I’ve been to New York City now technically 3 times – once when I was about 11 or 12, once for literally two hours (I had a coffee with Cole Ledford, sprinted through Times Square, and then barely made my flight to Detroit), and most recently for a solid week.
The first time I went to NYC I absolutely HATED it. I was 11 or 12 and going through some pretty intense stuff for a young tween, battling my faith and – yes, sexuality – which led me into a fairly dark place. I remember buying a cross made to look like the metal remains of the twin tours at Ground Zero and thinking it would ward off all the fear I had, without realising that the fear and anxiety I had surrounding my sexuality was going to take a lot more than a little metal necklace to fix. But this blog post isn’t about the darker side of my childhood – it’s about New York. And at 12(?) I couldn’t be convinced of a single positive thing about the city.
The second time I went to NYC well… there’s not much to say about it. Leaving the airport my suitcase handle got firmly stuck in the metal turnpikes of the metro and I was convinced I was going to be living there for the rest of my life. There was no staff on hand and although a stranger tried to help me through with her own metro card it did nothing. Needless to say I almost had to break my suitcase out of the damn turnpike before rushing off to central Manhattan. There I had a coffee with Cole Ledford and confidently told him I had plenty of time to get the metro (which I now absolutely despised) to LaGuardia. He informed me the metro didn’t even go to LaGuardia. Panic set in, our coffee was very brief, and between a lot of running around, internal screaming at the metro system, and having not slept in over 24 hours, I left New York with nothing but resentment.
That brings me to my third time in the city, and it didn’t start out particularly positive either – but before I divulge in this unorthodox Christmas love story, let’s dive into some of the juicy statistics of my trip. Maybe you’ll find it interesting!
My round trip flights were £289 with Norwegian airlines. They were honestly the nicest airplanes I’ve ever flown in – not to mention the cheapest – and there were still all the amenities you want, like free movies (and I got a glass of wine for having to change seats!) I flew to New York instead of Washington D.C. because it’s much cheaper (I saved about $400 taking the Amtrak to Washington D.C.’s Union Station instead of flying straight there). My family then rented a car up to NYC (yeah don’t… don’t ever do that) and then I flew back out of JFK. So technically this was a round-trip out of JFK. Other expenses included the metro & a train to Manhattan’s Penn Station – so bear in mind if you’re doing this trip that public transportation absolutely adds up and you should be prepared to spend about $50 on public transportation alone, depending on where you’re going and how long you’re staying. If you’re not used to city life the metro can be a bit scary, but you adjust quickly. Just follow the signs – I use Google maps mostly – and you’ll be alright. I highly recommend getting a Metro card as well, and if you’re there for awhile, grab up a 7 day pass – it saved me a TON of money. And I’m excluding accommodation from this summary because apart from splitting an AirBnB part of the time with my family, I mostly couch surfed (which is free!). More on that later!
As is becoming a tradition with my travel blogs now, let me share my top 5 places to visit if you’re planning a trip!
- L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates – I had a dark chocolate mocha here and it was truly one of the most memorable coffee/chocolate experiences I’ve had. It easily makes my #1!
- Boris & Horton – an incredibly charming dog cafe. Dogs & coffee… Need I say more?
- Belvedere Castle – a chateau nestled in the centre of Central Park. Beautiful and unexpected (as pictured on the right).
- Attaboy – this hidden cocktail bar makes you drinks based on what you like. There’s no menu, and it’s a great alcohol adventure!
- Alice’s Tea Cup – dive down the rabbit hole in this charming, Alice in Wonderland inspired traditional tea place. It might not compete with the real deal here in the UK, but I definitely recommend it if you need your British tea fix in NYC!
Without further adieu, let’s get back to the… Romance?
This trip to New York started on bad footing. My family and I had just spent a few days in D.C. which we all fell completely in love with. We had a great BnB in an amazing, quaint neighbourhood, and we loved exploring the monuments, culture, and gorgeous autumn leaf filled streets. We drove up to NYC which was our first mistake. NEVER DRIVE TO NYC. It’s not made to be driven in.
