My challenge was how to create the very best experience over three days in the city of big dreams, New York City. As a writer, I wanted to do the best job I could of finding a place to develop characters in a new book, from a complete outsider’s point of view. So I was looking for inspiration in New York City as a first priority. Having never been to NYC before, I was excited about the many possibilities, but aware that three days was never going to be enough to do justice to such a trip.
First things first, I had to make a quick list of what I most wanted to do that were also romantic, and lucky for me, I was traveling with my fiance, and there were practically no restrictions to our budget. The second part of the planning was to talk to people who had recently been there, and some who lived there. Many friends had visited, but I called on the delightful and helpful Karen Jacobson, AKA The GPS Girl for her best recommendation. Singer/songwriter Karen has lived in New York for about a dozen years now, does an online TV series called Navigating New York, and I just knew she’d have some great ideas.
Armed with a hotel reservation, and a couple of advance bookings we arrived late on a Saturday evening in early September. Flying into Newark Airport was an unimpressive start, made worse by the eventual realisation we’d mixed up our town car booking. But we then enjoyed our first Yellow Cab ride, and hastened slowly into Manhattan through the Lincoln tunnel, and into the heart of the city. It was already 10pm when we arrived at the Waldorf Astoria, and checked in with the delightful help of Matthais – a young 20-something graduate with a big smile and a happy attitude that certainly suited his role.
Let me tell you about the Waldorf Astoria – a grand olde dame of an establishment so rich in history it features it’s own mini-museum. Kings, queens, princes and princesses, along with movie stars and high ranking politicians all stayed there, and he photos on the wall even included a few multi-award winning musicians. It was inspiring to think we may have been sleeping in a bed once enjoyed by ‘The Boss’ or Elizabeth Taylor, that is until we reached our room and realised that was highly unlikely.
Small, a little cramped and damp, and no view at all. Off we went first thing in the morning to suggest a few things were not up to expectations, and we were promptly upgraded to a room that really might have been enjoyed by at least a talented millionaire or three through the years. And of course Elizabeth Taylor would have had a ‘proper suite’. Too rich for us, but by now we had a fabulous view of Park Lane, a king size bed and bathroom, and generous living area to relax in for the next few days. It was expensive but sumptuous and we loved it!
We spent the better part of that first Sunday on a lunch cruise along the Hudson River, where the food was almost as good as the table service, and the views of the city were expansive. The Statue of Liberty was majestic in the sunshine as she reflected the millions of camera’s pointed at her from the tourists at her feet. We expected Ellis Island to be eerie and grim, but in fact it resembled an old hospital building and we’d not have known what it was unless it had been pointed out by our ship’s captain.
At the recommendation of some other passengers we headed towards the Chelsea Vintage Markets – not to be confused with the Chelsea Flea Markets, which we ventured into a the following day and found it to be missing a lot of the hype we’d anticipated. The Vintage Markets were set in a small vacant lot, across the road from a four story upmarket antique store, and the bargains were exceptional to say the least. So much so we had to be particularly careful we reserved enough money for our cab fair home afterwards.
To say the shopping in NYC is fantastic is a bit like saying Carrie Bradshaw likes shoes. Not only is the famous Fifth Avenue everything a girl could hope it to be, but the major stores like Macys, Saks, Old Navy, and Bloomingdales are simply outstanding. A trip to NYC would not have been complete without a few hours spent aimlessly wandering these iconic stores and walking away with a few well chosen wardrobe and gift items.
By the second day there we were hailing cabs like the locals – well almost. A running tally of who was the most successful at this was and still is a constant source of amusement between us. But cab rides were nothing compared to two other modes of transport we enjoyed in New York. Karen Jacobson’s wonderful suggestion of a gondolier ride with an authentic Venetian/Brazilian gondolier named Jose at the Boathouse Cafe in Central Park was simply magic. We followed this up by a romantic sunset dinner at the Boathouse restaurant overlooking the lake, then a horse and carriage ride around the park after dark, ending our perfect evening at the Plaza Hotel for late drinks. What could be better than ticking off several bucket list items in one romantic evening with my Honey, who by the way had no idea of my advanced planning for that particular date night.
Our last day in New York dawned as bright and warm as the previous two days, and we decided to amble about the stores again before heading to the home of Liberty Helicopters for a planned 15 minute tour of the city by air. Unfortunately this was the least exciting part of the trip, as the ride took more than an hour to queue for, and lasted only 12 minutes, with a very rapid view of the same area we’d seen from the Hudson River cruise two days before. An expensive way to see the city and perhaps a better option would have been to hire a town car for a two or three hours personal tour.
The town cars all looked like they were from the set of Criminal Minds, and the drivers were bold looking blokes with firm attitudes and charming style. Their willingness to please was the sort of customer service gurus write books about, and the two short trips we did take with Howie’s Limos was in air-conditioned comfort and very reasonably priced. A certain snobbery exists between the cabbies and the town-car drivers, but then again, what industry doesn’t have an elite version that is protective of it’s status?
Our final evening was spent seeing a Broadway show – The Book of Mormon – which can only be described as the funniest show we’d ever seen and we can’t wait to go back and see it again. This was followed by dinner two doors down in a charming Italian restaurant featuring a blind piano player serenading patrons with old jazz, and pasta that was out of this world. The most interesting thing about the place however – aside from the wall of fame with photos of legendary celebrity dinners – was the bathrooms which were decorated to resemble an old Italian sidewalk in a quaint Tuscany village. I actually went back for a second look and took my camera this time. Talk about ambience!
The days sped by, and we packed a lot in, and we chose not to do several things on our list that we’re saving for next time. Like a Harlem tour with lunch, and museums and the Empire state building… the closest we got to the Rockerfeller Centre was the sidewalk due to Ellen filming there later in the day. And we’d have surely gone to more Broadway shows had time allowed.
For anyone wondering if you can ‘do New York’ in only three days we say absolutely you can. By not cramming too much in, and taking the time to really enjoy the spare time we had, book-ended each day with ‘a something’ or two, we managed to get a giant taste of what we want to go back and do again, or differently next time. Most of all, by spending less time, and increasing our budget for the time we did have, we indulged in all the best ways we could think of, and that included some of the most iconic options such as the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue, and the Fabulous Boathouse Restaurant.
Would we do it again differently – probably not. First impressions you only get once. New York made sure our first impressions were the kind of dazzling splendid I’d only ever dreamed about. And I’m so inspired to ensure some of my experiences make it into my next novel, so stay tuned. Although I might have to go back to check on place names? That’s a great excuse huh!