I wasn’t in New York City to see the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, but when I arrived the next day rainbow confetti danced along the curbs—and, when the wind picked up, floated through the cool air. Square tissues coloured vibrant pink, royal blue, pumpkin orange and a multitude of other bright shades reminded me that I was in the city that never sleeps (but the city that was catching up on rest from the previous night’s festivities). The streets were still full of tourists, though, including me and my family.
After waking up at 4:30 a.m. to head to the airport, we were happy to be in New York. But more specifically, we were hungry, and on the hunt for lunch. In true NYC tourist fashion, we stopped to grab slices of pizza. We ate, and then dropped our luggage off at our hotel. Wandering along the streets, we found a neon sign for a different location of the pizzeria where we’d eaten lunch, Ray’s Pizza.
You might notice that the letter “P” in this photo is somewhat cut-off. I left my wide-angle lens at the hotel. Adjusting to this lens was a challenge, but it forced me to be creative. Our first stop after pizza on our first day was the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). That’s obviously a place where you want to be able to photograph the entirety of a painting, without cutting off the frame. So I had to think outside of the box (or should I say think outside the lens?) with my approach to capturing my experience.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, both of my parents are artists. My younger sister is talented in art as well, and knows a lot about art history. Although I used to dread the compulsory visits to art galleries on family vacations, I’ve come to appreciate them. I walked around the MOMA with my dad, who’s a painter. We stopped, as most other people in the gallery did, in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting.
I asked my dad what he was thinking as he looked at the famous painting. He told me it was sad to think about the fact that Van Gogh’s art wasn’t appreciated in his lifetime—he barely sold any paintings, and was ridiculed by those around him. The irony of the crowd gathered around his painting, all clamouring for a better vantage point for a photo, was stark, and unavoidable if you know the artist’s history.
I too wanted to photograph the painting, but could only snap part of it with my lens being so zoomed in—so I got my dad to take a photo on his phone, and shot that instead. I thought it was a unique way not only capture the full painting, but to also remember what my dad had said.
After leaving the MOMA, we got dinner and headed to our hotel for a bit. That night we saw the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. I’ve seen the theatre on TV, but I was amazed at the size of the stage in real life. Although it was almost a week after Christmas, it was still a fun, festive show.
We started off our second morning with a tour of NBC studios. Photos weren’t allowed, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: it was so cool. I’m a big fan of Saturday Night Live (SNL) so sitting in the audience seats and seeing the studio was one of the highlights of the tour. The main stage—where the band sits and hosts give their opening monologue—is much smaller than it looks on TV.
Our tour guides explained that some sketches are performed in a corner of the studio where the live audience can’t even see and have to watch the screens hanging from the ceiling. SNL is meant to be watched on TV—so the best seat, our guides said, is right at home on your couch.
After the NBC tour—where we also saw the studios for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt—we headed past the Flatiron building and walked to The Strand bookstore. It was, simply put, a book-lover’s dream bookstore, with what their website calls is 18 miles of new, used and rare books. I would have stayed there for hours, if my suitcase could have accommodated all of the books I wanted to buy.
After getting lost (once, literally) inside the bookstore, my family and I headed out into the cold again. We were on a mission to find the building used in exterior shots in the Friends sitcom. There were so many buildings with similar-looking fire escapes, but when finally found 90 Bedford St. we knew we were in the right place—with a small group of fans at the corner taking photos, and one woman in a t-shirt reading “Ross & Rachel.”
We took some photos at the building, and then headed to Shake Shack (my favourite!) for dinner. We had walked around 60 blocks by this point, so we figured out the subway system and caught a ride back to Times Square. That night we relaxed back at our hotel. I read one of the books I had brought, both of which took place in New York City (which I didn’t realize when I packed them)!
The next morning, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City (MET). My younger sister was completely in her element, pointing out art she’d studied in her first semester of university and explaining the history of the statues and sculptures.
After a morning of art and history, we walked through Central Park. The park has such a different feel in the winter, when the tree branches are bare and skeletal, but it was still a nice change of scenery from the skyscrapers and busy streets.
The next thing we did was probably the coldest point of the trip. On previous visits to New York City, we’ve visited Ellen’s Stardust Diner, a restaurant where the serving staff sing Broadway hits. We waited in line for around 45 minutes—not bad, but still a long time considering we had beat the lunch rush and were eating past 2:00. The cold wait was worth it, though. The atmosphere inside Ellen’s is so fun and positive. One server belted out “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton, so, suffice to say, I loved it.
This wasn’t our only Broadway-related event of the day, though. At night we saw the musical Dear Evan Hansen. I hadn’t listened to the music beforehand, and I was absolutely blown away. The characters were funny but portrayed the emotional parts of the show (hint: a lot of it) with ease. I don’t know how to describe the plot without giving anything away, but if you’re curious, look up the soundtrack!
The next morning, we went skating in Rockefeller Center. Before I laced up my skates I wasn’t confident about my skating ability, but I actually found that I really enjoyed it—and I didn’t fall! Because we went in the morning, we didn’t have to wait in line, and the rink wasn’t busy. It also wasn’t too cold outside, which made the experience even more enjoyable.
After skating, we took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked across it. While we hadn’t been cold earlier in the morning, the wind on the bridge was biting. The view of the city skyline made up for it, though.
That afternoon, we went to Trinity Church, where Alexander Hamilton, America’s first treasury secretary, is buried. I knew of Hamilton’s legacy from the hit Broadway musical. It was kind of strange to see that parts of the cemetery where he and his family are buried were occupied by tourists taking photos and throwing pennies.
Still, visiting the site was a reminder of the life Hamilton lived, and the legacy he has left behind. I had “Who tells your story”—the final song from the musical, where Hamilton’s wife Eliza sings “He’s buried in Trinity Church near you”—stuck in my head for the rest of the afternoon.
Since we were in the area, we also walked around the Financial District and saw the Fearless Girl and Bull statues. That night we saw Phantom of the Opera, which—fun fact!—is the longest running musical on Broadway right now. I’ve seen the musical before, as well as seen the movie more than once (and read the book… in french) so I’m pretty familiar with the plot, but I still enjoyed seeing it again, especially hearing the music.
The next day, before heading to the airport for our flight, we walked to the New York Public Library. I wished I could have brought a notebook, sat in one of the high-ceilinged rooms and spent the day writing. I couldn’t believe that I had been to New York several times but had never been to the library—it was a reminder that there’s always more to see in New York.