Some history …
Manhattan is densely built up (literally up!) – there is no extraneous green space or wasteland – and I found myself wondering why anyone would settle on this claustrophobic island?
A little googling suggested the following account: the Dutch were trading fur up and down the Hudson river, and wanted to protect their trade route. So they established a town called New Amsterdam in the early 1600s at the bottom tip of Manhattan Island. Supposedly, they bought the land from the Lenape native American tribes who inhabited the island and surrounding territory. Manhattan, or Manna-hata as it originally appeared on Western maps, is supposed to mean ‘island of many hills’ in a Lenape language, although it’s rather flat now! In 1664, fed up with the Dutch domination of world trade, the English decided to take over the town, and renamed it New York.
The surreal and genuinely exciting epicentre of the city. Huge billboards and moving colours everywhere. Force your friends to watch you walking around on the Times Square live cam feed.
It’s pretty – especially with a bit of winter sun on the iced ponds – but not quite the escape to nature you might have hoped for, since you’re overlooked by skyscrapers at all times.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
St Patrick’s occupies its own block. It’s a bit of an anomaly among the surrounding blocky skyscrapers and designer shops. Despite the Gothic style, it’s obviously very new: brightly lit, pristine bright stained glass, beautiful vaulted ceiling not the least soot-stained or eroded.
Built for the Chrysler Corporation (and personally paid for by its owner Walter P. Chrysler), this was the tallest building in the world on completion in 1930, although it held that crown for under a year, soon eclipsed by the …
Empire State Building
Not quite as pretty as the Chrysler building, it looks a little blocky and boring from the pics. But look close and you can see some of the Art Deco details, at the top of the highest row of windows on each level, for example. Its spire was originally designed as a mooring for airships (!), but it doesn’t seem any have ever been tethered there.
New York Public Library
The only thing in New York that actually looks old?!
MOMA (Museum of Modern Art)
There are plenty of classics to see here (Picasso, Matisse, Pollock …) but I really enjoyed the architecture section. Great inspo for when I go on Grand Designs one day. Look at this amazing house, shaped like the whorl of a seashell. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a house that was designed in accordance with ideal ways of living, rather than in accordance with practicalities and money. Practicalities and money give us horrible blocks and angles, restrict where certain rooms can go according to where electricity and water pipes are, and other boring stuff. Human-centered design (?!) would give us curves and beauty and ease of living.
Obviously you need to go up one of the skyscrapers. You could go up the Empire State Building, but it’s cooler to actually see the Empire State Building, in which case you should go up the Rockefeller Centre (Top of the Rock). I went at night. You get a great view of Central Park, a weird rectangular oasis of darkness among the city lights, the Chrysler Building, the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan, even the Statue of Liberty … so much human endeavour squashed into a few square miles!