A SECOND bite of the Big Apple has a flavour completely different from the first. Somehow it feels more real, a little more authentic.
When my husband and I spent a week in New York in 1997 we ticked off all the standard tourist activities.
Top of the Empire State Building? Check. Guggenheim Museum? Check. Walk across Brooklyn Bridge, round trip on the Staten Island Ferry, stroll through Central Park? Check, check, check.
See a Broadway show? Yes - it was Rent. See an off-Broadway show? Called Aunt Sylvia's Funeral, it was an audience-participation affair in which my husband and the husband of my best friend were seconded as pall-bearers to carry the coffin into the venue at the beginning and back outside at the end of the (very odd) play.
There were two reasons I was grateful not to have a checklist of must-dos or must-sees this time around.
First, with a bomb scare in Times Square only weeks earlier I figured, from a personal safety point of view, the further we could stay off the typical tourist trail, the better.
And secondly it gave us the opportunity to be more spontaneous, to go wherever the wind blew us and, hopefully, to look a little deeper into the heart of New York.
And we did gain an inkling of the essence of the city, an understanding that its spirit and energy comprise nothing more and nothing less than millions of small moments in millions of people's lives.
This was most evident in Central Park, where engraved plaques on benches are dedicated to the memory of loved ones. Short and sweet, they provide insights into lives well lived, people gone but still remembered.
The most touching one, at Central Park South, was dedicated by an elderly couple to their children and grandchildren to commemorate "this incredible journey we shared and the magical gift of life".
It was the height of summer and as the temperature was around 36C (or 96F, as the locals put it) each day, it was too hot to spend much time in the park. Besides, it seemed that every bench or patch of lawn in the shade was taken.
Years earlier we'd bought bags of peanuts from a street vendor and fed the squirrels and I could have watched them gently nibbling through the shells all day. We'd idly planned a repeat performance but now signs forbade the feeding of wildlife.
At the Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), Yoko Ono's Wish Tree, an interactive installation in which visitors write their hopes and dreams on a paper tag then tie it to the tree, provided more glimpses into the intimate lives of others.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of wishes were draped over this little potted tree. I'm not sure if we were supposed to read other people's private desires but I couldn't resist.
Among the trite and the hackneyed - saving the whales, health, happiness, long life, world peace - were some gems that showed the sheer diversity of our preoccupations.
There was the straightforward: "I wish that me and Oscar will stay together forever, will be a happy coppol [sic] in life. And when the time is right we will get married and have kids."
The sweet: "I wish for the little girl's wish, she is writing it down right now, to come true. Jason."
The acquisitive: "I wish for the townhouse across the street" and the litigious: "I wish to win the lawsuit against my noisy, harassing neighbour."
Also at the MoMa we experienced Bruce Nauman's sound sculpture Days. This comprised recordings of people reciting days of the week in random order and at different speeds emanating from14 speakers lined up in two rows in a large room. Wandering between the disembodied voices was discomforting. The effect was weird but kind of cool. Kevin and I exchanged "only in New York" glances across the room. It wasn't until I got home and checked the website that I learned it was supposed to invoke "the banality and the profundity of the passing of each day".
Between our initial stay at the Plaza and our second visit, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas had married there and it had undergone a US$450 million refurbishment.
The hotel suite we called home for six nights was on the 17th floor and featured two wardrobes, a full bathroom - marble lined with 24-carat gold taps - and a separate powder room. We were in the lap of luxury. When we were due at a cocktail function a few blocks away, we were driven in a black Rolls-Royce, complimentary, apart from our $10 tip to the driver.
We love the Plaza. Its location on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th St strikes us as being the beating heart of the city. One night we had lobster tacos and champagne in the Oak Bar while horses pulling hansom cabs trotted past the windows.
We bought our (then) seven-year-old daughter the Eloise DVD about a precocious little girl who lives at the Plaza and charges everything to her room. Katie adores it and so do we. For us, it's the perfect reminder of when we lived like Eloise and the whole of NYC was our playground, the second time around.
IF YOU GO
Nobu Fifty Seven: 40 West 57th Street. A discreet door permits entry to the dark and atmospheric interior of this upmarket Japanese restaurant, where we shared black cod with miso, tempura and Napa Valley white wine.
Balthazar: 80 Spring Street. After luckily securing a table in Soho's bustling, iconic French bistro, lunch consisted of beef stroganoff for him, goat cheese and caramelised onion tart for me.
Museum of Modern Art: 11 West 53rd Street. Celebrating architecture, design, drawing, painting, photography and sculpture, this museum holds an extensive collection of modern masterpieces.
High Line: Constructed in the 1930s to keep freight trains off the streets, this elevated route has been converted into a landscaped public park and walkway edged with naturalistic planting. It provides an unexpectedly serene and green environment above the hubbub of the city.
Spirit of New York: We were serenaded by crew members doing karaoke on this touristy Hudson River dinner cruise that takes in the majestic Statue of Liberty and brightly lit Manhattan skyscrapers.
The Plaza: Fifth Avenue at Central Park South. This New York institution, located just across from legendary toy store FAO Schwarz, has long been a celebrity magnet. Take breakfast or afternoon tea in the picturesque Palm Court and sample a little caviar in The Champagne Bar. A Rose Suite starts at about $1350 a night.
New York's Top 5
Flight Centre's Melissa Irvine loves travelling to New York and shares her top tips on things to do:
1. Get lost in Macy's for a few hours and shop - the iconic department store has the best sales.
2. The Hershey's chocolate factory in Times Square is a hit, especially with kids. Check out the machine in-store where you can bag your own chocolate from a funnel.
3. Travel to Harlem on a Sunday - discover the history of this fascinating district and dance in the aisles at a Gospel church.
4. Get to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium and be a New Yorker for the day - drink Budweiser and crack peanuts. You can usually pick up cheap tickets on the day from outside the stadium.
5. Head to Times Square and try some authentic New York pizza from one of the pizza bars - it's the best.