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A Bite of the Big Apple

Teenage dreams in the city that never sleeps


I wrote this back in March 2001 as part of a University application, after my brother and I visited New York for the first time.  With today being what it is, and there being so much negativity surrounding New York today, I thought I'd share some of my happy memories of visiting my favourite place in the world.

Having always pondered where the famous nickname “The Big Apple” had come from, I recently came to the conclusion that it had come from the orchards which had once provided fresh fruit for the inhabitants of Manhattan. Actually, it took a six-hour flight, two-hours at passport control with the Office of Immigration and Naturalization at JFK airport to find out that I had come to the wrong conclusion. It was in fact named after the story of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. So sinful were the people of 1930s New York, that the contemporary Mayor called the city The Big Apple, Sin City. The phrase stuck with the city and spread throughout the globe, and the World’s favourite city became that little bit more familiar.

Leaving the airport and entering the city can only be compared to the experience of losing one’s virginity. No matter how often you see the city on television or in the movies, you are never truly prepared for the sensation that hits you as soon as you arrive. Moreover, it works like sex in the mind of the traveller. Firstly, there’s the anticipation – waiting for the moment to come when you get to the city. Next, the expectation sets in - what you expect it to be like and how you believe that you will cope with being there for the first time. The penultimate feeling is the fear – that the city won’t meet expectations, and then finally, you arrive.

Landing in darkness allows for the feelings to grow. Not being able to see every inch of the city means that more surprises await when the sun rises. The drive from the airport into the city tantalises visitors just enough to whet the appetite, and the lights emanating from each giant structure give a vague outline of the alternating peaks. And still you wait to enter the city. Through the suburbs of Queens and Brooklyn are technically part of the ‘island’, but pale in comparison to the sprawling monuments that lay in wait.

The artificially lit Queens tunnel passes under the East River and, upon exiting the tunnel, the effervescent glow of uptown New York strikes at city virgins inspiring visions of greatness dotted around the city. Then, from nowhere, a yellow cab cuts in front of the minibus to a crescendo of tooting and spoils the atmosphere.

Arriving at the hotel provides the next surprise. Discreetly hidden between the neon lights of ‘McDonalds’ to the left and ‘Blockbuster Video’ to the right, the hotel stands tall, happily existing in the insomniac’s city while all around announce their presence. Once the shock at seeing such extravagance on the outside of the surrounding area passes and you enter the lobby of the hotel, another shock awaits. Greetings from a friendly face behind a high counter remind you that you have indeed left the UK. Without being asked, men emerge from nowhere and escort you to your rooms, carrying luggage for you, rather than checking you into a room on the top floor and telling you that the lift is out of order. By the minute you’re becoming more impressed.

A quick glance out of the window and a warm shower are all that break up the first night of the trip. Once clean and refreshed, there is only one place to spend the evenings in New York City – Times Square. Named after the New York Times, which was based on Times Square for seventy years, Times Square acts as the centre of nightlife for young people in New York. Joining Broadway with Seventh Avenue, it has theatres for thespians and theatregoers alike, bars, restaurants, fast food and shopping.

Seeing Times Square, where the ball drops and the city’s New Year celebrations take place, on January 2nd is like any other day. The ball has been removed from the top of the Panasonic building and the half-ton of confetti and ticker tape have been swept away. Nothing suggests that Times Square has just hosted a party with three million guests.

Manhattan is made up of one-hundred and eighty-three numbered streets which run from first to one eighty-third from the east of the city to the West. However, the streets don’t start at first. Below first can be found about thirty streets which lead to Wall street, the Financial district and Battery Park, where the Statue of Liberty can be seen across the water. Staying in a hotel on fifty-first and eighth avenue (avenues run from North to South, with first Avenue being on the East River and Eleventh Avenue being on the Hudson River on the West side), it was decided that the only way to see the whole city without missing anything was to walk from 51st and 8th down to Battery Park, act like tourists at the bottom end and visit the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Centre. And it was worth every calorie of lost food. The view of the Manhattan skyline from Liberty Island can only be described as breathtaking. Each building has a unique character which no other building attempts to copy. All are individuals, although, unfortunately, the people haven’t learnt this lesson. Each local man is a Wiseguy or a Goodfella, while every guy who sells a house is Donald Trump. To pick between the view and the people, I’d have to choose the view – it’s original.

And spectacular. From the World Trade Centre, on a clear day, visitors can see fourteen miles of scenery including Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Harlem and New Jersey. Whoever said that the concrete jungle was ugly never walked amongst the concrete animals or climbed the concrete tree.

Women rave about the shopping in New York, so I endeavoured to find the three most talked-about shops: Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Tiffany & Co., more commonly referred to as Tiffany’s. And, true enough, each store is remarkable in its own way. Macy’s for the antiquity and tradition retained from when the store was called Gimbals’, Bloomingdale’s for the way in which personal shoppers are assigned to each customer who requests one, and the way that Tiffany’s is laid out so that none of the stock is where the signs say that it should be, so that customers have to wander through other departments to find what they want, with most selecting other items as well, just because they like the look of them.

New York’s showpiece is, without doubt, Central Park. Covering over one hundred acres of land, the snow-covered landscape allows for more diverse activities, such as cross-country skiing, in the centre of an international metropolis. In the summer, local people say that you can hardly move in the park for fear of crashing into another person, and in the winter, you can’t enter the park after dark because it plays home to three-hundred vagrants and lunatics.

Information about the city is easily available. Bus tours allow you to see everything of interest while at the same time adding an individual and unique, unscripted commentary given by a Barbara Streisand wannabe with the same thick Brooklyn accent but her original nose. Tours run Downtown, Uptown and through Midtown, with separate tours running over to Brooklyn and up into Harlem, while some go everywhere, but at night, so visitors can see the city by night.

And so the short stay in the city ends in the best traditional way – with a cup of airport coffee made strong enough to send a caffeine addict into anaphylactic shock before boarding the aircraft and taking your middle class seats while the idiots behind in economy class fight over aisle seats while kicking the seat in front rather than asking the six-foot giant to lift the back of his seat up. Tired, but happy, visitors leave the city that never sleeps knowing that, when they wake up, they’ll be planning to go again.

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