6.30am – In bed, but not asleep
Awake! Oh, jet lag – you cheeky thing.
Never mind – who sleeps in NYC, anyway? Time to enjoy a spot of American Netflix (they have Friends, The Office and Parks and Rec this side of the pond), get ready and set off for today’s adventure.
8.30am – Pret A Manger, 6th Avenue
Central Park is just a 20 minute walk from my hotel. Forget the subway – I want to gawp at all the shiny window displays and walk beneath the huge glass skyscrapers. I can’t imagine the novelty ever wearing off.
There’s a giant, red LOVE sculpture on W 55th and 6th – I couldn’t resist getting a snap as I’m fairly sure my mum has a miniature version hanging in her kitchen.
It’s hard to know which breakfast joints are diamonds in the rough and which will give you food poisoning, so I’ve ended up at Pret A Manger. The safe choice. A ham and cheese croissant is all I need to fuel myself for a day of exploring Central Park and getting cultured at The Met.
The Alice and Wonderland sculpture, Central Park
Years ago, when I made my first travel board on Pinterest, I pinned a photo of the Alice and Wonderland sculpture in Central Park. I loved the books so much as a child (fine, adult) that I made a vow to see it in the flesh.
And here I am. Except there are kids climbing all over it and ruining my pristine shot. ‘GET OFF’ I want to roar. ‘YOU DON’T LOVE THIS LIKE I DO’. But obviously, being British (and an adult), I grimace politely instead.
As soon as one harassed-looking mother recalls her children, I make a beeline for the centre of the statue. If there’s one thing these parents appreciate, it’s the sanctity of the selfie – so they held their kids back while I got the photo I’d dreamed of all these years.
I am loving Central Park. It makes me feel like I’m on a movie set. I don’t know whether that’s because I’ve seen it in so many films or because everything looks so perfect. Gigantic pine, mustard and rust-hued trees, horse and carriage rides, wrought-iron lampposts, ice skaters, mini bridges, idyllic lakes – and all backed by these enormous skyscrapers and fancy hotels. I walked past The Plaza hotel on the way here, although I didn’t spot Eloise, nor Kevin McCallister. Disappointing.
We’re nearly at The Met now! Time to get cultured.
A hot dog cart outside The Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is huge! There’s absolutely no way to see it all, so we’re prioritising. And there’s no cooler place to explore than the Egyptian wing!
It’s hard to believe that everything I’m looking at is thousands of years old – from jewellery to tomb paintings to, well, actual mummies. Fun fact: there are more mummies in The Met than in Mothercare on Black Friday. Yikes.
Exciting moment for me: there’s a gorgeous room in the Egyptian wing, with these vast windows that overlook Central Park. Strangely, it all looked super familiar. Then it suddenly clicked – this was in When Harry Met Sally! You know that scene where Harry starts talking in a funny accent: ‘waiter, there is too much pepper in my paprikash…’ – I’m delightedly whispering ‘pecan piiiiie!’ to myself, like a nutter. No pun intended.
The American wing is super cool too – there’s a gargantuan painting depicting George Washington and his mates crossing the Delaware that takes up an entire wall.
See? Big, innit? A friendly museum tour guide told me I simply had to see it. He also asked where I was from:
‘The south coast of England’
‘Well, I’m from a place called Poole, it’s-‘
‘You may think I’ve never heard of Poole, but in fact, I used to work there.’
Life is weird, huh?
I’m off for my first ‘hot dog from a cart’ now. I’m all about the authentic NYC experience.
An actual frigging castle
Hot dog in hand, I receive a WhatsApp from my friend Becky:
‘Are you going to the castle?’
‘THERE’S A CASTLE!?’
‘The one from Enchanted, in Central Park!’
Oh my gosh. Yes! I remember this!
With a bit of help from Google Maps, I found out I was only 10 minutes walk away.
I’m king of the castle!
On a bench in Strawberry Fields (nothing is real 🎵)
After my detour to the castle, I got back on track and trekked all the way across Central Park to Strawberry Fields. I really wanted to see the John Lennon Memorial. I’m a huge fan of the Beatles – and John Lennon’s Instant Karma is one of my favourite songs (we all shine on, like the moon, and the stars, and the sun).
En route to Strawberry Fields, we had a squirrel incident. A baby squirrel was meandering on the edge of the footpath and when we stopped to have a look, it crawled on our feet (and almost ended up in a tote bag)! Within seconds, about 20 tourists has whipped out their phones to document the moment on Instagram and Snapchat.
The John Lennon Memorial is buzzing with people, all clamouring to get a photo of themselves on the Imagine mosaic. We’re just across the street from The Dakota, the building where he and Yoko Ono lived – and, chillingly, where he died. It’s just a few days from the 36th anniversary of his death – which might be why Strawberry Fields is so full of buskers and street artists. Then again, maybe it’s always like this. I like to think that it is.
We’re sitting on a bench and imagining how many times John Lennon must have walked through here, across the street, down that Subway station there. Maybe he even sat on this very bench.
The Christmas section of Bloomingdales
My first subway journey later and I’m in the mothership. The home of Rachel Karen Green. It’s Bloomies!
It seems fancier than Macy’s. Rather than a festive red, green and gold theme, it’s windows are sporting trendy neon lighting displays – and giving away free glow sticks. I can’t wait for a miniature rave in my hotel room later.
I made a beeline for the Christmas department, having decided to get my dear friend Jas a Bloomingdales bauble. I don’t think I could have prepared myself for just how many decorations, knick-knacks and and tchotchkes (I’m picking up the lingo!) would be up there.
Bauble acquired. Time to move onto my next mission: the Magnolia Bakery on the first floor!
Back in bed, but only briefly
I ordered the brownie from the Magnolia Bakery. It was pretty good, but I’ve got to say, my brownies are better. Controversial.
After admiring Bloomingdales’ lit-up exterior – a festive red and green (ah, they are traditionalists after all!) – we went to Sephora. But I was 17,000 steps down and starting to get a bit achy and tired. And therefore a little bitchy.
A hasty retreat was made from Sephora (the long queue did nothing for my delightful temperament) and I recovered by watching TV from under my duvet.
I just want to say: watching American television really makes me appreciate the BBC. Every hour of programming contains 20 minutes of adverts. And the adverts are insane: ‘balding? Try our new pill! May cause heart palpitations and mild cases of death’.
The trendiest rooftop bar you ever did see
After a quick bite of dinner at Jimmy’s American Bar & Grill (a pretty ‘meh’ kind of place, but it was en route and served large portions of sweet potato fries), we were off to see my friend Becky and her boyfriend Ben. If your best friend happens to be in New York at the same time as you, you can’t not go for drinks in a hugely swanky rooftop bar.
This place, Refinery Rooftop, was super swish. It was absolutely covered in fairy lights and the walls and ceiling were made of glass. It was actually like being in a trendy greenhouse, but several floors up in the air.
It was amazing to catch up with Becky and Ben and hear about their adventures – they’d just had a helicopter ride over NYC – how cool is that!? It also felt plain weird to be sitting in this amazingly glamorous place with someone who I’ve shared my whole life with – from playing seagulls and singing Yellow Submarine in school concerts (we were 5, don’t judge us) to leaving school and talking about our careers over a burger in Nandos (I’ve loved every minute, Becky).
I’m so happy we got to share this moment. I can certainly see why people describe the city as magical – it really does feel like anything could happen.