I first came to New York as a smelly, unkempt backpacker in the summer of 1996, arriving into the great city with just $20 to my name. Assessing the financial predicament I was in, I shamelessly telephoned my father to see if he knew of anyone in New York who might be able to put me up for the night. Somehow, I ended up staying in utter luxury in an apartment overlooking Central Park.
20-years later and times have changed somewhat: a Clinton was in the White House back then and now an uncertain USA is about to welcome Donald Trump to Washington.
This time I joined the millions of commuters battling it out on the subway, trying to get to a meeting on time.
Big on the Big Apple
I spent a week in New York and left still feeling rather fond of the city. There is so much the Big Apple does so well. The architecture, food, shopping and entertainment all live and breathe around every corner.
I had forgotten how unique New York’s architecture is. Walking past buildings like the Rockefeller Center, the very impressive and recently re-risen World Trade Center and many more, you can only gawp up in wonder at such masterpieces of construction.
You need at least another week away from work to get a true sense of NYC, but this time I was sure to experience another city, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan.
Jersey City is located just over the Hudson River and is fast becoming one of the most popular places to be based in around these parts.
I have to say I loved Jersey City during my brief stay; especially my commute into Manhattan each morning via the Hudson River ferry from Paulus Hook.
On the way to Regent Street, where I was staying for the week, a leisurely walk through the side streets from Union Street opens up an array of enticing bistros, boutiques and hip cafes discreetly tucked away from prying eyes.
Jersey City has been on the map since 1623 and is now considered one of the up and coming area’s to live in. You can see why, given the chilled-out atmosphere, easy transport links to the big smoke and cool places to hang out.
Start your exploration by taking a stroll alongside the pedestrian promenade on Newark Avenue between Grove and Erie Streets, which are lined with bars and restaurants.
There are a couple of establishments which must be visited if you are ever over Jersey way.
For breakfast, coffee or taking time out from daily stresses, go no further than Sam.Am on 112 Morris Street. As a mate of mine said, it is like having a meal in your best mate’s kitchen, such is the laid back ambience. It is cozy, eccentric with great food and even better music. Listening to the Stones, Bob Dylan and the Doors whilst chewing on my pulled pork sandwich was a throw back to very happy days travelling around the USA back in 1996.
I would also recommend the Light Horse Tavern on nearby Washington Street for lunch. The name originates back to an interesting chap called Henry Lee III who was an officer in the Virginia Light Dragoons fighting with the Continental Army. He earned the nickname, ‘Light Horse Harry’, having orchestrated the capture of 400 enemy soldiers on Paulus Hook. The cod burger is excellent especially when washed down with one of a number of decent clarets on the wine menu.
There is something wonderful about a 5-minute ferry crossing, taking in the spectacular views of Manhattan’s skyline. The glorious ride in from Paulus Hook to Manhattan eventually collides again with the NYC subway, though.
It is a well-worn cliché around the world; the horror of a daily commute on the District Line in London or the Parisian Metro. New York and its subway are no different.
New York’s underground seemed to me to be a ridiculously complicated system of lines, numbers, dots and codes. But help is never far away and from unusual sources.
One gentleman was kind enough to miss his train back to Queens at midnight on a Monday to talk me through what I needed to do to get back to Jersey City. So much for New Yorkers being rude and unhelpful. It reminded me that this city and its folk are full of contradictions.
I have scarcely met more helpful people the world over. Most go out of their way to assist stupid Englishmen such as myself and yet a switch can flick very quickly if you go through American airports.
Newark airport nightmare
Only in the US, and in this case Newark airport, do you see staff openly argue and antagonize passengers when going through security.
I do, of course, realize that dear old Heathrow never ceases to amaze with their distinct lack of welcoming skills, but Newark takes it to another level. It’s honestly amazing that there are not riots breaking out between passengers and customs staff on a daily basis.
Windy city blast
Chicago was a blast as well, all be it a chilly one.
You feel like that you are setting foot onto the set of Gotham expecting to see Batman fly around the high rise buildings when walking along W Merchandise Mart Plaza.
The locals are hilarious, as I found out when driving back from the Chicago suburbs via an Uber taxi. Middle-aged Todd did things by fours. He had four children and four businesses and possibly four packs of cigarettes judging by the car’s odor but was entertaining company nonetheless as we drove into downtown Chicago.
I learnt more about the conspiracy theories of Hillary Clinton`s failed presidency campaign and Donald Trump’s triumph in 30 minutes than anything that CNN and Alec Baldwin had put together in the last few months. Indeed, Todd had some interesting insights on Donald Trump’s march towards the White House. There were many Trump voters who kept their identities secret and actually the overall result was not a surprise. Rather like Brexit, it seems. Trump lauded it over to Chicago and the locals, including Todd, who had some choice words about the Clintons, most of which were unprintable for this publication.
Speaking to a number of friends about the US elections, the general opinion was the same as it was in Europe. In a country of 324 million people, how did the country manage to end up with these two final candidates?
The consensus as per the general opinion outside the USA was that on the one hand you had a social and diplomatic hand grenade in Donald Trump but a man who can make decisions – if not the right ones.
With Hillary, most people were terrified that she would spend most of her time smiling through chat show appearances rather than fronting America’s toughest challenges. That said, wait until the Mad Dog, aka General John Mattis, gets into his stride as part of Trump’s new cabinet.
The Big Apple still thrills like no other city in the world, but don’t ignore the other lesser-known, nearby places like Jersey City.
TOP IMAGE: New York City skyline as viewed from a memorial on the New Jersey shoreline, across the Hudson River. (By RichardNZ via Pixabay)