Planning a holiday is not always easy. It can be, if you get lucky, but attempting to piece together a fairly ambitious agenda can create complications. I resent travel agents as I find that they simply do a lazier version than what you can do yourself if you screen all of the options on the internet. In addition to this, they tend to charge a fortune purely for the convenience of having somebody else scroll through the options for you. As soon as you attempt to plan anything slightly unusual they draw a blank. Don’t get me wrong, they work fantastically to make a large number of people’s lives ever so slightly easier, but if you’re on a budget of any description or trying something a little off the beaten track then look elsewhere. Anyway, I’ll touch back onto the planning stage a little later. Although the jabs, visas and organising can be stressful, the best feeling is having all of your documents sorted and setting off like a snail with all that you could need packed onto your back.
First stop: Norwegian airways. They have a very unusual new take on long haul flights: pay for everything separately. If you want food, drinks, a blanket or headphones you have to splash out but in return you get a, relatively reasonably priced, direct flight to the states. Fair enough. Certainly better than Ryanair or Flybe! Arrival into JFK New York was not quite so pleasant. After the brain-numbing wait in customs and border protection, I proceeded to get completely blown away by the lack of clarity surrounding the subway system. Without the help of an obliging local I would have seriously struggled: the maps are few and far between in addition to being out of scale and unclear. Around two hours after my flight had landed, 5am UK time, I managed to clamber my way over to Katherine (sister) in the West-side Airbnb flat.
With a jet-lagged early start on our first day we headed out into the big city. They don’t seem to have any equivalent to supermarkets or ‘grocery stores’ and what’s more nobody seems to understand us when we ask about them! Katherine eventually found some cereal – labelled ‘whole foods’/’healthy option’ the second ingredient was sugar. No wonder there’s an obesity epidemic. We were very excited, however, to get our first glimpse of the incredible Central Park: the buildings loom over it around the edges like stilts – all much taller yet much thinner than the skyscrapers we’re used to in the UK.
The walk down 5th Avenue was suitably glamorous with the luxury brands dotted down the extensive ‘side-walk’. The wide streets are a novelty: they create a sense of space to counteract the vertical streaks of building so the sun can shine down onto the pavements. It felt like walking around on a film set. We poked our noses into a couple of the big shops such as Saks 5th Avenue but fairly quickly retreated with $$$ branded into our eyes. Grand central station intensified the feeling that we were stumbling into a film. We packed a lot of sites into the first day: The Chrysler building, United Nations building (relatively dull, I must admit), Times Square, Bryant park and the public library. Struggling with the heat we popped into the delightfully named ‘Café grumpy’ for an iced beverage of some description before heading to a classic deli.
The queue at the Museum of Modern art for ‘free Fridays’ looped around the entire block so we instead headed to the ‘top of the rock’ observation deck. We used this as the first of three options on the ‘Explorer pass’ we bought to save us a couple of dollars on entrance fees. The timing was perfect as we soaked up the stunning view in full day light then waited for sunset then through to the magical moment when the lights gradually began to flicker on.
At this point, fully exhausted, we crawled back via a pizza joint and settled down back at the flat. Busy day!