There are places you wish to go to someday and then there are places you know that you need to go to. New York for me was one of the latter. I feel like I don’t want to write too much about it to not to spoil the whole thing but on the other hand I could spend an entire day just talking about it. I could also list every single place I saw but that wouldn’t really help. Guide books are also going to tell you a bunch of other things: Times Square isn’t nice at all but you should still go there once, go to the Empire State Building in the morning and yes, MoMA is a very nice museum and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is something you should do. Now that I have that over with I can write about why I personally fell in love with the city as much as I did.
It’s funny to think about it now, but for the first couple of days in New York I almost disliked it. I think it’s because I just happened to walk in my opinion in the least-nice area of Manhattan: Midtown, full of skyscrapers, banks, shops, offices and most of all, people. Especially Times Square, gosh, I wanted to get out of as soon as I got there. The whole area seemed very impersonal and was so packed with people it was really hard to concentrate on anything else than not stepping on anyone’s shoes or losing your company (hard, we are all so small my sister and my mom). Don’t get me wrong, I love big cities but I also like to breathe.
So we kind of randomly without any kind of idea took a subway to the very downtown and accidentally, like we usually do while traveling, found Battery Park which was such great discovery. So lovely and peaceful atmosphere and the sea was there and made me feel like home. And I saw Statue of Liberty for the first time and had a little moment there. I mean come on, it’s Statue of Liberty! Don’t try and tell me you wouldn’t freak out a little. Liar.
Talking about parks, the amount of them highly affects how comfortable I feel in a new city. And luckily New York had so many of them. We stayed at an airbnb apartment on the Upper West Side, just 5 minute walk from the Central Park and maybe 15 minutes from Hudson River Park. The time we were there everything was blooming and so burstingly green that I often forgot that hey, I’m in Manhattan right now. I also had one really silly dream come true on that trip: I went running in the morning to Central Park. May sound a bit lame, like what’s the big deal, but I really like to run when I go abroad and New York was kind of like the great run I had dreamed of. So me and my mom who shared this fantasy went for a run around the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and it was even prettier than I had imagined! There’s something about running early in the morning or late in the evening, both of which I ended up doing. It almost feels like you’re the only person in the whole city for a moment. In the last evening when I ran around the lake three times with each leap there were less and less people and on the last one I was the only one and it was such a weird feeling. The famous place in the heart of New York City and I had it all to myself. And at one point there you can see a part of the skyline and I was thinking that there are parties going on in those buildings and people working late evenings and being busy and living their lives and I’m just running here and it was such a funny feeling. I even saw a raccoon (or a raccoon type of animal?) run across the track! So random.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island may seem kind of obvious but for me it wasn’t that much about ”needing” to see them as a tourist but more with being such a history geek I am so obviously I was super excited knowing how much of a historical value and significance the place holds. For me personally understanding America and its culture has always very much been about understanding the immigration experience. The museum on Ellis Island is very well made and presented and isn’t only about historical facts but has lots of actual belongings of the people and some super fascinating photographs. For me it is such an overwhelming thought that there is a country where everyone at some point has been a stranger, that everyone is basically from somewhere else. Isn’t it funny when you think about it? I think about these things sometimes and I find it so interesting. And I mean yeah, I guess the views to Manhattan and Brooklyn were pretty great as well. Standing there in the feet of the Statue of Liberty you can really see how the skyline has changed, in a breathtakingly short period of time.
Another place where you can really see the change is SoHo and Chinatown. Especially if you walk from downtown towards Soho for example via Broadway you can really see how the buildings slowly start to change, from the banks and skyscrapers into older warehouses and lower buildings. I’ve been in these old and new-cities and places but what made this so unique was how it all was blended and how fast it all has been: most of what you see hasn’t been there 100 years back. It felt like the old still fit the city so well even though it maybe served a different purpose. I really do hope that some of the original buildings will remain there in the future because I think they are what makes the city feel so much more authentic.
Also, if you want to intentionally get lost, which is my excuse for having a terrible sense of direction, Chinatown and Little Italy are such great places for that. Little restaurants and cafes, food markets and sooo many chinese places really make the place seem like a different city, if not a different country. I saw some elderly Chinese playing cards and music in Columbus Park and it reminded me so much of the parks in Beijing and the calm atmosphere they had.
Another old meets (or becomes) new -experience was High Line. It’s an old rail road turned into a park/walkway that goes above West Manhattan through Meatpacking District and Chelsea. Even the idea is so innovative and cool and it just fits the area so perfectly. There too it feels like you are in such a different New York, walking past old factories and warehouses but also new hotels and houses that are being built. The contrast between old and new is huge but somehow they go hand in hand and it looks like the High Line has been there forever.
