New York is great. New York is exciting. New York never sleeps. New York will make you feel brand new. Big lights will inspire you. Let’s hear it for New York, New Yo-. Umm, not entirely sure where I was going with that…
Back in August last year, I had three nights in NYC on my way to Canada. From the moment I arrived, I’d never felt more like a tourist in my entire life.
In the time between landing at the airport and arriving at my hostel, I’d spoken to about five strangers (and that’s not including official, sanctioned strangers who work at designated information desks). One of them got lucky when the train ticket machine refused to take my $20 note and he only had $17 to give me in exchange, and another probably thought she was being stalked by a slightly loopy, frazzled backpacker as I obsessively checked with her that I was still going the right way.
I’d naively believed that I could navigate a bus, a train, and two subways while jetlagged and functioning on one hour of sleep, having never been to New York before in my life.
In a state of confusion and mild distress, I was reassured by the familiar presence of a Santander bank, excited by my first American cop car in a way that only a tourist can be, and informed my friend that I was a rhino while she kept me company on What’s App, despite it being 3am in the UK.
Not one to be defeated by public transport, I put on my ‘Hell Yeah’ playlist, specifically designed for stressful situations like these. Feeling like an Independent Woman or a Million Pound Girl who likes Dancing in the Moonlight and getting Low, and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune to round it all off. I dare you to have a music session where you go from Run the World to Hairspray’s Good Morning Baltimore and tell me you don’t feel revived and on top of the world by the end of it.
In fact, I felt so confident by the end of my journey that I wrote the first sections of this blog post on subway one of two, when really I should have been concentrating on not missing my stop.
In the end, I was travelling from 9.40pm until gone midnight on what should have been a one-hour journey.
Moral of the story: talk to strangers, they’ll eventually get you where you need to be.
My first full day in New York brought just as many encounters with strangers as the night before, especially while trying to navigate NYC’s public transport. Say what you will about the New York subway system, but it just doesn’t make any sense. Either that, or it’s absolute genius because even without any clue whether or not I was going the right way, I still managed to end up where I needed to be.
I kicked off my introduction to New York with a three hour walking tour. I got chatting with an English family; parents and two older kids, who’d been doing a little tour of the States. Our guide recommended a pizza place after the tour and I asked the family if I could tag along, because I wanted food and they were headed that way as well. It was great pizza and great company and I really appreciated the chance to have a relaxed sit down and chat with some lovely people. And to top it all off, at the end of the meal, they insisted that they pay and said that it was enough for them to know that I would pay it forward when I was older or that someone would offer a similar act of kindness to their kids some day. Thank you again, wherever you are.
Moral of the story: talk to strangers, they give you free food.
The happy coincidence of that day was that between the pizza place and my subway station, an integral part of the New York landscape popped up on Google Maps. One I never thought I would see in person. The Friends’ Apartment. Just proof that you will always find Friends in unexpected places.
Already by breakfast the following morning I was talking to more strangers. I had a lovely chat with two people whose names I can’t remember, one was brand new in New York out of Germany and the other worked for a tech company in the States. When travelling on your own I’ve always found it incredibly helpful to stay in hostels. If you want to make friends where better to stay than in a building full of other people looking to make friends. I didn’t see them again over the course of my visit but it was nice to have someone to share breakfast with.
Moral of the story: talk to strangers, sometimes they want to be your friends.
For the rest of the day, while exploring the Guggenheim, the Empire State and Central Park, I asked countless strangers if they could take my photo. Although I always made sure I picked people I felt I could outrun – I’m still a mistrustful Londoner at heart. In the Guggenheim, I imagined chasing my hypothetical kleptomaniac photographer round and round the circular ramps of the gallery like a cartoon character. And thankfully, on the Staten Island Ferry, unless my chosen photographer was going to dive into the Hudson and swim away, I didn’t have to worry about expending my energy on a high speed pursuit.
Moral of the story: talk to strangers, they will be your human selfie sticks.
