I do not understand New York City. Mind you, that doesn't mean I dislike it. This place has many of the same elements I adore so much about Paris: tightly-knit neighborhoods, great food, interesting street vendors, incredible museums and theaters and awesome architecture. It does, however, lack the leisurely, laid-back atmosphere of Europe - everything is too fast, too frantic, too loud and too much. Unlike Europe, where people do most of their running around in the morning and during early afternoon, New York never taps its breaks, never drops below its top-speed pace. The entire city comes across as a very busy, very high-strung person, who is always five minutes away from a nervous breakdown. While people who live here don't seem to mind, I honestly do not understand how they can keep up with this city.
There is one aspect of New York that I will always be jealous of - the place is eminently walkable. Had we not had so much territory to cover in so little time, I probably would have ditched the subway altogether and just walked everywhere. The nearly-constant being on their feet is, I am convinced, what allows New Yorkers to enjoy all that fabulous food and not balloon to the size of the rest of American population. Like it or not, folks, but this is a fact - I saw a lot fewer overweight people in NYC (and they were a lot less overweight) in four days than I might see on Main Street in Kings Mountain, NC on any given day.
You would think that being in such great physical shape would automatically inspire every person in NYC to be impeccably fashionable. Not so... There are equal measures of people who do look as if they'd just stepped off the cover of Cosmopolitan or Vogue, people who look fairly ordinary and people who come across downright weird. Call me conservative, but a key lime rhinestone tunic worn with hot pink tights and black patent boots just doesn't compute with me, especially considering, how expensive some of the fashion stores are. If you have to buy something - at least buy something that looks good!
Yes, there are places, where you can build your wardrobe and not go bankrupt in the process. However, places like that need to be carefully sought out. The more popular shopping locales, such as Macy's and pretty much anything along Madison and 5th avenues will give you enough sticker shock to last a lifetime. I've learned my lesson the hard way by naively checking out a little purple silk blouse from Yves Saint Laurent for - oh, mere pittance - $750.
Interestingly enough, the best chocolatiers are not located in the wealthy district - you have to go to the "arty" areas like Tribeca and navigate some obscure streets to find the fabulous creations by Jacques Torres and the likes. A word of advice: definitely try some hot chocolate at Mariebelle's, but order petite-size cup - not medium and definitely not grande. This stuff is delicious, but incredibly rich and has a consistency of mud. Having more than a demitasse will turn you off chocolate for days, which would be a shame in a city with so many delicious desserts to offer.
As much as I could never live in New York City, I will admit that all the traditional (and some non-traditional) "places of pilgrimage" really are worth visiting. The Metropolitan Museum of arts is an amazing place that has a lot to offer: from Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities to medieval armor to antique musical instruments to 19th century European paintings. In addition to acquiring an incredible collection of art and furniture, the Met spaces are absolutely dazzling.
This museum is more than just a bunch of pretty objects arranged in a reasonably acceptable manner. There are tiny nooks, recreating the spirit of a 19th century lady's parlor. There are wide open halls full of light with water features in the middle - you emerge into these bright spaces like Orpheus from the underworld. There are places with enough open floor space to ride your bicycles or do donuts in a VW bug (don't get your hopes up - it's not allowed), and then there are rooms, where you have to keep your elbows tucked at all times to avoid bumping into something. In short - the Met is amazing, if you get a chance definitely go there. Wear comfortable shoes, as the Met continues the long tradition of all great museums by using very handsome and easy-to-clean, yet murder-on-your feet floors of marble-on-concrete-slab.
The Museum of Sex is exactly as weird as its name sounds. It's very entertaining, but if you consider yourself stodgy and/or conservative or just easily shockable, don't go. Just don't. As open-minded as I consider myself to be, I did find a few things there more than startling (a plush toy fetish, anyone? a thing for balloons?). So much so, that I didn't photograph much while I was there, with the exception of taking a few shots of objects I found aesthetically attractive.
The financial district is very imposing and screams money. The buildings are either the old-fashioned ornate towers with lots of curlicues and mosaic murals or the gleaming glass-and-steel giants, surrounded by modern outdoor art and small elegant gardens with statues, fountains and tulips.
I found it interesting that this splendid business district awash in cash faces the Liberty and Ellis Islands, the U.S. Customs Museum, the Clinton Castle and the Immigrants monument - in other words, all the places of interest associated with the poor and underprivileged of this world, who came to America to seek a better fortune. A very curious symbiosis - one of many in New York City geography, I am sure.
