IT'S TRUE. I was in New York in April and it’s now December, which is an unseemly amount of time to be recounting travel adventures, but...

IT'S TRUE. I was in New York in April and it’s now December, which is an unseemly amount of time to be recounting travel adventures, but bear with me, New York’s been on my mind again.


For one, it was about this time last year that - after registering for every airline’s email newsletter - that the right deal lobbed and we booked our trip, saving almost half the budgeted cost of the trip on a great flight and hotel deal.

Another reason New York’s been on my mind is because a dear friend and work buddy is about to set off on a career and life adventure, moving to the Big Apple in a week to take up a contract she’s had her eye on for months, and won. She’s the perfect example of fortune favours the bold and much as I’d love to stash travel guides, wooly jumpers and oodles of Cadbury’s chocolate in her luggage I know she has to pack light for this adventure and move everything else into storage. So, my gift to my dear friend, and whoever stumbles across these pages, is this letter chronicling my own fledgling New York experiences.


Dear Aimee,

OMG! This is gunna be like walking onto the set of Sesame Street and hoping Big Bird says hello when you eventually do bump into him (because how can you miss him - or her - he’s a BIG bird).

This is my katiecrackernuts introductory guide to New York and because you’ll have so much more time, I expect every hidey hole you uncover to be documented for those of us living vicariously through you. In return I’ll send photos of my garden, small wee grandkidlets (photos, not the actual kidlets) and musings on life by way of regular letters and emails. Deal?

OK. Where to start? Where I always start. Food markets. When I was there - in spring - people were picking over beautiful looking fruit and veg in the street, under awnings, chatting or calling out hellos to people passing by. I dunno, but for a big city it felt small, like people knew each other and knew the street’s routines. I liked that. I loved watching the people. Kids with their nannies, the basketball games in the neighbourhood parks, the people on street benches chatting and catching up. People weren’t always glued to their phones and if they were they were, they were talking into them, not absently looking at them (except for that lady below, but she has ace hair, so we'll let her slide).

Trader Joe’s 
Time Out New York’s guide to the best grocers || New York City streets are full of big people and little gardens || New York City gardens are full of places of rest and play

You’re talking about living in Brooklyn too. Two words. Community gardens. Get on that. I awkwardly loitered around a couple of them. There were little pockets of people growing stuff everywhere and, again, in spring, so many tulips and spring blossoms. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a weird Japanese Anime weekend. I cracked the shits that day, I’m not too proud to admit. Don’t go that day. I am guessing you will crack the shits too. Go on another day and tell me all about it. I have a collection of the gardens’ botanical guides from the 1970s. They’ve been updated and are still in print. And there’s historic links to botanical science, botanical drawing and awesome women doing awesome stuff. #girlgang

Grow NYC
Gothamist’s guide to the best community gardens in New York City
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Central Park (or Cath's video on the park) || New York City galleries and museums are bursting with amazing works of art

You’re gunna dig the art. There is public art everywhere and it’s all dedicated to someone or funded by some generous philanthropic benefactor. I don’t think people there spend a lot of time looking at the squirrels cast into fence posts, or listening to the amazing buskers in the tunnels and undercover walkways of Central Park, but I did. It might be too cold for that kind of thing when you arrive, but you’ll have it to look forward to. While it’s cold though, you can check out the museums. Oh Lord. So much. Too much. You’re lucky, you’ll have time to go back and take it all in. My brain couldn’t handle it. Degas’ bronze dancers, Van Goghs, Gauguins in all their rich glory - so many of my favourites and I’ll bet your favourites too. That bust up yonder there is by Picasso. I know, right. Just there, with Cath swanning about pretending to be all arty in the background. Seriously, why was she just not staring at the Picassos?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art 
(Pick up the kid-friendly map. It’s hanging in my kitchen. I love it, and it’s free.)
The Guggenheim 
(Eat here. A quiet, white, calm oasis that looks more expensive than it is.)
American Folk Art Museum 
(Didn’t make it here. You’ll have to go and tell me about it.) || New York City's Natural History Museum takes you back in time and around the world

