06 Jan New York City and Our First American Thanksgiving
We spent our last week in the USA with Andrew’s relatives in Brooklyn, New York City. Much of our time was spent sightseeing on foot in Manhattan, visiting museums, landmarks, parks and soaking in the atmosphere of this fast-paced metropolis. Our visit also happened to fall over the Thanksgiving holiday, so we were able to celebrate our first ever, somewhat unconventional, American Thanksgiving.
Visiting New York
Like the thousands of other tourists around us in Times Square, Andrew and I tipped our faces up towards the tops of the skinny buildings, which stretch dizzyingly into the sky. Stood in the heart of Manhattan, I felt swallowed up by the swirl of sounds, people and movement. Adverts and flashing billboards crowded us, along with tourist buses and yellow cabs, swarms of shoppers and people selling paintings and posing for photographs dressed as cartoon characters or superheroes.
We were swept down the street towards Central Park, which was stuck in a beautiful autumnal state, its trees still full of red and yellow leaves highlighted by the afternoon sunshine. It was Saturday and the park was full of people; runners, kids shrieking in the playgrounds, dog walkers and teenagers rollerblading, throwing balls or playing basketball. Remote control boats whizzed around one small lake while rowers circled another, passing under a bridge where we saw a man propose to his girlfriend as newlywed couples gathered for photographs in their gowns and suits.
The hours slipped away as we continued our loose loop around the park, past picnics on open lawns and people sipping coffee in cafes. Men used giant hoops to blow delicate shimmering bubbles, a ballerina danced by the water in a black tutu and two tribal baroque performers, dressed like characters from a sci-fi movie, drew crowds with their eerily beautiful song.
Later, turning out of the park, we ended up on 5th Avenue and joined crowds heading along the thin corridor of shops and hotels. In late November, department stores were already showing off lavish Christmas displays in their windows while festive lights strung above the Avenue blinked in the gathering darkness. We turned off towards Grand Central Station, slipping inside the cavernous terminal where we gazed up at the constellations on the ceiling.
As our week in New York continued we marched miles around Manhattan. We ate pizza and pasta in Little Italy and visited Chelsea Market. One rainy morning we got lost in the maze-like streets of Greenwich, stopping for tea and grilled-cheese sandwiches, ducking in and out of shops and watching dogs play in Washington Square Park.
Every day we passed by famous buildings and huge skyscrapers like the Empire State, the Flat Iron and the imposing new World Trade Centers. On a clear, sunny morning we rode the elevator up to the top of the Rockefeller Centre; below us the city was laid out in grid-like fashion, the green rectangle of Central Park cutting through the middle. On the other side of the observation deck, the view stretched downtown past the new World Trade Centers and Battery Park to the sea beyond.
We visited just of a couple of museums in NYC, spending an entire day in the moving 9/11 Memorial Museum and a morning in the Museum of the City of New York. There we learned about how the city grew from a small hub to the busiest port in the world; how waves of immigrants arrived, settling in new areas and the city sprawled outwards to neighbouring islands as its population and influence multiplied.
Our First American Thanksgiving holiday
The night before Thanksgiving we queued around the block to pick up a famous New York baked cheesecake from Juniors in Brooklyn. Our hosts Pam and Christine had a feast planned for the next day; an untraditional Thanksgiving meal of international dishes to be shared with a collection of guests from Switzerland, Croatia, Belgium, the UK and America.
On Thanksgiving morning Andrew and I rode the subway into Manhattan for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which we caught glimpses of along streets lined with thousands of people. Huge balloons of all types bobbed past along with decorative floats and marching bands. After the parade we stood watching skaters on the open-air ice-rink in Bryant Park and wandered around the Christmas market before heading home for our feast.
We might not have experienced a typical American Thanksgiving (which popular culture has me believe is full of family gatherings, turkey dinners and TV football), but we were incredibly grateful to spend the holiday feasting with new people and relatives we’d only recently become acquainted with. We stayed up late talking, drinking and gorging on delicious food, collapsing into bed in the early hours of the morning.
To walk off some of the Thanksgiving meal, Pam and Christine took us out the next day to explore Brooklyn. We drove to Coney Island, where we walked along the beach out onto the pier, marvelling at the unseasonably warm weather. During a walk in the Redhook area we watched the sun set over Manhattan and spotted the Statue of Liberty across the water. In evening darkness we drove to our last stop, the Dumbo neighbourhood, where downtown Manhattan was lit up across the water against the night sky.
These were some of our last views of the city as the next day our incredible three-month trip to the USA ended where it began, as we boarded a plane from JFK back to London.