It took us ages just to find a parking space – and we didn’t use the car for the rest of the trip for fear of never being able to find a parking space ever again (and yes, it was a rental car. Yes, we should have ended our contract early. Long story). Our BnB this time was less than charming. Nestled in El Barrio, it was a tad farther out than we would’ve liked, the kitchen was completely unequipped (and we had Thanksgiving there…), and the place wasn’t even clean. We ended up leaving a scathing review and were nervous what the hosts would review us. Their review read, and I quote, ‘no bad.’ We had a good chuckle over that.
NYC is a difficult city to fall in love with. It’s busy and more than a little crazy. I’m not sure I’ve had a single subway ride that hasn’t been at least a little bit bonkers. On my second subway in the city I listened to the loud, acapella singing of a (albeit very talented) subway performer clash with the yelling of a homeless man dressed as a wizard who seemed to be… casting spells? Along with the music? I’m honestly not sure, and I don’t say this as any disrespect towards homeless people or those struggling with mental illness but… yeah… I truly felt like I had fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole and transcended to the 6th dimension of madness. NYC is weird.
But what I’ve learned about NYC is that you kind of have to just dive into the weirdness head first and embrace it. After the first couple subway rides I got into the rhythm of the city and began to find places worth falling in love with. For one thing, it isn’t all skyscrapers. Central park is a beautiful, foliage filled refuge with a castle and other surprises nestled within. There are plenty of eclectic and charming venues like those mentioned in my top 5 recommendations, and you can also visit some of the older parts of Manhattan like the cobblestone streets near Little Italy.
After my family left I ended up couch surfing. Some of the time I stayed on Cole’s couch in Manhattan, and the other times I stayed with a delightful friend back from California who lived in Queens – and I got to see other sides of the city than before. I also rendezvoused with Ava the Dork – whom I last saw in Edinburgh – and it was wonderful to feel like I truly had these close knit global friendships.
One of the moments that helped change my perception of overly expensive, chaotic NYC, was when my camera broke. As you may know, my camera is my life – and it’s always my biggest fear that it could get stolen or broken. Leaving Astoria one day to vlog, I tried fitting everything in my backpack but just couldn’t with my camera case inside. I figured people often threw their cameras in their bags without a case so I surrounded it with clothes and didn’t think twice about it. Of course this was the only time I’d ever done this; and as a I slung my backpack back around my shoulders at a local cafe, I heard a resounding crash as something fell out – and I looked down to see my camera on the ground.
Picking it up I panicked as I heard the moving pieces of shattered glass. My heart fell – something was definitely broken. Now admittedly despite calling myself a videographer and a YouTuber for some time now, I still haven’t properly taken the time to develop a knowledgeable relationship with my camera – so I didn’t actually know the extent of the damage. I rushed to a nearby camera store near Little Italy called K & M Camera right before it closed and panic told the employees how my life was ruined because my camera was broken – terrified I was going to have to buy a completely new camera with money I didn’t have.
The old man took my camera off me, pried the broken lens cover off where it had wedged into the camera, and shook the glass off on the floor before him as if it was dust. He had a chuckle. ‘This lens filter saved your camera,’ he informed me as he swiftly replaced it. ‘This is an easy fix. Just $10. This is why I always insist people get lens filters…’
There I was, pretending I even knew what lens filters even were. I then asked him if I should actually consider getting a new lens altogether – and he didn’t hard sell me on anything, but he patiently took me through lenses, let me try them out, and even had me take photos of him as examples. It was hilarious, charming, and incredibly educational. As I bought a new lens and the new lens filters, another man who had been watching in amusement, came up with a beautiful camera case. ‘Here, so it doesn’t happen again,’ he suggested. I assured him I couldn’t afford it and he shook his head. ‘No, it’s free.’
I was completely dumbfounded by the kindness of those men as I walked out of the camera store with no broken camera, but rather two very functional lenses and a brand new camera bag I hadn’t even paid for. And that, at its core, is the spirit of NYC.
From hidden cocktail bars, to charming chocolate places, to cobblestone streets and hidden chateaus, in the end I fell in love with NYC and left the city with a new found appreciation for it. NYC is no Paris – it doesn’t have the same beauty and charm that forces you to instantly fall in love with it – but it does have a great deal of charm buried beneath a couple layers of grit, and you have to dig in to appreciate it properly (and also have a fair bit of cash on hand to survive it haha).
Thanks for reading folks! Until the next adventure!