We hit the Big Apple this weekend. (I state this on the off chance that you missed the 429 pictures and status updates we collectively posted on Facebook throughout the journey.)
We had Torbjorn's brother with us, and as it was his first time to New York he was up for anything. We recognized there was no way to see 'everything', and as such, we went the opposite direction: our simple goals were a nice lunch, an art exhibition in a small gallery, and The Oyster Bar.
If you've never tried it, I highly recommend this approach to a city that is far too big to master in a day, a weekend, or even a week. Simply choose places of interest - perhaps a neighborhood, or a restaurant you've read about, and then just wander from there.
After a long boring delay on 95N behind a flaming fuel truck, we arrived in the city a bit late, 11.30ish, amidst swirling snow flurries. We popped into a Scandinavian furniture store in Tribeca to say hello (old friends, long story), then headed to the Meatpacking District for lunch.
We found ourselves in a very busy Pastis for brunch at 2pm, and indulged in an early-afternoon cocktail, just because we could. We enjoyed fresh baked bread, Croque Monsieur, a bit of steak frites, and looked up just in time to spot a grizzled Mickey Rourke nuzzling a sweet young thing and being shown to a table toute de suite.
Post lunch we headed towards The Village, to find our destination gallery closed for no good reason, and thus we seized the opportunity for a long brisk walk. (Did I mention the temps hovered well below freezing for most of the day?) There were a few stops for coffee, a few wrong turns, and then we found ourselves in SoHo, and obliged to poke our heads into Vosges - strictly in the spirit of research, you understand - to determine if their chocolate was really worth such a pretentious name and carrier bag. (It was.)
Our travels then took us towards Washington Square, where a small bar or two may or may not have called our names and lured us in with the promise of Irish coffees. Perhaps due to the influence of said coffees, I was indulged in my impulse to browse a letterpress stationery shop for almost an hour, and I emerged triumphant with a $5 birthday card and a $17 box of Christmas cards on clearance.
After this, we took a driving tour of Fifth Ave, of Park Ave, and parts of Sixth Ave (accidentally) before we headed for Grand Central Station and its inspirational food market. Having seen these fine things we then sat ourselves down in the famed Oyster Bar, wherein we partook of very fine martinis and some even finer oysters.
After a bit of tourist-spotting at Rockefeller Plaza and a late-night viewing of Ground Zero, we headed home: bone weary, but full of good food, tasty beverages, and memories of a city that will be different every time you visit.
There is a name for this sort of exploration, or rather, this unique sort of explorer that I describe: Le Flaneur or in my case, la flaneuse. This was an end-of-century term used most seminally by Baudelaire, in describing a very certain type of 19th century Parisian gentleman who carves his very existence out of mapping the city for his own purposes, engaging with the city, identifying himself as of the city. (For those of you fascinated by all things modernist - there are loads of you out there, no?? - I would encourage you to explore beyond the link above. Start with Baudelaire's essay The Painter of Modern Life, stop, find some absinthe to drink, then continue your research.)
I have done this time and time again - mapping the city for my own experience, outside of the guidebook's well-intended advice - walking the streets, observing. Perhaps I'll take a few photos, perhaps I will make a few notes. Regardless of the souvenirs, what I take away with me is an individual experience of a city that is otherwise unknowable, inscrutable. For me, this is the very best way to travel.