New York Subway station – a hub of energy. A constant crescendo of noise. Passengers were coming and going, trains were constantly arriving and departing. Everything was so fast (after all it was New York). Amidst the hustle and bustle, we stood staring at the subway station map. I’d say it was more like a puzzle. The different coloured lines were heading off in all sorts of directions. It was like a kid had been let loose with a set of marker pens. Confused, we had to find our destination stop. Our hostel, New York Budget Inn, was situated on 34th St and the nearest station was Lexington ave. All we had to do was follow the green line – simple. Oh, how very wrong we were. Lost, tired and extremely sweaty amongst overcrowded city, we sought refuge on the corner of the street and rooted out the map. After finding our bearings, we headed down the road with our eyes peeled looking for the big bright sign. There was no big bright sign. Snuggled in between a restaurant and pop up newsagent, we had reached our destination. All checked into our 4 bed dorm, we took off our shoes and took five minutes. I have never been so grateful for air conditioning in all my life. At half Eleven, once we had refreshed ourselves and got out of our sweaty travelling clothes, we decided to head out and explore. After all, we were in the city that never sleeps. Engulfed in the crowds all heading in one direction, we reached Times Square. Speechless. I have never seen so many lights in all my life – well, it wouldn’t be hard coming from our house where lighting is a luxury. All of a sudden I felt alive with energy; it didn’t feel like midnight at all. Shops were still open and their queues building thick and fast. Performers plastered the square. Tourists invaded every inch of space. Homeless people sought refuge on every street corner. The square hummed with noise. There was nothing quiet about this place. My neck felt stiff from the constant craning and my jaw sore. I was in awe. I had lost sense of everything; time, tiredness and all things familiar. Yes, I felt like a tourist, but now I felt like a real traveller. After being mesmerised by the nights scene, we headed back to the hostel and soon were out for the count.
Early the next morning, we prepared ourselves for the day and heading downstairs for breakfast (Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee). Of course we were too late. Parched and famished, we headed to the nearest cafe. Needless to say it was a Starbucks, just one of New York’s 202 stores. Fed and watered, we wandered aimlessly along Fifth Avenue and headed back into Times Square. Unchanged from the night before. New York was a big place, we were aware of that, yet we wanted to see it all. After a few minutes of deliberation, we decided that the ‘sightseeing buses’ were going to be our best bet for the next few days. Perched on top of the bright red bus, you could tell we were tourists from a mile away. We met our tour guide, a happy-go-lucky kind of girl, who fed our appetite to learn more about New York. Stopping and stalling on the road, Downtown, she reeled off facts and figures about the buildings which ran either side of us. As always, most of this information went in one ear and out the other. I was too busy trying to make sense of everything which surrounded me. However, I do remember one fact – it was about the Empire State Building. It only took them one year to build it – all 1,250 feet of it. You’re probably thinking to yourself who on earth built it? Well, surprisingly, I listened in to that bit too. If any of you know the famous picture of a group of men eating their lunch on a steel boulder a few hundred feet from the ground. The typical bathroom painting. It was them.
Much to our dismay, we had to cut our journey short, as we jumped off and set off to explore Soho. So-ho beautiful (sorry, I really couldn’t resist). The place where Kim Kardashian has a boutique shop – Dash, Bloomingdales – the place where Rachel works in friends and finally Brandy Melville, the place which Amy follows on Instagram (surprise, surprise – it is a very stripey shop). Only a stone’s throw away from the commercial and tourist trodden central Manhattan, Soho with its whitewashed buildings and elegant cobbled streets was a complete contrast. We pottered down the street as though we were well-to-do celebrities, ignoring the fact we both had a budget for the day. If one place could have described us, it was Soho. Shabby-chic cafes, vintage bookstores and independent shops- it felt like an American Sheffield. Hasten to leave before we spent the whole three week budget!. On the side of the road, we hailed our ride. Unfortunately it wasn’t a top of the range Bentley or a luxurious Ferrari, it was the big red bus again. After a cracking tour guide on the previous bus, we had high expectations. It’s safe to say we were disappointed. The patronising and patriotic man, sat in American flag socks and bleach white trainers, barely spoke two words for the entire journey. Relieved we had reached our stop, Downtown Manhattan, we made a swift exit. Stopped in our tracks, he set straight his tipping policy. Let’s just say ten bucks was the minimum rate. After escaping the fraudster, we found our bearings and headed down to Ground Zero.
Ground Zero. A very solemn place. The atmosphere was very absurd. Its perimeter was outlined by tourists and the noise around it was somewhat deafening. However, there was a strange feeling of emptiness. I could feel the hairs on my neck and goosebumps on my arms. Despite the respectful setting paying homage to those who lost their lives, the monument was being used as the backdrop for tourist’s selfies. There is a time and a place. Standing proud, only a few feet from Ground Zero, is the One World Trade Center – a symbol of strength, determination and a country hungry to rebuild itself after such a devastating historical event.
Taken back and touched by this setting, we decided to grab some food and wandered down the pier to catch the Staten Island ferry. Of course, we went the long way about doing it and ended up on the side completely opposite from where we needed to be. Once aboard the ferry, we were rocked from side to side, trying our utmost to keep down the margherita pizza which we had just consumed. On our voyage along the Hudson River, New York opened itself up. New York looks so different when you’re outside it. As we passed the lady herself, (the Statue of Liberty), it made me realise what a proud country America really is. There is something about America which is so different from the culture we are all so familiar with. By the end of the day, my feet needed an awful lot of TLC, by that I mean a new pair of shoes needed to be purchased. We were both exhausted, we could no longer feel our feet and we were faint with hunger. There was only one answer. Pizza and Netflix.