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Christmas shopping and sights: winter in New York

What is it about New York City that captures our imaginations, or should I say, what isn’t it about NYC? The city of many names (The Big Apple, Gotham, The City that never sleeps) is claimed by many of us, either we’ve been there, plan to visit, have lived there or plan to live there. The reputation of the ‘Fashion capital of the world”. “The City” that easily captures ones heart for a lifetime.

Snow, laughter and a Toy store. I am going to take you back a month ago. It was a Saturday morning, my girlfriend and I were staying at EconoLodge Times Square. 302 West 47th Street, New York. The night before, we went to the famous Budakhan restaurant from the Sex in the City movie. Yes, the restaurant that Carrie and Big have their dinner the night before the wedding. With the famous staircase they walk down to greet their admiring guests at the long table with the four great big chandelier’s hanging above. Yes that exact restaurant and it truly lived up to its reputation. The food was exquisite. Asian fusion with a lovely vast selection on the menu. Prices were cheaper than expected, roughly $15-$25 US for a starter or main. My most favorite was the ambience, staff and clientele. Classic, chic New Yorkers, very kind, charming and love to converse. We enjoyed the atmosphere accompanied with a cocktail. After an amazing dinner, we hit the streets of New York, visiting some of the most exclusive bars in the Meat Packing District before ending the night with breathtaking views of the City, New Jersey and the Hudson river at Gansevoort Hotel rooftop bar.

The next morning, feeling a bit under the weather, is when my heart was captured. I opened the curtain of our hotel and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was snowing. Immediately I was ten years old again, excitedly yelling at my girlfriend, “it’s snowing, it’s snowing, it’s snowing” She replied back with slightly less enthusiasm, being positive but still half asleep. We arrived in New York City eight days pior, it was well into Autumn, and so far our time had been filled with warm days and cool nights making it comfortable to explore, and see the leaves change color in Central Park. I never thought I would see it snow in New York for snow in October, was not common.

Looking at the snowfall was absolutely beautiful. The snow quickly filled the side of the streets, tops of trees, apartment buildings and parked cars. I could have sat there all day watching. How most fitting it was, for this day we had tickets to see the Ice Hockey at Madison Square Garden.

After putting many layers on we ventured out into the wet freezing snow. My ears and nose were so cold, but I couldn’t stop smiling for it was so lovely to catch snow stars in the palm of my glove. I was utterly transfixed, completely head over heels in love with New York City. It was everything about it, from the food, the people, the old buildings mixed with the new, the fashion, the Art and Culture. I don’t know what it is, but this city wraps you up and you feel like you can achieve all your dreams. The atmosphere in the streets, takes you with it and pushes you forward.

Walking in the snow, staring at the building tops I started to day-dream, on the past seven days and the amount we had seen in this unique city. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, however the big adventure of ‘New York’ didn’t start until the next day. We woke early for our first walk in Central Park. The morning was cool but fresh. We grabbed a coffee & chai from Starbuck’s, and a fresh croissant from the Street Vendor. We strolled along the footpath, pigeons flew all around us, the horse and carriage’s passed by and yellow taxi’s zoomed past. We were in a movie of our own. Central Park, the city’s “backyard” has 7 man-made lakes, 5 baseball fields, a swimming pool, skating rinks, tennis courts and also holds major concerts. With scenic hills, meadows, lakes, trees, and shrubs, this lush 843-acre park is an oasis of serenity in the city’s center, where people go to relax and have timeout from the hustle and bustle. Also in the park is John Lennon’s memorial in Strawberry fields. The memorial is a circular mosaic of inlaid stones, with the word “Imagine” in the centre, a gift from the city of Naples. Yoko Ono still lives across the road on the corner apartment, she takes up the top three floors, and has a view overlooking central park and the memorial.

