By Susannah Butler
Being an exchange student here in America, I couldn’t help but fall for an American cliche: New York City at Christmas. It’s a dream which, let’s face it, we’ve all had at some point.
Not quite brave enough to conquer the big apple alone (or be miserable on Christmas day), I recruited my best friend and fellow study-abroader to join me from Vancouver. Feeling pretty flush at some point in the past, we booked a hotel in Times Square. We felt particularly fancy, but equally as overwhelmed. Here was me thinking that Time Square was literally a square, when really it’s streets of skyscrapers and blinding lights, angry taxi drivers and hordes of tourists who fail to see the impracticality of the selfie stick.
Even though we may have picked the wrong time to go, we threw ourselves into full tourist mode. Our map reading skills were questionable to say the least, but we managed to stumble into a fair few sites.
We spent Christmas Day brunching at The Lambs Club (whose hot chocolate bar I would highly recommend). Being away from home, it was hard to feel festive, but the carolers who sang at our table helped, and the British couple sat next to us almost made us feel as if we’d never left home. That afternoon, we explored Central Park where we may have got slightly over excited by the horse drawn carriages and by spotting the places where my favorite Gossip Girl scenes were shot. Yes, I did have my picture taken on the Met steps. Our evening consisted of take-out pizza and a slightly classier trip to see the Rockettes. By the time the day was over, we felt suitably Christmas-y, just slightly too late.
Our Christmas adventure continued, and my family came out to join us. We moved out to the apparently “trendy” and “up and coming” area of Astoria. I’d describe the apartment as “shabby chic.” It could have definitely done with a lick of paint, but somehow no one seemed to care. Getting the subway into the city everyday made us feel like real New Yorkers.
This was where the real tourism began. Jet-lagged and impatient, by Dad refused to wait in the line for the Empire State building, so we exchanged the tickets we had already paid for with fast track ones. I can safely say the views at night were worth the extra money and without being cheesy, you realize – here you are, really in New York. It’s kind of magical.
Top of the Rock is just as good. It was impossible to get a clear view of the giant Christmas tree or get near the ice rink at the bottom, so my dreams of skating round there like Buddy the Elf were dashed. Still, the views from the top looking down over Central Park were something to behold as long as you don’t mind the wind and cold, something I’ve got used to since living in Madison… but the fam not so much.
Brooklyn Bridge in the snow, although beautiful, terrified me. I’d never walked over such a great expanse of water. I know that everything in America is bigger, but this didn’t prepare me for standing in the middle of the structure, suspended in mid-air, waiting for the whole thing to collapse. I gripped onto my sister for dear life, not wanting to miss the photo opportunities, but secretly hoping to return to the mainland ASAP.
We’d been in New York for eight days, a lot longer than most would spend. We were all exhausted and after my experience, I can’t fathom how anyone lives there permanently. I’ve never seen so many tourists in my life.
New Year’s Eve was my family’s last day. The sun was shining even though it was bitterly cold. This did not make for a nice experience while waiting for the ferry to see Lady Liberty, although slightly more enjoyable that waiting in the pouring rain for the Museum of Natural History… which wasn’t made any better by an overpriced, limp hot dog. Liberty Island was worth the wait. We snuggled up with hot chocolates and took some snaps. Looking at the city from this angle made me realize the vastness of it. For the first time since we had arrived, I could properly breath clean air.
Walking back through the city as the day ended, we realized the last thing we wanted to do for New Years was to be squashed by a massive group of people, freezing in Times Square. I’m sure many people will think we’re ridiculous for giving up this experience, but trust me: enough was enough. Instead we skated around central park while we made our Dad go and source 2017 flashing novelty glasses. I say skated, but it was more me gripping onto the side until my friend or younger sister would come and drag me around.
We headed back to Astoria to watch the ball drop on my laptop, with said novelty glasses and champagne. My family had to catch a flight home in the morning so everyone went to bed, yet somehow it was still a magical night.
After they went home, we spent our last day mooching around. We bought croissants and sat outside Tiffany’s – the dream – and went to find the “Friends” apartment in Greenwich Village. The Village was the most peaceful place yet, free from the tourists. The calm made me want to stay there all day, but a final trip round the shops for tacky memorabilia called.
New York wasn’t exactly what I expected, but in a good way. I can’t speak for the rest of the year, but be prepared to be almost trampled at Christmas. By the end of my trip, I learned to barge past people in a rude manner, finding this the only way to get anywhere. However, I lived out my childhood dreams with the best people I could wish for. We conquered all the sites and ate all the food. Little Italy is the best place on earth, and I never want to see or smell a hot dog stand ever again.
Immediately after leaving New York, I felt like we’d left a bubble. But Christmas in New York is still a dream that I think should be on everyone’s bucket list.