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Published: November 13th 2006
New York for all intents and purposes is the centre of the Universe. I suppose I'm reasonably well traveled for someone my age, but stepping out of the Brooklyn Bridge subway station into an overcast, Wednesday afternoon, was still an awe inspiring experience.
To put it bluntly everything is just so tall, and busy. Hundreds and hundreds of iconic yellow cabs speed past, you are jostled by sharply attired businessmen, hysterical Japanese tourists and overweight shoppers. Steam rises from the subway air vents, the air tastes of pizza, noodles, donuts or one of the millions of different varieties of foodstuffs on offer; combined with dust, gasoline and the salty air. You incline your head as far back as it will go and you the tops of skyscraper in all directions, like standing at the bottom of a vast steel and glass valley. By western standards It is all very, very dirty and polluted, and it is all very, very full of life.
New York is also the most iconic place I have ever been. Wherever you go you won't be far from a street or a bar store referenced in an iconic piece of literature, cinema or art. For
that reason, after the initial overwhelming experience, it all seems very familiar; you've seen this street before, or one like it, in Taxi Driver or the French Connection. You've seen a diner exactly like this in Seinfeld.
The hostel I was staying at was in the Upper East Side, which is a quiet district slightly out of the main action further south. It had a pleasant neighborly feel to it, and the subway was so good, that the distance from the centre wasn't really a problem. I was staying only a few blocks from the reservoir in central park, and most morning's I'd join the conveyer belt of runners circling it.
Amazingly, staying in my hostel at the same time as me was Matt Wright, a guy who used to go to my old school. I hadn't seen him in four years and it was good to catch up. He was on the final leg of a RTW trip that was very similar to my own.
As was to be expected the city was very expensive. I was feeling a bit of a cheapskate for most of the week, and so I spent the majority of my
time engaged in free activities like taking the Staten Island Ferry, pottering about the thrift stores in the East Village, or strolling around Central Park. At night I cooked in my hostel, and although I went out a couple of times, I mostly went to the Irish Bar around the corner. It wasn't until the last few days, when I met a group of Germans that I actually bothered with the tourist sights such as the Empire State and the Statue of Liberty (most of which I whizzed around in the space of a day.).
But New York is really a living, breathing City and for the millions of people who live their tourist sights are really not what it's about. I mean, where else could you walk into a bar at 4:00 in the morning and find a Jazz band about to start.
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