It’s been so long that I had to look it up. My last trip outside Europe was in November 2019.
That’s two years and two months without packing stress, without having to sit in one chair for more than six hours, without that mild disorientation when you arrive in a new city and without discovering in your hotel that you have forgotten your sunglasses and swimwear, but packed your gloves and three different pairs of trousers – even though they’re predicting an average temperature of 30 degrees (86F).
Boy, how I missed this!
Bricks and Face Masks
I have arrived in New York, where I am on a work trip with the team of StoneCycling this week. For years, I have been managing the social media channels, newsletter and blog for this company, which makes beautiful building materials from upcycled construction and industrial waste.
Or, as my friends always say: ‘oh yes, those brick guys’.
The group of ‘brick guys’ started with founders Tom and Ward (two childhood friends of Nick) and the company has grown over the years (alongside everyone who works for them in the factory, logistics and financial department) with sales toppers Thomas, Esther and since a short while another Tom, who I believe is actually called Thomas, but of course that would cause too much confusion within the team… anyways.
Planning a trip in Corona times is an absolute treat, let me tell you, but after our triple vaccinations, testing before departure, printing 10 documents per person and loading the suitcase with face masks, disinfectant and bricks (a.lot.of.bricks – the woman behind the check-in desk had some questions) we ended up deciding to go ahead with the trip after all.
With a diary full of appointments with architects, designers and developers and after having passed all (health)checks at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, we finally dared to have a bit of a breather on the plane today. Well, as far as that is at all possible with a rag over your mouth, of course.
As the flight attendant accidentally announced through the intercom: “Ladies and Gentleman, after your lunch, please don’t forget to put your face back on”. And that’s exactly what it felt like after being up in the air for less than an hour. I think we should look for a skin care clinic as soon as we land.
How convenient that we are in the country of cosmetic treatments. Lucky us!
This is your Captain Speaking!
By the way, it was clear that I hadn’t flown in a very long time, or KLM used their lockdown time to tinker with the aircraft, because I discovered some nice upgrades here and there.
For example, there was a real socket for my laptop cable (which suddenly gave me time to type the start of a nice travel diary), I could finally use my own headphones (no more messing around with a 2-leg input where you never have the conversion piece with you, so you’d end up with sound on just one half of your headphones and in the end just had to go for the trashy plastic headset they hand out), there was no longer a sliding window, but a futuristic button with which the glass colored darker or lighter (ok, personally I wasn’t such a big fan of this) and the meals we got turned out to actually be decent! (a tasty warm pasta with cous-cous salad and warm cheese wrap).
This, in combination with the fact that the plane was half empty (and the six of us all had an empty seat between us) and that the flight attendant kept on bringing us beers, pretzels and Dutch caramel stroopwafels, made my first experience with a long-haul flight after such time very enjoyable.
And to top it off, I found out that we had an hour of free WiFi with the KLM app and I surprised Nick, my brother and my parents with a video call, haha! The Future is NOW.
The MOXY Hotel on Times Square
The feeling of breathing fresh air after more than 10 hours (all and all) with a cover over your nose and mouth is almost indescribable. New York is cold and windy, but for the first time in my life I was actually warm and that feeling still hasn’t gone away.
It may also have something to do with the fact that they literally have the heater set to 25 degrees (77F) everywhere here, because we are sweating, even with the current 2 degrees (35F) outside, like crazy.
After a (also super hot) taxi ride we arrived at our hotel, which is located right on Times Square. The MOXY is quite hip and I share a room with Esther that is cosy, but stylishly furnished and fully equipped. We enjoy a Brooklyn Lager in the bar and venture outside for a quick walk around the block.
Just to feel a bit of the atmosphere, of course, even though it is now 1 AM on Dutch time.
Tacos & Skyscrapers
Because I am not actively involved in sales at StoneCycling, I am the travel planner for the activities and restaurants for the entire team this week. Finally I can put my travel blogger skills to a good use!
For the first night, I found the chain Tacombi, which serves delicious tacos, burritos and quesadillas in a casual diner-style – with a smile, because so far everyone we’ve met has been really friendly.
What’s nice is that this branch is located at the bottom of the Empire State Building. Although of course you hardly notice that when you’re inside, haha.
We mark our orders on a form and after the first round everyone is enjoying themselves so much that we quickly add some more ticks to the list. I’m relieved that everyone thought it was a good choice and I hope it will be the same with my other restaurant choices this week. Otherwise it will be a round of Wendy’s or Taco Bell I’m afraid. Oh well, also nice, right?!
New York @ Night
Now that the jet lag has already hit us hard, we do a quick walking tour between the high buildings and walk via Bryant Park to Times Square. Here it is (relatively) quiet, but because of all the huge neon advertisements and screens it still feels like mass hysteria here.