The views are great and at one point you can see Empire State Building there behind the roofs. For me it was the kind of place that if I lived in New York, I would come there all the time just to walk and hang out. Also if you go there, it’s super close to Chelsea Market which is an amazing food market built in a, suprise surprise, old factroy. SO many good eateries, paradise for a food person like me.
A whole other chapter was Brooklyn, which is one of the first places I’ll return to when I visit New York the next time. I loved it. It was an exceptionally beautiful day the day we first went there and wandered to the Brooklyn Bridge Park by the waterfront. The light was absolutely beautiful for photographing and the athmosphere was so peaceful and idyllic. Lots of people just having picnics or reading, photographing. Like your regular Sunday afternoon but it just happened to be in a place with the most amazing background, buzzing Manhattan right across the water and it still felt like a world apart.
From the park we again, kind of unintentionally ended up in Brooklyn Heights and oh my how glad I am that we did. It immediately became my favorite neighbourhood. Why? I don’t know. You know, sometimes you just really really like a place and you can’t quite tell what makes it so nice. Was it the cute houses and little gardens in the front that some of them had? Or just the laid back, maybe slightly small town-feeling it had in it? No idea. But I could have just walked there forever with my camera. It has also Brooklyn Heights Promenade which again, was stunning. The sun was setting behind Manhattan and it made the skyline look so dramatic. And there were so many cute dogs! And absolute plus.
I also went to Williamsburg by myself one day. I knew that it was kind of like the hipster paradise but it was even more well, hipster, than I had imagined. But it was a truly nice and again, different area from all the other neighborhoods and I definitely want to return. Being 100% certain that I was going to get lost I surprisingly didn’t and instead found so many cute restaurants and cafes and only tried a couple. It felt like a small town of its own: so quiet and not crowded at all.
Maybe the most ”I need to pinch myself is this happening”-moment was an evening when we went to Top of the Rock / Rockefeller Center. To understand this, you need to know that I have this photograph on the wall of my dad’s place called “Lunch atop a skyscraper” and it’s maybe my favorite photograph ever. I think I wrote about this when I bought it from London a year ago. Anyways, it’s this, I’m sure you recognize it, it’s about the men who were building the Rockefeller Center in the 1930s. So to be in the place where that was taken so many years ago was such an incredible experience for me. I think what makes that place especially impressive is that there’s literally only the sky above you. It’s not an inside observation deck but actually the top of the building. I love high places, they give me a really special thrill, it’s like a drug. It’s so high up that it feels like the buildings ahead of you are like legos you could hold in your hands. Having the whole Manhattan as a sea of lights laid in front of you makes it feel like it’s yours, just for a second. And it was so quiet up there, the view was more like a postcard or a still scene from a movie than actually real. It’s kind of a tourist thing but still, go there, or somewhere high up where you can see the lights.
Going to a city that has lots of preconceptions and ideas of what you think it is is always interesting and kind of risky. Did New York live up to its ”It’s the greatest city in the world, everyone loves it, it’s just best in almost everything”-hype? Yes, I loved it even more than I thought but also no since I hate putting places in order or giving them any labels. And because at the same time it was and wasn’t at all what I had imagined. It gave me a really funny feeling which grew stronger day by day I spent there. Unlike having a feeling after the time I was there that ”well, now I’ve seen this city, it was nice” I had a growing feeling everyday that I had so much more to see. That I really hadn’t seen anything at all.
It’s like New York had million faces and I only saw a couple. It was also amazing how quickly the city started to feel like my own: leaving Upper West Side was much more sad than I had imagined. Also, New York is known for its diversity but just how diverse it really is hits you once you’re there. It’s not only cultural or ethnic diversity, but diversity in the wider sense of the word. It felt like you could be anyone or anything and still belong in some way.
Even though it’s been a while now since the trip I feel like the place stays with me stronger than most places I’ve been to before. My first thought when I was sitting on the plane back to Finland was that when can I go again. It’s hard to describe but it wasn’t only how the city felt, it was more like how it made me feel. I think free may be the closest to the word I’m looking for but that’s not it. It’s very rare, when it doesn’t feel like you’re only in a place, more like you are a part of it.
And it made me wonder about traveling overall, what is it that we are looking for while traveling? Is it that sense of belonging somewhere? That this too, could be a home? I don’t believe that when traveling there’s a place like The One, a place you’ve been searching all your life. Maybe for some people but for me, no, I don’t buy it.
Maybe we are not looking for places. Maybe we are just looking for a feeling that they give us. Something different and something new? An opportunity to be something we’ve never been before? Or just a chance to say: this could feel like staying.