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Big Apple, short visit

“New York City... for a day... just one day... why?” is a question that I have been asked so many times over the last few days. I completely understand why; travelling from London to New York City and returning within 28 hours is a bit unusual, extreme even. My answer is pretty simple though, it was just for the adventure of it. I love travelling for so many reasons; exploring new places, learning about other cultures and trying different experiences. Part of those experiences for me is making the most of the time that I have exploring. My annual leave from work is precious and I want to see as much of the world as I can, therefore I started looking in to ways to challenge myself in how I can use my time to maximise my travelling. I have visited New York City before and have spent a fair amount of time there, but I have never visited at Christmas. My idea was to experience a New York Christmas, but only within the two days that I had available.

It was an early start as my alarm blared out at 02:45 on Tuesday 11 December, but there was no snooze button for me as this was for a flight. Departing from London Gatwick at 06:10 made us the second flight on the board in an incredibly quiet airport. The only slight hold up was having to provide an address for our destination. As standard for flights to the USA they ask where you are will be staying before confirming your permission to travel. As we would be returning the same day and didn’t have a hotel, we asked if an attraction’s address would be suitable. Our official residence was therefore The Intrepid Sea and Air Museum! It was then straight through to the gate where our Norwegian flight awaited. Only half full, the 6 and a half hour flight on board a 787 Dreamliner was one of the most comfortable I have experienced as I stretched out over multiple seats as we soared over the Atlantic.

Touching down at JFK Airport, it was 09:00 local time as we shuffled through Immigration. We anticipated being slightly delayed by the questions from the puzzled Immigration Officer (“You’re just here for the day... are you crazy?!”) but he fortunately just stamped our passports and laughed us on our way. By 09:35 we were in a yellow cab hurtling towards Manhattan. Our first destination (and fictional residence) was at the request of my wonderful travel companion: The Intrepid. A lifelong space enthusiast, the Enterprise Space Shuttle is housed on the deck of the aircraft carrier and he has wanted to see it ever since it arrived in 2012. We arrived as the museum opened and started to explore. We could have spent all day as the museum is extensive; but I had assigned two hours of our busy schedule. This was actually a comfortable amount and we managed to see many exhibits before succumbing to hunger and deciding to head into Midtown for a bite to eat.

After an incredible grilled cheese at the 9ten Restaurant, we hit the sidewalks once again and made our way to the Plaza Hotel. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was a favourite film as I grew up, and this hotel was shown to have glorious decorations that I wanted to see in person. They certainly did not disappoint; the regal tree that stands in Reception sparkled as visitors gathered around, and the elegant wreaths that adorned the pillars beautifully complemented with their golden glow. Whilst enjoying the decorations, it was also shelter from the -2 oC chill of the City as the sky was clear but the air was crisp. Back out on the streets, we headed down Fifth Avenue to take in the Christmas window displays. Popping in and out of the stores, the festivities of the Big Apple were easily felt in the eye-catching and eclectic decorations. The recurring theme of NYC Christmas 2018 appears to be retro robots. I was initially unsure how this fitted with the holidays, but by 52nd Street I was fully on board.

The hustle and bustle of Fifth Avenue felt welcoming with the festive spirit of the surrounding stores. We sauntered down to 34th Street where we turned right to visit Macy’s. Again, every Christmas movie set in NYC incorporates the Worlds largest Store in to it’s plot and I wanted to take in their elaborate window displays, explore their Holiday Store and possibly get a peek of Santa. I succeeded with two out of three, with the jolly red fellow being hidden away in the ticketed ‘Santaland’ experience on the top floor. As we exited the store at around 16:30, the sun was almost completely down, kick starting the second stage of our adventure: Christmas Lights!

Ambling along the sidewalk, my energy started to flag. Our route was via the vibrant Times Square and it’s luminous glow certainly gave me a boost, but I needed a caffeine stop. This short break allowed us to reminisce in one of our favourite areas of the Big Apple, theatre central! It would have been wonderful to have been able to take in a show but with only 2 hours left, we needed to walk on. It was five minutes later that we heard our next stop approaching - Saks. This Fifth Avenue store explodes with lights and Christmas tunes for an extravagant display that runs every 5 minutes. It was exciting, entrancing and made me smile from ear to ear. I forgot about the traffic slowly shifting no more than a metre from where I stood and lost myself for approximately 90 seconds in the joy of the display. Turning 180 degrees from this spectacle, another awaited: The Rockefeller Centre Christmas Tree. The 72 foot tall Norway Spruce adorned with over 50,000 LEDs magnificently rose at the end of the walkway. As I stood in front of it, drinking in the atmosphere, I couldn’t believe that I was in central Manhattan. This stunning illumination, something I had always associated with NYC at Christmas, was real and I was there. I enjoyed that view until we once again succumbed to hunger. Grabbing a pizza to share, we devoured it hungrily before exploring the plaza. As 19:00 approached, we acknowledged that this adventure must come to an end and we hailed a yellow cab to return us to JFK.

At 22:30, we boarded our return flight with Norwegian and once again journeyed over the Atlantic to London Gatwick. Touching down at 10:00 on Wednesday 12 December, we had been away for a grand total of 28 hours. Mentally and physically tired, sleep took us deeply that evening but it was worth it. My ambition had been to experience a New York Christmas and I felt as though I had drunk in as much festivity as they had offered.

Was it worth 13 and a half hours worth of flights for 10 hours in Midtown? Was it worth the expense of flights, ESTA applications and exchange rates for currency? To both of these questions, I reply with a resounding ‘Yes’. The flights were equivalent to a same day return train ticket to London from Birmingham (from £120 per person). The planning to organise the day is essential and you need to be realistic about what you can do within the time. If you want the experience at the destination, the flight time must be embraced as part of the bargain. Life is short though and when you only have a small amount of time for adventure, seize it and enjoy it.

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