NEW YORK: Fabulous food, the classy shops, the Broadway shows, the music, friendly locals
Get a real taste for the king of cities, writes SIMON LANCASTER
THERE'S no rational explanation for love.
But as I stood at the top of the Empire State Building watching a red moon rise over Manhattan just after sundown, I understood why I have such a passion for New York.
Like the spooks busting out of the firehouse roof in Ghostbusters, intoxicating waves of charisma were powering off the carpet of coloured lights far below.
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And I wanted to be a part of it, simple as that.
In the movie Friends With Benefits, headhunter Mila Kunis lures magazine art editor Justin Timberlake from sunny LA to the Big Apple using its seductive charms.
I was seduced too. Whether it's the fabulous food, the classy shops, the Broadway shows, the music or simply the friendly locals (I kid you not), there's more wow per square foot here than anywhere else on Earth.
If love starts with a face, it's the look of the place that draws you in first.
We stayed at the excellent Hotel Beacon on the Upper West Side, a few blocks from Central Park and close to where John Lennon lived. It's as comfortable as the neighbourhood is comfortably off.
All around are restaurants, elegant brownstone town houses and stylish apartment blocks. On our first day we walked slowly down to mid-town Manhattan and gawped. Our route took us through Central Park, past blue glass towers that blended into a cloudless sky at Columbus Circle, down Fifth Avenue, where the designer stores congregate, to 42nd Street.
Perfect Heading east, we took in Grand Central, the station built like a cathedral, and the Chrysler Building, the world's most beautiful skyscraper.
You can't go up it but the public is allowed into the sumptuous marble lobby, with its sepia painted ceiling depicting the flight of 1920s aeroplanes. The morning was young and we were already part of it.
At the westernmost reach of 42nd Street is the Hudson River and Pier 83 where the round-Manhattan Circle Line cruises depart. This was the perfect way to orientate ourselves on our first day.
The Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge… visions of New York glided gently by. It was an unforgettable three hours.
If the Circle Line is where tourists put their feet up, the High Line is where the locals take time out and chill. It's an old elevated railroad, running from 30th Street to 12th Street in Chelsea, and has been turned into a park of sorts.
Then we popped into Chelsea Market, close to the High Line's southern end, and marvelled at the food stores. There was a bakery whose cakes should have been in the Guggenheim, an uptown art gallery that looks rather like a cake itself.
Just to be here in the king of cities and stare in wonder is the greatest kick. But, of course, New York has so much more to offer.
It has shopping. The ritziest stores are on Fifth Avenue, roughly between the Rockefeller Center and Central Park. They're worth a look, even if you don't abuse your plastic there.
We found kooky shops on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg (that's Brooklyn, just a few stops on the subway.
Hang around for the nightlife - Williamsburg rocks).
Sights In between glamorous and kooky, storewise, is SoHo. My expert researchers (wife and daughter) tell me that despite the iffy exchange rate, there are bargains to be had. I saw the £13 shoes from a Fifth Avenue store, so it must be true.
Some New York sights. are essential: the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, where immigrants were processed between the 1890s and 1920s, and the Empire State Building, for sure.
We saved loads of greenbacks by getting City-PASSES. The 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero is free. Two giant granite-lined pools into which water falls continuously mark the base of the Twin Towers. In the centre of each are square holes where the water disappears.
The names of all the 9/11 victims are engraved on the parapets of the pools. Flowers decorated them on the day we went. Very moving.
New York's entertainment options are also the best in the world. Everything from Broadway shows to cuttingedge rock is on offer.
I like jazz so I paid personal homage to sax deity Charlie "Bird" Parker by catching a classy band at Birdland on 44th Street.
We said our goodbyes to the city at the Top of the Rock, the viewing platform of another tall building, the Rockefeller Center.
The 360-degree panorama of the Manhattan skyline filled me with crazy optimism.
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I can't explain why, but it always does. It must be love.
Three nights in New York with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow, accommodation at the 3V+ Hotel Beacon, room only, with transfers, starts from £635 per person based on two adults sharing a standard room.
Price is based on departures on March 19. To book visit virginholidays.co.uk.
Circle Line cruises from £21. See circleline42.com.
A New York CityPASS (available from the NCY Information Centre, 810 Seventh Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd Steets) gives 51% discount on six attractions.