New York City: The Last Visit?

Words & Pictures by Shaun Troke

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  • Foreword
  • Day 1: Familiarity
  • Day 2: Outside The Box
  • Day 3: Consciousness vs Subconsciousness
  • Day 4: East Side
  • Day 5: The Special Day
  • Day 6: West Side
  • Day 7: The End
  • The Last Visit?

FOREWORD

What was originally a Trip For Two became a Trip For One only a month prior to the departure date.

For some, it would’ve seemed easy: “Hell yeah, I’m going to New York City….ON MY OWN! Hashtag Freedom!”…but with four trips to New York City behind me already, the purpose of this trip had yet to be discovered…

At first, when this visit to New York City was a Trip For Two, it was to experience an old familiar place through the eyes of someone new, enjoying the city together, with the other persons company making this trip unique…

But, when you’re returning to a destination that you’ve been to four times before, to a place that no longer seems new to you, it does make you ponder the need for going back…

So, for me, up until the day of departure – and, as weird as this may sound – I was still trying to figure out the reasons for going back the worlds most vibrant city…

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DAY 1: Familiarity

I’m uncertain if I’ve travelled with United Airlines before.

When I say I’m uncertain, there’s the possibility that I may have flown with them from JFK to Toronto in 2012, but I really can’t recall if I did or not (I’ve been on a LOT of planes in my time!)…anyway, not that any of this is important to you as a reader, this is just my own recollection being a little jaded…

Annnnnd, moving on…

The good experiences with United Airlines began at the check-in desk at Manchester Airport. Not only was there no queuing up to the check-in desk, but one of their staff members offered me something that no airline had ever before…

TIP #1: Pick-up your US Customs Card at check-in.

Usually, you’re given these cards to fill-in around 30mins before the plane lands in the United States, leaving you scrambling over your adjoining passengers to get to your bag, scavenging around for pen, to make sure you fill in this form before entering customs.

This time, though, I’d filled in my Custom Card while on the ground, before boarding the plane, avoiding pen-hunting stresses thirty-thousand feet up!

I’m not sure if all airlines allow this, but there’s never any harm in asking, if this tip makes sense to you (I know that I’ll be asking check-in staff from now on).

I also want to thank United Airlines for their incredible selection of movies on board, meaning I had another chance to watch ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story‘, enjoying that iconic scene of Darth Vader wiping out a hallway of rebels (oops, belated spoiler alert)!

Who I DON’T want to thank, though, is the couple sat alongside me, who did nothing but complain & moan about our destination airport: Newark International. This would be my first time arriving into Newark, and, the last thing I wanted to hear about were hour-long delays getting through customs…

So, you can imagine my smugness when us passengers, once inside the airport, approached the customs area…and there were NO QUEUES at all! Maybe it was the time of day (it was 1pm on a Thursday afternoon), but needless to say, that whiny couple had been proved wrong…in fact, I was in & out of Newark Airport in about 12 minutes!

And within 15mins, I’d boarded the Newark Airport Express (more about this on Day 7), bound for NYC in under an hour!

On board this luxurious air-conditioned coach, I watched as skyscrapers on the horizon inched closer & closer; 80’s music played from the coach’s speaker system, as our vehicle crawled through traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel up onto the island of Manhattan.

Disembarking the coach at Bryant Park, and, walking to the hotel via Fifth Avenue, with each step taking me a foot closer to the magnificent Central Park, something still wasn’t right…

I was still lacking the feeling of excitement.

As said, this was my fifth visit to New York City. I knew my way around. It felt like I’d returned to somewhere I knew too well. It was all very familiar. Precisely a year ago I’d been here, doing the same type of thing, yet I’d been more excited back then…

I know, I know, this really doesn’t sound right – here I was, in the Big Apple, not knowing what the fuck to do with myself! Like the subheading of ‘Home Alone 2‘, I felt ‘Lost in New York’!

Over a large Chipotle burrito, I came to the conclusion that, after spending a huge amount of money to be here, I had to do something to fix this…

DAY 2: Outside The Box

One year ago, I’d made a list on my phone, of the things that my travel companion & I missed on our visit to New York City…

H&H Bagels was on that list.

Because, last year, we’d eaten at its rival branch – Ess-a-Bagel – so now, it was time to try the competition. Although the Upper East Side H&H Bagels was 30-blocks from the hotel, it was worth the 40min walk (and the year-long wait!)….

