First Timer in NYC

Lazy Saturday (non)traffic

Lazy Saturday (non)traffic, Chelsea

I’m just back from my first trip to New York City.

I know lots of people who say they will never go to New York because they don’t like cities, they don’t like crowds, it’s too expensive, or there’s too much crime. Obviously, I never counted myself among those people, and always wanted to visit!

I have previously lived in Montreal and in the Boston area, and I could have gone to New York from there, but I didn’t want to travel with a young child and be limited to children’s schedules or activities. Link got the last laugh by going to NYC on a school trip long before I did!

There were always issues around cost and companionship – neither I nor any of my friends or family members could afford to go, taking into account airfares, hotels and childcare. I would hear about co-workers doing a long weekend trip to NYC and I thought they must be very “comfortably off” to be able to do that.

So it’s only now, with a spouse, two incomes, no kids at home, and sufficient vacation time, that I could finally plan a trip, unencumbered. I saved for a year so it could be a “bucket list” type trip, with lots of indulgences. But that is all relative! For me, that meant more than a weekend, direct flights, at least a 2-star hotel, and budgeting for concerts, plays, museums and restaurants. It definitely didn’t mean the Waldorf-Astoria, the Four Seasons, or coming home with anything from Kate Spade or Tiffany’s!

Temporary exhibit of Calder works at the Seagram Building

Temporary exhibit of Calder works at the Seagram Building

My original plan was to celebrate my 50th birthday, but the travel was deferred for a whole year. I decided what I wanted most was to experience what was unique and iconic about New York. I am not dramatically well-travelled, but I’ve been to some larger cities including London, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Boston, Washington DC and San Francisco. I wanted to focus on what was different about NYC, and for me, that was architecture (beautiful buildings and charming neighbourhoods), modern art, and the performing arts, especially music and theatre. I wanted to get a sense of what New Yorkers were like! I knew I couldn’t do everything in 5 days (which is how far my budget stretched) and I would be getting an overview.

 So here is how I tried to make the most of it:

Buying Time

We took direct flights and then a cab to our hotel in Greenwich Village. We stayed in Manhattan proper rather than out in the (other) boroughs so we could get around quickly, on foot or by subway. We could walk out the front door to independent shops and restaurants, with no travel time. 

Leafy Street in Greenwich Village

Leafy Street in Greenwich Village

Buying Charm

We stayed in an historic boutique hotel at Washington Square Park so that we could walk around Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side and Noho/Soho at our leisure. It is a leafy, cozy, and just-hip-enough area, where people live and work and go to college, and walk their dogs and take their kids to school; that is, we got a sense of real people in a real neighbourhood. 

Buying Culture

We bought advance tickets to see the revival of Cabaret at Studio 54 (!) and to see the band Bombay Bicycle Club, who were in town for a CMJ show. We had extra time so we got last-minute cheap seats to another play. The money might have gone further if we didn’t pre-book anything and just took our chances, but we chose a couple of must-see shows instead.

Buying Fine Dining

New York is known for its bagels, hot dogs and pizza. Everywhere we went (and I mean everywhere), we smelled chopped meat from all the halal carts. A high proportion of restaurants were steakhouses, burger bars, charcuteries and Brazilian barbecue. So of course we identified vegetarian options in every neighbourhood we planned to be in: Noho, Nolita, Chelsea, Midtown, Times Square and the Upper East Side. We had 4 or 5 really nice meals (with $12-24 entrees) and were pleased to see a lot of places offered a prix fixe menu, even for lunch.

Buying Stuff

I tried to shop at stores that were New York-specific, but there were NY versions of all the chain stores everywhere. I am sure New Yorkers need their Gap and H&M like the rest of us, or is it just tourists who seek what they know? I didn’t succumb to the upscale department stores except the Soho Bloomingdale’s. My main purchase was a stack of Tshirts. (Does 5 make a stack? Or only if you put a hoodie on top, like I did?) I visited two chains for the first time, though: Anthropologie and Uniqlo.

