Travel: Big lights will inspire you, let’s hear it for New York

Enjoy the hustle and bustle of New York.
Enjoy the hustle and bustle of New York.

When walking in New York City, stand up straight, push your shoulders back and move with purpose.

Because if you can make it across Times Square, you can make it anywhere.

I was in the city for a long weekend to celebrate my sister’s birthday and soak up a place close to my heart.

I’ve visited several times, but this was my sister’s first trip and I wanted to make it memorable. I’m not a planner, my approach is book a flight, transfers and a centrally located hotel in Midtown.

I advise that on arrival you get a map, work out where you are on it, figure out the grid system, then walk around to find your bearings, taking in coffee shops with wifi along the way – and most importantly, remembering to look up.

We did just that, arriving mid-afternoon at our midrange hotel on Lexington Avenue’s eastern stretches (Doubletree Hilton Metropolitan) after an eight-hour flight and one-hour transfer via minibus.

We booked with British Airways, but flew direct from Manchester with American Airlines on what is possibly the shabbiest plane I’ve ever been on – the Boeing 757 was desperately in need of refurb or replacement. It got us there, but no TV screens in the seats, 1980s decor and an unfriendly, haphazard, economy service.

But we arrived to an October New York bathed in sunshine and temperature more reminiscent of late August, so the trip was still a happy one.

We dumped our stuff in our third floor spacious double room (for New York).

Then we headed out on foot, into a still mild NY early evening. After an initial navigation failure, we walked up the grid into the mayhem of the city.

Within three blocks, after resetting ourselves to the pedestrian crossing etiquette, we had walked through the scene of a fire, past NYPD 17th precinct and through a film set. All standard for NY. Then, desperate for coffee, we found a welcome Starbucks in the very shiny Trump Tower featuring gold walls and a floor-to-ceiling water feature. NY always does it better.

Then we headed to Central Park, past the zoo and sat on a bench, soaking up the atmosphere of purposeful relaxation and watching the joggers and squirrels.

Our weekend was a whirlwind. We didn’t try to tick off a list, rather soak up sights and sounds. We walked for miles, checking out compelling FAO Schwarz toy shop (you know, the one with the big piano that Tom Hanks played in BIG) and famous stores.

When our feet got tired we bought a ticket for the Gray Line bus tours. You can hop on and hop off when you like and get guided tours from the top of an open double decker. We did the downtown tour checking out sights we would never have made it to – through Wall Street and the famous bull, the Flatiron building. Using our 48-hour pass on day two, we hopped off and walked the Brooklyn Bridge for the best, free, views of Manhattan in glorious, if chilly sunshine.

For breakfast we found ourselves a nearby diner where locals and tourists ate bacon and piles of pancakes with syrup (on one plate) with plastic forks and fantastic coffee.

A highlight was seeing the new Freedom Tower, or One World Trade Center. Last time I was here there was just a hole at Ground Zero and many boarded up buildings. Now optimism has replaced shock and the city has fought back.

At night we asked for guidance from the helpful hotel concierge and walked all of one block where an array of largely Thai and Chinese restaurants were awaiting us. We ate well and inexpensively before a few cheeky wines on night one, as we tried to forge through the jet lag.

Another evening and for the bargain price of $15, we had a fab evening at the New York comedy club,on the lower east side. Just as enjoyable and much cheaper than a show, though if we’d had more time we would certainly have queued for half price theatre tickets at the famous stand in the mayhem of Times Square. Later we checked out some bars and had a few cheeky cocktails, which was fun but relaxed.

The plan to go to the Top of the Rock was foiled by our reluctance to stand in line, so instead we watched skaters gliding across the Rockefeller Center ice rink (too tired by then to join in) and gazed through the windows of famous stores.

When we got asked for directions by an American I knew we had managed to de-tourist ourselves and achieve the famous New York State of Mind.

The key to this city is trying places to eat that you may not normally go and finding experiences that may not feature on the tourist leaflets. The city is one big film set, everywhere is familiar to a Brit yet strange and fascinating.

This was just a taste of our weekend and there is no right way to do NY but this is a city where you can be yourself or anyone else you want to be.

This is after all the concrete jungle where dreams are made up– if only for a fleeting weekend.