When I left work on the Friday before my 21st birthday, I never imagined I would by flying 3,440 miles across the world to New York City the next day. After a lovely meal with my family on Friday night, I was woken up on Saturday morning by Alex who wished me a happy birthday and told me he’d made me breakfast. Groggily I rolled over to check the time – 6:30am – why on earth had he woken me up so early?! I got up and noticed that there was music playing. It wasn’t unusual for Alex to be playing music but the choice seemed a bit odd considering it normally doesn’t differ from Kiss or Capital radio.
“Start spreading the news…I’m leaving today…”
As I started to navigate my way down the stairs, I noticed that each step had a dollar bill on it. Collecting them all as I went, I realised what song was playing –
“I want to be a part of it….New York…New York”
I practically ran down to the kitchen and asked Alex what was going on and he presented me with my breakfast – Nutella crepes with the letters NYC written on the top in chocolate sauce. I burst into tears for a good 10 mins! I had absolutely no idea and was completely shocked, so shocked in fact that I couldn’t even eat my crepes and that is unheard of! Alex had sorted everything, flights, hotel, visas, attraction passes (http://www.citypass.com/new-york) …he’d even contacted my work and booked the time off in secret. I have definitely found myself a keeper! As we only had a few hours until we had to be at the airport I started panic-packing, which basically consisted of me throwing my entire wardrobe in a suitcase and hoping for the best! Thank god for Virgin Atlantic and their 23kg luggage allowance!
After an 8 hour flight we landed in JFK, tired but excited. The time difference meant I got to have an extra 5 hours where it was still officially my birthday – result! After collecting our bags we made our way to the taxi queue and were in an iconic yellow cab in no time at all – I resisted the overwhelming urge to tap the roof of the cab and tell the driver to step on it, much to Alex’s relief! The drive into the city took about 40 mins and then we hit major traffic as we entered Manhattan but we didn’t mind, it gave us extra time to hang out of the cab window with the GoPro!
We were staying at the Hotel Edison (http://www.edisonhotelnyc.com/) which was in a perfect location – a 30 second walk from Times Square. So after arriving at the hotel, we dumped our bags and headed straight out in search of bright lights and fried food, things we found almost immediately as we entered Times Square. It was swarming with people, both tourists and performers and the atmosphere was electric! After taking in the main iconic billboard and taking a few selfies (priorities!), we proceeded to eat at Bubba Gump – not exactly the most adventurous of options but after a long day of travelling, french fries and a soda were just what we needed!
The next morning we woke up feeling much fresher. The sun was shining as we wandered back onto Times Square searching for an IHOP or Wendy’s to fuel us for the long day ahead.
Sadly, we couldn’t find either of these so we settled on the next best thing and found ourselves in America’s largest McDonalds! Set over 3 floors and serving an all day breakfast – what’s not to like?! I played it safe and ordered a cheese bagel whereas Alex decided to try something new – a sausage and egg biscuit. It was basically what we in England call a McMuffin but instead of it being served in a bun, it came within a scone! Scones, as in the sickly-sweet cakes you enjoy with afternoon tea. And we wonder why more than two thirds of adult Americans are obese…!
The first stop of the day was Central Park. After walking down 5th avenue and looking wistfully into designer shop windows, we arrived at the Plaza hotel which sits just adjacent to the park. The Home Alone films are some of my favourites to watch at Christmas and so it was great to see the hotel all decorated for the holiday season, just like in the movies! We entered the park by the famous rock and so, being the selfie champions that we are, decided to climb to the top to get a view of the city. The view was great and the buildings almost seem like they’ve been photoshopped in behind us in the photos we took. We spent a good hour and a half exploring the park’s many features including an ice rink, a castle and various statues and fountains but could easily have spent more time here. It was lovely and the weather was perfect – the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn an autumnal copper colour which meant everything looked stunning against the backdrop of the silver skyscrapers that gleamed in the sunlight.
Next on the agenda was the Empire State Building. We followed the map downtown and using the passes Alex had bought, we were able to jump the queue and get the lift straight up to the 102nd floor observatory platform for the most incredible 360′ view of the city. The temperature up there was sub zero and so we were glad that the sun was shining! On the 86th floor there is also a small museum telling you all about the history and construction of the most famous skyscraper in New York.
