By Jacob Aldridge

The city that never sleeps also means an early morning rise and shine, but only for a good reason: we’re going to be on TV!

Maybe.

Today’s Experience

If you really, really want to feature on the Today Show - win a hotdog eating contest or similar. Otherwise, arrive early.

If you really, really want to feature on the Today Show – win a hotdog eating contest or similar. Otherwise, arrive early.

There’s every excuse for more American coffee this morning, as we find ourselves outside Rockefeller Plaza in the early morning. The Today Show is a New York institution – while the telecast starts at 7am, we’re here just after 6am and we are far from the first people here. Quirky signs (and comfortable shoes) abound. We’re all hoping to find ourselves in the background of this program, broadcast coast to coast in the States and also across Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the Philippines…honestly, we’re also a little star-struck just being this close to Al Roker!

We make it to the first weather segment – and then it’s time for bagels. As we wander down Fifth Avenue, admiring the commuters because it’s still too early for most tourists, the choice of an easy breakfast location is easy. We turn left onto the famed 42nd Street … and find ourselves in the food court of Grand Central Station! Bagel in one hand, fresh coffee in the other, we stand as a group inside the main concourse.

Just trying to take it in.

An amazing photograph inside Grand Central Station's Main Concourse. Grand Central Station is strictly called Grand Central Terminal.

Immense. Photo by Diliff, CC License

Can you believe in the late 1960s multiple plans were drawn up to demolish this cavernous space and replace it with a tower block? Jackie O was among the more famous New York personalities to rail against it, referring to New York’s “proud monuments … and beauty to inspire our children”.

Empire State of Mind

Few places in the world are more beautiful and inspiring than this, atop the Empire State Building. Two days ago we climbed 30 Rock during the evening; now is an opportunity to see the New York vistas in full daylight (although the cold weather up here doesn’t make it feel like full daylight!).

Walking around the observation deck is made all the more impressive by having had two day’s experience walking around the New York streets below – we can see where we crossed Central Park; up Fifth Avenue all the way to Tiffany’s; across to the Brooklyn Bridge; and down past 1 World Trade Centre to (just, in the distance) The Statue of Liberty.

Balloons flying over Central Park. View from the Empire State Building.

Balloons flying over Central Park.

View of Downtown New York from the Empire State Building

You can always go – Down town! (Wait, we went yesterday.)

From here we can also look down at Midtown – Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Greenwich Village, where our feet will take us next.

Empire State Building shadow, as seen from the observation deck.

A Shadow of Itself.

Just as we prepare to depart, there’s a final moment to take in this majestic spot. From An Affair To Remember to Chuck standing gilted in Season 3 of Gossip Girl, the top of the Empire State Building holds a place in our cultural heart. And here we are!

Living the High Line

New York’s most famous mode of transport has to be its subway system (though we’ll admit the yellow cab – WATCH OUT! there’s another one about to take you out as you cross the street! – is more iconic).  Imagine our surprise to learn that among the most popular tourist (and, on weekends, local) destinations is an abandoned stretch of above ground rail!

Walking the High Line.

The narrow gauge can make this crowded on weekends.

The High Line was built for rail, mostly freight, just before the Great Depression. At the time, it eliminated 105 street-level rail crossings in the growing city, but as rail was replaced by road and Manhattan industry was replaced by proto-Hipsters (we called them Baby Boomers back then), the line grew seldom used. There were moves to tear it down in the 1980s, but over the past 15 years it has increasingly been re-crafted as a meandering path of greenery above the hustle and bustle of the naked city.

Where else would you get this view along one of New York’s numbered Avenues?

There are seats here as well, on the High Line so you can watch many New York minutes pass by.

There are seats here as well, so you can watch many New York minutes pass by.

We can see why the High Line is popular with city lunchers – and as we descend, we stumble into the equally-popular Chelsea Market. I’m going to struggle to choose between a ‘Hale and Hearty Soup’ combination lunch, or the offerings at Amy’s Bread – are you just eyeing off Elini’s New York Cookies??

Shopping, Eating, Sex and the City

There’s an Anthropologie store at the far end of Chelsea Market, and it sets the scene as we wander into New York’s Meatpacking district. We have an afternoon of wandering ahead of us, and with the funky bars only just opening it’s the boutique shops that can’t help but grab our attention. Who would have thought some of the world’s best brands – Ted Baker! Kate Spade! – would be clamouring for space in one of the 250 former slaughterhouses?

