Returning to New York City was like a “hello, old friend” after all the new encounters on the West Coast. I arrived at JFK and strutted through the encounter like it was habit, with a casual air I assumed to be very New York. Confusion fell onto my face when I had to decipher the AirTrain – but I quickly understood to reach Manhattan I could take the Jamaica bound AirTrain then the Long Island Rail Road to Pennsylvania Station.
At Jamaica, I was able to pay for the AirTrain as an exit fare and the Long Island Rail Road. At Penn Station I boarded the 1 train to my hostel up on 101st Street. When a man got on the train with trackmarks and dried blood on his legs and sat opposite a very cute Latino man and a rabbi, I laughed and thought of course. It’s New York at 1am.
The hostel I stayed at wasn’t pleasant, all the money went on the outside with a very basic interior. It was clean but aging, and the locks on the door decided when they wanted to open. Still on Pacific Standard Time, around 2:30am I managed to sleep.
The next day, I decided to tackle the Lower East Side. I booked a tour of the tenement museum that morning for 11AM and headed straight there. The tour I booked was Hard Times, the story of one Italian and one German Jewish family who lived in a particular tenement building on the Lower East Side. You visit the rooms they inhabited, hear their stories and look at their documents. I have wanted to visit this museum for a long time, and I can really recommend my particular tour and the educator Kimberlee who was knowledgable and lively.
From the tenement museum, my plan was to visit a few bookshops and a Tokyo fashion store, but everywhere was closed so I instead strolled down to Little Italy, which was lively but a little touristy, and through Chinatown down to the Brooklyn Bridge.
In between the two was a little park inhabited almost entirely by elderly Chinese people! From the bridge I headed back North through the Financial District which is very grand and an interesting sight before taking a trip through Soho, Noho and Tribeca.
There were a few interesting shops – Maman Bakery, but also a little marketplace which was so up itself. The staff really acted like they didn’t want you there. In addition, at this point the street cat calling became relentless and continued right until I got home. That really put a damper on how I felt about the people in this part of New York!
I got all the way up to Washington Square Park and realised it was time to eat, but also knew the prices would rise as the numbers of the streets rose – we were approaching Times Square.
I ended my night at Times Square, which is a must do and a spectacle for first time tourist, but with one visit under my belt and as a London dweller who finds Piccadilly Circus annoying, I could have taken or left it.
My second day was rather similar as it was so rainy and I spent it mostly strolling around the Lower East Side with my friend – only there are two additions: we visited the Tokyo fashion store, and ate at the Cheese Grille for National Mac and Cheese Day! The Mac and Cheese was quite nice – a bit too thick and stringy and the crispy breadcrumb layer was too buttery and the pasta a little too soft, though.
The Lower East side has a lot more charm and grit than midtown. I recommend strolling through both to see the contrast between spectacular skyline and getting a cricked neck from looking up and the history and culture of the Lower East Side.
Hostel: Broadway Hotel and Hostel
Positives: Rooms are shared with one other, very close to the subway
Negatives: Too much money for what you get. It’s very old and needs refurbishment.