There is no hint of exaggeration in American author E.B.White’s eulogy: New York provides not only a continuing excitation but also a spectacle that is continuing.
The roller-coaster of non-stop highs, peaks in downtown Manhattan, where streets crackle with live-wire energy, a huge charging bull dictates stock market lingo and the pencil-thin Empire State Building towers to the skies above a labyrinth of concrete canyon.
From swamps to spires
It is hard to believe that the gleaming city of skyscrapers and asphalt was an untouched wilderness of cliffs, grasslands, streams, swamps and sandy shorelines just four centuries ago.
The thick forest of spruce, magnolia, chestnut, oak and hickory that stretched for miles into the horizon was home to turkey, elk, bear, bobcat, beaver and wolf. The Dutch set up a trading post in the 1600s, christening it New Amsterdam. Wheels of revolution spun, democracy kicked in and the reinvention that rolled-in never slowed down. Today, as the home of eight million residents, New York City is a sizzler of a megapolis that bubbles with infectious dynamism and throbs with electric vitality.
The City That Never Sleeps is a tenacious trailblazer, cultural capital and entertainment epicentre, with a basket of gloat-worthy goodies ranging from oversized scrumptious cookies to high-end luxury shopping. Bite into the Big Apple to taste the distinct flavours of its five beguiling boroughs, for experiences as diverse as vintage bookstore browsing, catching long-running musical shows, sunbathing in sprawling greens and kayaking in the river. Ease yourself into the City of Dreams with a pedestrian crawl in the wander-ful district of Manhattan. Begin the intoxicating expedition at the monumental Empire State Building, the most iconic symbol of the kaleidoscopic city.
Built in Steel, Carved with Adventure
Set up for obligatory neck-craning at the Art Deco skyscraper that pierces the clouds above the Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and you are plagued by an obvious question. No antiquarian legacy, no royal connections, no other-worldly legend - so what is the success story of the skyscraper, which has its very own zip code? No conquests, no religious fanaticism, but there is still enough drama here for a riveting mini-series.
In 1931, while vying for the title of world’s tallest building, with 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building beat the competition hollow as it stood tall at 103 stories and a height of 1,250 feet (1,454 feet including the lightning rod), a pride of place it enjoyed for four long decades.
From perking up spirits during the Great Depression to projecting NYC’s image as an economic powerhouse, the Empire State Building was the secret sauce that spiralled the city’s growth trajectory northwards. Built in steel but carved with adventure, the superstructure was destined to be a symbol of the city’s relentless spirit, a portrait of grit, innovation and enterprise.
Find comfort in the solidity of the soaring facade as you jostle through the brisk-paced sea of humanity. New Yorkers cross zebra lines in perfectly choreographed symphony and zip in and out of the building, where over 1,000 businesses occupy 85 floors of commercial and office space. The upper 16 floors represent the Art Deco tower, which is capped by a 102nd-floor observatory. Over the tower stands a 203 feet (62 metre) pinnacle, mostly covered by broadcast antennas. A lightning rod pokes into the skies at the very top. Imagine standing here on an afternoon of the winter solstice, tracing the mile-long shadow of the Empire State Building. Sometimes, size does matter.
Architects Shreve, Lamb and Harmon pushed the envelope with an ambitious design that was functional, efficient and builder-friendly, yet graceful and decorative with stylised Art-Deco features. An army of 3,400 workers toiled day-after-day to complete the ambitious project in record time - a year – and, amazingly, within budget.
Curtains-up on industrialism, assembly lines, division of labour. Steel beams and stonework were prepared off-site and slipped into place. Hoists and narrow-gauge tracks transported the pieces to the upper floors. Workers swung hundreds of feet above, riveting steel girders in place. There were even occasions when the frame grew at a speed of four-and-a-half stories a week. A quixotic feat of confidence was pulled off with guts and elan.
Squint at the texture created by light and shadow falling over the 60,000 tons of shining chrome-nickel steel shaped like a rocket taking off, complete with four winged buttresses of cast aluminium. The modernistic feel continues inside with stainless steel and glass-enclosed bridges at the second-floor level. An arresting Art Deco lobby flaunts 24-carat gold-leaf ceiling murals and a dazzling starburst bas-relief. Nine interactive exhibits trace the history of the skyscraper and a King Kong installation adds drama with massive gorilla hands and a screen depicting him clinging to the side of the building. Gun for the gasp-worthy views from the observatories on the 86th floor and 102nd floors. The grid of streets below is a temptress. Succumb.
Microcosm of the City
Soaring skyscrapers, game-changing museums, ubiquitous yellow taxis and the urban oasis of the 843-acre Central Park define the soul of Manhattan, the most celebrated of New York’s five boroughs. The island of many hills - Manna-hata as the native Lenni Lenape called it - has morphed beyond recognition over the last four centuries. The wooden boundary built to keep out Native Americans and rivals out has been replaced by institutions that check the movement of bulls and bears in Wall Street. A different brand of history lurks in the bustling streets.
