Wide-eyed in New York City, the city that never sleeps

The view of the city from the Brooklyn Bridge

The view of the city from the Brooklyn Bridge

Hunger pangs at 3am in New York City? No problem

IT’S 3AM in New York City and we are on a mission to find a halaal food truck. For some reason, as it is not a dietary requirement, my brother-inlaw is insisting on halaal food. Leaving Webster Hall, one of the city’s biggest nightclubs, in a taxi, we stop at the first food cart we come across on 11th Street. It happens to be halaal. The food truck has a variety of food on offer, from chicken and basmati rice to hot dogs. We settle on lamb biryani and lamb pita. As we make our way to Brooklyn, our home for the duration of our vacation in New York City, our driver, a Jamaican, tells us halaal food trucks that sell cheap and authentic food are a city staple.

During the 15-minute drive, he explains how he and his younger brother came to the Big Apple with dreams of making it big in the city. His job is not the best but it pays the bills and has supported his family back home over the years, he says. During our stay we meet more people like him, who left their home countries in pursuit of the American Dream. Some arrived with just a few dollars in their pockets, others are working more than one job to survive.

View from the Brooklyn Bridge

View from the Brooklyn Bridge

NYC’s diversity is impressive; it’s a melting pot of nationalities from all corners of the globe. During a short subway ride you could hear myriad different languages spoken.

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Everyone walks with a purpose and you can feel the super-charged energy in the air. They walk faster, dashing from one subway to the next. The streets are busy and the subway is packed, day and night. This is why NYC is referred to as “the city that never sleeps”.

$1 pizza at Times Square

$1 pizza at Times Square

When the sun dips low in the sky, the streets get busier. Grocery stores that are open for business 24 hours a day are on every corner and most of the nightclubs are open until sunrise every day of the week. From Harlem to Manhattan, there is always something to do.

We spent three days exploring this beautiful city, navigating our way using
the subway and on foot. Most New Yorkers don’t drive as traffic and parking are a nightmare. The subway is affordable, reliable and runs 24 hours a day.
Our subway rides were made more pleasant by impromptu “subway acrobats” – breakdancers and beatboxers performing daring dance moves by spinning, flipping and pole-dancing among us passengers for a quick buck. Although the police are clamping down on subway acrobats, the culture is still very much alive.

Subway dancer

What to do
1. Sample as much of the street food as you can: the food trucks and carts are dotted all over the pavements. They offer anything from Mexican falafels, pretzel dogs to duck shwarmas and pizza. The portions are big and tasty at a cost of around $5 (R60) per meal, including a soda (cooldrink).

$1 pizza Times Square

2. Visit the breathtaking Brooklyn Bridge: connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the 486.3m-long bridge over the East River is an impressive sight. The views of the city from the bridge are amazing too, and the Statue of Liberty can be seen in the distance. It’s also a hot spot for pedestrians and cyclists.1

3. Visit Times Square: this is the busiest square in NYC, known for its flashing electronic billboards, Broadway theatres and cinemas. The square is a one-stop hub for shopping, dining and entertainment, and you will be able to grab a bite to eat at the $1 pizza slice place or at one of the world’s biggest McDonald’s, three-storeys high.

Times Square

Times Square

Times Square

4. Escape the city noise by visiting Central Park in the middle of Manhattan. Spend a peaceful day roaming the Towers. Spend time in Manhattan; there are impressive skyscrapers and architecture to admire in the area.

skyscrapers borough of Manhattan

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6. Head to Chinatown, Manhattan, for some bargain shopping and good eateries. Located next to Little Italy, here you will find restaurants representing the provinces of mainland Hong Kong and China. Be prepared to bargain for everything, from designer bags to watches – which can be knock-offs.

Little Italy

Little Italy

*Visit Central park and spend the day grounds, gazing at the fountains and
admiring the flowers.

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5. Visit the 9/11 memorial and museum located at the site of the former Twin Towers.

9 11 memorial

Food trucks Food Truck New Image 13 New Image 11 New Image 2 New Image Manhattan

This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on May 26 2015

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