Chrysler Building Lobby

Chrysler Building Lobby

Not Buying

A champagne brunch and a Broadway show are wonderful, but so are Central Park and the High Line; the main (Schwarzman) public library and the literary quotes along Library Way; walking into the concourses and plazas and lobbies of famous buildings; public art; the skyline; and people-watching. And it’s fun to see how everything works in such a big city, whether it is policing or construction or traffic. 

No Stereotypes

I might have guessed that New Yorkers don’t dress or talk or act a certain way; how could any population as diverse as that? But I was surprised by how attentive everyone was, and unselfish – not pushing through crowds, deferring to others, being actually friendly and courteous – almost across the board. Being aware of everything around them, but unguarded. No crime fears, bags and backpacks hanging loose, police everywhere. Fewer openly homeless or panhandlers than in my home town. And the great crackdown on Elmos and Mickey Mouses so they no longer harass you!

A few surprises – better air quality than London – being offered tap water and not aggressively being upsold to bottled – not many tip jars at cafes and fast food places – hardly any pigeons (culled?) and a few little sparrows. 

Regal looking home

Regal looking home

Does the city ever sleep? Yes, we quickly found out it’s a city of late nights and lazy mornings, with stores and restaurants in the village opening late morning or even past noon. Shopkeepers and doormen sweep and hose down the sidewalks in front of their buildings; cabs wait for you to cross the street; everyone walks down the block for their first Starbucks of the day. And that is my New York.

Next time: trip details day-by-day (for hardcore blog followers only; feel free to skip the “my vacation” slide show!)

 

40 comments

  1. We keep meaning to go! Good post and I’m looking forward to your pictures x

  2. Definitely count myself in the hard core blog follower contingent here!!

    It’s interesting that the sleepless cities often seem slower in the mornings – it’s certainly the case in suburbs of Sydney known for late nights!! I’m delighted that you got to try Uniqlo – somewhere that saved me in Japan when I mispacked on knickers… They have just got a shop in Sydney, and prior to needing a ‘basic’ I had never seen their attraction overseas, but came to enjoy their pared back style when I went to a few in Japan. Like you now, I like to restock on clothing on holidays, and as an aussie, the H&M and Zara, until recently, weren’t in Australia, so it was a big deal for us! More and more, these chains are truly global, so it’s less of a big deal, but nonetheless, I hear the siren call to Banana Republic (it’s mother brand, the Gap is here, but not BR), as well as Vict. Secret, though I do wonder how people can be so cute/dressy in knickers… I digress!

    Cost of accom is such a HUGE part of NYC. On my last trip, I spent a night in the YHA chain of youth hostels, surprisingly good though huge, busy and hot. My brothers stayed in the YMCA, I preferred my last minute choice. My parents arrived, and we moved to Brooklyn, and the commute was a lot longer to daily activities 😦 I can’t complain about parent funded accom tho! It was clean and sufficient. I do plan the dream trip, and those 5 star places might just make it on there!

    I look forward to hearing more!

    • When we go to London (making me sound like a jet-setting traveller here), we have always stayed about an hour away by public transit, and commuted in each day. So it is like taking a bunch of day trips – we have to “pack” for the day based on what we’ll be doing for the next 16 hours! Of course, if I wanted to go to New York more often, I would economize and stay further out. The subway system was efficient and hassle-free.

      It was fun seeing what chain stores were popular in New York. It seemed there was an Aldo shoe store in every neighbourhood! (We have them here, too). And I saw innumerable signs advertising UGGs! I didn’t go into BR, even to see what was new, because our local store is a factory outlet and I knew I’d get better deals at home! The British brands, like Topshop, Zara and Mango, are seen as very cool in New York.

  3. Definitely won’t be skipping your detailed account.

    This sounds brilliant. Love the small town feel of the big town.

    I only can’t see myself going because of the distance and because there is so much of UK and Europe I want to see. But one day, one day…. In the meantime, I will love through others’ blogs, like yours.

  4. Fiona

    I am hanging on every word of this. Please bring on the detailed accounts!