To give a focus to our wandering, we decide to head for another New York institution: Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street. Having now walked more than two dozen blocks, all of a sudden our senses are confused: New York’s famous grid system, created by the Commissioners 1811 Plan, is thrown out of whack in Greenwich Village – by 1811 this area was already a popular holiday spot for New Yorkers living downtown, and the existing streets clashed with the Grid Plan here. We double back on ourselves. Eventually.

We know we’re back on track when we see a small square with park benches full of people eating cupcakes … and across the road, a queue out the door of this – the original Magnolia Bakery location. We’ll let you in on a little secret – the cupcakes are famous, but the banana pudding is the real star. If you (or your fear of a sugar coma) limit you to just one thing, definitely choose the banana pudding. (I’ll let you have a taste of my Red Velvet cupcake.)

Banana Pudding or Banana Custard? When it's from Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker St, who cares!

This is my banana pudding face.

A favourite of Sex and the City fans after it featured in Season 2, many of the same fans fail to realise that just around the corner … onto Perry Street … we can actually photograph ourselves in front of Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment!

If SATC is not your style, let’s head a few blocks further south to the corner of Bedford and Grove, where we can look up to the Friends apartment building. Don’t get caught up on which apartment is Monica’s – in the early series they were living in the top floor of a six storey walk-up, but later on they definitely had an upstairs neighbour! Strange things happen in the big city.

The Friends Apartment, Bedford and Grove New York City

Don’t even ask about the balcony. Photo by Rob Young, CC License

Soho, Noho and Bye-Bye NYC!

Powered by a cupcake and custard high, our feet are immune to pain as we walk into the final afternoon of our 3 days in New York. The districts of Soho, Noho, and Nolita provide a contrast of styles and moods – before venturing through these neighbourhoods (and Steve was right on day one, this is a city best seen on foot) we had imagined Manhattan to be a homogeneous city dominated by commercial property. In truth, and our first glimpse at the top of Central Park made this clear, this is a bigger city than we ever could have imagined, and the neighbourhoods really are distinct – and each worth exploring.

Greenwich Village Streets, New York

Doesn’t look like a cliche of New York, does it?

Indeed, with 3 days in New York, we’ve not had a chance to venture far afield – uptown above 100th, across to The Bronx, or Queens, or out to Brooklyn. And changing ferries on Staten Island doesn’t count. So we’ve barely scratched the surface of only one Borough!

Our final New York dinner is back on Greenwich Avenue, at the newly opened and already cool Rosemary’s. A ‘no reservation’ policy means we are rewarded for arriving early (we blame our evening flight for not being fashionably late), and the reward is an eclectic combination of flavours that are best shared as a group … and with whichever wine the server suggests – they’re all the same price at $40 / bottle or $10 / glass.

It’s going to take something impressive to better our 3 days in New York. And as we head to the airport for our very short flight, we have a suspicion that upstate there might just be something sizeable enough.

The Empire State Building, at night, with an American Flag

Now Spreading the Sad News – We’re Leaving Today…

Want to go? Need to know!

  • There are no tickets to the Today Show – finding yourself on TV is a combination of good planning (arriving well before 7am, and preparing a sign so you are ‘ushered’ into a prime position for the outside crosses) and good luck.
  • Tickets for the Empire State Building start at just $25, which gains you entry to the 86th Floor main deck. Buy online in advance to skip the ticket queues, and review options for the 102nd Floor top deck and express ticket add-ons that allow you to skip additional queues for the lifts. (Or just go early in the morning, the best time of day to climb the Empire State Building.)
  • Magnolia Bakery is a definite draw for tourists – we wanted to see where it all began, but to do so we have ignored the locations near our apartment on the Upper West Side, and this morning at Grand Central Terminal (when it was definitely bagel o’clock).
  • Residents have chained off access to the stoop of Carrie’s apartment, and many Sex and the City Tours New York have stopped visiting here on their request. This is understandable – and please, no repeating the drunk nighttime rantings of recovering alcoholic Patrick Casey in Season 2.
  • New York Taxis have a fixed fare of $52 to JFK Airport from anywhere on Manhattan. During peak hours (roughly 7am to 7pm), it’s probably more reliable to take the train out from Penn Station to Jamaica Station, and change there for the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) to JFK. For our evening flight, the taxi made perfect sense.

OK New Yorkers and New York fans – what were the most amazing things we missed in our 3 Days in New York. We’ll definitely be back! Let us know in the comments below, or come start a discussion on our Facebook page.