A week before Thanksgiving last year, I packed my winter coat and a few pairs of skinny jeans, cleaned out my bank account and took a very very long flight to New York.
I would like to go on a rant at this point saying how the plans were all last-minute, how the tickets were bought overnight and how I craved adventure so much, that I spontaneously packed my bags and flew off halfway across the world in 22 hours and 25 minutes. Oh, how I wish that were true.
I did exactly that when I booked for Paris overnight during my Spring Break in 2010. But this time was different. All planned. Lists made. Proper clothing packed. Maps studied. Timings synchronized. All signs that I’m finally growing up.
You’ll have to forgive me though, before you go scroll through the photos and then come back and yell at me, “Where on earth are all the food photos, woman?!”
Well, I don’t have any. Or, I have two. If you count a blurry photo of a humongous piece of chocolate mousse cheesecake from Junior’s and one random photo of my first time having Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix. So, yes. If you count those two, then I have two ‘food’ photos. Go ahead, you can curse.
I ate at Di Fara’s. I spent an afternoon inhaling Asharokens and staring at the Guastavino vaults at the Oyster Bar. I bought bread from Balthazar and even spent a lovely fifteen minutes at Mast Brothers. And I have nothing to show for it. I spent most of my time gaping at the buildings and flashing goofy smiles at all the doormen while walking down 5th Avenue. FYI, some tipped their caps at me, the others however looked ready to tackle me to the ground.
You know how every city you visit teaches you something big or small or medium. Some things you remember, some things you don’t. Some things are important while you’re on the trip and some things are life lessons you learn to keep in your life. For example, did you know that The Tree looks good even when they haven’t quite finished dressing it up for Christmas? Or, did you know that a single slice of cheesecake from Junior’s is impossible to finish in one sitting and it takes at least seven midnight spooning sessions in the refrigerator to empty the carton? Well, I learnt all that and a couple of things more on the trip.
The first thing I did on arrival at the JFK, was pick up someone else’s red trolley bag at baggage claim. I traveled with the wrong bag all the way to New Haven, CT (where I actually put up to be a near a friend’s place). It was only when I got to the hotel at two in the afternoon, I realized the mistake I’d made. At times like this you’re left with only two choices - you can either decide to panic and frantically call a cab company to take you to the train station from where you catch the next two-hour trip all the way to Grand Central and then take a shuttle to JFK and sort all the shit out. Or…you can just strip down to your undies, jack up the thermostat, wrap yourself up in the fluffiest duvet you’ve ever slept in and sleep off your jet lag for the next twelve hours.
The latter, people. Always go with the latter. If you do, then you’ll wake up at two in the morning, refreshed, toasty warm, hungry and in need of a bath. You’ll take a shower, make yourself a mug of Swiss Miss by the dim lights of the bed-side table, re-wrap yourself in the duvet and make plans on how to face New York that same morning. The day was a long day, by the end of which I had my own red trolley bag with me, had eaten a whole plate of baby-back ribs and had hobbled around New York in a pair of red ballerinas with angry blisters at exactly five places on each of my feet.
First and foremost, if you’re wearing shoes with heels taller than an inch while you’re beating down the streets of New York, New York will eat your feet alive. Alive. I’m not kidding.
My advice is that you hobble out of Grand Central and to the nearest Aldo where your best bets would be flat sturdy boots. At least that’s what I managed to do. The sales girl was kind enough to take pity on me and my blisters and threw in a pair of sole-liners for free.
Also, just like how London teaches you to carry umbrellas no matter what the sky says; New York will also teach you the importance of carrying water bottles no matter where you’re planning on going. When you’re twisting your neck every five seconds to gaze up high at the skyscrapers, you’ll also need a very good pair of sunglasses.
If not, then use them to gape at the windows dressed up for Christmas. Or at the lights in Times Square. Sigh.
The city has a buzz. I’m well aware that I’m not the first person to say this. It is not a revelation, a declaration or any sort of discovery by any capacity. An observation you may say. The city just has a buzz.
You can walk around and in a moment you’ll start feeling like you can do anything you want to or anything might happen at any moment. Magical or otherwise. You could be travelling like a local, or with your family or with a toddler by your knees. You could be only backpacking through with your soul sisters. Or like me, you could be a weary lone traveler, exhausted and thirsty and secretly tired of travelling alone. But New York will take care of you, I swear. Feed you a ton of pizza, fill your heads with glitzy details and make your head spin with super-charged routines. The city changes at every corner and changes again at the next block. You just never know what to expect and that, somehow, is the best feeling.