High above the East River in New York City, there's a spot on the Brooklyn Bridge where in the early morning, you can stand and watch the sun burning the dawn mist off the swirling waters far below.
Even the stoniest of hearts would have to admit that it's a bit of a moment.
And if you're not too giddy with the excitement that comes gratis with being in one of the greatest cities in the world, you've got to grab this moment and make a decision: do you spend your holiday wandering like a dazed gazelle among the skyscrapers of Manhattan, or prowl like a lion the wonders of Brooklyn?
I chose Brooklyn. And you should too. Because while Manhattan has spent the last 30 years pouring concrete and setting steel and glass over everything that once made it such a special city, Brooklyn still has a low-rise charm all of its own. It still feels like the America we know from the movies. Brooklynites know this, they love it, and they are clinging to it. More power to them.
From the beaches and funfairs of Coney Island, to the brownstone elegance of Prospect Park, to the funky fusion of Williamsburg, this is where it's at. They'll even stop to talk to you on the street. Try doing that in Manhattan.
If you've seen the movie, you'll know that Brooklyn has always welcomed waves of assorted migrants. It's had the Italians, it's had the Irish, the Greeks and the Puerto Ricans - but the most recent wave of Brooklyn newbies is without doubt the hipster tribe. Over the past decade, they've made Brooklyn - and Williamsburg specifically - their spiritual home, bringing tattoos, beards and industrial chic to an area that had long lived in the shadow of its downtown neighbours.
The first incontestable proof of hipsterdom is, of course, the microbrewery. Hipsters like their beer. So we sloped off to the Brooklyn Brewery for a tour, and team-handed, we were shown around the hot and hoppy brewery. It's informative, and yes, there are plenty of free samples.
After the tour, everyone sits down and works their way through the rest of the brewery inventory at the big trestle tables where mingling is fairly obligatory. We ended up speaking to Japanese, Germans, Italians (basically all the Axis forces) and within minutes seemed to have learned each others' languages - a fair comment on the conflict-resolving powers of a good IPA. Why couldn't the Brooklyn Brewery have been there at Munich?
The second incontestable proof of hipsterdom is food. Or more precisely, artisanal food. How that happened I don't quite understand, but happen it did, so we signed up to the Eat Like A Local food tour - a small group walking tour and a great way to chat to like-minded strangers.
On the advice of the guy we booked with, we went easy on breakfast that morning - and were thankful we'd left room after sampling the pierogi at Northside Bakery, the BBQ ribs at Mabel's Smokehouse, a few pizza slices at Vice Munchies (best crust I've ever had), bagel bombs at Momofuku Milk Bar, chocolates at Mast Brothers, and caramelised white chocolate and toasted almond ice cream at Odd Fellows. Floating on my carb high, I just couldn't understand how hipsters stay so skinny.
You know one thing I've always envied US cities for? Don't laugh... but I love their bricks, their red bricks. They're a different shape from Irish bricks, a different colour and they've a different sort of empathy. A perfect example of what I'm talking about clads the walls of the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, a 117-year-old factory building that has been converted into a 70-room hotel. One morning we stopped in for breakfast at its Reynard restaurant - and I tell you, just one slice of its own sourdough toast was enough to start me up for the day. Somebody give that baker a trust fund.
Some of the changes to Brooklyn are good, some are better - but it's amazing to take a step back and see how accelerated development can wave its magic wand over an area. And to see this process in action, we stopped into a brand new development that is transforming the site of the old Domino sugar refinery, on the shores of the East River.
Once upon a time in America, the Domino sugar plant was a driver of the growth of US industrial power worldwide, and it employed tens of thousands of those aforementioned Brooklyn migrants, driving the growth of a vibrant local neighbourhood. But as things rise, they also fall - and industrial decline changed all that, leaving a shell of a building... until the inevitable upswing, when changing demographics meant the big bucks could pour in.
The developers first contacted the landscape architects who worked on the High Line city park in Manhattan and asked them to build a park, so people could come back to the area, talk about it, bring their kids to enjoy it. Next they began building apartments, bringing life back to the area - and it's working. The scenic way to visit is by ferry, and get off at either the North or South Williamsburg piers. But in a couple of years it'll have its own ferry stop. Wait and see.
We saw a similar tale of accelerated development at the Seaport district in Manhattan, down on Pier 17 near the Wall Street ferry stop. There they are creating a style-driven enclave of eateries, fashion outlets and a vibrant entertainment hub. They've even had Vogue's Anna Wintour come visit - so fashionistas, consider your cards marked.
No visit to New York could be complete without at least one trip to an Irish bar - so we stopped in to Route 66 for a quick one. Right in the heart of Wall Street and serving massive platters of Irish-American cuisine, they've got what every homesick Irish tourist wants.
What with all this high-octane gadding about we needed a place to rest our now jet-lagged heads, and we lucked out like you wouldn't believe. Because down under Manhattan Bridge, Dumbo (as the area's nickname goes), has also undergone spectacular change over the last decade. First among equals in this respect is the 1 Hotel. It's a steel and wood and glass vision, straight out of the hipster handbook - but my god, it's a seamless build. Architecturally, it reflects the heft of the adjoining Brooklyn Bridge - and has the greatest views of the New York skyline that you can imagine. The effortless style of the rooftop bar (plus the guest-only infinity pool) is like something from another planet, but it's friendly and down home, so even this freckle-faced Irishman felt right at home. I cannot recommend this hotel highly enough.
Of course every trip to the States involves industrial levels of shopping, so on the advice of the wonderful front desk staff at the 1 Hotel, I slipped out and grabbed the B26 bus (every eight minutes) to the Fulton Street Mall, just 15 minutes away.
It's the smart way to do all your New York shopping in the one location - none of this struggling between underground stops like you get in Manhattan. The Fulton Street Mall (a pedestrianised street) is actually NYC's third largest commercial centre, boasting a huge Macy's in a beautiful art deco building, Target, Century 21, and hundreds more.
Then after you've maxxed out the credit card, the change in your pocket will still get you a huge slice of baked cheesecake and some great coffee in Junior's Restaurant - one of the best diners still in NYC. (And yes, you can get their cheesecakes to take away, all boxed up to go in your checked luggage.)
Still not American-ed out, we slipped in to Brooklyn Bowl to knock down a few pins and feast on gourmet chilli-dogs and nachos. It's also a venue, with the likes of Steel Pulse and The Beat playing - but not on the night we stopped by. Ah well, always a next time. Always a next time.
* Aer Lingus flies four times daily to New York from Dublin and Shannon - twice daily service from Dublin to JFK, daily service from Shannon to JFK, and a daily service from Dublin to Newark. Fares start from €189 each way, including taxes and charges, when booked as a return trip.
* Walk around the place like you own it, eating everything in sight - what's not to like? Eat Like a Local is contactable at www.likealocaltours.com/
* You can contact the 1 Hotel at www.1hotels.com/brooklyn-bridge
* The CityPASS provides free (and often priority) entry to six of the city's most iconic attractions and museums - the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, the Met and more. You'll save a packet.
* For more ideas, including shopping, dining, tours, museums, sightseeing, green spaces and more, use the NYC & Company website at www.nycgo.com
This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.
Sunday Indo Living