We got a photo next to the Lennon memorial before jumping on our Sex In the City tour at 11am. The tour was fantastic, the most enjoyable 3 hours you will have. Highly recommended to do it on either your first or second day in New York,. You visit some of the most amazing boutique shopping stores and restaurants. By doing the tour at the start of your trip, will give you a sense of direction and time to go back and visit your favourite places during your stay. Bergdorf Goodman the famous high-end department store, Barnes & Noble old classic bookstore, Louis K. Meisel Gallery where Charlotte worked, New York Public Library, D&G store, Grand Hotel, Tiffany & Co and Paris Theatre are a few of the places. You will also have a cocktail at O’Nieal’s Speakeasy (Aidan’s famous timber bar), and last but not least you will visit the Magnolia Bakery that sells the best cupcakes in New York City! The line is treacherous and always long, but you won’t have to lineup you will receive a free cupcake through the tour and they are DELICIOUS!!! If your thinking this is just for ladies, you’re wrong, men were on the tour, happy to accompany their wives. The tour was $43 per person.

The next day, was a stroll down Fifth Avenue, New York’s best-known boulevard and a mecca for luxury goods. You can get a shopping tour, but I wouldn’t waste your time. Walk down Fifth avenue and you will see everything your heart desires. Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, Prada, Gucci, Salvatore Ferrgamo, Tiffany & Co, Cartier, Armani, Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, Burberry, Bergdorf Goodman, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Henri Bendel and the Apple Store. Endless shops for the endless shoppers. The chances of someone wearing the same dress as you when you come home, will be close to none.

We did a trip to Washington D.C. which may appear a bit crazy, but the journey only took a bit over 3 hours via the express train, costing $160 for the return trip. We caught the 4:40am train from Penn Station and arrived at Union Square (D.C) just after 8am. The early morning rise was difficult but worth it. The train ride was peaceful and you got to see the sunrise over the countryside. We paid $30 for a hop on hop off audio bus tour. The tour was flexible and stopped at all the major sights. The bus’s run constantly so you won’t wait any longer than 20 minutes to ride to your next destination. In eight hours we saw some of the most famous monuments in America; the U.S Capitol Hill, American Indian Museum, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lincoln Memorials, the long reflecting pool (famous for the spot of protests), WWII Memorial, Arlington Cemetery (where JFK is buried), National Portrait Gallery, Ford’s Theatre (where Abraham Lincoln was shot) and of course the home of the President, the White House. Other than these historic sites, Washington is famous for it’s Cherry Blossom trees. On the 27th March 1912, the Japanese gifted over 3,000 trees to the State Capital in an effort to enhance the growing friendship. In the spring, the city has the National Cherry Blossom Festival to commemorate this day and the city blossoms with elegance.

Day after D.C, we activated our New York Pass. The pass cost $273 US and was the best purchase we made. For 7 day’s it gives you 3 days on the hop on hop off bus, free entry to all the major tourist destinations (including entrance to all museums) and discounts to certain stores. No matter when you go to New York there will always be lines. With the New York pass you go straight to the front and never have to wait too long. According to the 2010 visitor check, 48.8 million visitors (international and domestic) visited New York City. You don’t want to spend your time in this amazing city in a line. It’s boring, frustrating and you will start to dislike everything, so get the pass and it will be much more enjoyable.

The rest of the week we:- went for a boat tour to the Brooklyn Bridge (completed in 1883, linking Manhattan and Brooklyn, this was the largest suspension bridge in the world and the first made of steel, 1.8km long), Statue of Liberty (a gift from France and has been the symbol of freedom since 1886) & Ellis Island. I recommend to get the water taxi, cheaper and not as crowded.

Saw the big whale, real T-Rex and dinosaur bones at the American Museum of Natural History (this is also where the Night of the Museum was filmed) a spectacular museum for everybody.

Saw the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world’s great art museums collection spans 5,000 years of culture from all the continents. The building is magnificent itself with large Greek columns out the front and the historic pieces are truly phenomenal. Saw the Museum of Modern Art, one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of modern art. It’s 150,000 works range from works by Monet, Van Gogh, Warhol, Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keffe, Man Ray. You cannot miss this museum, the collection is out of this world.

Saw the Guggenheim Museum, houses one of the world’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art. It’s unique architecture is somewhat debatable, with its spiral ramp curving down from the dome, some say it looks like a toilet. Worth seeing, but ensure the entire museum is open, as it closes parts off at certain periods in the year.

Climbed The Empire State Building, the tallest and most famous skyscraper in New York, was opened in 1931 and built during the great depression to give hope to the people.. We went up at night, 102 floors. A view not to miss, to see Manhattan light’s and beyond was incredible.

