Destination: New York, United States of America
Recommended Airlines: Delta Airlines (now partners with Virgin Atlantic)
Accommodation: Hampton Inn Manhattan – SoHo
Attractions: Times Square, Empire State Building, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty and Grand Central Station.
Overall Experience Rating: 🎒🎒🎒🎒
I would like to start this post off by sharing that New York is now my confirmed spirit city! ‘Confirmed’ is the operative word because I’ve been obsessed with New York, literally since childhood (we can thank multiple movies/TV shows for this… Maid in Manhattan is still an all-time favourite) but it wasn’t a tested or even proven theory until September 2016, when I experienced the sensory overload of NYC in the flesh and loved it!
I’m not a fan of unnecessary hype, so trust me when I say that New York is everything and a tube of Pringles. On this trip, we stayed in downtown Manhattan, at the Hampton Inn by Hilton, in SoHo. The hotel was simplistic in décor; however, it remained loyal to the overall theme of something I can only describe as ‘trendy urban’ (a note to any interior designers who may be reading: apologies if that isn’t even a thing). Unfortunately, their breakfast selection didn’t quite float my boat as I found that most of the menu was incredibly sweet. I mean, I could even taste the E-numbers in their cereals (contrary to the phonetics of the name, there is nothing remotely healthy about Froot Loops!).
Anyways, in light of New York being the intimidating but vibrant metropolis that it is, the hotel had a roof-top terrace that offered a unique view of the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of…” (C’mon there was no way you were getting through this post without an Alicia Keys and Jay Z reference). Although our room was a bit bigger than average, after two small double beds, a bedside drawer, a large wardrobe, a desk and of course the ensuite bathroom, it is safe to say that it was lacking in extra space. I imagine that this was a deliberate design feature though, a subtle but simultaneously apparent way of encouraging us to leave the hotel and explore… and that’s exactly what we did.
One of the best things about the Hampton Inn – SoHo, is its location. It’s situated in near perfect walking distance to Canal Street and Spring Street subway stations, guaranteeing quick and convenient access to transportation. Mobility is such an important, but frequently overlooked, aspect of a trip. You really do not want to be isolated to one area or be forced to stay in the hotel – cabin fever is so real! Did I mention that Broadway is literally round the corner too? If shopping is on your NYC agenda, you may want to open a Google tab right now and start bookmarking! As for me, food was very much high on my list (sue me, I like to eat), so it was an absolute gift from above that China Town, Tribeca and Little Italy (during the festival of San Gennaro, might I add) were all in relatively close proximity (Hallelujah). This is not to mention the tons of street food trucks, which are lined literally within about 8 minutes walking distance from each other, if not less (talk about a competitive industry). Side note: please, I’m begging you, DO NOT go to New York if you are on or about to start a no Carb diet! There’s nowhere to run and there’s nowhere to hide, the burgers, hotdogs, pizzas, chips, pasta (you naaaame it) WILL find you! So seriously, just don’t do it to yourself, opt for somewhere in the Mediterranean instead (you didn’t hear it from me, but I think the next post might be about a place in that region…shhh! ).
But I digress. New York was HOT during the time we visited. So much so, that I experienced dehydration whilst out there (I admittedly underestimated the NY sun). I tried my best to keep it cute, but there were days where make-up just refused to stay on my face (I will be fully prepared next time though, thanks to my new Holy Grail beauty product – BECCA Ever Matte Primer). Moreover, it was so strange to see people taking refuge under or inside buildings for shade, because where I’m from, we usually do the exact same thing to avoid rain *sigh* (British weather has no respect or regard for anyone). Despite the blazing heat, the streets were still flooded with people. Some were just having a touristy wander, whilst others, I suspect resident New Yorkers, walked in a direct manner reminiscent of Londoners. We, on the other hand, established a comfortable medium; we always had a destination in mind, but still delayed at some points to ‘digest’ the city and take pictures, as the photo ops were endless. The visual versatility of New York is amazing, certain glimpses of the city are natural fashion editorial backdrops, straight out of a high end magazine and others make for striking ‘hipster vintage’ Instagram pictures. Either way, your social media posts are guaranteed to get your followers green with envy, whilst you’re exploring the birth place of The American Dream!
We saw/visited most of the iconic landmarks, including the Empire State building (although we didn’t get a chance to go up it), Brooklyn Bridge (which is absolutely stunning at night, but indeed goes on forever *Cardi B voice*), Grand Central, Central Park, Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. I’m going to tell you about the latter three in a bit more detail… buckle up!
Firstly, before you even enter the park, I can almost guarantee that you will be accosted by animal activists whose primary goal is to deter you from purchasing a horse-drawn carriage tour. Even if you’re not really an animal person (like myself), their cause will strike a chord in your heart. But as if the speculated mistreatment of these horses wasn’t a good enough reason for you to take a scenic and leisurely stroll, maybe the fact that you could pay up to $200 for a half an hour ride will! You better give those legs a workout and walk . Although my genuine opinion is that Central Park is best experienced by foot (we spent well over an hour exploring), the reality is, the place is massive, so taking a cheeky transportive short-cut will probably permit you to cover more ground. Renting a bicycle or hiring a Pedicab are alternatives that are less likely to rob you (monetarily or..) of the natural beauty that Central Park has to offer.