With less of a queue than Ess-a-Bagel, H&H is a lot smaller, with a more personal, friendlier vibe to it. I actually really liked this part of town, too, as it was slightly more chilled compared to New York’s tourist hotspots.

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Taking the ‘shortcut’ from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side through the enormous Central Park was the best choice of pitstop to chow down an H&H Bagel.

What’s always impressive (and awesome) about Central Park is that you will always discover new little wonders in the park, no matter how many times you’ve been to New York. On this particular ‘Bagel Break’, I found a castle, a dog area, baseball pitches, a little balcony to sit & reflect by the water…there was even a free Shakespeare play going on in the park, too!

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Heading over to the Upper West Side was for two reasons: 1) a deli called Zabar’s, and, 2) Riverside Park.

The first reason (Zabar’s) turned out to be too popular to visit, so I decided that it might be best going back tomorrow morning first thing, before the queues form; the second reason (Riverside Park) was, well, a little disappointing. Maybe this had something to do with the grey clouds that were looming on this day, but yeah, I wasn’t a fan.

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Personally, if you’re looking for a place to sit & chill by the Hudson River, then a better place to do this is Rockefeller Park in Lower Manhattan.

However, it was the THIRD (expected) reason that was to become the highlight of the Upper West Side…

A lovely walk down Broadway.

From 80th to 57th streets, it was just an enjoyable walk on this curved avenue, with so many different shopping outlets to take in, and, a variety of food establishments to eat out.

As the day was coming to a close, I knew that soon it’d be time to dine alone again, something I really wasn’t enjoying…which is bizarre because, having travelled for 15 years on my own, dining alone is something I shouldn’t mind at all! I guess, maybe, it can be tough sometimes, because, unless you’re sitting in front of a TV in your own place with a meal, a meal for one in a public restaurant can be a lonely experience…

So, if you’re also someone not wanting to walk into a restaurant, uttering those embarrassing words, ‘table for one, please’, then here’s a tip for how you can Dine Alone With Dignity…

TIP #2: Dining Alone

My instincts, for some reason, led me to a Whole Foods (America’s Healthiest Grocery Store!) in the Columbus Circle, to a help-yourself deli cart.

Not only did the carts host a variety of foods, but there’s even a dessert cart, too! You scoop-up & box-up what you want, and it’s weighed by the pound, at $9.99 per pound.

For the solo traveller, THIS is the way to do it. For those of you on more of a budget, there is also the Food Emporium’s that offer the same kinda take-out method, at a cheaper price (more on this in Day 5).

The totally price for my box of food was just over $15.00…so, think what you like about the quantity of my own consumption!

But, I can tell you that there was nothing nicer than eating all of this natural, organic food – pieces of chicken, pasta, mac n cheese, rice, garlic mashed potato, pulled pork, fried fish, naan bread, chicken wings – all piled into one box, while sitting in Central Park as the sun set…and, I didn’t even need a reservation!

DAY 3: Consciousness vs Subconsciousness

The first job this morning was to work out how much of a budget there’ll be for the next few days…it was looking tight, but it didn’t mean I’d go hungry either…

For some reason, though, my subconsciousness made the breakfast choice for me on this morning:

“McDonald’s, just go to McDonald’s, because it’s cheap fast-food, well within your budget…AND, you like their bagels…you KNOW you like their bagels…do it, do it, DO IT!”.

So, I did it.

And, the Sausage Egg & Cheese bagel was indeed very tasty, as predicted, but I was still craving…something else. I wasn’t sure what, though…

It was a moment when you think to yourself, “OK, what the fuck – I can have a McDonald’s bagel in ANY country in the world…WHY on Earth would I travel thirty-three-thousand miles to eat something that I can eat just a three minute walk from where I live in England??”…

And so, the battle began…

Walking back up Broadway, my subconsciousness was ushering me towards Zabar’s, because it was familiar, because I’d read about it, because I knew of it…BUT, my consciousness was trying to make up my mind, too: my consciousness was thinking that a pain au chocalat would be nice…and, a few minutes on, my conciousness decided that a tea would be nice to accompany that pain au chocolat, too…

Block after block, store after store, cafe after cafe, nothing was presenting itself in the form of a pain au chocolat & a tea. I even popped into a Trader Joe’s, where all I learned there was that I looked like someone who would work there, when someone approached me, asking, “do you work here?”!

