Ah, New York; the City that never sleeps, the place where everything is possible, where all dreams turn into reality. I have longed to visit NYC ever since I was 10 years old, living in Senegal. This dream of mine was the sole reason why I was determined to learn how to speak English fluently growing up and sat front row at every single English class until I actually moved to English speaking countries, first London (UK), then Hamilton (Canada).
My dream to go to the “Big Apple” came true last December, as we drove from Montreal to New York to celebrate my birthday, and the sweet memory of this unforgettable three-day trip has me smiling from ear to ear and makes me want to return as soon as possible.
Although thoroughly exciting, an eight-hour road trip to The City during wintertime was not to be taken lightly. My first exigence when it came to organizing this trip, was making sure we had an excellent, reliable and safe vehicle that would enable us to face potential snowstorms, rain, hail, or icy roads that so often strike around this time of year. And what better brand to choose for that matter, than BMW.
At 8 am on December 28th, I hopped on the gorgeous grey BMW X1 XDrive28i that was parked one block away from our place; I tuned on the car and seats heater, adjusted my seat for optimum comfort, placed my camera backpack; satchel filled with laptop, chargers and notebooks, along with my small cross body hand bag on the rear seats (I’m exhausted just writing this, but don’t judge, organization is key, guys!), and watched as my husband, whose hands were full, open the trunk by simply sliding his foot under a sensor that automatically opened the luggage compartment. It was minus 26 degrees Celsius and, needless to say, I was more than happy that I didn’t have to get out to help him open the trunk! He got in the car, warmed his hands up on the heated steering wheel, started the whip, opened the panorama sunroof, entered our hotel’s address in the car’s exceptional GPS (we were highly impressed by the extreme precision of the road maps and real time traffic indication), turned on a Country music radio station on Sirius XM and we were cheerily headed to Tim Horton’s to grab large coffees and breakfast sandwiches for the road. Lucky for us, it was a beautiful, sunny day and we were so ready for NYC.
Can we quickly discuss how gorgeous the brown leather seats are?
One of the best parts about road trips, is marveling at the landscapes and, for some reason, I was expecting the road from Montreal to NYC to be plain boring; but the scenery, after crossing the border, was simply spectacular! Strangely, the trees had not lost their leaves and were covered with snow and ice; the majestic mountains afar, reminded me of the Canadian Rockies; and made for the most magical winter road trip.
I thought I’d share some historical and interesting facts about NY before going further:
– The City was first colonized by the Dutch who called it New Amsterdam in 1621, before being conceded to the British in 1664, for lack of producing sufficient revenues. The British renamed the colony New York, and despite losing the American Revolution War, the name given by the British remained. However, the mark left by the Dutch can still be felt in the toponymy of The City such as Harlem or Broadway, for instance (Breede Wegh in Dutch).
– In the 1800’s, New York grew rapidly and became an important port, where industries were developed and colossal fortunes were built. In just a century, the population grew from 79,000 to 3 millions inhabitants making New York the country’s entertainment and business capital.
– The massive arrival of thousands of immigrants led to overpopulation and forced The City to expand vertically, to accommodate an ever growing population. This extraordinary ethnic and cultural mix became so characteristic of New York that it was given the name of “Melting Pot”.
I can’t even begin to describe the joy that I felt as we drove passed Lincoln Tunnel, and saw the huge glass skyscrapers that are so emblematic of New York City’s urban landscape. My heart bursted with excitement and I could not wait to arrive to our hotel and start exploring NYC. But The City’s legendary traffic had other plans for us. – Thank God, the car was extremely comfortable – So to kill time, we listened to local news; not on the radio, mind you, the BMW X1 XDrive28i is equipped with a system that provides you with weather information, internet access, and local news depending on where you’re at and your topic of interest. You have the option to read them or listen to them. How amazing?!
When we finally made it to the Sofitel NYC, our home for three days, I had to pinch myself to realize that I had just fulfilled one of my wildest dreams. We parked our car in front of the hotel, the valet picked it up, and I went inside to check us in. We were staying in a gorgeous suite with a view on the City; so it’s fair to say our stay was off to a fantastic start.
We were a little hungry and had noticed a Whole Foods Market nearby the hotel, so we decided to go get some fruits and healthy snacks for the next couple days. The entire time we were at Whole Foods Market, I was screaming inside and couldn’t stop thinking “Oh my God, I’m grocery shopping in NYC like a real New Yorker; oh my God, I’m grocery shopping in NYC like a real New Yorker, I can’t believe I’m in NYC!!!!!“. I wanted to look at every single product from every department of the three-level store, I wanted to examine what did New Yorkers eat and drink, wondered if all the women inside had Carrie Bradshaw-esque lives. – Laugh at me if you want, but I wanted to believe so badly that all the clichés I had about New York were real: from the architecture to the people, to the behaviors, everything! And they were. And I loved it. By the way, I have never seen a City that offers so many healthy, vegetarian and vegan food options at every fast food, restaurant or grocery store.
We went back to our hotel to rest before discovering everything the City had to offer.
It was hard to decide where to start exploring and what to visit within such a short timeframe, so we had to prioritize and be methodic not to waste a single minute and try to see, feel and experience as much as we could.
We had two City Passes, that allow you to visit many of NYC’s top attractions such as the Rockerfeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Statue Of Liberty, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and much more. But we only had three days and didn’t want to be stuck indoors and in long lines waiting to visit museums or incredible buildings.
The first night of our arrival, we explored the attractions that were located nearby our hotel (Times Square and a short walk on the 5th Avenue). We found a cute Italian restaurant close to our hotel where we had delicious pizza.
