“What?! Are you kidding me?! Off all the places you’ve travelled to, you’ve never been to New York?!” I got a little sick of hearing that for the last umpteen years, and I generally have always wanted to go, so over the last long weekend, I finally made my move.

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A relatively easy 6-hour drive from Montreal, and a taste of spring that hadn’t reached my part of the world, New York was quite literally a breath of fresh air. My friend and I had a place smack dab in the centre of Midtown, and despite both of us suffering from what we thought was the plague, our excitement to unleash on the city was palpable.

Unfortunately, our reliable place through Airbnb wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we walked the hell out of Midtown and made the best of it – Rockefeller Centre, Radio City Music Hall, St Patrick’s Church and every famous street and storefront from every movie I watched as a kid – you name it, we saw it.

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After our Midtown blitz, however, we soon realized that we were getting royally screwed over by our courteous and competent Airbnb host, which meant we had to find a hotel for that first night. And for any of you that have been to New York over a long weekend know how hard it is to find something on the fly – hence the fabulous hooker hotel we ended up at. We tried to look on the bright side and thought that at least the drug dealers in the lobby were probably protecting it from outsiders and even though we weren’t going to take advantage of the red strobe light in our room, it was there if we needed it.

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Later on that evening, refreshed, recharged, and re-medicated, we coughed our way through the streets and ended up at stunning Grand Central Station, which was even more impressive than I thought it would be. Aside from the beautiful architecture and ceiling murals, the birds that fly around and call it home were an added bonus.

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Then, we did the obligatory visit to Times Square, which to be honest, was my least favourite of all as it felt so false and un-New York to me. I realize that may sound strange since Times Square is the quintessential New York place to visit, but it just felt like one big Walmart convention of people with no manners, jockeying for position to get on the jumbotron and use the almighty selfie stick. Not why I went to New York and not really my style of travel. All in all, I’m happy I saw it but will be more than happy to skip it next time around.

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Surprisingly we had a great time despite the hiccups, which shows that the ability to roll with the punches, an(un)healthy dose of street food, a whack load of cold medication and a love of alcohol can turn any situation into a doable one. Oh, and I got ID’d at a bar (which led to me proposing marriage right after)…so in hindsight, the day from hell became the best day of my life. New York: 1, Us: 1.

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We started day two by venturing into the Financial District to visit the 9/11 Memorial. While still touristy, this was one of the highlights of the trip. At 25$ a pop, and a line up for days, it was still well worth it. I’ve visited many a war memorial or massacre site and this one was one of the most beautiful and respectful I’ve seen. My friend and I spent a few good hours there taking everything in and reliving much of what the world felt that fateful day. Very emotional.

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We moved on to do a bit more of the New York I knew was there and was dying to see. We walked through Greenwich Village, had afternoon cocktails in Soho, had dinner in the Meat Packing District, walked on the Highline and stumbled through Chelsea late night. I absolutely loved all these unique communities and the locals we met, going about their New York lives in the New York sunshine.

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The third day, while nursing a vicious hangover and a near cold-medication overdose, I set out by myself to explore (very slowly) Central Park. With spring in the air, the park quite literally came alive with families and buskers and musicians and I think every bird and squirrel in the city that had been on previous winter lockdown. As I sat on a bench watching the world go by, relishing in the Vitamin D and prime people-watching spot I had secured, I felt such a connection to this vibrant city and the buzz of life I was engulfed in.

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Not to take away from New York, but it did remind me of a larger Montreal, and when I say ‘larger’, I mean on steroids. The similarities were in the boroughs and enclaves and classic architecture and nature and beauty sandwiched in between the concrete. But then there were the people…

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On that note….how the hell did New Yorkers get such a bad rap? Everyone we encountered – from the street vendors to the cab drivers to the bartenders to the homeless to random people on the street that helped us get where we needed to go and not get hit by cars – was super friendly. Everyone. And as someone who travels more for the diversity in people than in places, this was both refreshing and a relief.

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I feel as a first timer, I managed to fit in quite a lot to my New York adventure and spend just enough time there to fall in love with it. Sure I didn’t see Anderson Cooper who I looked for incessantly or the gals from Sex and the City who I’m still convinced are real people that all live there, but I did adore the people and pace and loved the breaking of some stereotypes and the confirmation of others.

Until next time, New York…