By now, my subconsciousness had kicked back in:

“OK, just settle for a tea from Zabar’s, it’s guaranteed”.

And then, there it was…

A sign (literally, an actual sign!) that just appeared on the sidewalk in front of me…

A Croissant or Pain Au Chocolat & a tea/coffee for only $5”.

The Mille-feuille bakery is a cute little eatery, where even the server confirmed that those two items for $5 “is a good deal” in New York. What makes this deal even better is that they give you the option to supersize your tea/coffee from medium to large at no extra cost!

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With a large tea & a pain au chocolat in my hands, it was time to start the day properly with a serene walk through Central Park, before heading to the second hotel in the Gramercy District…

Rain came at noon, with no pause in the downpour until evening time, when a McDonald’s was almost purchased again: I got as far as looking through the restaurant window, however, consciousness battled through, and told me to find better elsewhere…which I did…

Just across the street, in a convenient little deli called Marche Madison, I found a $5.95 Bacon Cheese Burger…and, this Cuisine from Consciousness was digested on the steps outside the New York Public Library, as summer humidity crept back through the night…

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DAY 4: East Side

We all recognise the Flatiron Building from various Hollywood movies…

I myself have always wanted to see this building, yet, ironically, it turns out that, in the last 10 years, I’ve walked past it 2-3 times without even realising it was there! #dumbass

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So, that was the Flatiron Building, Ticked-Off-The-List, done & dusted.

Today, it was HOT in New York City!

I’d intended to have lunch at Katz Deli – the restaurant famous for the setting of Meg Ryan’s orgasm scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ – somewhere I’ve been trying to eat since 2009…so, almost 10 years now! The issue was always been that the queues are too long…

Today wasn’t any different. It was a Sunday (AND Fathers Day), and, the line was almost a block long. I guess this is could be Tip #2.1: DON’T go to Katz Deli at the weekend, unless you want to wait an hour for food.

Settling for much less, just one block down at 105 Stanton St, I opted for one of those ‘Pizza Slice for .99c’ places that you see almost everywhere in the East Village & all over Manhattan. I truly love these places, because they’re a good place to stop & refuel for five minutes.

After consuming two $2 slices of pizza, it was time to step back into the midday heat…

The humidity had become almost unbearable today, almost too much. As much as I love to walk & explore, the heat was causing discomfort, and, never in my life have I had a day when every inch of my body was dewed with perspiration…today, was that day.

Thinking ahead, the most logistical thing to do was to find the nearest Metro station, and, invest in a Metro card. Why was this logical? It’s all heat related…

Firstly, if you’ve many things to see that are at great distances from each other on a hot day, using the Metro will save you time, and avoidance of heat exhaustion; secondly, my next hotel was a thirty-minute walk from my current hotel and, with luggage as well, I didn’t fancy the uncomfortable walk. So, Tip #2.2: Purchase a Metro card – not only can you get around more comfortably in all types of weather, but, without one, you can’t visit places like Roosevelt Island (see Day 7).

After purchasing a Metro card at Grand Street station, it was time for the 40-minute walk back to the lovely air-conditioned hotel, to wait for the sun to sleep…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know – I’ve just been bigging-up the Metro card and complaining about the heat, yet I still WALK back to the hotel…?!?!

Sure, call me a hypocritical idiot, I really don’t mind…however, when you first purchase a Metro card, the minimum price you pay for it (a little over $10) will only buy you four single trips ($2.50 each trip), so I had to think about my trips wisely, hence choosing another lesser sun-exposed method back to the hotel – Tip #2.3: walk on the side of the road that traps the most shade…sometimes this is hard to do when the midday sun is directly above you, but most of the time, you can stay sheltered from the sun.

And, tonight’s ‘Dining Alone With Dignity’ experience?

Due to them messing up my order, Arby’s gave me two sliders (instead of one) served with curly fries, which was followed by a .99c chocolate donut from 7-Eleven…all for under $5.00, and, all enjoyed in the nightly surroundings of Madison Square Park.

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DAY 5: The Special Day

While yesterday was Sunday 18th June – Fathers Day – today was Monday 19th June: my birthday day.

It was also time to take the subway – sorry, the Metro – to the next hotel.

I’d not used the NYC Metro system since 2009, and was looking forward to it, surprisingly…

Those Metro experiences from eight years ago had all been good ones: travelling from the Upper East Side all the way to Coney Island during the day; travelling from Battery Park back to Upper East Side at night…even though movies often depict the New York subway (Metro!) as being ever so threatening, in real life it feels far from that.

