I was a bright eyed, village girl the first time I visited New York City. At 18 I’d worked all summer to fund the trip with my best friend Kirsty before we were due to go our separate ways to university in just a few weeks. That was just over nine years ago.
I’ve been back a few times since, but the overwhelming excitable feeling of my first time in the Big Apple is still vivid in my memory. I was keen on musical theatre back then and we went to see Rent and the Lion King on Broadway. I don’t know whether it was down to the surroundings or the show, but both remain my favourite shows to date.
Taking in Madison Square Gardens, exploring Macy’s and shopping in Bloomingdale’s taking in the latest Gucci new season collections and the like; it felt like I’d jumped into my favourite TV shows, films and books. Everything was as big, loud and as exciting as I’d hoped and expected.
We’d both opened up student accounts with overdrafts before we left ready for university. We spent every last penny. Shops like Hot Topic, Yellow Rat Bastard, Forever 21 and Victoria’s Secret welcomed it all. I was convinced we’d see stars on every corner, but we happily made do with Madame Tussauds on Broadway taking snaps with ‘Brad Pitt’, ‘Jennifer Aniston’ and ‘Tom Cruise’.
The Green Flea Market was incredible – 2003 predated the fashion for all things vintage and there was some amazing stuff there. No market has beaten it on my travels since.
We managed to fit in all the main sites – the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park – but I knew I’d never be ready to leave when the last day came.
Back again for summer camp
It was 2004, I was 20 and in New York City for my first year at summer camp. I arrived in the Big Apple by myself late at night and joined the group headed to Columbia University – my home for the night. I couldn’t sleep with all the excitement, but at that time I was too scared to go out and explore alone. The jet lag meant I was up at 5am so I braved the venture out onto Amsterdam Avenue. I daren’t go far, but I remember just being over excited by the simple things: the hospital over the road, the street signs, the subway entrances. I got back to the University and stole five minutes to relax on the grass to take it all in. Me, at Columbia University in New York City, about to start a 3-month job as a camp counselor upstate. Excited didn’t cover it.
I was compensated for the flying trip that overnight stay in visiting New York twice more on days off over that summer. I explored more of Central Park, went shopping at Macy’s, was given an umbrella by the doormen at Donald Trumps and overexcitedly wandered the streets buying souvenirs for anyone I thought would want one back home.
At the end of camp me and my camp friend Lisa went to Cancun for a week, but we came back to NYC for three days before we left. Again, we hit the shops, explored the streets and made the most of the Irish bars. Unfortunately we didn’t have the money to do much, but that’s one of the many things I love about the city, there’s plenty of fun to be had without any entrance fees.
Err, and again the next year
In 2005 I was back for another camp, this time in Connecticut, but still only an hour or so from the city. Again I had my induction at Columbia University and again I felt that rush at being within the university walls, imagining myself as a student there studying Liberal Arts, Greek mythology, or something ridiculous sounding.
During camp I spent two days off there – on one my friend got pierced and I got drunk. Then we partied in Times Square and chatted to the locals, as you can see…
On the other day off there were four of us who all went on the Sex and the City tour – still a must for any fan. We saw where Samantha’s ‘sexy’ priest lived, we drank Cosmopolitans in Aiden and Steve’s bar and we went to the sex shop where Carrie bought her first vibrator. We even ate cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery and sat on Carrie’s step in Greenwich Village.
I’d been a counselor at camp with Jason Zimbler, aka Ferguson off Clarissa Explains it All. The same four of us ended up staying at his incredible house in Brooklyn for a few days after camp. Another great memory of my love for New York City.
And then I went off to Australia on a six-week tour. On the way back I stopped by New York briefly for my flight – I was doing an internship in Stamford, Connecticut (which came to a speedy end because I didn’t know you needed a visa, oops). So I hung out in NYC for a few days just relaxing in the parks, soaking up the sun in Greenwich Village and planning how I would return.
Seven years later…
None of the plans worked out – I don’t even remember what they were now. But I definitely couldn’t have planned for the incredible career change that bought be back to my beloved New York City again. In October 2012 I got the job as Content and Community Manager for the adventure brands at Flight Centre, my first week involved a conference at the New Yorker Hotel, just by the Empire State Building.
After negotiating the crazy traffic from the airport the city welcomed me back with all its familiar scents and crazy sidewalks. The luminous billboards that annoy me in London seem so brilliantly characteristic of NYC I just wanted to stop and look up to take it all in, but there was work to do.
The conference and post-conference drinks finished and I went for dinner with my new trans-atlantic colleagues. By the time the bill arrived at 10 I’d been awake for 26 hours so I excused myself in favour of bed. I lay there in my huge room at The Hotel Pennsylvania, listening to ‘the city that never sleeps’ go about its evening business and decided that with 9 hours left in New York City I couldn’t just nod off. I pulled on some warm clothes and walked from 33 up to 42 Street to just set eyes on Times Square. I’m sure the locals feel about it the same way as I do about Piccadilly Circus – for the tourists – but I was a tourist and dutifully I took the pictures.
I stood there looking at the shut Toys r Us and remembered stocking up on sweets to take back to the kids at camp in 2004, the Roxy brought back memories of me and Chloe tipsily wandering by the sign while the Broadway show signs reminded me of Kirsty and I fresh faced and in awe, vowing to return with her on Broadway.
I stayed for around 30 minutes trying to recall if that sign had always been there, and what had changed. There’s just something incredible about New York – it’s the only place I’d consider living if I was ever to leave London. It’s crazy, warm, fun and vibrant, even when there’s no one around.
It wasn’t long before I had to admit defeat on my tiredness and turn back. I crawled into bed and this time fell asleep in an instant. I love New York City, nowhere in the world is more exciting, and I think in my 7-year break I’d managed to forget that.
New York for Easter 2013 is currently in the planning – I’ll keep you updated.