New York has always been a city of superlatives: biggest, brashest, best – at least that’s the opinion of its proud inhabitants – and with over 30 million visitors a year it seems that there areplenty of others who agree!
Ian Wright and Megan McCormick return to New York to seek out a city that is now known as much for its resilience in the face of tragedy as its economic power, cultural dominance and ethnic diversity.
Their tour of the metropolis’s five boroughs (Staten Island, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan) begins with Manhattan Island, the 20 square mile, two million strong powerhouse of the city.
Starting downtown, Ian takes the Staten Island ferry to the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom that became a beacon of hope for European immigrants arriving in America in the early twentieth century. Megan seeks out the motor of American economic development, Wall Street’s New York Stock Exchange. It’s an energising experience – this place trades a billion shares per day and its constant oscillations make it seem alive.
Around the corner at its younger brother, the American Stock Exchange, she talks to a man who’s really been around the block a few times. Michael Peskuma, who at 94 is the world’s oldest trader, recalls the day of the 1929 market crash.
Manhattan is also home to two of the city’s most colourful communities. Ian tries some top-notch pickles at Guss’s in Lower East Side, home to the Eastern European Jewish community. Meanwhile Megan visits the largest Chinatown in the Western Hemisphere and meets Jamie Gong, owner of its oldest store, which dates back to 1891.
There’s no doubt that trying to get around New York is overwhelming – even if you come from a big city yourself. Megan tries to take a bus but finds that walking is a much better option. Ian manages to get through the subway but takes a taxi for his next journey. Even that’s not plain sailing however – as he soon finds out from a gruff driver who gives him a crash course in taxi etiquette.
If you’re looking for a bit of pop culture kudos from your accommodation, look no further than the Chelsea Hotel where the literati and glitterati have rubbed shoulders for decades. Megan meets the owner and some current residents and discovers that its influence runs so deep that even the Clintons’ daughter takes her name from the place!
In a land of burgeoning fat, New Yorkers remain the leaders of leanness. Ian finds himself in a land of giants at a local basketball game on Sixth Avenue while Megan swings into action at the Trapeze school in the Hudson River Park.
After all that activity, our team sample a dash of the Big Apple’s ubercool, ultra varied nightlife. Megan drops in at a gallery opening, a popular past time for trendy New Yorkers and then heads off to the Lower East Side’s dive bars for cheap drinks and a brush with some seamy characters at Rudy’s.
With the dawn of another day Ian and Megan go off in search of the city’s African American neighbourhoods. The Bronx was integral to the Black struggle for equality; Malcolm X spent his youth here and his ministry still practises on Lennox Avenue. It’s also synonymous with hip hop culture so Ian takes a dazzling detour to Home Boy 2000 where he tries on the chunky gold jewellery beloved of rappers and wannabes everywhere. Meanwhile Megan finds that Harlem is shedding its bad reputation as she’s guided round the area. She makes a quick stop at the AfroCentric Shopping Mall where you can buy anything from Caribbean kitsch to Islamic tomes.
Perhaps the best thing about New York is that the unexpected is always just around the corner. North of the Bronx, Megan is catapulted into a world far removed from the vigour of city life with a fishing trip from City Island. Then she dabbles in a spot of sea kayaking around the west side of Manhattan following in the wake of the Native Americans who used to call the harbour “great waters constantly in motion”.
The Brooklyn Bridge straddles this magnificent stretch of water and connects Manhattan with Brooklyn, a borough of colourful ethnic groups. Ian visits Williamsberg, home to roughly the same amount of Puerto Ricans as live on their native Caribbean island. Megan mingles with the Cuban community on their national day and parties at the colourful parade. As befits a city of such multi-culturalism, the United Nations, set up in 1945 to avert a repetition of the tragedies of World War II, has its headquarters here in Midtown. Megan takes a quick look around.
The Big Apple’s enduring image is its high-rise architecture. Ian and Megan take a tour of its most attractive buildings. They take in the triangular Flat Iron Building, the Woolworth Building (a cathedral-like gothic skyscraper), 40 Wall Street which became New York’s tallest building for the blink of an eye and was superseded by the Chrysler Building just a week later. Then it’s off to the Empire State Building, standing at 1250 feet high. It remained the tallest building here until the completion of the World Trade Center in 1972.
Following the destruction of the Twin Towers and the tragic loss of life on 11 September 2001,Ground Zero – where the buildings stood – has become something of a tourist attraction for people trying to make sense of that fateful day. Megan visits the Fire Museum on Spring Avenue with its moving monument to the 328 men who lost their lives during the disaster. Many people ran for cover in nearby Trinity Church; here she speaks to a survivor who relates the horror of the moment his office was hit by one of the airliners. Despite this terrible trauma, New Yorkers have refused to be phased. Daniel Libeskind, the architect charged with redesigning the site, says his plans are all about bringing “optimism” to this scene of great sadness.
Central Park is the city’s oasis – although calm it isn’t! Ian joins a professional roller blader for a shuffle around while Megan joins up with “wildman” Steve Brill who demonstrates how to find sustenance from the plants growing here, in case she finds herself short of cash!
No trip to New York would be complete without a serious shopping spree. By all means window shop on Fifth Avenue (the haunt of the rich Upper Eastsiders) but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to afford more than a Chanel pencil! Thrift shops are great places for picking up bargains and Out of the Closest is an absolute gem. Megan meets the owner of this shop that’s supported by donations of cast-off antiques and clothes from rich locals looking for tax write-offs. This means it’s a treasure trove of wonderful finds – and a donation is made to charity with each purchase – so everyone wins!
With nine world-class museums, you could be in danger of spending your whole trip in Museum Mile. Megan visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art and discovers breathtaking pieces from every era from ancient Mesopotamia to the European Renaissance.
Feeling more than a little worn out by all the attractions New York has to offer, the team turn their sights to day trips out of the manic Metropolis. Ian revels in the tackiness of Coney Island south of Brooklyn and dances a jig in the neighbouring Russian Jewish enclave of Brighton Beach, also known as Little Odessa. Megan finds her journey end on the idyll of Fire Island, ringed by golden beaches, where she visits the gay retreat of Cherry Grove.
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