New York - A Walk on the Wild Side

Mike Morton on 06 October 2006
'New York! New York!' - the 'Big Apple' - The 'City that Never Sleeps' - whatever you call it, New York is an addictive place, familiar to us all from the silver screen, but it is also a city with many different faces. I think that is the reason that it is probably my favourite city, Certainly the most exciting city I have ever visited.

I took my wife for our wedding anniversary, albeit two months early ... I couldn't wait! Like me, she was bowled over. We flew direct from Manchester and took the airport bus to Grand Central Station for a better sense of adventure. It couldn't have been more straightforward. Rather than stay in Manhattan, we had chosen the La Quinta on Queens Boulevard, over the East River in Manhattan. I had stayed in Manhattan before but this time I wanted to feel something of the real New York, not just the tourist traps or the business districts. It was therefore, with some trepidation that we boarded a Subway train and headed into Queens. The last time I had taken the Subway it had been very intimidating - Guardian Angels, safe zones on platforms, rats, graffiti covered trains and so on. I read it had changed. It was true - it really felt safer than the London Underground or the Paris Metro! And what fantastic value - we bought three day passes and used the subway to get about New York with ease. Our hotel was just 10 minutes from Grand Central, and from our hotel we had a view of the Manhattan skyline that you would never get from staying on Manhattan itself.

After dropping our bags we headed deeper into Queens. There the Subway became an elevated railway, straddling the streets - just like in the car chase in the 'French Connection'. We disembarked at Jackson Heights, a Latin American quarter where we barely heard a word of English. But at no time did we feel threatened ... quite the opposite. there were dozens of Argentinian, Ecuadorian and Mexican restaurants. We settled for a Colombian one called La Pequena. I had the best steak I can ever remember, and a bottle of exceptional Argentinian Malbec. It was so good that on our final day we made a detour to La Pequena en route to JFK airport. And they didn't let us down. Queens was fascinating - a multi-cultural mix that dazzled the senses. One minute everything was Hispanic, then we were in Little India with spices and saris. Fantastic!

Of course we also did all the touristy things - Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Chinatown, Wall Street, the Chrysler Building (you can only go into the lobby) and the Empire State Building. We had booked tickets in advance for both the Empire State and the GE Building ('Rock at the Rock') which enabled us to skip some of the queues. Those for the Empire State were enormous. I would recommend both, but the GE Building, formerly the RCA building, at the Rockefeller Centre was the real highlight. First the lift has a glass roof and the shaft is illuminated so you can experience how quickly you ascend! Then you have several viewing galleries with views north over Central Park, and south over Manhattan dominated by the Empire State ... certainly the best view in New York of its most famous skyscraper.

I cannot pinpoint what it is I like most about New York. It could be the food - the ethnic restaurants in Queens, the best Chinese cuisine on Canal Street, or just munching a pastrami sandwich or smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel on the Lower East Side. Or it may be the architecture - the art deco skyscrapers of the midtown, the cast iron buildings in SoHo or the contrast between the contemporary glass and stainless steel and the traditional 'Gothic' skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan. Or it could just be that famous vertical skyline, whether viewed from the water, from the Staten Island Ferry (best bargain in New York - remember the film 'Working Girl'?) or from the air (from another tower) or from the Brooklyn Bridge (superb at night). Perhaps it is the people themselves? Especially in the suburbs. Or the nature ... we saw American Robins and woodpeckers in Central Park, and a Peregrine hunting pigeons at the top of the Empire State. Or perhaps it is just the variety as you wander through the streets and boulevards of this amazing city!