Along with passes to the famous sights and attractions, Alex had also booked a tour of ground zero and the memorial through the 9/11 tribute centre. Every tour is led by guides that recount the events of 9/11 and also share their personal stories as they are all either survivors of the attack, first responders on the scene or families of victims. I’m so pleased we did this tour as it was an incredibly interesting and poignant experience. We both found out so much more information on not just the day itself, but all the hard work that went into the clear up of the site and building of the memorials and new trade centres. I really recommend that everyone who visits New York does this tour and so I won’t give too much away but the memorials themselves are beautiful. The foundations of each tower have been transformed into waterfall features and when you approach either of them you are encouraged to be quiet and respectful, meaning that all that you can hear is the calming and serene sound of running water. After the attacks, trees were planted all around the memorial with the aim that when they grow to their full size, the trees will block the sounds from the hustle and bustle of the city, making it an even more tranquil place for families and friends to come and reflect and remember their loved ones. Our guides were fantastic, both were first responders on the scene and their stories were incredible. We left Ground Zero feeling very moved and grateful to have experienced such an insightful account from the 9/11 tribute centre. Please take a look at their website for more information or to make a donation to a very worthy cause http://tributewtc.org
After a nice lay-in the next morning we decided to try and book tickets to watch some American sport. From the moment we set foot in the city, Alex was eager to get us tickets to an NFL game. I told him I was definitely up for it on the condition that I could get a foam finger. 💁🏼 so we took the bus to the MetLife stadium in New Jersey. When we arrived we were surprised to see everyone had parked up in their trucks and were all enjoying BBQs and beers – something we found out is called ‘tailgating’ in the USA! Some families were even playing rounders and swing ball around all the parked cars – it was really strange to see! The atmosphere was great and everyone was in great spirits for Game Day. The match was the New York Jets vs the Miami Dolphins and as we were visiting NYC we had to support the home team, so quickly purchased a scarf from the merchandise shop to show our support. We made our way to our seats and settled down with our hot chocolates and popcorn. We were amazed at the scale of the game. Considering it just was an ordinary league game, it was comparable to an FA cup final in English terms! The Jets cheerleaders were out for almost the whole game dancing around and doing impressive acrobatics and for every touchdown that was scored, fireworks erupted into the sky with a bang. It was a brilliant day out, even for me who is the most anti-sport person out there.
Upon returning to Manhatten, we made our way down to the Hudson River to catch a ferry over to the Statue of Liberty. It was absolutely freezing but we arrived on Liberty Island in no more than 10 mins – me a similar shade of green to Lady Liberty herself! (Me and boats just do not get on!) We took a few photos of the impressive NY skyline from the island and then spent some time FaceTiming home to show our family the view. We took some selfies, visited the gift shop and then headed straight back on the ferry.
After a busy day and no lunch, we found ourselves making a pit stop in Dunkin’ Doughnuts and joined the queue behind some NYPD cops. They ordered a ‘doughnut and cwwoffee to go please ma’am’ much to our amusement! We decided to walk back via the Avenue of the Americas to have a look at the Christmas lights and decorations – this city certainly knows how to get you feeling festive!
Alex’s parents had bought us tickets to see Chicago on Broadway for my birthday that evening (jazz hands at the ready!) and so we headed to a pre theatre dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (Alex and I have made it our mission to visit all the Hard Rock Cafes in the world and so far we’re not doing too badly!). After yummy nachos and burgers we walked to the theatre and took our seats. I loved every second of it! The production was brilliant. We left the theatre in the pouring rain but thankfully we only had a 5 minute walk to our hotel as I couldn’t cope with walking any further in my heels after all that jazz! 😉
On the morning of our last day in the city we headed to Madison Square Gardens where we had a guided tour of the arena and my foam finger ambition was fulfilled!
After a tour of the arena and backstage areas we headed to Macy’s to do a bit of shopping. Now let me tell you, shopping is one of my favourite activities but shopping in Macy’s was the most stressed that I felt in my whole time in New York! It’s spread over two buildings meaning you have to walk to a new building if you want another department. It was all too much, so we settled on buying some designer towels for our new home and left pretty sharpish!
Our last stop of the trip (boo!) was Brooklyn Bridge. It was a pretty grim day weather wise and there was a lot of rain and fog about so the views we had from the bridge were not the best but we got the selfies we could before heading back to the hotel to collect our bags.
Considering I didn’t even know I was going on this trip until a few hours before our flight I’m so pleased we managed to see and do so much on our visit to the Big Apple. When we returned to the UK, Alex and I put together a short video of our time in the city with a very fitting soundtrack (!) – please take a look below and check out my Youtube channel.
I loved every minute of our magical trip to NYC and Alex certainly made sure I had a 21st birthday that I’ll never forget!
2015 was a fantastic year for us, travel-wise. We managed to tick 7 countries off the bucket list as well as visit various other places in the UK in just a 12 month period – phew! We kicked off the year with a snowy trip to Iceland, shortly after visited friends in Norway after they had just completed a six month stint in SE Asia, visited my parents’ villa in Menorca and then hopped from there on to sunny Barcelona and Rome. I went on a day trip to Brugge, Belgium in November with some friends from work (without knowing that Brussels was in full lockdown mode due to a terror attack at the time 😳!) and then we rounded off the year with another surprise for my 21st – a very festive break in New York City!
We had the time of our life visiting all these places and we’ve written some blog posts about each location along with some pics and videos we made along the way. Look out for these new posts in the next couple of days! I’ll leave you with one of my favourite travel quotes I’ve come across that motivates me through the 9-5 working week, especially today on ‘Blue Monday’!