The first-timer’s guide to New York (Vol. I)

If you are heading to New York for the first time, there are tomes of guidebooks and websites that can acquaint you with what to expect when you’re in the Big Apple. Some of my favourites include not making eye contact with people on the subway, buy the New York City Pass to help you save time and money at popular attractions, how to score cheap theatre tickets and where the best places to eat, sleep and drink are at.

My advice comes from a fresh pair of eyes (and very sore feet) who visited New York City, fell in love with her, then wanted to share greater insight in what to really expect when you’re there. It’s stuff lofty travel articles omit and what the movies and TV shows set in New York can’t convey on screen.

I hope you find my guide useful.


The first time you visit Times Square, do so at night


There is nothing as quintessentially New York as Times Square. Otherwise known as “The Centre of the Universe”, an average of 338,000 pedestrians traverse Times Square on a daily basis engulfed by monstrous billboards, in-your-face ads and banners, flashing high definition LED screens of full motion videos, simulcast events and advertising everything from the latest technology to fashion. Sequenced in between are retail stores, overpriced souvenir shops, iconic theatres and restaurants that really cash in on the thoroughfare.

Times Square is a massive visual affront. A bustling intersection of epileptic commercialism switched on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even as you approach Times Square from a few blocks away, a certain level of energy – more like a glare – is already palpable. And as you draw closer and closer and get swallowed up by what feels like the world’s biggest fair, circus and zoo all at the same time, it’s almost an indescribable feeling of what it feels like to be there. At best, it is a massive engine room that powers New York City.

Approximately 161 megawatts of LED power is required to light up Times Square. It will feel approximately 10 degrees Celsius warmer than the actual temperature.

In order to have “the Times Square experience”, the first time you visit, make sure you get there at night, when the sun is out of sight and the skies turn pitch black. On this canvass you will understand how New York can light up the world.

Then visit again during the day and you will see what I mean.


It’s that dirty


Brace yourself for sidewalks strewn with uncollected rubbish, the noise pollution and not to mention a smell certain sections emanate that’s usually contained underneath the sewers.

Streets require constant sweeping understandably from the aggressive number of commercial activities, tourists passing through, overpopulated residential areas and traffic congestion. A place so highly esteemed as chic and sophisticated, it comes as a shock why there are inefficiencies with rubbish collection and sanitation.

When the rubbish trucks do come to collect overflowing bins (when they don’t go missing), you will be able to hear it from miles away and very early in the morning.

A pair of earplugs won’t go begging when in New York. Earphones will also help block out all the noise from the traffic, garbage trucks and large-scale construction that’s taking place on almost every avenue. New York is in constant construction mode. Iconic buildings are being restored and repaired and construction workers in high-vis gear are never far.

Getting behind the wheel also has it’s own unique quirks. You see in New York, the gas pedal is attached to the horn. Drivers, particularly taxis, love to blow their own horn and at times, for no apparent reason.

Finally, New Yorkers love their dogs. I have not seen so many people walk their dogs around the city during the day and well into the night. Under the Pooper Scooper law, owners must pick up their pooch’s waste. There were a few who failed to clean up after an incident and the number of times I could smell dog whizz – well – added to the city’s unique odour.


You will be walking a lot


They don’t call them the mean streets of New York without reason. Endless avenues and streets are designed to test your capacity to get from Point A to Point B on foot.

After my first day of sightseeing wearing slippers, my feet began to really hurt. I switched to a pair of casual sandals I thought were reasonably comfortable, but made my feet feel worse. Luckily I brought a pair of sneakers and by the third day, they were the only things I could wear to get around the city.

These sneakers I normally wear for exercise matched my gym gear only. To wear them with my jeans, skirts and casual clothes as I sauntered around New York was fashion faux pas in my books (particularly when you are roaming one of the best fashion capitals of the world). So I ended up wearing my gym clothes around New York!

In order to successfully get around, find the most comfortable pair of shoes otherwise grab a taxi or hit the subway.

But walking is far less expensive. The exercise and health benefits are a magnificent bonus from walking and sightseeing around New York (or anywhere really). The best way to get to know a new place is with your feet.


Surviving on pizza, hot dogs and bagels


Even if you’re not travelling on a budget, these staples are all the New York nourishment you need.

Every bagel I ate in New York tasted amazing. Who knew the dilemma in selecting from a range of bagels was in the same stratosphere as selecting ice-cream flavours? Not to mention the mélange of fillings added to this already tough decision making process.

Brian Palmer in Slate wrote that New York produces the best bagels because of the city’s “soft water”. The low level concentrations of calcium and magnesium in the water influences bagel softness and chewy factor; 19 milligrams per litre of calcium carbonate compared to 200 milligrams per litre found in Los Angeles for example, meaning a high concentration aggravates higher levels of gluten thus making baked goods tougher to chew.

A slice of pizza in New York was equivalent to the size of my head. Even the dodgiest looking pizzeria in Times Square served soft dough pizza with the right amount of crisp and a generous slab of mozzarella, just the way I like it.

On almost every street corner is not a Starbucks, but the legendary hot dog cart typifying traditional American street food. If you’re that hungry and a hot dog cart is nearby, out of convenience, give their hot dogs a go. But Shake Shack and Gray’s Papaya are worth the trip.

Sure these aren’t the most nutritious of diets but all that walking will make up for it.