The next day, we walked on the 5th Avenue all the way up to Central Park, then down Central Park West to visit the Top Of The Rock. We then walked down Broadway all the way to Soho. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Soho, it was already dark.
Broadway is a street that crosses the entire Island of Manhattan, from Central Park down to the South and therefore, also traverses some of the most popular neighborhoods of The City. So if you are short on time, it is a great street to walk on as you will have glimpses of the Upper West Side, Midtown, Korea Town, Flat Iron, Greenwich Village, Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown.
On our last day in the City, we took the subway to Battery Park, which is the southern tip of the Island (where you would take the boat to go to see the Statue Of Liberty) and walked Broadway all the way up to our hotel, close to Times Square. It took us about 5 hours and it was absolutely fascinating.
Here is a short recap of what we were able to see and do during these three days:
Our hotel, the Sofitel NYC, was located at a two-minute walk from Times Square. So that’s the first place we visited. The night had fallen and the billboards’ lights were all the more spectacular. The place teemed with tourists trying to take impossible pictures of the magic that surrounded us. We went to the huge M&M’s Store, simply because it reminded me of the one that was in London, UK, where I used to go with my friends. 🙂
The 5th Avenue
After walking in Times Square, we headed to the 5th Avenue, where all the stores were still open at 11 pm. There was a magical light projection on the facade of Macey’s, where people had gathered on the sidewalks to watch the show and listen to the enchanting Christmas music that was playing simultaneously. When I turned around, I realized the legendary Rockerfeller Center Christmas tree was behind us. I could not even take my excitement. We made our way through the crowd and arrived on the ice rink, where a man and a woman were skating then stopped in front of the tree. Brian McKnight’s song “Back At One” started playing and the guy got on his knee; Next thing you know, he screamed: “she said yes!” and everybody around applauded. Does it get any more cliché than that?! 😀
We passed by the splendor of St. Patrick Basilica, which, for some reason reminded me of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
The Rockerfeller Center & The Christmas Tree.
The proposal! (and the guy in red filming it, I guess)
The illuminations on Macey’s.
St. Patrick Basilica by day and by night (below)
The 5th Avenue
And on the way to Central Park, you’ll walk by some of the most gorgeous buildings you’ll probably ever see:
The Top Of The Rock (Rockerfeller Center)
Thanks so much NYC GO for the City Passes that allowed us to see The City from up top! The view, as you can tell, was astonishing!
One of the things I was really looking forward to marveling at in NYC, was the architecture. The style that particularly stood out to me growing up watching movies and TV shows and that I couldn’t wait to see in real life, were the Cast-iron buildings with front stairs that, I have found, abound in SoHo. My research later revealed that the neighborhood was home to the world’s largest collection of Cast-iron architecture. To add a little historical dimension to theses lines, cast iron was used in the mid 1800’s to decorate and revitalize pre-existing facades, as it was cheaper than bricks or stones, for instance, but was of great quality. Unfortunately as previously mentioned, every time we visited SoHo, the night had already fallen.
The next time we go to the City, I really want to spend more time exploring SoHo; I absolutely adored the energy there.
By the way, did you know that the name SoHo actually refers to the area being on the South of Houston Street?
Flat Iron Building
- Grand Central Terminal
Can you really go to NYC without taking the subway? I don’t think so!
Let me first start by saying that when I think New York and Little Italy, I see the Godfather movie. So in my mind, Little Italy teemed with children running everywhere; and resounded with melodious conversations in Italian between residents and perhaps, big men with a severe demeanor wearing chic suits, elegant coats, fedoras; smoking cigars; discussing serious matters that you and I would want nothing to do with and I was slightly disappointed not to witness any of that.
On a more serious note, Little Italy was charming and full of beautiful restaurants, cafés, art galleries and souvenirs shops. However, I was extremely surprised to notice that Little Italy barely covered three blocks of Mulberry Street. In my mind, the neighborhood was such a historical part of New York City that its geographical extent could only be equally important.
After doing a little bit of research, I have found that rising rents, which have caused countless shops to shut down and residents to move, as well as changing demographics, are unfortunately slowly leading to Little Italy’s extinction. To the point where the Italian quarter is now considered as an extension of neighboring Chinatown.
We stopped at an Italian coffee shop, Caffè Roma, that was really cute, felt authentically Italian (there were no tourists, yikes!). My husband had “the best cannoli of his life” and I had a latté. 🙂
I can’t even believe that we did not get to go to Brooklyn, but that’s okay. At least we managed to see the bridge from Pier 17!
Amazing restaurants you have to try when in NYC:
Bottomless Brunch at Maya NYC – On the weekends only.
Maya NYC’s bottomless brunch serves small plates of Mexican food to share and unlimited delicious cocktails for two hours straight, with the latest commercial hits playing in the background. The vibe is amazing, and service is impeccable.
Dinner: Zengo NYC.
Latin & Asian fusion restaurant that offers a succulent Mexican and Asian menu.
On December 31st, it was already time to go back to Quebec City, to spend New Year’s Eve with the whole family. So we hopped on our BMW, and headed home.
The road was extremely icy that day and we were so thankful for the XDrive feature of the car that allowed for perfect control of the vehicle. What we particularly loved was that the speed as well as the GPS indications were reflected on the windshield so the driver didn’t have to turn his attention away from the road. And speaking of not having to turn your attention away from the road, we were so able to control the exceptional navigation system by speaking, for instance, to enter an address in the GPS, which was absolutely amazing and my first time seeing that option in a car.
Dear NYC, I really wanted to look good for you and bring my A Fashion Game, but you were freezing and this is the best I could do! Until next time, magical City, and a billion thanks to BMW Canada for partnering with us on this trip, the X1 XDrive28i was a dream to drive.