It’s easy to navigate, the trains are frequent…and, sure, the underground stations are a little stuffy in the summer heat, but this is no different to the London Underground – once you’re on the train, so is the air-con!

The next hotel was back in the Midtown area, located right in the heart of Times Square. And, as it was my birthday, I didn’t want to walk too far in the heat today…

So, I wanted to walk around the block and see what came up first…

TIP #3: The Food Emporium.

It was at the first hotel where the Concierge had made me aware of The Food Emporium, but not for food reasons…

Aside from being a grocery store that serves quality food (and, believe me, they have a LOT to choose from!), The Food Emporium in Hell’s Kitchen houses a Coinstar machine, too.

You know what’s it’s like: you get to the end of the your holiday, weighed down by all those loose foreign coins in your pockets, just because you don’t understand how the currency works…well, Coinstar is a machine that exchanges coin shrapnel for dollar bills!

Although I didn’t use Coinstar myself, , I still felt that this machine is worth mentioning (what I did instead was use my dollars & dollars of loose change for tipping, so that’s another example of what you can do with your change).

The Food Emporium itself is somewhere I’m glad I discovered. Its range of food & groceries is very impressive, much like Whole Foods…and, also like Whole Foods, The Food Emporium offers a take-out service, where you scoop food into a container, and, your food is priced on its weight (I love this, I really do!).

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As you may have guessed, my (birthday) lunch that day was courtesy of The Food Emporium, as was my birthday dinner of sushi, the latter enjoyed from behind the hotel window, as a lightning storm struck the city outside….

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DAY 6: West Side

Last year, we’d spent a fair amount of time in Greenwich Village. Little did I know is that we’d walked past (and under) an elevated park called The High Line FOUR TIMES without even knowing it was there!

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The High Line was built on a disused railroad track, that stretches from the Meatpacking District (where I started the walk), through Chelsea, and, down to Greenwich Village…and, this is by far an absolute hidden gem in New York. Away from the heaving tourist neighbourhood of Times Square, this route is a pleasure to walk along if you’re wanting to avoid people-dodging.

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Stopping for a break in Washington Square Park, my inner voice decided to tell me I should walk to the East Side, to try again at Katz Deli…and, I’ve never been one to want to ignore an inner voice…

Thus, another inner battle commenced:

Consciousness: “Get your ass to Katz, get your ass to Katz…”

Subconsciousness: “Pffft, it’s quite far, though…and, it’s really hot…just grab a McDonald’s!”

From the West Side, I began an unexpected journey to the East Side…

This time, as I walked closer & closer to the corner of E Houston & Ludlow Streets, I couldn’t see a line around the block…in fact, I wasn’t seeing any line at all!

And then, there it was: Katz Delicatessen. It’s doors open, with NO queue outside!

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Granted, there was no where to sit INSIDE, but hey, after almost 10 years of waiting, I finally picked up a pastrami sandwich…all $22 of it!

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Yep, it’s the most expensive sandwich I’ve ever bought to date. Was it worth the wait? It was filling, I can tell you that…and, had to eat it in two separate helpings (if you know me, then you’d know that I would never usually struggle with food), so it was challenging as well as being delicious…

Another quick fact about Katz that I learned a few hours later: it’s open 24hrs at the weekend, if you want to avoid the daytime queues, too.

With one half of the sandwich demolished (I finished the other half later, after an evening cocktail), it was time to use the Second Trip of the Metro card, and head back to the hotel for the final night in New York City…

…and be in bed by 10pm.

Not because I had an early flight in the morning (far from it), but because on the very first day I arrived in New York, I made an important decision, one that I would recommend to those who are in New York for seven days or under, and, who don’t crave the nightlife…

TIP #4: Staying in the GMT zone.

Last year, after arriving back in the UK from NYC, it took a few days to get over the jet-lag.

So, every night, on this trip, I went to bed at around 9pm/10pm, and every morning, I’d wake up between 5am-7am…this way, when you return to the UK, it’s easier to slip back into the 5hr time difference.

Did this strategy work? Find out on Day 7

DAY 7: The End

On this final morning, I had my final NYC breakfast in a ‘box’ from The Food Emporium.