Despite the general busyness of Central Park, e.g. funfairs, food stands and entertainers, there is something euphorically serene about the surroundings. It’s hard to explain but I hope my few snaps below give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
Times Square is as electric as it looks on TV, if not more! The bright lights, the crowds of people, yellow cabs speeding around and the street performers; it’s like the entire city’s energy is concentrated in one space – and it’s contagious. Detrimentally so at times, because you will definitely see (another guarantee) some people doing the weirdest, but equally as wonderful things! For instance, a guy playing drums with recycled material. We also crossed paths with another man, bless him, at a pedestrian crossing. He had his headphones in and out of nowhere just started displaying all sorts of dance moves. Like he was really going for it and I assure you he wasn’t busking or anything. Clearly, Missy Elliott was right when she sang “music makes you lose control!” To make matters all the more perplexing, he was fully decked out in camouflage – from head to toe!?
Then of course, in addition to Marvel superheroes and Power Rangers, there are life size Sesame Street characters running around the place. It just wouldn’t be NYC without some sort of homage being paid to those technicoloured, endearing, but ever so creepy puppets. It’s all just bonkers… that really is the all-encompassing word to describe Times Square. Amidst the manic, I observed lots of by-standing New Yorkers, yearning for casual conversation (despite the hearsay, they’re extremely friendly people). This was a major bonus for us because as soon as they heard British accents, preferential treatment was on the cards . Side note: whenever you’re next in the Times Square area, you should definitely visit DimSum Palace (334 W 46th St, New York, NY 10036, USA), hands down the best Chinese I’ve ever had!
On this same day, a couple blocks away from Times Square, I met a lovely Black police officer. Bear with me, things are going to get extremely real for a second *removes rose-tinted glasses* As a socioracial issue, I recognise the sensitivity and multidimensionality of police brutality, but I feel somewhat compelled to briefly share my two cents. #BLACKLIVESMATTER. This is an undebatable and unnegotiable fact (and if you disagree, I don’t want any noise, just kindly navigate yourself off my blog – please and thank you). Wait. Before you go, just acknowledge this fact: contrary movements to BLM (ESPECIALLY All Lives Matter) undermine the calculative measures, taken by certain police officers across “the land of the free”, to systematically target and neutralise the supposed ‘threat’ of black manhood – Eric Garner, black womanhood – Sandra Bland and black childhood – Trayvon Martin (just to name a few). Therefore, despite the media’s misrepresentation, in these precarious times, where it seems as though America has forgotten (yet again) the #BLACKLIVESMATTER mantra and the movement is an emphatic reminder of black people’s humanity.
Prior to my trip, I watched a BBC documentary (I’m obsessed with documentaries) titled “NYPD: Biggest gang in New York?” and it was truly terrifying. However, it wasn’t until I met an officer for myself that the reality of the agency-structure dynamic became glaringly apparent to me. A single officer’s genuine passion to serve and protect can be, and is, easily perceived inconsequential in the face of wider, structural and institutional misconduct.
In an ideal world, the words ‘police’ and ‘brutality’, shouldn’t even be in the same thought, talk less of the same sentence – it is a gross abuse of power. Unfortunately, the system is broken and desperately requires fixing. This extremely disturbing, racialized law enforcement trajectory must be stopped, reforms must be implemented and the mistrust held within the black community must be healed. It is imperative.
We were still in New York on September 11 and it was incredibly moving to see an entire city (and via the TV, the nation at large) stand in solidarity with each other whilst honouring the victims of 9/11. The days leading up to it, I could see the bright beams of the Tribute in Light very clearly from our hotel street, but lower Manhattan was eerily still that morning, throughout the memorial service.
The Statue of Liberty
Confession: I really regret us leaving the Statue of Liberty till our penultimate day. We were rather tight for time so we didn’t get a chance to go to Ellis Island (reason 101 for me to return to NYC soon), but we did get to see her. TOP TIP: if you want to save those precious dollars, but still really want to see good ol’ Lady Liberty, in all her copper glory – get down to the Staten Island Ferry. It is free, yes, I said FREE! Granted, it doesn’t get as close to the statue (mainly because the ferry is an official mode of transport and not a tourist cruise), but like mine, I’m sure your camera has zoom . Plus, the ferry is very spacious and offers a range of decks for you to work with. I honestly think your shutter fingers will be sufficiently exercised.
So there you have it lovelies, a few highlights from my trip to New York in 2016: signed, sealed and delivered to you, with a bow on top! If you live for the thrill of the big city, great food, high street and boutique shopping, I genuinely think you’ll appreciate all that NYC has to offer. The Big Apple is truly a sweet sensation, so I implore you – go and take a huge bite out of it!