A high old time in NewYork
Simon Hale enjoys the high life in the Big Apple
There is never a dull moment in New York. From the top of the Empire State Building to the deepest recesses of the subway, there is always something to stimulate the senses. It’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular cities on Earth.
But a sightseeing trip to Manhattan can easily tire you out if you are too ambitious, so it’s better to pace yourself and take small bites of the Big Apple at a time.
I had only a few days to explore and was keen to experience the high life of New York, so i started my heady experience at the High Line.
This former freight track, which perches three storeys above a one and half mile stretch of Chelsea with stunning views of the Hudson River, has become one of the city’s most popular parks.
There you will find a wide range of naturalistic plant life and rotating examples of public art, as well as wooden loungers and food vendors. The meandering walkway, the second phase of which opened in June, is perfect for an afternoon stroll.
I continued my walk to the nearby Penn Station subway station and took the E train (all subway rides cost just $2.50) to Fifth Avenue/53rd Street for the Museum of Modern Art.
MoMA has a permanent collection of 135,000 paintings, prints, photographs, drawings, sculptures, films and design objects from the 19th to 21st centuries.
It’s simply too much to take in on one visit, so try to take advantage of a daily gallery talk or focus on one or more of the temporary exhibitions so as not to wear yourself out.
I had already taken steps to reduce fatigue by taking Aer Lingus’s fast-track service from Birmingham with a connecting flight in Dublin, which took advantage of the new US customs and immigration “pre-clearance” service introduced for all American-bound flights in Dublin Airport’s new Terminal 2.
Arriving at JFK with no officialdom to face after the seven and a half hour leg of the flight, I collected my bag, grabbed a cab, and was in my hotel fewer than 90 minutes after landing.
That left enough time in the day to head out from the new ‘luxury space age’ Yotel at Tenth Avenue/West 42nd Street for the shops.
First stop was Saks, the deluxe shopping institution, and it didn’t disappoint with its fabulous designer ranges and impeccable customer service.
A pair of panther-black high-heeled Pradas made their way into my friend’s shopping bag, while my lucky break was a pair of Adam Derrick formal office shoes, which had a 55 per cent discount.
But for best designer label bargains – if you don’t mind joining the feeding frenzy – head south to the Century 21 department store, which faces the site of the former World Trade Center. I managed to snap up French Connection T-shirts normally priced at $68 (£43) for just $29 (£18).
All this bargain hunting creates a thirst, so we headed to the popular new roof-top Birreria at Eataly on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street for a much-deserved drink.
It is so popular, though, that we had to wait half an hour to be called up in the lift, by which time we’d developed an almost unquenchable thirst. This was satisfied with generous measures of Moretti beer that we imbibed against a dazzling backdrop of neon-lit skyscrapers.
We decided to continue our high life and headed to the Top of the Rock to get the best views of lower Manhattan and Central Park. The ear-popping ascent to the top of the Rockefeller Center is even more numbing when you look up at the vertical tunnel through the glass roof as the lift ascends through 67 floors in just 43 seconds.
The vista from the observation deck, which was first opened to the public in 1933 and designed in art deco style to look like the deck of a grand ocean liner, was spectacular.
We then discovered another great way to see much of New York.
The Circle Line boat that sails twice daily from pier 83 on the Hudson River on a semicircle cruise around Manhattan provides a fascinating introduction to the city and its landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Brooklyn Bridge.
If you have a chance, join the city’s official guided tours. One of the best must be the free one-and-a-half-hour Friday lunchtime tour of Grand Central Station with Justin Ferate, whose fame is such that New York Magazine has named him as one of the city’s 50 Essential Secrets.
Justin takes you to the most interesting locations in this marble palace, like the “whispering gallery” where a whisper becomes a shout. Test this for yourself having a friend whisper to you from the opposite end of the large arched entryway. You may be surprised at what you hear!
The basement of Grand Central is full of independent restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy an inexpensive lunch, but we retreated to one of New York’s most select cocktail bars located off the west balcony.
The Campbell Apartment was formerly the office of 1920s railroad tycoon John W Campbell, who designed it in the style of a galleried 13th century Florentine great hall.
It is renowned for its cocktails from the 20s and 30s, like Prohibition Punch, a drink that was designed to mask the taste of alcohol. It may have cost $15, but it was worth every drop.
The sophisticated ambience is maintained with a smart dress code and a waiting list for a table, so it’s the ideal place for wearing those new clothes you just bought and enjoying one final taste of the high life before heading back to England.
Aer Lingus flies from Birmingham to New York (JFK) via Dublin daily from Monday to Saturday. The airline is offering a lead-in fare of £229 (one way) including taxes and charges for travel between November 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012. For more fare information, visit www.aerlingus.com
If you are planning to visit all or most of the main attractions, it’s worth paying $79 (£49) for a New York CityPASS. It provides a saving of 50 per cent on regular admission rates and is valid for nine consecutive days. The attractions include the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, either the Guggenheim Museum or Top of the Rock, and either the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a Circle Line Cruise. For more details, visit citypass.com