We point to everything that feels American: look at that manhole cover with steam coming out of it! look at that NYPD police car! look how the street name signs look like the ones from Sesame Street! look another tall building! And then we start to decompose a little bit.
So back to the hotel to enjoy a wonderful night of waking up every hour due to jetlag. Because that is also a bit mandatory on a trip to New York. It is, after all, the city that never sleeps.
Or did Frank perhaps mean something else here?
When your breakfast consists of sweetened yogurt, a thick slice of cake with icing, a chocolate granola bar, and another juicy blueberry muffin, here’s your reaction to the first bowl of fruit and veggies you encounter:
New York, you’re beautiful, but you can take it a bit more easy on the sugar. And the heating! Holy Moley, if even I break out in sweats because a room is too hot, you’ve really exaggerated it a bit!
Luckily it is nice and cool outside, and the sun has also started to shine. Judging by the piles of snow under the trees, it has fallen below freezing in the night, but today the weather is crisp and clear with a solid blue sky.
A beautiful day to make people enthusiastic about bricks while wearing a face mask in an architect’s office that has been heated up to a sauna!
World Trade Center
After working in the hotel for a bit, we divide into teams of two and each have a virtual and a physical meeting with an architectural firm. I team up with Esther and we take the metro to the WTC.
There we ooh-and-ah when seeing the huge One WTC tower, but even more so at the Oculus, the unique white building that looks like the wings of a Pegasus horse and inside which you can find a train station and large shopping mall.
Here we go on a mission to find lunch and after following about 31 arrows over three floors to a restaurant we never ended up finding, we eat delicious poke bowls at a Japanese place in the Gansevoort Liberty Market. Which, when we left the building turned out to be right next to the place where we entered.
Our step counter had to recover for a while afterwards.
After the meeting, of which I can’t really tell you about online of course, but that went very well, the intention was to go back to the rest of the team in the hotel. We have agreed to only go sightseeing when everyone is done with meetings.
But… you can’t tell a travel blogger to sit inside at the most beautiful time of the day, when the sun is shining and you are right next to an iconic place. And so I managed to squeeze out another round along the WTC memorials (so impressive) and walk along the Hudson River to the viewpoint in front of the Statue of Liberty.
Just Like in the Movies
In the park I was almost robbed… by a bunch of cheeky squirrels (calm down mom) and on the subway back I was almost converted… by a woman talking to herself (it didn’t work for me, so also calm down dad).
Then we arrived at Grand Central Station and marveled at the beautiful interior, my favorite of course being the ceiling with a huge sky with constellations on it.
A man with a saxophone plays relaxing music as we step outside and we stroll through the skyscraper-lined streets as if we were in a movie. Looking at all people wearing face masks, it’s a movie in which the world is coming to an end and Will Smith has to save New York, but still, a movie. I’ll take it.
Hot cold hot cold hot cold, that’s kind of what a visit to New York feels like.
One moment you are walking outside in the sun, then it suddenly starts to snow heavily, the heating is set to the max everywhere, then it is suddenly -10 (14F) outside, and after fifteen minutes it turns into a great spring day again. With all the sirens, music blaring from the speakers, neon lights, tons of scaffolding, rushing car traffic and people everywhere you look, the city is a great place for your senses!
Nice Cycling Trip
In between all the work, I try to enjoy the city as much as possible and so every now and then I pick up a bagel with cream cheese, I make way too many photos of tall buildings and when we all venture out at the end of the day, I feel so privileged to be able to walk around here.
And cycle around, because my fellow travel companions seem to be fearless and enjoy hitting the road at top speed with their rented Citybikes, navigating the massive Chryslers and pick-ups. As we did today, when the entire Dutch enclave cycled along the Hudson river.
We see the artsy Little Island, the WTC tower, have our breaths taken away when watching the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty and cross the Brooklyn Bridge to the area called ‘DUMBO’ (‘Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass’). It turns out to be a hipster spot here, and we order drinks and pizza at the Time Out New York market, an indoor food market with lots of stalls.
In the dark, when the whole city lights up, we walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge. What a view, what a beautiful city. It makes me hot and cold at the same time.
Just a quick update, because as you can see I’m veeeeeeeery busy enjoying myself.
Meet The West!
Today we went with the whole team to the location for which we actually made the trip to New York: The West, the building on 11th Avenue where StoneCycling converted no less than 260,000 kilograms of construction waste into beautiful bricks in more than 42 different sizes.
A huge project that they’ve been working on for years (coincidentally together with the architectural firm Nick works for!) and that is now almost, almost finished.