The Empire State Building is worth visiting, although I would definitely recommend splurging on an express pass ($45), because the lines are atrocious regardless of the day of the week. The average wait time in the regular line is up to 2 hours, whereas the express pass puts you ahead of any line (both going up and down) and if you have things to do and places to visit, you will appreciate being in an out in half an hour. The views, of course, are spectacular. Hold onto your hat - it's windy up there.
F.A.O. Schwartz is a place of pure enchantment, especially if you are there just to visit and not to buy anything. Granted, there are toys and games there that won't break your wallet, but the high-end stuff is much more enjoyable if you don't look at the price tags. Despite the fact that construction sets will always be my first love in the toy world, I have always had a soft spot for beautiful dolls. So, perusing the rows upon rows of displays with these exquisite life-like creations was a delightful experience for me.
F.A.O. Schwartz now has a small area dedicated to antique toys. I found it particularly interesting, that interior designers that cater to the rich and the famous frequently consult with the F.A.O. Schwartz toy history experts when decorating a space in a specific style. Apparently, it is possible to request a room or an entire house decorated, say, in the Edwardian style (think the spaces on the Titanic) - this includes, everything from wall paper to furniture to accessories, and this (the accessory selection) is where the toy professors come in with their knowledge of antique dolls, music boxes, trains, cars, doll houses, automatons, etc. Fascinating!
The Legos area is definitely a must - where else are you going to see life-size figures of Hagrid, Batman and Chewbaka made entirely of Lego pieces. And yes, the giant keyboard is still there - please feel free to try playing Chopsticks with your feet a la Tom Hanks in Big.
Tiffany's is dazzling - it's a cliche, but there is no other word for it. Although, I would advise not asking, how much anything costs (there are no tags on anything): (a) you might give yourself a heart attack; (b) you get a distinct feeling that if you have to ask, you probably shouldn't be there.
Times Square is just as big, loud and obnoxiously bright as it has always been. It's worth visiting once in your life, just to tell your grandkids that you've been there. Staring at all those lights can get exhausting and will make you hungry. I would recommend Carmines and O'Lunney's Time Square Pub as two places to seek remediation. The food is awesome and relatively inexpensive (by the Times Square standards), the beer is good and the waitresses are cute. The place will definitely perk you up enough to fight your way through the crowds back to your hotel or to the nearest subway station.
Central Park is lovely in the spring. So much so, in fact, that I believe it justifies doing that ultimate tourist thing - taking a horse-drawn carriage ride to enjoy the only place in New York City, where people seem relatively peaceful and moderately relaxed. Nature is still the cheapest and the best therapist.
New York is a dog-lovers' heaven. All manner of pooches jog with their owners around the block, accompany them to coffee shops, wait patiently near fashion boutiques and ride in the subway. So, if you are leaving your canine best friend at home while you travel, you can at least enjoy the company of other people's dogs while you are in NYC. Many parks are equipped with dog play areas, where you can join the rest of the crowd throwing ball or frisbee or just running around with the pups to your heart's content.
If you don't have time or money to visit all the museums and concerts, do not despair. There is a lot of street art and entertainment pretty much wherever you go. Seriously, I was amazed by the high quality of music and sound produced by the sidewalk and subway saxophonists, drummers, flutists and guitarists. They are a very talented crowd. Sadly, there appears to me an over-supply of them in New York, otherwise why would people with this much talent play in the subway stations (and not even the glamorous subway stations, like the Grand Central)?
And, of course, the official and in-official sidewalk and wall art is in abundance. Do not be surprise if within the span of one city block you receive at least three or four offers to have your caricature or portrait drawn for anywhere between $10 and $50. In addition, you can have your pick of mixed media art - anything from ceramic mosaics to pieces assembled from little scraps of fabric. If you are into that sort of thing, New York is definitely the place to knock yourself out.
Do consider topping your trip with a dinner somewhere truly spectacular - like the Rainbow Room. It is expensive, but I think the experience is worth it. Hop off the subway or cab a couple of blocks in advance and take a walk enjoy the sites and sounds of the Rockefeller Center neighborhood. Note: you don't get to control elevators to get to the Rainbow Room, so when the doorman sends you up, don't get off the elevator until you get to the 65th floor. Otherwise, you'll have to ride back down to the first floor and go through the embarrassment of explaining that you didn't even know, which floor the Rainbow Room was on. The food is awesome, the wines and desserts are exquisite and you get a superb evening view of the city to go with the wonderful menu. I would say that alone is worth skipping a couple shopping trips to save enough money and have dinner there. Enjoy!