On this final morning, I also decided that it’d be wise for me to eat a little healthier when I get back to the UK…

Although the 20min walk following breakfast helped burn off some calories, I did still have two more Metro card trips to use up…and, I’d been saving these two trips for a reason…

Does anyone remember the film ‘City Slickers‘ from 1991? That scene near the beginning when Billy Crystal is crammed into an aerial tramway…? Well, I had no idea that this was the tramway to & from Roosevelt Island, that sits off Manhattan in the East River.

And, to get onto the island, you will need a Metro card! Or, a boat (the former is the cheaper option). Each journey to & from the island subtracts a one journey credit from your Metro Card, which can be used on the underground train to the island, or, the overhead tramway to the island…quite obviously, I chose the latter to get there.

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Though this isn’t recommended to those with vertigo, it also wasn’t as cramped as it looked in City Slickers…and, the tram ride over city blocks & the river was very enjoyable. The trams are quite frequent, and the journey takes no more than five minutes.

And Roosevelt Island is peaceful to walk around, away from the hustle & bustle of its neighbouring bigger island…

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And that, my friends, was my seven days New York City!

From here, it was just a matter of going back to the hotel to collect luggage…oh, and, I’ll be completely honest, I did purchase a McDonald’s on the way…for good reason, though…

During that first visit to a McDonald’s on Day 2, I spotted a TRIPLE cheeseburger on the menu. Now, we don’t have triple cheeseburgers on the menu at McDonald’s in the UK, so an exception could be made…

I ordered the triple cheeseburger via the touch-screen in McDonald’s, I collected the triple cheeseburger from the cashier, I strolled with the triple cheeseburger to Central Park, I found a nice spot to devourer the triple cheeseburger, I opened the paper bag to pull out the triple cheeseburger…

And they’d given me a DOUBLE fucking cheeseburger instead!

Grrrr, Ronald McDonald, you owe me a patty!!!

I did snap a nice, final picture in Central Park, though.

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With bags collected, it was a short walk down to Bryant Park, to wait for the Newark Airport Express.

This transfer company had provided a luxurious coach from the airport…for the return journey, they’d put on what looked like the Magical Mystery Tour bus – just a standard passenger bus, painted in extravagant colours. Still, with pick-ups every 15mins at three central city stops, you can’t grumble at paying only £28 for the round trip…

Newark Airport was a little crazier during departure than it was upon arrival…but, at least now I can say that I’ve now been to all three major airports in New York.

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Two movies later – and, five hours from take-off – United Airlines touched down in the UK in excellent time!

And, how was the jet-lag?

Did Tip #4 (Staying in the GMT zone) work as well as hoped?

Sure, I still felt groggy when I landed in the UK, after being awake for almost 24hrs…but, because I’d kept close to UK time while in NYC, after just one night’s sleep at home, the first night of being back, I felt absolutely fine from then on, without any sign of jet-lag at all!

THE LAST VISIT?

So, do you still want to know what the purpose was of this New York trip?

To be honest, I still don’t know.

Maybe it was to tie-up loose ends, to cross-off things from a list that had been there for years; maybe it was to learn that sometimes a trip for two is better than a trip for one…

Maybe it was so I could write this blog!

What I do know, though, is that whatever your circumstances, whatever your relationship status, and, whatever your budget, New York City will never fail to show you something new. And sure, some things are more enjoyable with someone else, but it doesn’t change the fact that New York is a city that evolves strongly & rapidly on a daily basis, with numerous things on offer…

New York itself was never the problem. And, it never will be.

I’d been to New York City four times before, visiting main attractions, attractions every other tourist has read about, and, other attractions I’d researched for my own personal interest…it really doesn’t take a genius to know that there’s no way in Hell I’d have seen everything that Manhattan has to offer in just those four separate visits…

Sometimes it’s good to step away from the crowds, seek pastures new, pastures only the locals know about….sometimes it only takes a little intuitive, to think outside the box, outside the familiar, and to rebel against the guidebooks – guidebooks are, after all, often one persons perspective of what to do when visiting somewhere (not unlike this blog).

On this fifth visit, led mostly by inner feelings, I learned new things, I discovered new places…even as I write this now, I crave just another dusky hour perched in Central Park, eating a boxed dinner from Whole Foods or The Food Emporium!

Will this really be my last visit to NYC?

I highly doubt it…

…though, when & why I’ll go back is a brand new question altogether.

Read more from Shaun Troke, available on our Merchandise page.

More miscellaneous New York City: The Last Visit? pictures:

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