Scott Podmore interviews award-winning content strategist of ’the naked ceo’ Jillian Bowen
Most people throughout the world dream of visiting the Big Apple at least once in their life, but what do you do when you stumble across one little travel savvy Australian who’s done the New York thing seven times? You pick her brain for all the hot tips, that’s what. SCOTT PODMORE chats with Jillian Bowen, an award-winning content strategist who has been looking after the promotion of Alex Malley’s global smash hit book, The Naked CEO
Q: For a first time Australian visiting the Big Apple, often there isn’t enough time to explore everything that needs to be explored. So can you offer us five must-do experiences for any first timer?
JB: It’s tough to keep it to five, but I would say the Empire State Building, Central Park, taking a walk along the High Line, a ferry trip to Staten Island for the free incredible view of the Statue of Liberty, and an early morning visit to the September 11 memorial (before the crowds arrive).
Q: It’s a broad question, but how does one best experience New York?
JB: There are a couple of secrets to getting the most out of New York, particularly if your time is limited.
It’s worth planning ahead so you can see the sights and experience the city by area. And pack your walking shoes. There’s no substitute for strolling the streets. If you really need to get from A to B a little faster, the subway is brilliant.
Get yourself an attractions pass to save money – check out newyorkpass.com and citypass.com to see which works best for you.
Q: With every city’s pros comes its cons, too. What should first timers be wary of in New York?
A: New York is a completely different city these days and you will feel safe walking both day and night in most areas.
Common sense applies, but you are more likely to get bumped and bruised by the unforgiving crowds than get mugged. It’s important to walk with purpose. Do your best to walk to the right and steel yourself for the thumps and bumps, none of which come with an apology.
In the tourist areas you will also find yourself bombarded with people spruiking tourist experiences and don’t be fooled by the offer of free CDs and monks bearing gifts. These are all designed to get you to stop and tune in to the next part of their pitch. Avoid eye contact and keep walking.
You’ll also quickly discover that New Yorkers wait for cars, but not traffic lights. It’s common to cross against the lights, and in reality only a tourist waits if there are no cars coming.
Q: OK, there’s one thing every visitor to New York can do with a heads up on and that’s the shopping. I know you’re a keen shopper, so what’s the best way to approach it?
A: For the first timer in New York, the big department stores are a great place to start. Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Lord and Taylor are approachable environments.
Heading a bit upmarket, Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman can be intimidating if you’re in your scruffy gear, but are well worth a look. Always head to the shoe department for clearances. You can get big names at drastically reduced prices on the sales racks, normally sorted clearly by size.
Many department stores also offer discounts for international visitors. Check their websites.
One of the best things about New York is the abundance of sample sales. You can pick up a copy of Time Out at most hotel receptions and it includes a weekly listing.
There is so much available you can easily get overwhelmed. If you’re happy to browse, just take it all in as you go. Otherwise draw on local advice to find what you are looking for and have a chat with the concierge at your hotel.
Q: Everyone has the Statue of Liberty and Central Park on their hit-lists, but can you offer any other must-sees?
A: Try and see a concert at Madison Square Garden. If it’s baseball season, just visit one of the Yankees stores around Manhattan to organise your tickets. Be careful of theatre booking sites. Some charge astronomical fees for tickets. As mentioned earlier, the best I’ve encountered is telesales.com
Q: Give us the lowdown for Midtown?
A: For the ultimate New York experience, you can’t go past a visit to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. It’s the very first thing I did on my first trip to New York 20 years ago and it still takes my breath away. Be there when it opens to avoid the queues.
By 9am, you’ll be waiting, waiting, waiting. Next, head uptown on 5th Avenue then turn right at 42nd Street.
As you take a short stroll towards 3rd Avenue you’ll wander past Grand Central Terminal. The stunning exterior is just the beginning. Make sure you go inside the terminal to see why Jackie Kennedy fought so hard to save this building for the city of New York.
You will also notice the art deco beauty of the Chrysler Building just one block further along. You can’t go up in the lifts, but you can have a look at the beautiful foyer during business hours.
If you can tear yourself away, it’s time to do a U turn and head west along 42nd Street to 6th Avenue, making sure you take a peek inside the New York Public Library as you go. The interior is beautiful but
currently the iconic Rose Reading room is closed as restorations take place. Right behind the library is Bryant Park, which is the perfect pit stop if your feet are starting to ache.
When you’re ready to move again, continue along 42nd Street then turn right at 6th Avenue and walk a couple of blocks until you reach Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. At Christmas time, Rockefeller Center boasts an ice skating rink and Christmas tree, but if shopping is more your calling, you’ll want to stop here for a while. There is another observation deck here called Top of the Rock. It’s not as famous as the Empire State Building, but the views are actually better, so try and fit it into your agenda if you have time.
Rounding out Midtown, head back along 5th Avenue and shop ’til you drop! You can also take a wander through Times Square. The crowds are suffocating, but you must see it at least once. You can also try your luck getting discount theatre tickets at the booth here, but I tend to book ahead using a reputable site like telesales.com
Q: How about Downtown?
A: If you haven’t been to New York before, you must visit the September 11 memorial. I prefer to go early in the morning before the crowds arrive.
The memorial consists of a field of trees with two, large recessed waterfall pools representing the footprints of the Twin Towers. The names of the victims of the attacks are inscribed on the parapets surrounding the waterfalls. It’s a deeply emotional experience.
After paying your respects, you can visit the museum or take a trip up to the newly opened observation deck, One World Observatory.
It’s also well worth taking a detour to St Paul’s Chapel on Broadway. The Chapel survived the tragic attacks of 9/11 and was a place of refuge for the rescue workers during the days that followed. The exhibition housed here is a powerful reminder of the resilience and courage of those very sad days.
From here you can easily walk a little further downtown to the iconic Wall Street, Battery Park then take the free Ferry across to Staten Island.
When the doors open, walk as fast as you can to get a window spot on the right side of the ferry – the view of the Statue of Liberty is well worth chasing!
Q: I know you’re an avid walker when it comes to New York, but you’re also a big fan of the subway. Can you explain why?
A: The NYC subway system extends across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx and runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year, although not all stations are accessible at all times. Download the NYC subway app or get a map from a customer service agent at a station. There are 468 stations serving 24 subway lines. Routes are identified by letters or numbers. You will see colours associated with one or more lines, but you don’t say “I’m catching the red line uptown”, you say, “I’m catching the 1 train uptown”. Only a few lines run crosstown (east-west), most run uptown – downtown (north-south).
It can be tricky at first to use the subway, but the most important thing to look for when you enter a subway station is whether the entry is one directional – you can tell because it will specify uptown or downtown. If that’s the case, then you need to be certain you are going in that direction because you won’t be able to access the platform for the opposite direction from that entry. If uptown or downtown isn’t specified, you will be able to access both from the one entry.
When you buy a metro card ($1 for a new card), then you can either add a set dollar amount and pay per trip (currently $3 for a single ride or $2.75 with a pay per ride metro card), or get a card with unlimited use for a certain period of time – seven days unlimited will currently cost you $31. The machines take cash or credit card, and if you use an international credit card and are prompted for a zip code, just enter 99999. Once you have your metro card, just swipe at the turnstile to enter.
You also need to be careful to check whether you are getting on an express or local train, which typically stops at every station. If you’re not sure if the express will stop at the station you want, play it safe and catch a local train. You can always ask the staff to check and express and local stops are marked on subway maps.
At night, look out for the marked “waiting area” – when you stand in this area, a station agent will be able to see you.”