Actually, now that I think about it, Cath has photos of me being all nonchalant around the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History. I wasn’t being nonchalent, I swear, I was thinking back to telltale signs in Jurassic Park, all ready to yell “RUN!”, hide behind a cupboard and control my shaking and breathing. It’s true, dinos are not my thing, but I loved the 1950s and 60s diaoramas (taking photos of the explanatory graphics, of all things) and wanted to live in the Margaret Mead wing. That place is amazing. We planned to spend a whole day there and we could have spent many more. We waltzed in when it opened, all like, ‘we’ll just spend a few hours here’, and had to do a last-minute dash to the gift shop as alarms started to sound to rustle up the stragglers. Don’t skimp on this one. In fact, if you were Cath and living in New York, you'd just take out a membership and go there every weekend. Up to you.

American Museum of Natural History 
(It has a Christmas tree of origami animals. Can you take a rare Aimee selfie of yourself in front of it?) || New York City's High Line is a destination in itself

You’ll probably miss coffee. You think you’re not going to, but you will. I hadn’t had a decent coffee through the long flight and for the first day we were in the city - probably three days all up - so first chance of someone offering me a coffee I said yes. Wrong. Say no. You’ll be in a diner, all confused and jet lagged, and a man with an apron, notebook and super fast manner will have just steered you to a booth and sat you down. He’ll say “cor-fay”. You’ll be desperate, but now that I’ve warned you, you will say no. Ask for an orange juice. Say it like this: “Aww-raan-jh”. If you don’t, the coffee will be drip filter and taste like the worst version of Mocconna you’ve ever had. Now, you’ll also need to know how to order breakfast. A diner will take whatever order you have at any time of the day, but be specific. If you want poached eggs on your toast, ask for this: “two slices of toast, uncut, buttered, with a poached egg placed on each piece of toast, with salt and pepper on the side”. Actually, I can’t even guarantee that will do it, but don’t assume that what you order is what you’ll get, unless you’re very specific. I started eavesdropping on people’s orders to get a feel for what people ate and people would order salads like they were offering up project briefs for photographic flat lays. And, it was all written down, and it arrived just as they asked. Listen and learn.

So, because you’re going to miss coffee, and probably avocado on toast, my go-to became the European-style cafes. I know, defeats the purpose, but a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. Also, walk into cafes and make sure they have an espresso machine. Leave if they don’t. No. Seriously. Leave. I actually became quite good at sniffing out coffee. There comes a point, early in your stay, where you can smell it a block away.

Street food like quesadillas, enchiladas, and burritos are good. I was partial to the kebab stands. Falafels were delicious and cheap and chock full of salad. Again, unlikely fare for winter, but keep an eye out come spring. I also liked the street food because you didn’t have to wait to be seated and you could eat at any time. Andrea will guide you on the whole whacky ‘when to eat’ thing, but I couldn’t stick to it. My body was all out of whack that visit. Sleep and eating times were all over the shop.

Beer was also good - again, at any time. I like dark beers and there was nary a raised eyebrow if I ordered a porter - and they were delicious. Craft beers. Get on that too. There are plenty.

Oh, and Shake Shack. There's always Shake Shack.

Utopia diner 
(This was Cath’s and my regular hang, mostly to hear the wait staff say “cor-fay” and watch what people ate.)
Kebab stands 
Le Pain Quotidien 
(It’s an international chain - there’s one in Westfield Sydney - but reliable coffee, avocado on toast, le sigh.)
Aussies doing coffee in New York
Amsterdam Ale House 
(There are drillions of places to drink beer, and drillions of beers, but this was near our hotel and suited us just fine. Think Cheers.) 
Shake Shack || New York City buildings are skinny and tall

The subway is easy to use, buses too, and absolutely anytime I was stuck, I’d just ask the people around me and would be immediately set on the right path with friendly reminders that the next stop was ours, and, “have a nice day”. That said, we walked most places. We might grab a train to be nearer our destination, but walking was our go-to mode of transport. I’m guessing though that you’ll have to rely on trains and taxis through the dead of winter. I also found it easier to get my bearings by walking and was able to observe more easily how things worked: like which taxis to hail and how best to do it and in what part of the street, and where to find subway entrances for the direction you want to go in. I was busting to try the blue tourist and commuter bikes, it seemed an easy city to bike around too, but best get some insider advice on that. Of course, the Highline is made for walking and you’ll be lucky enough to see it with each new turn of season.

