Everyone has that one place that sits above all others on the travel destination wish list, right? A place you’ve been dreaming of visiting since you started dreaming. I always love hearing what that place is for people – even when the destinations are completely different, the passion you feel for a place is always an excellent discussion point. For me, it is and it always has been New York City.
I’m not sure how necessary it is to explain this – I find that a lot of people who haven’t been, especially from New Zealand, have that same desire to visit the Big Apple. Even those who wouldn’t call it their number one must-see spot can often appreciate its appeal. I’m not going to list all the reasons why I love New York sight unseen, I just always did. Suffice to say, after dreaming about somewhere this much for this long, it’s surreal to finally visit it for the first time.
In December, after twenty-nine years of dreaming about it, I finally got a chance to experience New York firsthand. It was just a pit stop on the way back from a wedding down in New Orleans, before coming home to Toronto. This meant we only had one full day in which to get out and explore – barely enough to time to thoroughly cover a block of this city, let alone properly investigate any of the actual attractions – the Met, the Empire State, Top of the Rock, the Statue of Liberty, Cooney Island, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Public Library, the Flatiron, Grand Central Station, Broadway, Ground Zero, the Guggenheim, Central Park, NEED I GO ON? Not to mention all the lesser known but fabulous shops, cafes and bars to discover, or the opportunity to simply walk up and down brownstone-lined streets.
Knowing we would never get around to even a fraction of it all in a day, we decided to not even try. Instead, we made for Central Park and took our time looking around before strolling up Fifth Avenue in the height of Christmas shopping season (a.k.a. festive wonderland). And get this, on top of the limited window of time we were working with, I had left my beloved camera behind in NOLA, meaning I wasn’t even able to properly photograph the city I am most obsessed with in the world. I just had to make do with my shocking iPhone camera quality. In a way, this added to our calm approach though. Living now in Toronto and being so close, I didn’t have the fear I might have – say, visiting from New Zealand – that I won’t be back any time soon. It meant I could properly relax, and not flap over the circumstances which didn’t lean in our favour.
I always knew that going in late December meant we might have rain, freezing temperatures or – my fingers were crossed – snow, but the one thing I didn’t anticipate was what we got: fog. Lots and lots of fog. It was absolutely packed in and meant many of the city’s most iconic buildings were not able to be seen. When I woke up to this on that morning I was absolutely gutted, but throughout the day I found myself enjoying it more and more.
Like I said, it’s the most surreal thing, going somewhere for the first time that is nevertheless so familiar from the countless images, stories and your own imagination. Walking through the iconic streets and that oh-so-iconic park where all the buildings around us rose into a dense white fog lent a wonderful softness to the day I think we would have been otherwise hard-pressed to find in the most manic season in one of the world’s busiest cities. Bonus, Central Park was probably about as quiet as it gets during daylight hours… not many people were choosing to be strolling outside on such a misty winter day, and even the famous angel fountain at Bethesda Terrace was relatively quiet.
Everything felt kind of unreal, like I was dreaming it. Like the city itself was too immense, too grand, for the world to hold it all, and it rose so high that it disappeared instead into the very sky.
My first visit to New York wasn’t how I’d dreamed it, yet it was the most dreamlike experience I think I’ve ever had. The whole thing was just the most beautiful reminder that no matter how much you anticipate and plan for something, there will be things that you can never prepare for, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sometimes it’s those unplanned bits that are the most memorable. One thing is for sure – I’ll never forget that first walk through New York City.