This year, many of us are not traveling over the holidays. A city-trip to the other side of the Atlantic ocean is nowhere in sight. Dreaming of time past (and, hopefully, time future!), E&M author Marta Montanari takes us with her to New York City. Because, as she writes, we may not be able to travel but we can still dream as much as we want.
I used to always have a suitcase packed, ready for the weekend, planning new adventures with my friends or visiting new places for a solo trip. Now things are different: we can’t plan our weekends away anymore, and we are spending more time indoors than we used to.
During the first Covid-19 lockdown, in Spring 2020, I had a lot of time to go through pictures of my old trips, while dreaming of new places to explore. We may not be able to grab our suitcases as fast as we did before, but we can still dream as much as we want! So, in case you need a little escape or some inspiration, I want to take you with me across the Atlantic Ocean – to New York City.
That city from the movies
Traveling with my dad for a father-daughter trip, we had only 72 hours in the city to see and do as much as possible. As soon as I looked outside the airplane’s window, I knew some fun days were awaiting us. I felt like I was arriving to a place I already knew, I felt the thrill of exploring a city which I had already seen in movies so many times.
Sometimes described as a complicated and not-very-friendly city, New York decided to welcome me in a very different way. From the very first smile I got waiting for customs at the airport, where, despite their best effort in staying serious, the officers couldn’t help but smile at my obvious state of happiness, from the lady on the street who helped us when we were completely lost, to the firefighters who showed us around their station – everyone made us feel very welcome.
Once we got our bags, we headed to the metro which connects JFK airport to the city centre and allowed us to avoid the traffic jams.
We were lucky as we already had two metro cards with us, but if you are traveling to New York, go and get one as soon as you arrive. Top it up and use it to move around. It is a very fast and cheap way to explore the city. But note: these cards are extremely easy to ruin, so take extra care and don’t keep them near your phone.
Once we reached the hotel, I dropped off my bags and I was ready to go out again.
A city of skyscrapers and lights
Walking down the street, I could notice that the sun was coming down while I was trying to look at the very top of every building. How people don’t get neck pain when visiting New York is still a mystery to me. Whether you like the architecture or not, you will walk with your nose up to see as much as you can.
How people don’t get neck pain when visiting New York is still a mystery to me.
The skyscrapers are a symbol of New York City. One of its must-sees is the Empire State Building, which, with its 102 floors, was built with about 10 million bricks and completed in only 410 days. Famous for its panoramic view, its upper 30 floors are covered with lights since 1976, which change color depending on the season and the occasion. We decided to admire it from the ground and enjoyed the beautiful lights from a distance, while heading for a nice meal.
After dinner, with still plenty of time before my body would realise what time it was, we hit the road and headed to Times Square. The lights came our way even before reaching the crossroad between Broadway and 7th Avenue. Once you get to the very centre, a wave of colours, images and sounds surrounds you – like nothing else you have ever seen before. Every possible screen is on, and there are so many different things to look at. I had to go to the highest part of the square to take it all in for a few seconds.
Christmas in New York
Not far from there, you will find the popular 5th Avenue and the Rockefeller Center. As you can imagine, so close to Christmas, we did not have a choice but stopping by. Even though the tree and decorations were still a work in progress, Rockefeller Plaza welcomed us with a beautiful view.
The popular Christmas tree actually comes from a very old tradition. It started in the 1930s when construction workers prepared a small Christmas tree for the construction area. Today, many families and couples come here to ice skate and enjoy their time together, surrounded by shops and cafes, all dressed up for the festive season.
A few steps away you will find NBC studios and the very popular Radio City Music Hall. This building came to life following Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel’s wish. At the beginning of the 1940s, Radio City became the place to go. However, when its popularity started fading, maintenance costs rose leading to its closure in 1978. The historic theatre survived only because it was declared a national heritage site last minute.
A sunny winter-day in Brooklyn
After a very good night of sleep, we were still completely exhausted – but ready to hit the road!
The sun was shining beautifully, and it being wintertime on the east coast, we knew we were extremely lucky to enjoy such good weather. This was our chance to go to the Brooklyn Bridge.
We knew it was our chance to go to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Catching the metro not far from the hotel, we sat at the very end of the train. While riding towards our destination, suddenly music started. A group of passengers, who had been sitting peacefully until just a moment before, started dancing and performing acrobatic tricks. Once we arrived at the next stop they disappeared, leaving a fairly surprised group of people behind. I knew it was going to be a good day.
If Brooklyn was a city on its own, it would be one of the biggest in the US, due to its large population – three times the size of Manhattan. Starting from Brooklyn Bridge Park, you can admire the opposite side of the river. But, as they say, you have not really experienced Brooklyn if you do not visit Jane’s Carousel. It was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922 and purchased by Jane Walentas in 1984. She dedicated the following 20 years to bringing it back to its original beauty. With 48 horses and 1,200 lights, it was eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Before heading to the bridge, it is worth it to take a walk around this neighborhood. Not as crowded as the rest of the city, you can get a taste of New York daily life. The architecture, with its red bricks and green spaces mixes perfectly, giving a lovely atmosphere to the place.
On our way, Brookyln bridge suddenly appeared in front of us in all its beauty. Completed in 1883, several tragic accidents took place during its construction. The engineer who designed the bridge, John Roebling, got hurt and died before the work even started and his son (who took over the project after his father) was struck by embolism while working on the excavation process in the riverbed.
While crossing the bridge, the walkway reserved for pedestrians will allow you to calmly admire lower Manhattan in all its greatness. The view brings you a feeling of calm as, despite the many people around, you will be able to take in the skyline so familiar from many movies and enjoy both the fresh air and the sun.
Some green in the grey
With still a few hours to go before sunset, we headed to Central Park. Called the “lungs” of New York, it is a meeting point for all New Yorkers. It includes beautiful paths covered in colorful leaves in autumn, little forests, gorgeous bridges and lakes. It does not even feel like you are in New York anymore. While heading towards the Bethesda Fountain, one of the biggest in the city, you will have beautiful views. Once there, you will be right next to one of the most popular spots in the park where many weddings are celebrated.
The next day we headed to the famous High Line, a long railway used previously for cargo trains, which was repurposed as part of a large renovation project in 1999. The idea was to transform it into a beautiful green area; a place for people to enjoy a walk away from the main street. Today, the High Line is covered with flowers, full of seating areas and temporary as well as permanent art exhibitions. I really did not know what to expect, but as soon as I started walking next to the old railway, surrounded by plants and in the midst of modern and old architecture, I was absolutely charmed. This is the perfect place to relax under the sun with a good book and a cup of coffee.
Our next stop was Washington Square Park. While walking through many cute streets, I got the chance to visit some small independent shops. These were not only very pretty from the outside, but also filled with creativity and innovative projects on the inside. Washington Square Park is generally considered the main square of the Village, one of New York’s neighborhoods, and a preferred meeting place for many New York University (NYU) students. It is also a place where artists’ perform and dog walkers and friends gather. You will find a beautiful atmosphere, plus many of the most famous cafés.
Even if you get caught in the middle of a storm, like we did on our last day, you will still have plenty of options to explore. From museums to Christmas markets, you will not get bored in this city and not one second of your time will be wasted.
You will not get bored in this city and not one second of your time will be wasted
From the infinite walks, to art pieces I had never seen before, the spontaneous dancing of street artists… every bit of this city left me with good memories. Unexpectedly charming and very kind, this place allowed me to see so much in so little time.
It stole a tiny piece of my heart and, who knows, maybe one day it will do the same for you!
Cover photo: Marta Montanari