New York without data

New York. Concrete jungle.

It’s the third time I’ve been here. Both previous trips were limited to a few days and I didn’t really get my head around the city. It felt like…London’s bossier cousin.

Now I have more time to explore. I’ve decided not to buy a data package for my phone because despite the strong temptation to be guided by the Internet, I want to allow some serendipity into my travel. And what could be more serendipitous these days than relying on public wifi?

A few unplanned highlights:

Walking near the Flatiron building, we stumbled over Italian food deli Eataly. It’s a mouthwatering collection of fresh food counters, a market, coffee shop and restaurant that suits any occasion. You can pick up prosciutto, bread, cheese and fruit for the perfect picnic, or fresh pasta and fish to whip up dinner at home. Grab a quick gelato or cannoli to take away, or make an evening of it with a full meal and a selection of wines. It might be heaven.

Next up, I found some fun stalls selling NY themed art at the entrance to the Highline near the Meatpacking district. A woman was wearing a black t-shirt with the slogan Black is my happy colour. She is my heroine. There was music playing and a buzzing atmosphere as we flicked through spray paint designs on paper maps of the city. Hipsters brunched in the background at a place called Bubby’s. Also there was a cute dog in taxi situation.

Wandering through the streets near the Whitney Museum of Modern Art you pass lots of those famous brownstone houses. And pleasingly few people. We found unexpected tranquility in the back streets somewhere around the West Village. A look around an unfeasibly cool book shop called Bookmarc. A stroll through Washington Square park and pleasant rest on a bench listening to a jazz band. And some snazzily dressed trees (yes, snazzy is an underused word).

On to the Guggenheim and the queue was too long because it was Pay What You Wish evening. It’s a beautiful thing from the outside anyway. Walking round the corner revealed the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum. Conveniently it also has a Pay What You Wish policy on Saturday evenings. You get an interactive stylus when you visit, which you can use to create your own 3D designs. Jet lag was kicking in by this point and I was content to push buttons in this interactive museum, not really taking anything in and keeping myself awake until 9pm.

We were lucky enough to be in town to catch Chris Gallagher‘s exhibition of abstract oil paintings at a gallery on Orchard Street. Chris is a family friend who is originally from Stoke and is now winning over the NY art scene. It was exciting to see his work in such a great space. This is exactly the kind of art I would love to hang on the wall of my fantasy loft apartment.

More wandering, this time through an area called Bowery taking photos of interesting buildings, people and dog watching. Dogs were wearing pink and blue shoes; people were buying live crabs in Chinatown.

Heading down to the financial district, we met up with a friend and decided we were all a bit tired and hot. Cue a crazy Yellow cab ride where instead of taking us the few blocks we’d requested to get to a bar, the driver took the main road straight into traffic, drove around in a large circle and charged us $20. Beware yellow cabs!

We eventually found ourselves by the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial. I remembered how this area looked in 2012 when much of it was under construction. It’s an evocative place to walk around now, listening to the falling water and reading all the names.

We switched our base from Manhattan to Brooklyn, for affordability reasons. More spontaneity led us to Williamsburg, which is something of a hipster hangout. We watched A Star is Born at Williamsburg cinema. It has a retro, studenty vibe and tickets are a reasonable $12. People even applauded at the end of the film!

Domino Park is a great find. It’s a well-designed public space next to the Williamsburg bridge. There you can sit to take in the views and watch more active people playing volleyball. The weather has been grey and humid, as you can see from the photos, so the colourful fountains provided a welcome splash of colour.

Top tips for visiting New York:

  1. Book accommodation well in advance. At the time of writing, it is painfully expensive for hotels (converting from GBP at least). You need to allow time for creative Googling to find good options that don’t break the bank.
  2. Happy hour is your friend. Bars often do drinks and snack offers at 4 – 6pm. Museums have reduced rate hours and sometimes free entry. A useful list of free things to do is here.
  3. Wear comfortable shoes. We averaged 20,000 steps a day. Blocks look small on a map and are usually big.
  4. The subway can be sweaty and dirty, but it connects you to everywhere for a budget friendly $32 a week. Travel by boat where possible for a more picturesque journey.
  5. Get a zero exchange fee card like Revolut. Most places take cards but chip and pin isn’t consistently used. It’s common for restaurants to take your card away and bring it back with a paper receipt to sign. Tipping is expected. Having a small amount of cash is always useful.

I still think of New York like a relative of London, but maybe it’s the colourful twin.

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