Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s postcard is from Omar, a 30 year old Brit/Pom who left the UK back in September 2011 and is now on the final leg of his home via Tokyo, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam and the USA. You can read all about his adventures on Omar’s blog, Half a Day Ahead.
Welcome, Omar! So you’ve been away for a long time – where did you spend Christmas?
There are few finer places to spend Christmas and New Years then New York City. You have probably seen the Rockefeller Center in Home Alone 2 and for the large part the city looks just like that, submerged in fairy lights, huge Christmas trees and lavish decorations. This was a family holiday so a lot of the time was spent sightseeing, visiting friends and shopping.
New York is my dream Christmas destination! But how was the weather?
I arrived the day before Christmas Eve and until the day I was due to leave (January 3rd) the weather behaved and the temperature hovered above freezing. Then the ‘Polar Vortex’ hit, temperatures plummeted and a blizzard swept across the city dropping a couple of inches of snow and postponing my flight out by three days.
Ooh, sounds cold! Did you have somewhere nice to stay?
Marriot East Side on Lexington Avenue which is (was) a favourite of my parents. Within a few days we had noticed that the service had really deteriorated since our previous visit. Though there were occasional complimentary cookies and hot chocolate available in the lobby you could barely tell it was Christmas. Even on Christmas Day itself I settled for a burger and fries which was a shame.
What did you get up to in the big apple?
- Took in the Christmas spirit by gawping at the Holiday displays in the major department stores including Macy’s and Sak’s.
- Went up the Empire State Building
- Strolled around Central Park
- Saw The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center, even though the performance was after Christmas this is a must-see
- Walked along The High Line, the purpose built mile-long linear park along the lower-West side of Manhattan
- Visited the 9/11 Memorial
- Brought in the New Year at a Masquerade Ball at The McKittrick Hotel
Wow – it all sounds amazing! What was your highlight?
New Years at The McKittrick Hotel was a lot of fun. Me and a couple of friends dressed up appropriately in black tie and masks having paid a $125 entry fee online over a month prior. What we got across three adjoining warehouses were snippets of drama played out on a stage, jazz performances, live bands and, most importantly, an open bar.
Where did you have the best food?
There is such a wide variety of food to be found in the city you only have to walk a few blocks to find little pockets of culinary delights. Of course there is Chinatown and Little Italy as districts and street food varying from pretzels to kebabs.However, my favourite meal was a staple of NYC cuisine; a slice of pizza from Sal and Carmine’s between West 101st and 102nd Street. Though the service was surly the pizza spoke for itself; crispy base, rich, tomato sauce and stringy cheese.
Did you have any embarrassing moments?
Having visited Strawberry Fields the day before and been crowded out of taking a decent photo of the memorial mosaic I got up at the crack of dawn and jogged there before the tourists arrived. I probably should have checked the weather forecast as it was -7c outside and having been used to 25c for most of my time away I was pretty ill-prepared. Aside from my shorts and t-shirt I borrowed my sister’s girly bobble hat and put on a pair of leather gloves which brought some very strange looks from the rather more suitably dressed locals. However, I did get my photos.
Were there any disasters?
The Polar Vortex meant that I spent the best part of two days barely venturing outside and instead spent it trying to organise a flight out. The city was still functioning as normal thanks to snow ploughs and salt on the pavements but the airlines were struggling. Having had one flight postponed I went out drinking with my sister and a few friends in Greenwich Village to avoid sleep before an early flight the next morning yet six hours before that was due to leave it was cancelled. Though I did catch a couple of films in these ‘bonus days’ this was not an experience I would wish upon anyone.
And finally – do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
If you are there over New Years research then book an event. Though around a million people cram into Times Square to watch the ball drop it can be in sub-zero temperatures with no chance of moving for most of the day. You can usually watch that on TV from the comfort of your hotel room anyway but there are loads of other great events happening in the city instead, just make sure you book ahead.
NB – all photos are owned by Omar Soliman.