    NYC holds such mystique. We will have to love it through blogs for now as well but I’m hoping one day we will visit. I expected to hear more about security-consciousness…it is amazing that New Yorkers can still be so open, friendly and exuberant.

    • I was taken aback by how unguarded New Yorkers seem to be. I bet a lot of it is internalized, as you could tell that everyone was completely aware of their surroundings. They were able to respond very quickly if they perceived a “threat” such as someone about to bump into them, or someone ranting on the street. Unlike in smaller cities where every interaction is noted as a disturbance.

  5. Patricia

    I am so happy to hear you liked it. I loved that you felt safe and wrote that we are” friendly an courteous”. I have lived here for 20 years and feel very safe. New Yorkers do have some unwritten rules: never stop at the subway entrance or at the stairs, you use one side of the stairs to go up and the other goes down, at the escalator if you not want to walk up, stand on the right side of it….and so on.

    • Hi Patricia, Yes, I felt very comfortable! And could definitely sense those “unwritten rules.” It makes a lot of sense that there would be more decorum in larger cities; it’s kind of necessary, to keep everyone moving! Apart from all the beeping horns, I even found the drivers (including cab drivers) to be quite patient, and they let other cars in!

  6. Your New York sounds perfectly charming.. I have never been there, not one for big cities myself but enjoyed reading about how you planned your trip. If I were ever to go I would want to see the shows too.

    • Hello, Lois, I have always heard that New York is a “city of neighbourhoods” and that proved true. I can see how people would live and work in a New York neighbourhood and not have any reason to go to Wall Street or Times Square or whatever, except to show visiting friends and family around. But meanwhile you can still look up and see famous building silhouettes a mile away. Cool!

  7. Great diary of your visit. New Yorkers will often surprise you and often go against perception from the outside.

    • I guess the stereotype is that individual New Yorkers are loud, argumentative and aggressive, but if that were true, the city wouldn’t function very well! I did find that people were plain-spoken and assertive in just the right way for the situations they found themselves in (hailing a cab, being seated in a restaurant, and so on). And I am sure they had a reserve of energy for dealing with injustices, when needed 🙂

  8. Glad you and Rom had a good trip. One of the great things about New York is that there is so much going on that you can shape it to be the city you want to live in (Opera buff, Baseball nut, dog lover, obnoxious wealthy exclusive club goer, fashionista). Most New Yorkers are passionate about something and we need to be near it, otherwise we’d move to the suburbs where it is cheaper and there is more room.
    New Yorkers tend to be direct, and are not prone to small talk or ritual politeness. Often that is read as rude, but it is just how we are. Things soften up once you become “a regular” in places. It is less anonymous than people think.
    Because we are passionate, once you get us going it is hard to shut us up, and by and large we are know it alls and like to show off our city/neighborhood.

    • Hi Jamie, That is an excellent point – you are paying big bucks to live where you do, so there must be a good reason! I observed a sort of reflexive following of social rules (like Patricia mentioned in her comment) which makes public life more streamlined. You might not call it politeness but I think it is! I kind of welcomed the lack of small talk among strangers in public places; I saw it as respect for the privacy and time of others 🙂

  9. Karen

    We were there about 12 years ago and loved it. We found people to be very helpful. Whenever we even looked lost someone stepped up to help. We felt safer on the streets there than we do in Seattle. We stayed in an old refurbished Art Deco hotel two blocks away from the Today show and at that time it was very reasonable. Glad you had such a great trip.

    • That sounds like a great location! I am so clueless about TV; it didn’t even occur to me that we could have tried to get tickets to a taping, until we arrived. I adored all the Art Deco everywhere in Manhattan!

  10. Terri

    I’m delighted to read about your trip to NYC and comments here. I especially enjoyed discussion about the people in New York and outside perception contrast. I live in the deep south, USA (but I am not from here). We are ALL ABOUT small talk and polite ritual…for better or worse! You ‘feel like’ you are friends with everybody, only it doesn’t feel like a close friendship at all. It is kind of like loss of boundary, everyone merged.

