Wanderlust in New York

Shane Brennan

Living in Dublin you notice one thing – the city is becoming more and more American. Shane Brennan compares his experiences of visiting New York.

Sometimes it feels like Dublin is fighting with London to be America’s 51st state capital, a stroll through town or any major shopping centre will show that Dublin culture is becoming Americanised at the same rate (not least in Krispy-krazed Blanchardstown).

Instagram has no shortage of posts of donuts and Starbucks in the morning, and Irish fashion is filling up with American labels. Nowhere in the world personifies American-style city life more than New York.

NYC is certainly one of the few cities in the world that makes you say ‘wow’ the first time you see it, and feel like an excited child when the Empire State Building first comes into view. Traveling through the notorious neighbourhoods of Harlem and the Bronx, the city’s night lights and iconic towers overshadow the urban squalor and demand attention.

Midtown Manhattan is always alive. At 11pm the buzz surrounding Madison Square Garden for a concert fills the streets with energy (and a fair share of dodgy characters).

Times Square can feel like the space age. Wearing shades at midnight isn’t frowned upon because the famous advertising boards are equal parts bright and amazing.

Staying just around the corner with the absence of blackout curtains means the room is always lit up. Sleeping next to Times Square is like taking a nap up the road from an entrapped sun. If you’re not there for long the lights outside the window can be more of a novetly than a sleep-depriving pain.

There are many options available to tourists with the New York Pass, and while deliberating on what to do first, a good option would be to stroll through some of the souvenir shops in Midtown. The level of Trump merchandise is huge, especially a patriotic-looking mug that was made in China. Flea markets that engulf whole avenues for two or three blocks are also a good way to spend time.

If you ever make the trip to New York, the Ground Zero and the 9/11 Museum is a must visit that isn’t often seen in postcards. It may not be the happiest place you’ll ever go on holiday, but it does make you feel the weight of importance the September 11th attacks had on the world.

The stories of horror and bravery displayed in the underground museum elicit intense emotions from visitors. There are stands with boxes of tissues dotted around the headline exhibits, which lie underneath the tower’s footsteps. Phones and cameras are banned under the footsteps, leaving a sombre atmosphere in the Museum. The significance of where you are is felt by everyone in the room. There is no plasticity, just emotion. Strong messages, combined with the beauty and reverence of the memorial on the surface, the footsteps of the towers, make this a must-see.

It’s not just a nod to history that makes the World Trade Centre special, what they’ve done with the building in the seventeen years since, is stunning. The 1776-foot WTC 1 tower is a new age icon, and its sister towers are gleaming beacons of what cities look forward to in the 21st Century.

The Oculus transit centre in the WTC is also astounding. The ice white pillars that stretch from subway level into the sky are like a beautiful ribcage, enclosing the beating heart of New York and New Jersey transport and a wealth of shops and food outlets in between. Everything felt so clean, the whiteness was glowing and there was room to breathe amongst the towers. If heaven were to have a shopping centre/train station, this would be it.

The problem with New York is that this sense of cleanliness is rarely felt anywhere else. Almost every Subway station and its technology seems aged. The stations smell of urine and the noise of sewer rats are only drowned out by the growl of fans relieving you of the underground humidity.

The subways aren’t the only unpleasant thing about Manhattan, a lot of the people aren’t very welcoming either. It is advisable not to holiday in New York on your own, it can be intimidating at times.

Travelling with friends makes memories of visits to Madame Tussauds and the Empire State Building sure to stay for a long time. ‘Top of the rock’ is also a majestic place at night, perfect for photo opportunities and a great place to find an eerily peaceful atmosphere in the middle of a bustling city.

There must be something about the tall buildings that drain the personality out of people in Manhattan. Most workers in restaurants and shops were just soulless, more so than in Dublin, and much duller than the helpful workers in rivaling Boston. Your existence is an inconvenience, their day a drag. They just want to get the train back home and off the island where they can be more themselves.

Even the home of New York’s most iconic sports team, Yankee Stadium seems plastic. The 2009 built stadium tries too hard to emulate its iconic and soulful predecessor which was a cathedral of baseball. In comparison to Fenway Park or Croker, the atmosphere is dry and is killed by the bright advertising, expensive treats and corporate boxes.

It’s this kind of city soullessness that people fear might migrate over to Dublin, the ‘big city’ mindset coming over here is a prospect that is not welcome to anyone who fears Americanisation.

New York wasn’t all bad. Most of the good personalities you will see are usually tour guides, such as the one who gave anecdotes about smoking weed in the 70s, or an old nutjob sports fan doing the tour at Madison Square Garden.

Common kindness is a virtue that all the celebrities talk about when they come to Ireland. Generally, they talk about the buildings if they are in New York. Dublin hasn’t got many of them worth shouting about, so personality is key to Dublin’s success in being tourist friendly.

New York is still a fabulous city to visit, just make sure you visit it with some friends. Bringing your favourite personalities to the icons makes for a more perfect trip.

Shane Brennan

Image Credit: Lorna Lawless