A New York City virgin

If you follow any major magazines, bloggers or celebrities on Twitter and Instagram, or are even the slightest bit fashion-inclined, you’ll know that the word on everyone’s lips for the past week has been: New York.

Backstage madness captured on Instagram at the Nicole Miller spring 2013 show at The Studio at Lincoln Center, in New York.

As New York Fashion Week took hold of the minds of the fashion elite, this year it was a little easier to feel close to the action with social media sites giving glimpses into the wonderful world of haute couture.

With so much glam in the air it’s hard not to sit at your drab 9-5 dreaming of a seat with your name, written in calligraphy, right beside the runway.  Now imagine you had literally just missed the festivities by a hair, coming back from my own New York City trip at the end of August, and try to sympathize with my demanding desire to be back in the big city.

As a first-time New Yorker I wasn’t sure what to expect – aside from yellow taxis, neon lights and an almost a guaranteed run-in with either Katie Holmes or Denzel Washington. Right? But now, after spending two glorious days in a city I vow to return to, here’s the knowledge I gained and would pass along to any other first-time visitor of the Big Apple:

1) Don’t drive. And if you do, don’t drive a standard card. 

Sightseeing in SOHO at a snails pace. Not pleased.

Now, this obviously doesn’t apply to every reader depending on which location you’re reading this from. Obviously, if you live in Vancouver driving is not an option. But, from Ottawa it is not all that crazy of an idea… or was it? Eight hours of travel – piece of cake right? I mean, we’ve all been stuck in a Toronto traffic jam before. And who doesn’t love a good road trip? Throw on some jams, pack some snacks and a pal that can carry a conversation and you’re all set, RIGHT? Well, the drive up really wasn’t so bad, until, of course, we got to New York at 11 p.m. it was dark, people were jay walking in every direction and our GPS was telling us to go over the Brooklyn “BRAAADGE”? Pardon? Not to mention, New Yorkers say “Welcome to our vibrant city!” by railing on their horns as loudly as possible. Hello to you too, NYC. But, really it wasn’t so bad. The bad came when we were stuck in traffic, for 3 HOURS, trying to leave Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon. Crawl doesn’t even begin to paint an adequate picture of how slowly we were moving. So, look for a seat sale and do yourselves a favour. I will definitely be flying on my next visit.

2) Go for longer than a weekend. And if you don’t, accept the fact you won’t be able to do it all.

Welcome to the jungle.

One of the most attractive things about New York is the possibility that you can “stay for the weekend”. Again, given the proximity between Southern Ontario and NYC it can be the perfect weekend getaway. But, for a first-timer, know that you simply cannot see all you’re going to want to see in a weekend.
Things we did do: bartered on Canal Street, visited Time Square, saw a show on Broadway, shopped (a lot!), dined in cool restaurants, visited the East Village, toured Central Park, navigated the subways, enjoyed all that is New York City night-life.
Things we didn’t do: see the Statue of Liberty (from up close), take a moment at Ground Zero, go up the Empire State building, visit SOHO, visit Rockefeller Center, the Central Park Zoo … or my two personal wishes, visit the Seinfeld restaurant and the scene of my favourite movie – Serendipity.
I’m sure you could stay for years and still not “do it all” but a few more days to knock off some of those bucket list items would have been valuable.

3) See a Broadway show, even if it’s “not your thing”.

On left: lifelong Broadway enthusiast.
On right: converted Broadway enthusiast.

I can safely say I am a fan of musicals and all things arts related. Being a dancer my whole life, I’ve probably already performed to most of the soundtracks of every show in the city. So without a doubt seeing a show on Broadway, in New York, is something I’ve always wanted to do. But, for my travel buddy it just “wasn’t really her thing”. Being a good sport, we still purchased tickets to see Wicked, one of the most renowned Broadway shows of all time. And even if it “wasn’t really her thing”… she loved it. There’s something about getting dressed up, navigating the bustling streets of New York on a Friday evening, making your way through a glitzy auditorium and taking in some of the world’s best performers that could be appealing to just about anyone. Even you, men out there.

4) Take a guided tour of Central Park.

Our little carriage with Friends fountain visible in back.

