In 2001, events in New York City shocked the world.
Arriving home from school, it took me a strangely long time for it to sink in. I couldn’t believe the pictures I was seeing on the TV were not just film scenes. My Step-Dad Jonathan’s best friend Colin was living and working in New York at the time. We had planned a trip to visit him in October and so, with our flights already booked, we decided to take the holiday despite the turmoil.
We arrived late at night, or what felt like it after the long daytime flight. Colin insisted we head out to dine to combat the jet lag. I had never flown further than the Mediterranean and so the power of jet lag was still a mystery. Waiting for our pizzas at Colin’s local Italian a great duvet of fatigue settled across my shoulders and it was a titanic effort to struggle out from underneath its warm, tempting depths. When my order arrived in front of me, instead of diving in, my usual MO, I plummeted in…head first and fast asleep.
Jet lag, I had discovered, is a real bitch.
The next morning, I awoke at quite an unreasonable hour. New York City is 5 hours behind GMT and I am a morning person, but luckily, so is Jonathan. Feeling restless, we ventured out into Astoria to find some breakfast. At home we lived in a healthy, vegetarian household, and so when we spotted a Dunkin Donuts sign glowing brightly at 06:00, we knew it had to happen. The new world beckoned and it was chocolate glazed.
The junk food didn’t stop there. That same evening we visited the Hard Rock Cafe at Times Square. Having been on a pointless teenage diet, my size six stomach was not prepared for the onslaught. Starters, a full rack of BBQ ribs, a mountain of chips and an ice-cream sundae (complete with souvenir Hurricane Glass) left me clutching my tummy all the way home, praying it would stretch so I could do it all over again the following day.
I worked my way through many new culinary experiences during the week. My first dozen oysters, a dollop of nacho cheese (a foul yellow splodge that ruined my nachos), yet more seafood at a restaurant called Pescatore, and I even tried, in vain, to develop a liking for Hershey’s milk chocolate.
One sunny morning, we made our way to the Southern end of Manhattan to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. Unwittingly, we emerged from the subway to witness a huge memorial service surrounding the ground zero area. It had only been around 40 days since the towers had come down and the mountains of rubble still stood stories tall, slowly smoking. The whole district was shuttered and deserted with a thick layer of concrete dust coating the shop fronts. It felt like a snowfall had shut the roads, undisturbed but disturbing.
The rest of the city was full of patriotism, flags, cakes and clothing. At first, I had looked at them and thought that this was just the overenthusiastic America of the TV, but that day I realised that it was New York City pulling together and trying their best to celebrate what they were and what they still had.
The Polar Bear
We popped up to Central Park Zoo where I was treated to my first New York hotdog, not as good as the one from the school ice cream van I concluded. Jonathan fell deeply in love with the zoo’s resident polar bear who lazily swam from end to end of his glass-sided pool. His giant paws pushing up against the the glass, just in front of your nose, turned out to be wildly hypnotic. We could have stayed all day.
The Flight Home
On our Virgin Atlantic flight home, there was some trouble with the in flight entertainment (IFE). The video on demand was in its infancy and as such, it was a little temperamental. The crew switched it back to the old system and so the movies were on a loop. Our near empty flight meant we all spread around the seats and Jonathan and I joyfully watched a film that hadn’t been released in the U.K. yet, Legally Blonde. This film would go on to inspire my teenage life and fashion, with my school wardrobe for the next year consisting of a briefcase-esque bag, a beret and Mary Janes to die for. The only thing that could tear us away was the descent to the airport.
With a Westerly wind, we flew into Heathrow over central London. This being the Saturday closest to Bonfire Night and roughly 20:00, all the major fireworks displays were at their peak. The Captain dimmed the cabin lights early and we eagerly gazed down at London covered in glitter.
I am so glad that my parents took the decision to go to New York City that year. It would have been very easy to make the decision that so many others did, and avoid flying altogether, let alone to New York itself. My first bite of the Big Apple was sweet enough to go back for more.