New York

First bite from a Big Apple

I have recently watched Abstract on Netflix and felt a bit disappointed because it reminded me that I didn’t see BIG's 57 West VIA apartment building. But to be honest, I shouldn't feel this way because here's what I did see: 

Let's start at the beginning: I booked our flight tickets for April 2017 three months in advance for a reasonably low price from London to JFK via Paris and booked our hotel at Hotel Pennsylvania, located right in front of Madison Square Garden. It was once the largest hotel in the world - but many buildings in the States were once the largest, tallest and first of something, but then came the Chinese.

And of course I did the research of what I wanted to see architecture-wise as well, put it in Google Maps, and now I share it with you:

Yeah, I know it looks bad! And you are right if you thinking nah, it's impossible to see all of this. As first time visitors we couldn't skip the must see stuff. If you take my advice and if you are also a first time visitor, buy the New York City Pass. It's $122 and includes entrance tickets to 6 locations including a daytime and night time entry to the Empire State Building, access to the 9/11 museum by Snøhetta, to Ellis Island and the Immigration Museum, to the Liberty Island and to MET, and MET Breuer and to the Guggenheim Museum.

On our first day the weather was in our favour. So we decided to see as much as it was possible. We had our awful coffee and breakfast I am not telling you where and then we were on our way to the top of the Empire State Building. Because of the jet-lag we managed to begin the day early and thanks to that we didn't really have to queue which was great! The view was stunning even though we did't have a broad knowledge of what we were looking at exactly. Luckily, we had a night entry as well to improve our orientation skills.

From here our journey continued to the Public Library and to Bryant Park (once notorious place went through a major transformation and became an extremely popular area both for visitors and locals with music and food events and film screenings). I have a video recommendation here: https://youtu.be/z_-nBr2MuBk

And as we walked we made our little notes and observations of NEW YORK. Everything is huge: buses, cars and buildings. The heights reminded me to Hong Kong island's buildings and the variety of styles and appearances of the buildings to Tokyo. In the downtown there is no order in the streetscape. Skyscrapers just growing from the ground next to each other. There are a lot of construction going on in the city, if the street layout wasn't that obvious probably we would have got lost multiple times.

On our very lucky first day, we visited the High Line -  and the Ghery & Jean Nouvel buildings along it plus had a glimpse of Zaha’s apartment block, the Chelsea Market, Grand Central, the lobby of the Chrysler Building, the Rockefeller Center, and had some unmissable truck food and finished the day on top of the Empire State Building with a stunning night time view of the city and incredibly cold wind.

Second day was museum day as it rained all day. The MET is fantastic, although only visited the recommended sections by Lonely Planet, we spent like 3 hours inside. What was more incredible is the MET Breuer! The building is just extraordinary. It stands out from the urban context in posh Upper East Side with its simplistic, dark, modern and stepped facade and projecting angled windows. When entering the building you will immediately sense the quality and that every single detail is thought through, crafted beautifully, love in the first sight. The projecting windows from inside are just as amazing as from outside. It’s definitely worth a visit. 

We closed the day with watching the Washington Wizards kicking the ass of New York Knicks at the Madison Square Garden. It was fun.

On our third day we discovered the Wall Street district, visited the 9/11 museum, which was so heartbreaking that at some point I said it was enough. Although the museum building is extraordinary. It involves the old structure, organises the exhibition in and around the footprint of the two towers making sure that it’ll never be forgotten. Big congrats to Snøhetta for the design, I think it couldn’t have been done better.

Following the 9/11 museum we crossed the Oculus by Calatrava, which I think is a beautifully wasted space. We headed back to the Upper East Side to see the Guggenheim museum as it was unfortunately closed on day 2. I already knew a lot about the building because of the architectural history classes at university, but never actually understood the scale of it until our visit.  I really liked that it wasn’t overwhelming at all, it is an easy-to-visit museum, loved the ramp as well as the exhibition of a selection of abstract works including Kandinsky, Picasso, Moholy-Nagy etc. The unisex capsule toilets were the most memorable elements of the building as I think they are so badly designed that you must love them.

On this day we also saw the Flatiron building, the Union Square, did some shopping, just took it easy.

Day 4 was Brooklyn day! I think if I had to choose an area to live within New York it’d be Brooklyn - close to the river. It has a bit of London vibe, small scale buildings with all sorts of ground floor activities which make the streets very lively and enjoyable. There was a recommended route in Lonely Planet which we followed. The brownstone buildings and their cute front gardens are sooo lovely, the cobbled streets just make it even cuter. We ended up by DUMBO, it is also a nice area, but it was a bit quiet as lots of things were still under construction. We ubered further up north where the Brooklyn brewery is. This is the area full of cool pubs and bars and restaurants and everything is just the right - human - scale with a lot of warehouse conversion.

From Brooklyn we went down to Coney Island, which was much further than we thought, it took us an hour on the subway to get there. It was already sunset, so took some very nice photos, walked a bit on the promenade, and then headed back to the city for dinner.

Next day we went to Ellis Island the to see the Statue of Liberty. I found the Immigration museum on Ellis Island very interesting explaining the various immigration periods and the reasons behind them. They also exhibited objects that the people brought with themselves and there were a lot of Hungarian stuff as well. From here we went back to the peninsula, and visited Soho, Little Italy, China Town. These are really cool areas, full of nice places to eat and drink, only our schedule didn’t really allow us to spend too much time there as we still wanted to see Greenwich Village and the Lower East side. From there we went to see the Louis Kahn memorial on Roosevelt Island, but unfortunately it closed by the time we got there. It was still worth to go as there is a very nice view to Manhattan and cherry blossom trees along the walkway were so pretty. We took the cable car to go back to Manhattan which was so much fun! But then it was night already. No need to say that we were soo exhausted by 5 days constant walking that there was no energy to go out at night. 

On our last day, we visited Central Park. The weather was beautiful! It changed a lot during these few days - April weather is very mixed - from sunny 20ish degrees it went to rainy 5-6 degrees and on our last day it was 24 degrees and sunshine again, perfect for the park. We began on the northern end which is not very impressive, there were a few cyclists and runners, walkers, but in general it wasn’t busy at all until we got to the well known southern part of it which was so very packed with people. The scale of the park is huge - as well as everything else in the city - it took like 2 hours to get from one end to the other with some stops. But it is pretty, lots of street vendors, musicians, people doing sports, walking their dogs etc. Good vibe. It’s just a pity that only the southern part is like this. 

After the park we did some souvenir shopping and then we had to go to the airport unfortunately.

These 6 days went very quickly and they were very intense. Didn’t really have a chance to enjoy the rich gastronomy and culture of the city, so next time we’re going, it’ll be definitely all about enjoying ourselves, that’s for sure :)