Seeing Central Park was something I definitely didn’t want to miss out on. It is the true heart of New York City, geographically speaking, anyway. So as we made our way down to the famous place, we were content posting up under some trees, stretching out on a rock and watching New York pass by. The longer we sat, the more we loved it. A truly gorgeous setting that stretches on and on and on. It wasn’t long before we started planning a next-day visit to rent bikes and explore a little further. As we decided to walk on, we noticed the hundred of bike-tour operators lined up, just waiting for tourists like us. After a brief discussion and bartering the price a little lower ($20 / each) we decided to go for it and pay for the 30 minute tour. Thank goodness we did, because it was one of the highlights of our trip for both of us. Sure, it might seem silly to pay someone that amount to tour a park you could explore for free, but our guide had so much knowledge about our surroundings, we never could have known it all on our own. Pointing out Woody Allen’s penthouse, the fountain from Friends, the bridge from Home Alone, John Lennon’s memorial and the list goes on and on. We learned more about Central Park in our 30 minute tour than I probably could have learned in a full day on my own. Plus, our guide was a gem.

Bike tour of Central Park. This guy was the man.

5) If you want to shop, head end of season.

If you go to New York City and have no desire to shop, you have a problem. Seriously though, that’d be absurd. So it was a no brainer that a lengthy perusing of some of New York’s finest shops was penciled into our itinerary. What didn’t dawn on us, however, was how we picked the perfect time to do so. Going at the end of the summer season meant CLEARANCE signs were plastered all over the city. With fall merchandise to make room for, store owners were anxious to get rid of their summer stock, leaving prices slashed and our wallets overjoyed.

6) Download the APP ‘HopStop’

Trying our hardest not to get lost.

Even if you’re staying in the heart of Manhattan, it would be rare that you wouldn’t need to take at least one subway ride while in New York City. And besides, it’s your first trip, you need to. However, navigating the New York subway system can be like trying to find your way through the Amazon jungle, sans guide. Deadly species en route, included. You get into ONE deep conversation and you’re halfway across the city with no idea how to get back, and worse, NO cell phone reception. Downloading the APP HopStop on my iPhone was a lifesaver. Even after having a few (read: several) pre-bar drinks we were able to navigate ourselves to the Lower East Side from Brooklyn without a wrong turn.

7) Ask locals.

Our night at our fingertips.

Imagine you were sitting in a restaurant in a city you’ve lived in for a while and a stranger asked you what bar is bumping on a Thursday night. You’d instantly know, right? Well, that was our thinking. So naturally, at lunch on Saturday afternoon we approached a group of girls who looked like they’d be the type to party someplace where we wanted to go and asked them to give us the scoop on New York City nightlife. Not only did they have a few suggestions, but they wrote down a detailed and numbered list of where our night should start and end. And even though we made a few of our own adjustments as we made our way through the venues, our Saturday night in NYC is one I’ll never forget.

Living it up at one of NYC’s most exclusive clubs.

8) Prepare for subway sob stories at every stop.

My heart gets melted pretty easily. And I will admit, I gave $2 to a man on the subway who serenaded me with jazz and told me I was beautiful – to which the person sitting next to me leaned over and said “sucker”. But, one thing you’ll learn quickly (like, within-two-days-quickly) is that on almost every subway car there’s someone who’s going to stand up and give you a story about how they just lost their job, or their mother, or just got out of jail (seriously :|) and will ask for your cash. I’m not saying to not give generously out of the goodness of your heart, but just be prepared. They are relentless.

9) Map out restaurants beforehand.

Cute little Mexican place in the East Village. BIG portions, good home fries and BIG drinks. What more could you want at brunch?

When you’re hungry there’s no googling a place, phoning a friend or deliberating at all. You’re stopping at the next place you come across. Period. This is what happened to us after waiting till AFTER our Broadway show to eat (bad planning). With the number of absolutely unreal restaurants in New York, make a point of mapping them out beforehand so you don’t miss out on an out-of-this-world fine-dining opportunity.

10) It’s okay to be cheesy. Really, go for it.

Excuse us while we look over our shoulder casually in the middle of Times Square. :)

Whenever you’re visiting a city for the first time I feel like you have a free pass to be as cheesy as possible. You NEED a picture in the thick of Time Square, you HAVE to eat a hotdog from a vendor on the street, it’s OKAY to have a huge grin on your face when you’re hailing a cab. You are in NEW YORK. Sure on your second and third and fourth and fifth visits, you might want to play it a little more cool, walk the streets like you own them and pretend for just a while that you really are an undercover movie star in the big city. But on your first visit, forget it. Squeal like a little girl and rock an ‘I heart NY’ shirt like it’s nobody’s business.

In a nutshell, you only get to be a first-time visitor once.

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