It’s been six years since I was last in New York. That’s a long time for me. When I first visited the city that never sleeps almost 30 years ago, I was so overwhelmed that I went there once a year for several years. That’s why it was always clear to me that we would also visit the city on our world tour and with Shujaa. This might sound crazy to some Overlanders, but other trucks also drive through this city.
So, we drive with Shujaa, coming from the Hamptons in the east at around noon over the Ed Koch Bridge to Manhattan. We can’t find a parking space on the Upper East Side, although this sounded like being a good option in iOverlander. But the parking spaces in residential areas are all full. Well then to the next possible parking space heading west to the Hudson River: the Riverside Park. And what a surprise … a wonderful parking space on the side of the road is waiting for us, big enough and maybe even reasonably quiet – with a view of the countryside.
We are quickly ready to go and only walk five minutes to the nearest metro station to go downtown. Since I know the city quite well, I had already prepared sights in advance that you cannot find in every travel guide.
So off through the park, down the street onto Broadway in Harlem and we’re right in the middle of it. Noise surrounds us, the smells of the street tickle our nostrils. The jackhammer works the street deafeningly, cars honk, the subway clatters loudly into the station, which runs 100 m above ground here before it dives under the megacity. We get into the Metro and I start observing. All people from different backgrounds and nations meet here in the subway. It’s just incredibly exciting to just sit here and look at the passengers. There sits an elderly lady with a hat and fine leather gloves (it is 20°C) with her purchases on her lap: will she cook for herself? Did she shop for someone? There is an Asian woman with a black girl with wonderful curls, each reading a book: are they mother and daughter or is she just someone taking care of her? I guess not, because the body language and communication seem much more familiar. What a wonderful mix. How amazing that both of them are reading a book while the other 99% are busy with their mobile phones. Time flies like in flight.
We disembark and are right next to the ferry for a 25 minute trip to Staten Island and back again, passing the Statue of Liberty and with breathtaking views of southern Manhattan from the water. The ferry runs every 30 minutes and is offered free of charge to commuters, pre 9/11 it also carried cars, but this has been discontinued for safety reasons. One of the ferries got a hull out of steel from the collapsed towers.
Back again in Manhattan we head towards Ground Zero and the new One World skyscraper, the successor to the collapsed towers, which opened in 2013. We were there last time and I was fascinated by the architectural masterpiece behind this new concept. Instead of the two former towers, there are now two large pools where the water falls down an edge. The whole thing is a bit reminiscent of the buildings collapsing. A bronze band was placed all around on which all the names of the victims are engraved. There are also rows of trees around it. All in all, it is an unbelievable atmosphere for me. Even with so many people gathering here. Somehow it radiates calm, dignity, humility – all the 3,000 people who had to lose their lives here experience a very special kind of appreciation. One likes to be here, although it is a place of terror. We’ skip One World itself this time, we were already at the top last time. Speaking of skyscrapers: the new Summit Vanderbilt is a hit!
The new metro station Oculus right next door, designed by a Spanish architect, looks like a giant bird and is incredibly impressive. Inside, the crowds of people, almost all of whom appear dark, look like little ants scurrying through the vast white interior. The building swallowed up 4 billion construction costs by the time it opened in 2016, making it the most expensive train station in the world.
St. Paul’s Chapel is also a must-see for me every time: I already took a lot of photos there 30 years ago: The two towers of the World Trade Center with the tombstones of the cemetery in the foreground. Today the trees are taller, fortunately because they saved the chapel from damage when the skyscrapers collapsed.
From there we head towards 21 Century, the famous junk department store that sells designer goods on rummage tables. There I bought my first designer bag on my first visit, for only 200 DM at the time (instead of over 1,000 DM in the shop). Unfortunately, they are doing renovation work at the moment, so it’s closed. What a pity! But it’s also exciting to see what will come of it in the future… probably another unique concept.