This was probably my favourite day in New York, largely because I’d let myself sleep in for a bit and then watched some Netflix in bed – I love bed. The Guggenheim is truly stunning and I loved the circular layout. I was intrigued by the solid gold toilet, but not enough to queue for over an hour to use it (and well done, Guggenheim, for offering to loan it to Donald Trump recently). I also had a great time wandering through Central Park in the sunshine and my highlight by far was finding the Balto statue. As a self-professed dog/wolf lover from a very young age, I was obsessed with the inspiring and selfless story of Balto, the animated wolfdog hybrid who saved the Alaskan children from a diphtheria outbreak. Little childhood me was quietly and enormously excited when I saw the statue of this noble beast for myself. It was genuinely difficult waiting my turn while the kids clambered all over him.
The other monumental thing that happened to me that day was that at 8.33pm on Sunday 13th August I gave a stranger directions. I don’t even remember where to, but it mattered enough that I made a note then and there of the exact time.
It only took two days for me to become a true New Yorker.
Despite being a very true, very competent New Yorker by this point, on my last day in the Big Apple, I did stuff that would only rely on my feet to get me from A to B. And I got the shuttle bus straight to the airport rather than making my own way there.
Before heading to the airport, I had just enough time to squeeze in a trip to the amazing Met Museum of Art. It’s a wonderfully varied gallery and I fell in love with the sculpture of ‘Latona and her children, Apollo and Diana’, by William Henry Rinehart (1974). It’s such a tender depiction of mother and child.
As with NYC, I only really scratched the surface of the Met, but it just means that I’ll have plenty to see when I go back and it was a great way to end my adventure.
There were a few things I definitely wanted to do during my visit: see the Statue of Liberty and Times Square (because, you know, it’s New York), visit Central Park (and Balto), and see a show on Broadway. I’m so lucky to have London’s West End on my doorstep (even though it’s a bit pricy to be enjoying every weekend!) and I love going to the theatre so it was out of the question that I could go to NYC and not see something on Broadway. I went to see Kinky Boots because it’s one of the few big shows I haven’t see yet and I was not disappointed. It’s such a happy, open-minded, jump-out-of-your-chair-and-sing (although not really because staff might ask you to leave) kind of show.
I loved New York, but I did feel a bit like a headless chicken while I was there. I was trying to fit as much as possible into less than three days. If you’re ever in a similar position, here is what I squeezed in:
- 3 hour walking tour
- Lunch at John’s of Bleecker Street or John’s Pizzeria
- Friends’ Apartment
- Staten Island Ferry – a great free way to see the Statue of Liberty
- 9/11 Museum – an excellently curated but harrowing museum
- Kinky Boots on Broadway
- Times Square (and the Disney Store, of course)
- Top end of Central Park
- Guggenheim Gallery
- Empire State Building
- Wandering the streets of New York
- Bottom end of Central Park
- Comedy Show at the hostel (Hostelling International NYC)
- Central Park again
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Central Park one last time – it’s really nice and really big so it’s worth more than one visit, and it was between my hostel and the main galleries
- Shuttle to the airport
All of the people I interacted with affected my life in a positive way, however small. I don’t remember their names and I probably won’t ever see them again. And if I do, I doubt I’ll recognise them. Nevertheless, it just goes to show that strangers are important and there are still people in this day and age you can trust. I say all of this, however, having just started watching Black Mirror, so maybe I’m just desperate for something to restore my faith in humanity…
After New York, I had one night in Vancouver before I was off on my Moose adventure through the Rockies, which you can read about here.
In Vancouver, I had absolutely no issues getting to my hostel, except for one man who managed to wrangle about $5 from me after giving me directions which I didn’t ask for… but that’s a tale for another time.
Moral of the story: …don’t always talk to strangers, sometimes they just want your money…
So be safe, everyone.
And talk to strangers.
(Just don’t follow them down dark alleys, get in their vans, or eat their sweets.)