    I have some friends who are from the north, USA. With them it seems it takes a while to feel like a friend, but once you establish it, it is set in stone. It feels real, honest, and seems to have more depth and meaning. It also seems more intellectual.

    I’m glad I read this (and wasn’t going to because I am not much of city person because high action overstimulates me, then overwhelms me.) It’s given me some things to think about in a good way. I too look forward to your next post!

    I’ve been reading your blog sporadically for about a year. I think I came here following a link on a comment on Not Buying Anything, but I can’t be sure.

    • Hi Terri, I’m so glad you took the time to comment. I have a fear of visiting the Southern US. I have been to Washington DC (the northern south?) but only for work conferences, and not met any local people. And visited Disney World/Sea World, but same thing! I am an excessively polite person (maybe it comes from being Canadian) and I would have no problem going along with politeness rituals, but I don’t know if I could keep up with the “kissy kissy fake” small talk that seems to be required. Based on TV and movies, I would always be worried about what the Southern person was really thinking, and whether the minute my back was turned, I would be talked about. I hope that is just a stereotype. It would be challenging for me to spend time in the south, but on the other hand, I would love to be proved wrong. Are there any clues to look for that would tell you if someone really liked spending time with you?

      • Terri

        Hi Dar, I saw your reply and hoped to return to answer your question/comments. It’s a good question. I’ve thought about it too. I didn’t have a quick answer for it. Haven’t been on computer much either. However, I’ve enjoyed your NYC pictures and descriptions in subsequent posts. Will get back to you at some point when I can.

      • Thanks, Terri, I look forward to hearing from you again.

  11. Now that I finally got out of the orbit of Seattle, I would love to visit New York. I suspect it is closer to what I am used to (rather than Atlanta). Having never been to the east coast it will be great. I do get to come out to Philadelphia in January for 6 days of training, that will be nice.

    • Ha, I bet New York is closer to Seattle than to Atlanta in temperament! Well, except for the whole laid-back west coast vibe. I bet you would fit right in, somewhere like Williamburg. Not that I am implying you are a hipster or anything 🙂

  12. Love this! I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the trip. I agree with you about how people behave – I’ve never met a New Yorker who lived up to the rude stereotype (but maybe that’s because I’m also from the northeastern US?) and the way everyone moves with the flow is cool to sit back and watch. NYC is a bus ride away for me, so I haven’t stayed overnight. Mr. G and I opt for day trips and that certainly helps with the cost. I’m looking forward to your day-by-day, especially the vegetarian stops you recommend. (I haven’t visited since I made the switch.)

    • It would be amazing to be within a bus ride of New York, but I bet you don’t visit as often – I know that when anything is “day trippable” for me, I keep putting it off and saying I could go any time, and then I don’t do it!

      Despite living in Nova Scotia, the mentality here is like Northeastern (US).

  13. I love this too Dar! It sounds like you had a great trip!
    I agree with all your comments about New Yorkers. I’ve never had a bad experience – probably why I keep going back! I like their direct, but polite approach to customer service!
    I love your New York and look forward to the in-depth posts.

  14. New york is one of the places I want to visit, cant wait to read and see more!

  15. Sounds like you had a great trip! I can’t wait for a detailed post about what you did! I went to New York on a school trip a few years ago and reading your observations bring back the memories from my trip. I absolutely loved New York – the atmosphere, the people, the food! Ahhh now I really want to go back 😛

  16. As always it looks like your research and unique approach to traveling paid off with a wonderful trip! Cant wait to read more in depth about your vacation!

  17. Holly

    I can’t wait for the detailed coverage to come. Glad you had a good time. I am (fingers crossed) planning a short visit in early December to meet some online friends (a Fitbit group) and most importantly, to see my son.

  18. I love New York for its culture but it’s a tad more busy than I’m used to I must admit. Can’t wait to see the more detailed post!

  19. I definitely do prefer the country to the city, that said I have always wanted to go to NYC. I am glad that it is a place that challenges stereotypes! I would want to go to Tiffanys too.

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