d say that Katz’s is probably the place I most wanted to eat at in the world, aside from say Heston Blumenthal or Rene Redzepi rustling something up for me in their kitchens. Specifically, I wanted to try a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s, which was everything I hoped it would be:


Katz’s Deli

Another must do for us was Central Park. I thought it was beautiful and interesting, but not quite how I think a park should look (maybe I have quite English sensibilities when it comes to parks). My favourite things included the John Lennon memorial- despite being more of a McCartney fan- and a group of probably the best street entertainers that I have ever seen. What really stood out for me about the park, aside from its sheer scale, was the fact that it was surrounded by massive buildings on all sides. I have never seen anything like it.


Central Park

Something else very much on my food list was Grimaldi’s pizza. It is over the river in Brooklyn which was a great excuse to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. The walk was beautiful, with stunning views of lower Manhattan. As we started to walk in Brooklyn it began to snow- luckily the restaurant was close. The pizza was phenomenal, here’s mine:


Nisha’s sister Seema in front of my pizza at Grimaldi’s!

Another type of pizza was one of the most amazing bargains we encountered on our holiday- shops which sold slices of pizza for less than a dollar (current equivalent- about 60p)! Plus, at least to our British palate it wasn’t bad pizza either. It was such a pleasure seeing a real mix of people in the shop enjoying their slice:

new york pizza

One of the biggest bargains in the city!

Something else which was an amazing bargain was the Staten Island Ferry. Completely free, it takes you from the southern tip of Manhattan across to Staten Island, with sights of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on the way. After seeing the statue so many times in films and pictures, it was pretty surreal to see it with my own eyes:

statue bettr

From the Staten Island Ferry

I felt very lucky to be able to go near the site of the World Trade Centre and pay my respects. In my lifetime the two biggest events feel like the crumbling away of Communism, specifically the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the events of September 11th. Like most people I remember exactly where I was on that sad day- pulling dust from under floorboards in a part-time labouring job in Brighton. So much has happened since that day that it was good to finally get there and have a quiet moment looking over the site (from a vantage point in a nearby hotel):


The World Trade Center Site

Something that I was really intrigued to visit was the High Line. Essentially some local people got together to turn a disused railway line into an amazing park. It is making city planners think more creatively worldwide, including in London. From what I could see it was really invigorating the local community, with new flats and even a new gallery being built right next to it. The most incredible bit was where it widened over a road (photo below) with a sort of theatre setup leading down to massive glass screens. It felt to me like it was redefining how a city is used and enjoyed.

high line

The most amazing part of the High Line

New York more than lived up to my expectations, and along with London it feels like the only true ‘World City’ I have been to, in fact from what I’ve heard I’d say that those are the only two world cities there are (Toronto came close but it was too small-scale in comparison). New York felt incredibly ethnically diverse: I was amazed how many people didn’t seem to be speaking English or indeed in a number of cases didn’t seem to understand it. I found New Yorkers pretty friendly, but not more noticeably so than Londoners. I have always wondered how the two cities would compare against each other.

From what I saw, the things I like more in New York than London are:

1- It just felt like it had more of a buzz

2- The air felt fresher. Perhaps it is because Manhattan is an island and I’ve grown up near the sea, but it was noticeably different

3- Eating out seems cheaper (though tipping is a foreign language to me)

4- The scale of the buildings and the lines of sight of the long avenues

5- A general ‘can do’, ‘you can make it if you work hard’ spirit


Things I prefer in London:

1- The depth of history. An obvious choice and the history of New York is actually fascinating, but in London you live and breathe history

2- Pubs. Yes they are disappearing and yes they are being bought up by chains, but there is nothing else like them

3- The Tube. I am one of TFL’s biggest critics, so I was almost dismayed to find that the Tube is vastly superior to the New York Subway system. In New York the plus points are that it operates throughout the night and is cheap, but major minuses were how dirty some of the stations were and that the trains seem to have be imported from a failed state that went through a recent civil war

4- More bookshops (from what I saw)

5- It’s near Brighton

I loved just being able to wander around in New York, glorying in the little things. The distinctive taxis. Steam, rising from man-holes. The amazing shape of the falling leaves. Getting coffee refills in a diner. Seeing sights familiar from countless movies. Intervening in someone else’s discussion to clarify that the song indeed reported that Jenny was from the Bronx as well as the Block.

Hope you enjoyed some of the things that I have shared. I’d love to hear about your own favourite things and memories of the Big Apple. If you haven’t been yet I strongly encourage you to one day, you won’t regret it. I hope I’ll be back!

park us

Nisha and I in Central Park


  1. What a town 😉

  2. […] Going to New York at […]

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