Just a Bite of the Big Apple

Travel guide for one day in New York City

            Particles burst in my nose. They touched my olfactory receptors the moment I stepped out of the bus. Molecules of ammonia, gas, and smog all mixed in an unpleasant way that is known as the air of New York City. I won’t be a liar, it smells awful, but when you add the Empire State Building in front of you, you’ll be stunned. I’ve been dreaming about this moment since I was little and it was nothing near to what I had imagined, but it is, especially the smell, the most vivid memory I collected in just one day in NYC.

Coming up with an itinerary

Visiting the Big Apple in one day seems a pretty challenging mission so it requires a careful planning in order to make the most out of it. Since it was a part of a school trip, my colleagues and I discussed our itinerary with our teachers and started planning by googling A wide range of sights were thrown right into our face. As our teachers had been in New York a few times already, they had some ideas about important and unavoidable sights. What proved quite useful was tripadvisor.com which pointed out the most recognizable and visited places that fit our fields of interest. Another great site to visit is freetoursbyfoot.com. With easy and well-organized itineraries for one, two or three days it will help you to get your tight schedule in order. There you can also find instructions on how to use the subway and which bus/boat tour to take. By checking all of that out, we made our must-see list: Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, 9/11 Memorial, Times Square and Central Park.

Bear in mind

Photograph by I. Kolmanic

As a result of early opening hours (8 am) of the Empire State Building Observatory, that was first thing on our schedule. Situated almost in the middle of NYC, the Observatory gives you an extraordinary view on both Uptown and Downtown. Another amazing thing were friendly and nice guards who worked there, ready to take a picture of you. We even talked to one from Croatia.

As soon as we stepped back on the streets of New York we experienced a rising temperature. By the time we got to our next must-see, Times Square, which is around twenty minutes away by foot, or thirty if you stop in front of the biggest store in the world, ten-floor high Macy’s to snap some photos, it was around 30°C, which we didn’t expect in May. So, the first thing to bear-in-mind in New York is its unpredictable weather. However, despite the heat, we were absolutely fascinated by dramatic and colorful Times Square. Encountering a Spider-Man and a Naked Cowboy was especially funny, so we didn’t miss out on an opportunity to take a selfie with them. The second thing to bear-in-mind in New York: you have to tip them. Times Square is also a great place to shop for some memorabilia. Hard Rock Café is there so anybody willing to spend a few extra bucks can find everything one needs. And if you just want to get rid of the change, in almost every street next to the Square you’ll find cheaper gift shops.

The time flies by in NYC

Our way to get close to the Statue of Liberty was a highly rated cruise, recommended by freetoursbyfoot.com, called Liberty Cruise. The boat was supposed to depart at 1 pm and therefore we decided to use the subway to get to docks around 11.30. Even tough New York subway system is user-friendly and easy-to-get-around, we were a bit lost so a nice man helped us out with the directions. Unfortunately, our train was late. Google Maps or even better, MTA app, are helpful when you’re stuck on a subway station. You get constant info about your train. Because of the train, we were running late for our cruise. Our teacher was right – the time does fly by in NYC. When we finally got off on Cortlandt St we ran past the One World Trade Center without even looking at it. As we thought that we made it, a salty surprise was waiting for us. The boat wasn’t there, and we were waiting for it for almost 2 hours. Umbrellas came as a blessing because they were a perfect shelter from the sun. The third thing to bear in mind: sunscreens and umbrellas are a must-have in NYC.

            When our boat finally came, there were too many people waiting to board. We didn’t fit. Everything started falling apart. But then… the new hope arose. Smaller boat was waiting behind to pick up everyone else. We eventually boarded.

A fantastic view of New York during the boat trip
Photograph by I. Kolmanic

            We were supposed to board Select tour, yet we ended up boarding Express tour, which was actually a better choice. It gives a panoramic view of Jersey City marine which you won’t get if you board a longer tour. And it was a bit modified, so we saw the Brooklyn Bridge as well. Still we saw the staggering Statue of Liberty from a few different angles. Creepy Ellis Island is also along the way so you can get nice shots. Guides are great – funny, giving a detailed description of everything you see, but not boring. The skyline of NYC seen from the ocean is breathtaking. It’s beautiful to see how people connect with astonishing architecture like the Brooklyn Bridge.

            The tour was just amazing and so were the hot dogs on it. You should try them. It takes a long time to board and it lasts about two hours, so my recommendation is to book Liberty Cruise Express tour at 11 am. First go to the Empire State Building at 8 am sharp and then get to the docks around 10 or 10.30. On your way there you can take a few pictures at 9/11 Memorial, which we saw after the tour.

A white rose

“It’s huge. Can you see the top of it?” asked one of my friends. I almost broke my neck trying to see it. One World Trade Center is 541 meters high and mind-blowing. The Oculus, which represents a white bird, a symbol of freedom, is the most interesting building in New York, in my opinion. It houses a mall so there’s your next shopping opportunity.

A white rose in honor of a firefighter
Photo by M. Varga

            Neither One World Trade Center nor the Oculus were what mattered around there. Ground Zero did. Bases of what used to be the Twins are nowadays a memorial park for all who perished there on the 9/11. It’s calm and peaceful, beautiful in a way. Extremely meaningful and something that must never be forgotten. A white rose which was put on a firefighter’s name touched us all. Shaken, we went on. Passing by the Trinity Church and walking along the Wall Street we came to the Charging Bull. We touched its golden horns because they bring good fortune.

The Green Jungle in the middle of the Concrete Jungle

Central Park
Photo by M. Varga

            The weather started to get worse. Wind was blowing and there were more and more clouds in the sky. Our next stop was Central Park. Again, we took the R line. This time there were no delays. When we got off on the 57 Street Station, it was raining. Once more umbrellas came as a blessing. Fortunately, by the time we entered Central Park, the rain shower was over.

            Our self-guided tour of Central Park was short and sweet. It’s a wonder – a magnificent green area surrounded with tons of concrete, steam and glass. Everywhere in New York something stinks really, really bad, but not in here. Except for its greenness, Central Park is well-known for its lakes. We visited the smallest one called The Pond. With a reflection of The Pierre in it, it looked marvelous. On our way to The Pond we passed a few Home Alone 2 filming locations and then found ourselves in front of The Plaza. We continued our walk along the 5th Avenue to the Madison Square Garden passing by The Trump Tower, St Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center, which houses a great burger place.

            “The city that never sleeps

New York at night
Photograph by M.Varga

We took a few turns to see the best-known music hall in NYC, Radio City Music Hall, where just a day before Imagine Dragons had their concert. We came across The New Yorker Hotel and felt really proud because Nikola Tesla, our countryman, had lived there. After a long walk we faced the home of New York Knicks, Madison Square Garden. Next to this sports hall, the biggest one in NYC, there is Penn Station, the second station by size and popularity after the Grand Central Terminal. After a really fulfilling day, we spent the evening chilling in front of the Penn Station, making plans for some future trips to the “city that never sleeps”, as Frank Sinatra famously described New York.

Written by Marko Varga

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