An insider tip was to take a look at the old, long-closed Cityhall subway station. You can visit the place, but this requires a lot of preparation which we, as spontaneous world travelers, cannot always do. Another, easier, option is to take the 6-train downtown, keep sitting at the end station instead of getting off, and continuing when the subway turns. Then you drive through this old station, which is said to have wonderful old tiles on the walls. Said and done. Unfortunately, the whole thing isn’t very spectacular, since it is very dark and it is all over in about 10 seconds. Well, we tried it and what we saw looked nice.
We take the subway to SoHo (South Houston Street), the former hip district. It is Still “in”, but now so developed and high-end that all international high-end designers are represented here. As an example: There are nine Louis Vuitton stores in Manhattan alone… The small, playful, creative shops and pubs of the past have given way to chic boutiques and fine restaurants. Nevertheless, it is a highlight to walk through the great streets with the renovated old buildings.
We round off our first day at Pleasant, an Italian in NOLITA (North of Little Italy) with terrible acoustics (it’s so loud we can’t talk). But it’s a typical New York restaurant and super cool. Tasty pasta with a glass of wine makes us heavy and tired. The ride home on the metro is quiet and we just watch the people again.
On the second day we take the subway south again: to Midtown. However, I don’t get to indulge in daydreams about the people because a black rapper pulls off his show in the wagon. Ready for the stage! At first you only hear music and don’t really know what’s coming next. Dressed completely in black, he stands inconspicuously at the edge and rocks to the beat. Then he starts! Street dancing in the subway at its best. Shoulder twists on the floor, to the overhead bars over which he moves like a carpet roll, to the vertical bar he slides down like a snake… without touching any passenger, all crowded and completely uninvolved standing in the wagon. An acrobatic feat. Fantastic! Of course, he collects money afterwards, which is completely ok. The blacks among themselves say goodbye with a “Hey, bro, cool”.
At Columbus Square, the only circular square in New York City, we get off and go to 5th Avenue. THE high-end shopping district in Manhattan. Here, too, the superlatives know no limitations! The Apple Store opposite the Plaza Hotel is simply unique. The large mirrored spiral staircase leads to the basement, where 1,000 square meters of retail space with the latest Apple products are waiting. All products are available here, in all colors and variations – not like in Munich… The designer shops are also simply breathtaking, especially for me as a woman. All well-known designers present their products in unbelievable dimensions and take your breath away. In the Cartier house alone, which we visit among other things and have a few products shown to us, we wander up and down four floors. We get served a cappuccino foamed with the Cartier logo.
Those looking for designers of all stripes in one place are in the right place at the large, exquisite department stores of Bergdorf & Godman and Saks. Macy’s isn’t bad either and it’s also (a bit) more affordable. The shops simply have all the models in-house, no wish remains unfulfilled, and you can find out more and shop to your heart’s content… until you drop or get bankrupt. If you want to eat well in this area, you can visit Ilili, a delicious Lebanese. So blatant, but also so part of life and the world, like the homeless man who pulled his socks over his sore feet in the subway this morning because it was a little colder today. The social discrepancies are unbelievable in this city.
After this extensive shopping tour through the 5th, we head to the “vessel” at Hudson Yards, a new building made of stairs, which unfortunately is only accessible from below, and walk over the leafy High Lane in the direction of Chelsea and Greenwich Village. In the Meatpacking District, which I got to know 12 years ago as an absolutely pretty and small-town district, we are a bit disappointed. Unfortunately, the area is no longer what it used to be. Many shops are closed, and strolling down the traffic-calmed, cobblestone streets isn’t as exciting as it was back then. Slowly we go back and drive home to Shujaa. We are tired. We absorbed and saw so much today. In the Metro, which is again filled up to the brim, we have another performance of a special kind. Two black rappers sing and dance incredibly well. In my opinion, that’s easily enough for the stage, but unfortunately that’s just my opinion. There are a lot of these subway “shows” in New York.