The moment we stepped out the door of the hotel, it turned out that the sun of the past few days had been exchanged for a temperature of -10 degrees and a lot of wet snow. When we arrived at The West after our walk, we didn’t really look like people who could afford an apartment in this chic complex. Okay, to be honest, we didn’t do that before either, but a person can dream sometimes, right?
We are given a tour that leads us from the rooftop with great views to a number of communal areas, including the fully equipped gym, barbecue garden and dog play area. In the lobby, which is already nicely styled, we take the last pictures and the boys pat the bricks one more time before we have to move on. Such a large project is of course really great for the company and secretly we are all very proud of the result.
By Land, By Sea and in Space
After a short pit stop at the (great) bakery next to The West, the team splits up again to go to meetings, and I mumble something along the lines of: I’ll go *cough acquiring leads *cough social media *cough marketing… which translated of course simply means ‘I’m going to visit a museum and see you again in the hotel, ok bye!’.
And so I did. I paid a quick visit to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is located in the enormous naval vessel USS Intrepid. You can have hours of fun here climbing through the entire ship and all the interactive exhibits, there is a submarine you can enter and a hundred other vehicles to discover, but secretly I was here for only one thing: the Enterprise, the prototype NASA orbiter that paved the way for the space shuttle program.
It was really great to walk under the gigantic space shuttle and I felt like a child in a… er… space museum, so to speak.
The evening ended with a dinner where we got to know Southern American cuisine (read: a.lot.of.cheese.) and a great fun evening in a comedy café where a good number of comedians made us laugh.
We got away, sitting right at the podium, pretty mercifully with only one of us being singled out. When he said that he was not married, but that he had two children, and that it is very common in The Netherlands to not be married, you heard a wave of surprise go through the room and the comedian quickly shouted that she also had Dutch cousins who were just as weird as this boy and the subject quickly changed haha.
How wonderful are cultural differences every now and then, without it it would just be a boring world, right?!
Today I was on a mission. On every trip I make, I always try to find a souvenir to use in the house to have a lasting memory of the destination. In New York we once bought coffee cups from the Gugenheim museum and today I went out to buy another set. Because we already have enough magnets on the fridge!
The walk from the hotel to the Gugenheim is a long one, about an hour, but the route goes through Bryant Park, past the Rockefeller Center and through Central Park, so there’s plenty to see along the way!
Nice and Fresh
I packed up well for the walk, because the temperature has dropped to -13 (8.6F), but with a clear blue sky and nice sun I can’t complain of course.
In Bryant Park, the fountain is completely frozen and the skating rink at Rockefeller Center also looks smooth. The skyscrapers shine beautifully in the sun and I enjoy myself like crazy.
Via a few shops, such as the always good to visit Bath & Body Works (where I buy nice bath supplies) and a bagel shop, I arrive in Central Park, an oasis of peace in the predominantly hysterical Manhattan.
Lunch with Obstacles
The moment I sit down on a bench in Central Park to quietly eat my bagel, I immediately notice that the American variant of the Dutch saying ‘to have someone eat the cheese from your sandwich’ is here ‘to have someone eat the cream cheese from your bagel’. Within seconds I’m surrounded by all kinds of squirrels that come to claim their share.
I already felt a bit like walking around in a Disney fairytale, but I didn’t want to walk through the park singing with birds on my shoulders and squirrels at my feet. That, and the fact that sitting on a metal park bench at -13 might not have been one of my smarter actions of the day, so quickly I decide to keep on walking.
After all, I have nearly 30 blocks to walk to get to the museum, so there’s still a long way to go.
Exit via the Gift Shop
Because we walk around with a face mask all day long, I love to take as much fresh air as possible this week, so I’ll skip the museums this round.
I visited the Guggenheim before and although the building is great, I found the exhibition that was there at the time a bit disappointing and I became more enthusiastic about the gift shop. So this time I went straight there and scored not only two new coffee cups, but also a fruit bowl that are all the same shape as the outside of the building. So I kind of take the museum home with me.
It’s Friday, Yay!
Back at the hotel, the ‘VRIJMIBO’ (the Dutch abbreviation of a Friday Afternoon Office Party) is in full swing and we are getting ready to have a nice meal and go to a hip gin bar. Near the Chelsea Market we find a great restaurant with Israeli food and because it turns out to be New York Restaurant Week we get a set menu with all different dishes that we share.
The team has become very close this week and we have a lot of fun together, which continues until the late hours. After the gin bar (a dark speakeasy with a gold bathtub in the middle of the bar… yes, it was as tacky as it sounds) someone had the spontaneous idea of pulling up a huge black limousine on the corner of the street and we drove to Brooklyn, enjoying loud rap music on the way over, to visit a club.
