New York: These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you…

(Story previously published in Canstar weeklies)

P1020707Being a fan of Seinfeld and Sex And The City, I’ve wondered what it would be like to be in New York, walking around those famous streets. In fact, I’ve long romanticized the notion.

The Big Apple made an impression on me the moment I stepped off the plane into LaGuardia Airport. There was a bustle in the air, and different kind of energy. All around I could hear notable New York accents as people engaged in conversations. Toto, we’re not in Canada anymore. Eh??

Aboard the shuttle, the driver took off like a bat out of hell, weaving and honking fearlessly in-and-out of rush-hour traffic. The couple beside me struck up a hilarious argument with him about how many stops he had to make, how long it would take them to get home, and could he change his route. It went on for nearly the entire ride. I chuckled silently to myself, highly P1020376enjoying the accent-to-accent verbal sparring. It could have been a scene right out of a movie.

Gazing out the window, I got my first glimpse of Manhattan as we crossed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. What a breathtaking sight! Glimmering lights stretched as far as I could see, and reached up into the sky. Overhead, stars were starting to shine, and half-moon was on the rise. I could almost hear Christopher Cross serenading the scene. It was absolutely stunning, and I was instantly taken.

P1020697Love at first sight.

My home base was Hilton New York on 6th Avenue. A great hotel for amenities, service, food and beverages, and spacious and fully-loaded fitness centre, as an extra bonus, my room on the 35th floor came with a view. Being situated close to some of the most popular attractions, it would be easy to get around on foot.

First bucket-list adventure was ice-skating, with two outdoor rinks within walking distance. Citi Pond at Bryant Park is free, but charge skate and locker rentals. Gliding around the packed ice under towering skyscrapers was surreal. Plus it was +8 Celsius outside, and I wondered how they kept the ice from melting. I also wondered how many of these people had been on skates before, as I dodged the wobbling and falling.

P1020353The Rink at Rockefeller Centre is the most renowned for visitors. Skate rentals cost less, but they charge admission.  More than a quarter million people skate here from October through April. Even more than that take in Rockefeller Centre’s other tourist attraction.

The Top of the Rock is a three-level observation deck on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Outdoor terraces feature fully transparent safety glass, while the uppermost level provides an open-air unobstructed 360-degree view. Everyone MUST see the city from above. Go at sunset, when you can witness the sun sinking down, watch colours on the horizon change from orange and red into shades of blue, grey and black, and see trillions of twinkling lights illuminate the night. For someone already in love with the skyline, the view from up there seals the deal.

P1020393The Hilton New York on 6th Avenue proved a convenient locale from which to wander to New York’s most famous region – Times Square. This illuminated spectacle of glowing billboards, blinking lights, and bustling bodies is one of the world’s busiest pedestrian sections and most-visited tourist attractions. I enjoyed walking through, but due to the sensory overload did not stay for long.

P1020712Times Square is hub of the Broadway Theatre section, and Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is billed as one of New York’s most thrilling shows. Talented cast played out cliff-hanger scenes adorned with off-beat comic-book sets. Once Spider-Man was revealed, the action evolved into high-flying acrobatics above stage and right over our heads. Topping it off with stunning costumes, special effects make-up, and music composed by Bono and The Edge made it a fabulous feast for ears and eyes.

For quick and easy food afterwards, street carts prepare falafels, gyros, and other on-the-go dishes. The most popular is The Halal Guys, located right beside my hotel, and always busy. It’s the street food of choice for the locals in line who insisted “It’s the best. You can’t go wrong.” They recommended the ‘special plate’ heaping with ground meat, lettuce, pita, and orange rice that looked like shredded carrots. The best part was the white sauce, tasting like tzatziki crossed with tangy tahini.

P1020484After all that food, exercise is in order, so I opted for the outdoors. Central Park is gorgeous and well-groomed, with well-marked trails perfect for running. It’s both hilly and flat, with many scenic distractions, and awesome skyline views.

The route circling Central Park is 9.8 kilometers and goes past The Dakota, the historic apartment once home to John Lennon. Fans still flock there, and it was surreal gazing at the building I’ve seen so many times in media. Strawberry Fields and the Imagine mosaic inside the park pay tribute to Lennon, and are peaceful places to stop and reflect on life. Or just sit and watch wheels go ‘round P1020497and ‘round.

Another must-visit tribute place is the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, remembering the men, women and children killed in the terror attacks of September 2001 and February 1993. It features two cascading waterfalls and reflecting pools set within the footprints of the twin towers. Admission is free, but pre-registration and photo ID is required.

Every single name of nearly 3000 victims is inscribed on bronze panels lining the two pools, and I took time to read every one. It took nearly two hours. It was an emotional visit, especially when I came across a woman tracing one of the names. I stood and watched for a while, before working up the nerve to quietly ask her, “Did you know him?”

“Yes,” she answered, looking up, gently smiling. “He was my husband.” Then she motioned toward a teenaged boy and girl. “And these are his children.” They smiled at me, too.

I couldn’t begin to imagine what they must have felt. While I’ve seen countless stories portraying the attacks, I never fully realized the utter loss of life and enormity of the tragedy until meeting this woman and her children. I was truly humbled and moved to be in their presence.

For the first time in my life, I found myself at a loss for words. Completely speechless. All I could do was nod, and quietly walk away. And even though I couldn’t find any words to say back to her, I’m certain my tears said it all.

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