After a short breather and a little nap, we hike a bit through Harlem. We’re practically in the neighborhood and this fact is certainly also responsible for the fact that we get such nice “shows” in our subway line, since that’s one of the main routes for the residents of the district. We actually wanted to go to the famous Cotton Club and treat ourselves to some music, but unfortunately we didn’t get tickets at short notice. Same with a Broadway show has been on my bucket list for a long time. One with a famous actor, Ralph Fiennes, for example, is currently playing, but chances of getting tickets at short notice are very limited. At the Abyssinian Baptist Church there is gospel on Sunday at 11 am. Of course, Harlem hasn’t been as disreputable, dangerous and fucked up as it was 30 years ago for a long time, but the flair is a bit like walking through a somewhat tidier city in Africa. And we get homesick for the black continent.
The next morning, we explore Williamsburg. This is supposed to be the new up-and-coming neighborhood in New York what SoHo and Greenwich Village used to be 20 years ago. And sure enough, it has flair. Small shops, bars, cafes and creative billboards line Bedford Street. Many real estate agents advertise their offers and there is already a first Apple branch… certainly an indication that something can still be expected here. On Saturdays there is the Smorgasburg market, which is said to be well worth seeing.
Back in Manhattan we roam through the still tranquil Greenwich Village and visit one of the filming locations of Sex and the City – Carry’s house. It’s just nice to walk through here. The small houses with the staircases are now beautifully decorated for Halloween. There are still small, very beautiful and unusual boutiques and great restaurants on the corner. The famous club Bitter End is also in the area and has produced some stars. You can live here.
Soon we’re back in SoHo, which is almost adjacent, and we’re going to eat at Balthazar. A great French restaurant that could also be located in Paris. Oliver eats a great steak with Café de Paris sauce. On the way home we stop by Times Square so we can take that vibe with us. Like so many places in the city it is completely from the corner we just visited two blocks ago. This change of impressions is immense and so typical of this wonderful, diverse city. For dessert there is a waffle with cream and strawberries from Wafels & Dinges – apparently the world’s best waffle ever. There are six stations in NYC and one of them is in the park behind the Public Library.
We didn’t do much about art and culture because we “only” planned three days. But there is no doubt that NYC is also the world capital in this regard, and it has an unbelievable amount to offer. Here are the must-dos for a first stay:
- MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)
- Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Guggenheim Museum
- Frick Collection
- And countless galleries in SoHo
What fascinates me so much is that New York has everything. Everything is possible, like no other city. Everyone lives as they want to. The character of this city is its versatility, openness, limitlessness, freedom.
Oliver sums it up correctly: We always think that the contrasts in the population between rich and poor are so strong in the Middle East, Africa or India that for many it is almost unbearable. However, New York is even more extreme in this direction: we see the most decadent luxury on 5th Avenue and then we walk past heroin-squirting fixers lying on the ground just two blocks away.
The level of anonymity is very high, because in the subway or on the street nobody looks after the other, no matter how weird he or she is. And yet the contact is there quickly if you push it and want it. So we’re standing in the subway and a woman with her shaved poodle with pink fur is walking past us. I have to look twice and start laughing. A woman sees this, follows my gaze and we both laugh together. It’s such a beautiful encounter.
To sum up:
- The fine lady in a ball gown, in the middle of the day.
- The rapper with dreadlocks almost to the ground.
- The older man walking across the street wearing only his underpants.
- The monster in a green costume, carrying a woman over its shoulder.
- The dog sitter, who strolls through the park with ten dogs on a leash and also carries his coffee mug.
- The opera singer who is singing at the busy intersection.
- The topless woman crossing a street.
- The gay couple standing next to us at the traffic light kissing each other hard.
- And of course: The pink colored poodle.
THAT’S NEW YORK!
I could go on writing like this forever to put my latest impressions on paper. We’ve seen so much…. And I realize over and over again: What is normal? Who sets the standards, the rules? Who needs something to be happy? – it’s us alone. Nothing is normal – everything is normal.