Having been to New York in 2015 (you can read about that trip in another post), and uttering the words, “Mum would hate it here”, I decided a trip to New York with my Mum would be a great plan.
We discovered around 2 years ago that Mum had 1st cousins living in Connecticut (CT) and whilst CT has its own International Airport (Hartford Bradley), flights are at least £100 more expensive than flying to New York, and you can’t fly direct. Seeing as this was Mum’s first Trans-Atlantic flight I didn’t think rushing for transfers would be wise.
New York City is only 2 hours drive from CT, so why not stop off and explore The Big Apple! I had already seen the main sights, but Mum hadn’t so I repeated some experiences. It was so different this time around, taking a little more time, a slightly slower pace. Here are some highlights of our trip.
1. Staying at The Dylan
Picking a hotel is always a challenge. Looking for a central hotel that’s near a Metro station AND reasonably priced is not easy, but we stumbled upon the Dylan, a block away from Grand Central, with breakfast included. It was perfect. A townhouse sitting in the middle of 41st Street, the decor simple but stylish, the rooms comfortable, and the breakfast plentiful, we could be at New York Central Library or 5th Avenue or Grand Central within 5 minutes.
On my last trip, my husband and I stayed at the One UN on 44th Street, directly opposite the UN Headquarters, with a lobby that wows you and raises your expectations when you walk through the doors. There are great views of the city from the rooms, but we didn’t have a great experience! I will write about our 2015 experience at some point, but I enjoyed the Dylan far more, and I would definitely stay there again.
LESSON: Don’t be swayed by swanky. Lovely views are luxury, but how long will you be spending in your room, really? Go for clean, comfortable and convenient every time!
2. Grand Central Station
On my last visit to the station, (you can read about it here) we didn’t linger long. With Mum, it became our central hub, where we started out and returned to each day. We spent TIME standing at the top of the steps watching the commuters rushing past. We ate delicious chicken and salad out of a polystyrene box in the food hall, sitting amongst the people of New York; the workers in their suits grabbing a bite and reading the New York Times, the kids shrieking in delight at their phones and munching fries, the homeless people sheltering from the rain and chatting with outreach workers. It was bustling and noisy and chaotic and wonderful.
LESSON: Eating in a restaurant with table service is great, but most definitely not necessary. Sit amongst the natives. Listen to their conversation. Watch through that small window you have into the life of someone who’s experiences are so different to yours.
3. Central Park
On my last trip, in May 2015, New York was HOT. Central Park was awash with bright greens under the bluest of blue skies, wispy cloud floating quietly by. There were hundreds of people in shorts and t-shirts lounging in the grass, snuggling with their partners or playing frisbee with friends, eating ice-creams and applying factor 50.
Not so in March. The trees were bare and the grassy areas fenced off to protect the vulnerable grass. Last Autumn’s brown and orange leaves were blowing limply across the pathways and the sky was heavy with cloud, threatening rain. The chill in the air stung our cheeks and turned our fingers numb, people were wrapped up tightly and music came from the ice rinks as skaters whirled around, falling, laughing, spinning and jumping.
We sat on a bench next to The Pond, watching the birds flit in between trees collecting twigs for their spring nests and a young girl, no more than 20, sieving through dirt next to the water, occasionally throwing bits in and muttering to herself as she worked. A saxophonist played ‘Make Someone Happy’ in the distance and a dog scuffled in the leaves at our feet.
We moved along, pausing to take the occasional photograph or to watch a performer blowing huge bubbles or painting street art. A group of performers had gathered a huge crowd and were big on audience participation. They had 4 or 5 poor souls lined up whilst they shouted and sang and vaulted over them. We watched for a few minutes, then made our hurried exit before we got picked on. An entire morning flew by in this very simple way; people watching, wandering, sitting, taking pictures.
LESSON: Beauty can be found in the glow of summer AND the hardness of winter – appreciate a place as you find it, not as you remember it!
3. The Rock Center Cafe
After our morning in the park, we were hungry. We ate at the Rock Center Cafe as we had tickets to the ‘Top of the Rock’ at 3pm. We sat at the bar for a drink – Mum asked for tea, and he presented an odd arrangement of a pre-poured mug of tea (no teabag), which had an appearance similar to slightly burnt milk, and hot water in a porcelain jug (presumably to weaken the tea even further). Mum was grateful for the hot beverage, but said it tasted like ‘gnat’s pee’. I had coffee, always the wiser choice in the States.
We were shown to a table overlooking the ice rink, which afforded us more fabulous people watching opportunities. 5 skaters in particular caught our eye. They were taking this skating lark very seriously indeed, and there was significant rivalry between them.
‘The Purple Lady’, a delicate woman in a purple figure-skating dress, with grace and style on the ice, adding little flourishes as she glided around the rink practising one element over and over again, clearly frustrated with her perceived failures.
‘Ska-man’ wore a bright turquoise shirt and black trousers, complete with sunglasses and a black Pork-Pie Trilby hat. He included more funky moves and shuffles, too cool for school with his hands either in his pockets, or held loosely behind his back. He pretended no one was looking, but clearly hoped they were.
‘Am Dram’ meant business. Wearing headphones and a vest/trouser combo showing off a toned physique, he was performing to music only he could hear, flicking his head up and raising his arms to an imagined audience. He was full of passion, using all the available space to twirl and dance around the rink, genuinely very good, but clearly showing off. Occasionally, he would come to our edge of the rink, lean up the wall, and engage in the kind of ‘Broadway Musical Number’ breathing where the whole chest and shoulders move up and down.
‘Street’ was sporting an oversized royal blue football jersey paired with baggy jeans. He alternated between speed skating up the straights, then gliding around the corners, arms outstretched with flare and poise. This was his one and only move, but he executed it with style.
‘Dr. Who’ was an older gentleman wearing a beige three quarter length trench coat, undone with the belt flapping as he moved. Halfway through dinner he removed his coat, revealing a tweed jacket, a black shirt and a red silky waistcoast, a fedora completing his look. His style was Sinatra-esque, and he treated us to a personal show of pirouettes and pivots, regularly embellishing by lifting his hat above his head, then spinning it back on with a flick of the elbow. He moved about the ice like a gentleman romancing a lady, even if he did take out the occasional kid in the process.
We spent 2 hours eating that lunch and cherished every minute, laughing at the unexpected theatre that played out before us and enjoying each other’s company.
LESSON: Slow down! Whilst you may not get to see everything, you end up seeing so much more!
5. Top of the Rock
Mum is scared of heights, so to go up a really high building was a challenge. But you can’t go to NYC without going upwards at some point, and soon enough we emerged on the top of the Rockefeller Building, the wind blowing away the cobwebs and New York City sprawled before us.
This was a new experience for both Mum and me as I didn’t have time on my last trip. I was captivated. In terms of views, I think it is better than the Empire State Building; on one side you have a fabulous view of Central Park with its straight edges and high-rise frame, on the other a view of the Empire State, standing tall and unmistakable, piercing the sky with its antenna. I had expected the Rockefeller to be the poor relation of the ESB, but not so. The ESB is iconic, and I think a first-timer should definitely get up there – but for views, you just can’t beat the Rock.
LESSON: Don’t let your expectations dictate your decisions. On my last trip, we didn’t make time for the Rockefeller because we perceived that it wasn’t as good as the ESB. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised – sometimes the things you least expect can produce some of your favourite memories.
We managed to fit a lot in to our 3 night stay, far more than covered here, yet it was wonderful to experience New York at a slightly slower pace – I appreciated the city far more and now I can’t wait to go back and experience more of what New York has to offer.
Check out some of those sights for yourself: