It hit me when I heard the ping as my payment confirmation email came though: thank you for your booking, it read. It was happening. A cocktail of excitement and trepidation stirred inside me. I was going to New York City. And I was going alone.
At the time, the thought of solo travel was daunting; not being able to rely on anyone for help with documentation, connections, directions, not to mention COVID tests and passenger locator forms. You’re in it alone. This, as it turned out, was one of my favourite aspects of my trip.
My job as a full-time financial journalist, writing about the real estate capital markets for a US-focused publication, is what made this trip happen. While some of my team are in London, many of my colleagues, including my editor, are Stateside. This trip allowed me to work with them, go to in-person meetings with sources, and work on bigger stories. Channeling my inner Sarah Jessica Parker, I worked and lived as a New Yorker for a week. It was a work trip – but what a work trip it turned out to be.
I stayed at The ROW NYC, a modern yet simplistic hotel near Times Square. In the mornings, I would get ready and head down to the lounge-café area, check emails and fuel up for a mornings work in The Big Apple: a croissant, an apple and an English Breakfast tea to go. I would then set off on my ten minute walk to the office: an industrial space featuring bare brick walls, exposed piping overhead, hard-wearing cement flooring and rigid rows of work stations – one of which was booked for me.
I walked and subwayed and Ubered my way around Manhattan. Walking was my go-to option, not just to take in the sights but also to get in some steps – especially since I wasn’t walking my one-year old cocker spaniel, Nala, twice a day as I would at home. And my fitbit sure thanked me for choosing this commuting option, averaging around 15,000 steps per day. As for the subway, it’s not as sketchy as people say. In fact, I really enjoyed using it. But for those slightly later journeys, I admit that I opted for an Uber as a safer bet.
Amid my first few days reporting on the latest market trends, I stumbled across a few cute spots to eat, including Finn’s Bagels, a bagel bar with fantastic vegan options, and Shuka, a magical Middle Eastern restaurant in Greenwich Village.
Talking of food, on my second day in the city a bunch of colleagues and I headed to my editor’s apartment for a feast of tapas and home made treats. As well as a real estate debt pro, my editor is an avid home baker and advocates making savoury and sweet treats from scratch, eliminating preservatives, chemicals, sweeteners and artificial colouring. And that evening, I got to sample her home made vanilla ice cream (the process for which, she tells me, takes days) and warm chocolate chip cookies. The recipes she uses can be found in Ottelenghi Sweet, and Van Leeuwen cookbooks.
I worked for most of the week and so my free time was limited. But that that I had was largely spent Downtown.
In Williamsburg I went thrifting for the first time. I now understand the hype around this eco-friendly, humble hobby and managed to pick up some great finds; including a new sports bra, a trinket tray, a Pisces necklace and – my favourite item – a Brooklyn-embroidered cushion cover.
My colleague and I had tacos at a quaint little Mexican restaurant, Molé, and experienced a very quirky, no-menu bar called Fresh Kills. The concept: you say what kind of drink you like, and they make you something that should fit the bill. Talking of the bill… apparently $40 for two drinks is normal in NYC!
The Brooklyn Museum was where I unlocked a new appreciation for art. But also for doing things alone; walking around a gallery at your own pace, making your own mind up about pieces and taking time to reflect on things in life. The art was also very meaningful and tackled difficult issues regarding race and gender identity, telling stories of struggle, self discovery and living in a complex and often unfair society.
Then, there was Brooklyn heights. For my Cardiffian readers, this is what I would call the Pontcanna of NYC. Its charming, tree-lined streets gave it a small town charm, yet its brownstone buildings featuring detailed mouldings gave it a profound, affluent aura.
Mental wellbeing in a concrete jungle
High on my recommendation list of things to do in New York would be to visit The Museum of Modern Art, or the MoMA. Home to 200,000 pieces of art it’s safe to say it was on a much larger scale than the Brooklyn Museum. Aside from its plethora of artefacts, paintings and sculptures, it was my being alone in such a stimulating environment that made the experience so enjoyable. In fact, both museums, with their collections of strange, beautiful and sometimes eery pieces of art, made me feel a sense of self-love. I felt proud of myself when reflecting on where I was and why I was there. I felt at ease being on my own, mesmerised by some paintings and giggling at others. I had no time constraints or someone there to keep up with or slow me down. It was just me, surrounded by a bunch of strangers, trying to make sense of the subjective creations hanging on the walls.
During my visit I also discovered Manhattan’s green spaces; Bryant Park, Gramercy Park, and of course, Central Park – the perfect places for dog walking, running, outdoor fitness sessions or simply reading a book with a coffee. The physical and mental wellbeing vibe in these parks, slotted between the high rises of this concrete jungle, was unmatched.
Lastly, on the topic of mental health and personal development, I have to mention some of the new books I purchased during my stay. At Barnes & Noble bookstore on fifth avenue, I picked up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Negroland: a memoir by Margo Jefferson, In Five Years and Another Brooklyn Novel, all of which are, in some way, are anchored to New York City.
Last chunk of the Big Apple
My trip, albeit not a long one, was indeed a busy one. And although I didn’t see the famous touristy sights, I did find some hidden gems. I felt a love for the city, especially Brooklyn, and learnt a lot about the history of the island of Manhattan, including its colonisation by the Dutch in 1624.
My day-to-day reflected that of a local. I saw bits of New York you wouldn’t typically see on a city break. I saw what life would be like working and living in the Big Apple, and I can’t wait to go back.