Walking tours 
(Our hotel offered free walking tours, which didn’t seem restricted to guests, just to numbers.) 
The Highline  
(You can adopt a juniper for Christmas. Don’t they make gin out of juniper berries? You can adopt a gin tree. Hells yes!)

And just in case you miss us, you can watch Cath’s adorable video about walking in New York, featuring selfies we took (note the comment about dumb tourists below.) || New York City tourist attractions are well worth the hype and wait

City attractions are definitely worth it, even tough you’ll feel like a dumb tourist. Let’s face it, I was a dumb tourist. The thing I learned early was to book ahead. If you want to be at the top of the rock at sunset, book it in the morning. If you want to ice skate at the Rockefella Centre or in Central Park, you’ll probably have to book in advance or line up. Both rinks closed on the days we visited but they’ll be beautiful for you.

Rockefeller Centre ice skating rink (It looks so pretty for winter).
Ice skating in Central Park || New York City has visions of beauty around every corner || New York City has places to climb and rivers to cross
I was pretty chuffed with just walking around the main attractions. I wasn’t expecting the Art Deco design and architecture to be so intact, but it is and those signature buildings like the Chrysler and Empire State are magnificent. Even the not-so-fancy caught my eye. The Brownstones in Brooklyn, the water tanks (again in Brooklyn), the entrances to the subways and the subway tiling and art. I loved being on the East River too. It was a recommendation of Andrea’s and probably my unexpected favourite part of the week. She’s got the best tips. The city skyline is magnificent from the water and you can’t help but look at that Statue of Liberty and all it stood for, and hear the migrant history and wonder at how we became such an unkind and cold world. I was deeply touched by it. The Statue of Liberty, the hope and excesses of Wall St and then this pinpoint moment that is the World Trade Center memorial park. More so, I was touched by the many, many, many memorials to firefighters and servicemen and women. Such pride, but also a strange reminder of what the western world fears. I found them both beautiful and grotesque.

World Trade Center Memorial and Museum
Circle Line cruises
Statue of Liberty || New York City has places to meet friends outdoors and be alone indoors

It’s the people I found the most fascinating. I could have sat and watched the people all day. People walking their dogs (so many dogs in New York City, I was surprised). The interactions between children and their nannies at the start of the day, and then children and their peers or parents at the end of the day. Again, so many children. You realise how few children you see in Sydney once you’ve spent a day or two in New York. Aussie families push out to the ‘burbs, but here, there’s a grand mix. I loved hearing from a woman, who lived near where we were staying and we met on a tour of Harlem, about her impressions of this constantly evolving city. We asked people in the street to explain the real estate: fascinating. I eavesdropped on the diners. I people-watched on the subway. We went to Matilda on Broadway and watched to see if Americans got the dry Aussie humour (they didn’t really). I loved quizzing Andrea about her three years in the city, and taking notes about the books she’d read to understand the city better.

You’re gunna love it. I mean, really love it.

Safe travels my friend.
Happy adventures.
Merry Christmas and


PS: A few more links

Bloggers ultimate New York guide
Art lovers guide to the Big Apple
Aussies in NY Facebook page
Australians in NY Facebook group

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  1. I'm slowly, slowly getting through this most generous of reads, Kate. The anticipation of being NYC is killing me! I can't wait to selfie (just for you and Cath, though) and explore and meander. Thank you so much for compiling this! a.

    1. That's the thing. You can read it all, read it in bits, never read it - but it'll always be here for when you need to find it.