New York: city of insomnia and blinding lights

New York has been dazzling visitors for a long time—it oozes culture and class effortlessly out of every seam to leave even sceptics departing the city looking for the next flight back

New York has been dazzling visitors for a long time—it oozes culture and class effortlessly out of every seam to leave even sceptics departing the city looking for the next flight back

En route to New York, an anxious anticipation is common. Expectations of the iconic city are nurtured since childhood and the only certainty is that the trip will be like no other. The assumption is that the awaiting city could not possibly live up to its idyllic movie portrayal, the land that has inspired generations to strive for success. However, taking the first surreal steps into the madhouse reveals that all ambitions will be met and the bar for all future excursions will be significantly raised.

The first NY symbol you will encounter is the yellow cab. Stories about the city’s cabbies are legendary but following basic etiquette will ensure a harmonious ride. Initial charge is a reasonable $2.50 and a note-worthy point is that extra passengers are free.

Alternatively if you arrive via rail, Grand Central Station brings travelers back to a time when train travel was a privilege. A fascinating tour of the nigh-on one hundred year old station offers an insight into American travel history and is free of charge.

Some notable legends of the station include Hitler’s bid to scupper the electronics and the famous four-faced, opal-encrusted clock valued at over $15 million.

A cursory glance at the New York skyline serves as a statue to New York’s founders and patrons. Recent years have seen the dominance of Donald Trump, with 5th Avenue buildings Trump Tower and the sleek Trump World Tower. Numerous other tycoons continue sculpting the city but the true father of New York is undoubtedly the philanthropic John D Rockefeller Jr. He was a major catalyst in rejuvenating a dejected economy in the years following the depression. His notable legacies are the Rockefeller Centre and the Museum of Modern Art.

The Rockefeller Centre is a prime example of the sheer vastness of the family estate. Comprising 19 commercial buildings over 22 acres it includes Radio City, art deco skyscraper offices, an underground shopping concourse and the GE Building. The GE Building is now home to ‘Top of The Rock’, the best observation deck in the city, as Central Park and all major sights are visible. It also also has the advantage of being less busy than other attractions. Perhaps the most memorable asset of the Rockefeller Centre is the ice rink captured in many a silver screen production.

An obligatory addition to travel itineraries is Ground Zero. Construction began this summer of most of the replacement towers (seven in total), which will encircle the site of the two towers. In the footsteps of the previous towers will be two pools of water, each inscribed with the names of the 2,980 victims of 9/11. When completed in 2010, the pools will be surrounded by foliage and will offer some means of tranquility away from the assiduous financial district. The best place to get a feel for the continuing grieving of the atrocity is the ground zero museum workshop situated in the meat-packing district, approximately a seven minute subway ride from Ground Zero. Inspired by the Anne Frank museum, the workshop houses exclusive photographs by Gary Marlon Suson, the official photographer at ground zero. Reasons why this tour shouldn’t work include the small size of the gallery and the steep $25 admission, but the emotion captured in the pictures coupled with the uniquely intimate surroundings quickly nullifies the downside to produce the best account of the attacks and aftermath.

As regards entertainment, New York is a shrine for all things outlandish. Shows currently running on Broadway include Mamma Mia, the extremely popular Wicked and the awe-inspiring Lion King. Broadway shows are utterly unparalleled. Throw away all conceptions of a stage show as the revolution of animatronics, massive budgets and actors and musicians handpicked from thousands all serve to encapsulate the once modest theatres. The drawback of this is the often equally substantial prices (upwards of $120). However TKTS comes to the rescue selling unsold tickets for the days shows for up to 50% less and often offering premium seats. They are located in South Street Seaport, Downtown Brooklyn and Times Square but beware the queues for the latter are notoriously long. For a truly unique alternative, tickets can be sought to recordings for both The Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Tickets for these shows are free; Conan’s can be sought after via telephone or a visit to NBC studios while Letterman prefers an e-mail request followed by a trivia question or a lottery for tickets.

New York quickly becomes a drug for those lucky enough to experience it. It has maintained its entrepreneurial spirit that has attracted so many and the fruits of its current labour are becoming ever more ambitious. Countless cities claim you need maybe a week to appreciate them fully; in New York a month wouldn’t suffice. Every corner of the city has its own charm and pride; every building hass a remarkable story. Love it or loathe it, New York will never be boring!