Walked in Grand Central Terminal, built in 1913, is remarkable for its beauty, you just have to look up at the vaulted ceiling of cerulean blue, decorated with twinkling stars. Walked through Madison Square, once at the center of a fashionable residential area, it is now a pleasant place to stroll and admire statues of war heroes. Did a walking tour of Wall Street & New York Stock Exchange (included in the New York Pass). Behind the Neo-Classical façade beats the financial heart of the US, grown from a local exchange to a global enterprise. Over 200 million shares are traded daily for more than 2,000 companies

Drank in the Chelsea Hotel, always drawn musicians, writers, and artists, such as Jack Kerouac, Tennesse Williams, Mark Twain and Dylan Thomas. Read and looked at the Statutory of Declaration in The New York Public Library. The epitome of Beaux Arts elegance, this white marble 1911 landmark features vaulted marble halls, imposing stairways, terraces, and fountains. The cathedral-like, paneled Main Reading Room stretches for two full blocks and glows with suffused light from its great arched windows.

Went into the International Center of Photography. Cornell Capa founded the center in 1974 to conserve the work of photojournalists like his brother Robert, killed on assignment in 1954. The 12,500 original prints are by many top photographers, including Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Walked by Carnegie Hall, the world’s greatest visiting musicians play in this historic terracotta and brick Renaissance concert hall (1891), with its superb acoustics; Walked down Diamond Row, where jewellery glitters in every window of the block. The centre of New York’s wholesale and retail trade that handles 80% of the diamonds coming into the US. It began in the 1930s when Jewish diamond cutters fled from Antwerp and Amsterdam to escape Nazism.

Shopped in Macy’s, New York. The world’s largest store! covers a square block, and inside you can buy just about anything in every price range. Got mesmorised by the flashing billboards in Times Square, New York’s most famous intersection. The spot where the Timeball drops every New Years Eve. Disney store, the Toys R Us that has a large ferris wheel inside, Hershey’s store, NBC Studio’s, M&M’s store, Madame Tussauds, Virgin Store, Planet Hollywood and a hundred more stores.

Dressed up and walked down Broadway. The Neon lights, numerous lavish theatre’s and restaurants. Plays galore! We saw The Mountaintop at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Starring Samuel L. Jackson as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination. It was magnificent, I was startled to see Samuel L. Jackson in person no more than three meters away. We purchased tickets for the play from the centre of Times Square on the day of the play. The tickets are heavily discounted, only cost us $74.50 each. We had excellent seats four rows from the front.

There are 13 districts on Manhattan island my favourite’s were:- Soho and Tribeca – Art and architecture are the twin lures that transformed these former industrial districts. SoHo (south of Houston) is the place for brunch and gallery hopping, while trendy Tribeca attracts the latest galleries and newest restaurants.

Greenwich Village – New Yorkers call it “the Village”. The crazy-quilt pattern of streets makes it a natural enclave that has been a bohemian home to many celebrated artists and writers. This is also where they have the Halloween Village Parade.

Morningside Heights and Harlem – Home to Columbia University and a fine cathedral. Hamilton Heights, is on the border of Harlem, America’s most famous black community. The famous Apollo Theater, is also in Harlem. Began in 1913 as a whites-only opera house. When it was opened to all races, it became Harlem’s best-known showcase for artists like Michael Jackson, Ellington and Holiday.

For everything mentioned above and so much more is why I fell in love with this city. Captured on one island is an endless list of places that blow you away. When I snapped awake from my daydream of all the adventures, I found myself at Fao Schwartz toy store. No better place to be out of the snow, and your never to old to play on the Big Piano.

The snow only lasted that one day. But it was a wonderful day. When we woke the next morning, the sun was shining but the snow was still there. We built a snowman in Central Park and ended our night at a comedy gig and then dinner at a jazz bar where Liza Minnelli was playing next week.

The holiday season is a popular time to visit New York City. A city that caters for a family, couple or just great friends. Whether you want to shop, check out the Holiday window displays, world class and historic museums, ice skate in Central Park or visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. There are numerous festive events to do and of course, there’s nowhere like Times Square to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

More about this author here.

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