You can see a full gallery of pictures from this trip here.
My first visit to New York City was in February of 2015. You might think that the depths of winter is not a great time to do any sort of sight-seeing and you would be right. My boss and I were in Burlington, MA., for several weeks of work and there’s not an awful lot to do on a weekend around there – save for going into Boston which each of us had already done.
We hatched a plan to drive down to NYC for the weekend, where I would get my first ‘bite’ of The Big Apple.
As it goes, the drive to New York City isn’t too bad from Burlington. We left a little after the rush hour, catching just the tail end of it, but after about three and a half hours we were parked in Queens, where we left the car and got an Uber into the city proper.
NYC was kind of a mythical place, for someone like me who had never been. I was a huge fan of Friends, not to mention having seen the place on countless films over the years. Driving towards the famous skyline was a real thrill, and I think I was like a little kid when we were in the Uber driving amongst the towering behemoths of high rises and sky scrapers.
Despite having visited the United States often enough for the trip to now be ‘normal’, going into NYC was like hitting the Reset button – everything was new and incredible again.
The weather was, unsurprisingly, pretty awful. It didn’t rain and it didn’t snow, but what it did do was throw sleet at us for most of the day. It was cold of course, but as we’d already been in Burlington for a week, plenty of warm clothes were on hand.
I suppose it would be fair to say that the poor weather did take the edge off the experience slightly, but I still got a true feel for New York just by walking around the place. Times Square was, of course, amazing to see. It was still pretty busy, and the noise and visual stimulation provided by all of the electronic billboards was a heady mixture.
From there we hopped on the Gray Line Tour bus, something I would thoroughly recommend to any first time visitor. At the time of year we went, we were in a covered-roof bus. Unfortunately the perspex (or whatever it was) that covered the top of the bus had been scratched up by low hanging tree branches so, combined with the sleet mixture making everything blurry, the views were not great.
We made tracks for the World Trade Center site. Those two buildings had been a big part of the iconic NYC skyline, and I certainly will always remember where I was when the attacks happened.
What we found was an incredibly beautiful, sombre, thoughtful and utterly appropriate memorial to all those who lost their lives in that terrible event. The reflection pools built around the footprints of the two buildings were really quite special, and seeing all the names engraved there brought home the enormity of the loss of life.
After a period of contemplation we headed down into the memorial museum, constructed as it is within the foundations of the original towers.
You can’t really understand the impact that the museum has without seeing it for yourself. It’s incredible – seeing one of the enormous antenna arrays smashed and mangled, it’s shocking – seeing one of the fire rigs entirely crushed to dust at the cab-end, and it’s harrowing – listening to voicemail recordings of people on the planes before, and in the buildings after the impacts.
We spent a number of hours in there and it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that the experience changed me a little.
After that we did some more touristy stuff; back on the Gray Line bus for an insightful and fascinating guide to some of the City’s history and then back into Times Square to see the whole thing lit up at night.
The following day it was just a bit more walking about – Grand Central Station was as imposing and impressive as I had always envisaged.
We collected our car and drove to Hoboken – home of the great Carlo’s Bake Shop – to pick up a cake for colleagues back in Burlington, then headed back. That drive was a little more intense – I drove us all the way and we were in full-on snow conditions by the time we reached Massachusetts – but it seemed like an appropriate end to the weekend.
I had only had a little taste of NYC, in cold, windy, and wet conditions, but it had left its mark on me and I knew I had to go back.