A few weeks ago, I was at my parents’ house when my mom dug out a box of pictures from my first trip to New York City. I got a kick out of looking through them, and decided to post them to show you that even I was a tourist in NYC once! Hope you enjoy, and I’d love to know if your first trip to the Big Apple was similar to mine in the comments.
Technically, this wasn’t my first trip to New York – I’d previously been with parents once before, when I was a 13. But this was my first trip on my own, with just my friend. I’m still not sure how we convinced our parents to let us go, but not only that, my dad let me borrow his Leica M6, under the one condition that should I lose it or break it, he would destroy me.
So what do two 16 year-olds do unsupervised in New York City? Er, touristy stuff, so it happens.
Yes, our first stop was on Liberty Island. Dedicated on October 28, 1886, Lady Liberty is 305 feet tall and weighs 225 tons. The exterior copper covering is less than the thickness of two pennies, and gets its green coloring from the natural weathering of copper. When the torch was restored in 1986, it was covered in thin sheets of 24k gold.
After taking the ferry back, we hopped on the subway to midtown, where we spent a few hours walking around. I remember being particularly blown away by the Chrysler Building…
Measuring in at 1,047 feet, the Chrysler Building was the world’s tallest building…for eleven months (it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931). Stainless steel art deco eagles, meant to resemble hood ornaments, can be found along the 61st floor:
In fact, the Chrysler Building’s 125-foot stainless steel spire was actually developed in secret by architect William Van Allen, in attempt to surpass the height of rival project 40 Wall Street.
Next, we hit up the Empire State Building. Built in 1931, the Empire State Building still remains one of the tallest buildings in the world and has been visited by over 110 million people, which includes not only Fidel Castro and Queen Elizabeth but the rock group KISS.
Incredibly, the building’s spire was originally intended as a mooring for blimps! Sadly, only one blimp has ever actually docked, as the idea was ultimately deemed too dangerous.
Next, we headed over to Rockefeller Center. I really dug all the cool art deco artwork in the main lobby, including this piece by Josep Maria Sert.
It never ceases to amaze me how the art deco style so perfectly defined a decade of design and architecture – I often wonder what style of art will define the 2000’s (and fear it will pale in comparison).
Of course, what tour would be complete without a trip to Grand Central Terminal? Built in 1913, Grand Central is actually the second station to be constructed on the site. I snapped this picture of the building’s centerpiece: Mercury, with Hercules and Minerva at his sides. At the time of its completion, this was the largest sculptural group in the world.
As it got darker, we headed to seamy Times Square…which turned out to be not so seamy at all (well, until we discovered the wonders of 8th Ave, that is). I took exactly one picture of Times Square – this sign, long since removed – then hid my dad’s Leica. If movies, TV, and Mad Magazine had taught me anything, you don’t bring a camera to Times Square unless you’re desperately trying to get it into the hands of a passing mugger.
For dinner, we decided to get an “authentic” Italian meal in Little Italy. We followed our guide book’s advice and ate at Sirrico’s, the first restaurant to bring pizza to New York City (though nearby Lombardy’s claims otherwise, Sirrico’s opened in 1875, a full 30 years prior). The famous “chef charicature” was drawn by Napoli Immigrant Antonio Sirrico himself, and is now as famous a t-shirt as I ♥ NY.
After, we walked through the neighborhood. Note the red/green/white paint scheme – still there, though very much faded.
Later, we tried some Italian desserts at Il Foranio, a once incredible pastry shop that has since been ruined by commercialization. Debates have since raged in the Little Italy community: is any of it actually real?
After getting turned down by bar after bar, we realized our horrendous fake IDs would get us nowhere and gave up. We headed over to the West Village, and I was blown away by how quiet it felt compared to the hubbub of the rest of the city.
One of Manhattan’s few wooden houses – a rarity:
We saw one celebrity sighting on our trip – a certain well known actress who went through this door (does anyone recognize it? I’ve been to the Village a zillion times since, and I don’t think I’ve ever come across it).
At this point, I realized New York City had stolen my heart. I mean, any place that could combine the towering skyscrapers of midtown with the intimate charm of the West Village’s townhouses, complete with miniature doors, was something special.
One of my favorite stops on the trip: Bleecker Street’s world-renowned Great American Masquerade Shop (featured in the movie Eyes Wide Shut, where Tom Cruise buys a Venetian mask).
They were closed, but I’ve since gone back on many a Halloween for last minute costume requirements:
I don’t believe in psychic powers, but there’s something endlessly cool about this worn sign for a medium (said to have had many prestigious Wall Street bankers as clients, she died in 2008 – just before the markets collapsed; you be the judge):
From there, we headed on to Chinatown. Store after store reminded me of the mysterious little curio shop in Gremlins (sadly, no mogwais were purchased on the trip):
It was about then that I began thinking about the possibility of actually living in New York. I’d been in Massachusetts my whole life, and the definition of a city to me was Boston. But this was so much more. It felt real.
The bricks, the pavement, the beauty, the dilapidation – this wasn’t a fake city, like so many I’d visited before, all trying to fit a perceived impression rather than to simply exist; it was authentic in every sense.
If I ever made it to New York, one thing was for sure: I would have a balcony, where I could play my guitar, or barbecue, or just read a good book.
Or perhaps even store my bike:
I remember thinking that this seemed like a bad place to put this:
We did manage to somehow secure alcoholic beverages, and while the rest of night is a haze, I do recall a very expensive bagel at New York’s most famous deli, Greenberg’s, considered the “Sturgeon Emperor” of Manhattan:
The next day, we hit up the Fulton Fish Market (still in business at the time). We explored the pier, checking out the many historic boats on display, including the Fire Fighter II, which was once used to extinguish a fire on Fifth Avenue that nearly wiped out the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
We had lunch at the Original Fulton Fish Frye, shrouded overhead by the FDR. The Frye, as locals like to call it, became world famous when Carrie Bradshaw and Co. shared a Flounder Flaker on an episode of Sex and the City.
We then took a subway out to the one, the only…Coney Island!
And of course, we got a hot dog:
That night, my parents paid for us to have a dinner at the city’s foremost steak house: Gallagher’s, famous for how you pick your steak directly out of the display window. Literally, you open the freezer door and carry it up to the chef’s window:
Finally, the next morning, we took a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. At the time, the bridge was in dire need of funding for ongoing restoration work, and had temporarily accepted advertising:
There weren’t too many people on the bridge that day, and with the sun shining high in the sky, it was a beautiful day to be in New York City.
What was your first trip to New York City like?
PS – I was originally planning on posting this next Sunday, but Sundays are such bad days for new posts.
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