Well, that was the idea, because apparently this club was so popular (or maybe just the only one still open at this time) that the line turned the corner. After almost an hour and a half waiting at freezing -13C we gave up before any of us had to go to the emergency room with hypothermia.
We met some people in line and they took us to their local dive bar, a squat-looking shed with two punks behind the bar and music that sounded like someone was constantly dumping a cutlery tray onto the ground. But the Budweiser was fine and the atmosphere great, so when the lights came on at 4 am we were actually disappointed that the party was over.
The next morning we all took a handful of paracetamol with our breakfast and we had to look back at the photos and videos we took to remember where we had been exactly, but… we went out in New York and had a great evening. Mission accomplished I would say!
It is always best to spend the day after an intense night out as quietly as possible.
That is why today I paid a short visit to the cozy Williamsburg district. We also all did a Covid test, because of course we want to remain a little responsible… and to be able to fly home tomorrow would also be quite chill.
There are several vans on Times Square where you can get tested for free and after standing in line for a while and getting two sticks up our noses, we heard in less than 20 minutes by email that we were all fine.
If we can believe the guys from yesterday’s bar, almost everyone here has already been knocked out by Omikron around Christmas and our boosters have apparently done their job well. Lucky!
Now, I have to say that New York is handling the pandemic well from what we could tell. I have seen very few people walking around without a mask (most of them also wear them on the street here!) And at every museum and restaurant you have to show your vaccination certificate and ID card. You can also find a van or tent on almost every street corner where you can get tested for free. Europe could take an example from that!
Williamsburg & Brooklyn
While there was a lot of partying in Brooklyn last night, today it is an oasis of peace. We walk through nice Williamsburg and eat a sandwich in the sun.
Afterwards we visit a few shops and an indoor market with local businesses and we buy a large fruit smoothie to bring the vitamins levels back up to the required level.
New York from the Sky
We return to the hotel, because three of us are going to do something really cool: take a helicopter flight over New York!
I won’t come along and relax for a while in the hotel, which I really needed, but when I see the photos and videos and hear the enthusiastic stories from the others when I return, I can’t secretly feel a little bit of FOMO, even though I have I have already made a helicopter flight three times before (in Australia, Italy and Austria).
But flying above the New York skyline is of course very special! Next time!
Harlem & Home
We end the day with dinner in Harlem at The Grange, where the chef serves us incredibly tasty things. We ate really delicious all week, but it’s always nice when you notice that you have made a good choice.
If you, as a chef, can even prepare Brussels sprouts so well that everyone who ordered them is ooh-ing and ah-ing, then you have talent. My grilled artichoke hearts with aioli and handmade ravioli are also truly heavenly.
After dinner, the idea of experiencing the atmosphere in Harlem by visiting a jazz bar is no longer high on the bucket list for most people. The busy week, the cold, the many impressions, the hangovers and general exhausted-ness appear to have played its toll. And so it’s back to the hotel and a last good night’s sleep before we have to fly again at 7am tomorrow.
Personally, I always prefer to be the one who turns off the lights in the city at night, but going into Harlem on my own after 11 o’clock in the evening doesn’t seem like something that would get my mother very excited, so I’ll adapt this time, if only with a little reluctance, haha.
It’s getting real: the last hours in New York have arrived.
A week full of new impressions always passes very quickly and although I always know this in advance and try to enjoy every moment as much as possible, the end always comes a little unexpectedly and it always makes me a little wistful.
Bye New York!
I try not to think too much about the taxes I have to sort out next week, the long way home with a little too much luggage, the mountain of laundry that is coming and all the assignments I have to work on when I get back , and instead try to make something of the last moments here.
One of the best ways to do that, in my opinion, is to go for a nice walk through the city. Now that the temperature has gone up a bit and the sun is shining, it is also a perfect day for it!
The High Line
The group divides into pairs and some go visit a museum, others climb into a large skyscraper and together with Tom I walk to the Hudson Yards to see the Vessel and walk down the High Line. We chat about lots of things and I notice that I really missed meeting new people and enjoying the moment with no real plan.
The past two years have been secretly very difficult because of Corona and especially as a freelancer where the majority of social contacts depend on traveling (abroad) it is sometimes just a bit of a lonely affair. I cannot wait for the rules to relax even more, so that we can all start doing more fun things together.
Because this trip to New York has proven it once again: the world is beautiful and there is still a lot to discover. And the experience is always just a little bit better when you can share it with each other.
Or as this beautiful quote on a mural along the High Line says:
“I am not interested in competing with anyone – I just hope we all make it.“
Thanks for reading, big hug, be kind to each other and see you soon!