Itineraries and lists lose their meaning in a neighbourhood packed with so much eye candy. Ogle at landmarks like Lady Liberty, Rockefeller Centre and the Flatiron Building. Slip into a humbling episode at the One World Trade Center, National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Dig for art treasures at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the MoMA. Enrol in a walking tour on food or history. Find your idyll along the wooded paths of the Ramble in Central Park. Stroll through wildflowers on 1.45-mile-long (2.3 miles) elevated linear park built on a historic freight rail line above the city above the conveyer-belt gridded streets below. Pay homage to the zodiac ceiling mural at the 100-year-old Grand Central Terminus and be stirred by the nostalgia of a time when train travel was synonymous with ultimate luxury. And you still have not even scratched the surface yet.
So, relax and slow down the pace. Indulge your most extravagant fantasies on Fifth Avenue's designer racks. Switch to art-collector-mode by attending a live auction at Sotheby’s or browse rare artefacts displayed in six floors of hallowed gallery space. Finally, spread your wings in a chartered helicopter ride and glide across the Manhattan skyline to capture the cityscape in your mind’s eye forever.
World on a Platter
With over 200 nationalities crammed into one glorious urban space, New York is a culinary crockpot like no other, with its many ethnic neighbourhoods and a delightful platter of gastronomy that serves up more variety than you can digest. Hit up East Village for a fanfare of Argentine, Australian, Greek, and North African food or East Harlem for authentic Mexican, Dominican, and Puerto Rican flavours. Asian cuisine of Chinatown and Italian specialties of the Bronx neighbourhood are on every die-hard foodie’s list. Indian meals at Queens and Greek meze at Astoria are no pipe dreams. From Brooklyn’s Polish cafes to the Jewish delis of the Upper West Side, continents and countries are well represented in this amazing city. From artisanal coffee roasters to gourmet food trucks and hotdog streets vendors, you will end up biting more than you can chew.
Restaurants & Bars
With over 75 Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from, picking a venue for a fine dining experience in NYC can take longer than necessary - or not:
The iconic three Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park has earned the distinction of having a permanent spot among the best restaurants in the world. The seasonally rotating tasting menu includes 8-10 courses – including a couple of tableside preparations - which unfold on the table with impeccable precision and artistic finesse. Famous for its glazed duck and a caviar dish, the restaurant also does modern desserts, including the Meyer lemon, black sesame and yoghurt composition. Look out for the logo-stamped ice cubes in the drinks.
Japanese cuisine and French technique meet in perfect harmony at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. Intimate, exclusive and luxurious, the restaurant boasts of an ensemble of brilliant dishes, showcasing the natural flavours of each ingredient. Bites of bluefin toro tartare, Kumamoto oysters, mini sardines, frog-leg, veal-brain - this one is purely for seafood and meat-lovers. Watch the master chefs outdo themselves in the open kitchen.
Recognised as one of the best seafood restaurants in the world, Le Bernardin prides itself on fresh, simple, delicate and s dishes, often with Asian ingredients, divided into three sections: Almost Raw, Barely Touched and Lightly Cooked. Classics to order include pan-roasted monkfish, poached halibut, seared Kobe beef and pan-roasted squab. Leave dilemmas for another day with the prefixed tasting menu and wine pairing.
Sleepless after Sundown
When the sun sinks, skyscrapers light up and New Yorkers ready for long, lively nights. Performers prep for the limelight at stages across town - theatre, standup comedy, ballet, poetry, jazz - all you need to do is know your poison. Head to the mammoth-proportioned Metropolitan Opera House, part of the Lincoln Centre for Performing Arts, to drown in the symphony of one of the finest orchestras in the world. If a mega-musical is on your mind, pitch for the Majestic Theatre, Broadway’s largest and most acclaimed venue. And how about a low-key rooftop bar to soak it all up?
“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless,” said Simone de Beauvoir. You would not dare to differ.
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game......."
New Yorkers are a very competitive lot and this is clear when it comes to their – sometimes fanatical – following of their sporting teams. No visit to the Big A is complete without a visit to the baseball – Yankees and Mets, basketball – Knicks and Nets, American football – Giants and Jets.
Ice Hockey – Rangers, Devils and Islanders, soccer – Red Bulls and NYC FC. Games are well attended and tickets are best bought in advance or from the hotel concierge. Of course, New York plays host to the annual hardcourt US Open tennis tournament and if you wish to get involved and see New York on foot, there is always the New York Marathon to consider.
Where to Stay
The easiest place to stay in New York is in Manhattan, where a wide variety of luxury hotels are located. Prime attractions of the area and Fifth Avenue shopping are within easy walking distance. An equally attractive and convenient alternative is the area around the south of Central Park, where one can find upmarket hotels around open spaces.
Navigating the City
New York has an abundance of private transport, including limousines and private taxis. Avoid driving in the crowded streets where one-way systems are confusing to an out-of-towner. JFK and LaGuardia airports are connected to Grand Central Station and important points in the city by rapid bus services. A compressive Subway system links all of the city’s boroughs.
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