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Published: August 6th 2007
I have a lot of emotions when I think about my visit to New York. It's a city full of gems waiting to be discovered, and a lot of misconceptions. I didn't find New York to be full of rude people or an unmanageable hustle and bustle. Instead, I found a remarkable city that accommodates all the people within it with amazing ease. The transportation is amazingly efficient and Manhattan, very clean. (I do recognize things change once you leave the touristy areas, radiating outward, that things are always much different.)
All that being said... I feel we accomplished the unthinkable. Chris and I saw New York (Manhattan) in a weekend.
Operating on no more than 4 hours of sleep, due to celebrating Chris's birthday with his family late the night before, I rolled out of bed to head out to catch my 6:45AM flight to New York. The 2 hour flight was a nice change from the long hauls my international travels had brought me. 9AM, and I was already on the ground in NYC.
We couldn't check into our hotel until 3pm so we were off to explore, backpacks and all. (I am a
firm believer that if it's a week or less, if you can't carry it all comfortably - you've packed too much!)
Chinatown was one of our first stops. And strange as it is to say: the area definitely smelt like fish. There weren't as many tourists as we expected, but the area around all the little shops was definitely hopping with people looking for a good deal. Stores the size of walk in closets were brimming with "designer" bags, belts, watches, and jewelry. Small Asian voices could be heard as you passed each storefront saying "take a look" "Gucci" "Prada", etc. Secret drawers would be pulled out to show you designer watches.. and people could be seen walking behind curtains to see exclusive merchandise. We wondered if some of the 'fake' products, might really be the real thing.
A few streets away from Chinatown was Little Italy. Chinatown has taken over much of Little Italy, but Mulberry Street definitely made it known who was king! Red, white, and green decorations hung above the streets and, just like my experience in Florence: The streets were closed off so that there was foot traffic only. Restaurant tables spilled
out onto the streets and were just as plentiful as the wine, pasta, and Italian. Farther down the street, there were even some fair-type stands set up adding to the festival feeling. We would later return that evening for dinner and I proudly ordered in Italian from the English menu. I was pleased that my Ensalata Mista offered as big of portions as the 'real' thing. You know it's an authentic experience when the evening comes complete with an older (60 years old or so) Italian man hanging out the 2nd or 3rd floor window, shirtless, and having conversations with the people on the street below. Mmmm - Italia!
The waterfront by the Brooklyn Bridge offered a unique view with the Manhattan Bridge in the background. The pier was full of people and venders alike. It was also where I had my first New York hotdog. From there we walked up Wall Street. The New York Stock Exchange was draped with a very large flag, as it always is, and the building itself is guarded - understandable considering how the market can be. Chris was determined to see the Wall Street bull. A large statue placed illegally in
the area in the 90's (I believe) that the public wanted left there. Now it can be seen surrounded by tourists. Some rubbing it's nose for good luck, others walking to it's rear, grabbing a handful of bronze.... - Interpret it how you may, you get the idea. Needless to say, Chris just climbed on top of the thing for his picture.
The trip took a more somber turn as we took the subway down to the World Trade center site. As you leave the train area, you come face to face with a fenced area showing where the towers once stood. Even though you are still underground at this point, the hole goes much deeper than that. Construction vehicles are everywhere down there, and the large building that has been constructed to oversee the work looks miniscule compared to the openness around it. We then took the stairs up to ground level. There is a covered area with photographs documenting the events both at the subway entrance area and also halfway around the block. I think what bothered me most were the tourists taking pictures with the signs... and smiling while doing so. It did not settle well
with me. Neither did those walking around trying to sell informational booklets, amid signage instructing tourists not to buy such products.
Also by the site was the FDNY station with a bronze memorial mural spreading down the side of it. We couldn't imagine what it was like as the buildings fell, smoke billowing up the streets, and how helpless those men must have felt. Another chilling moment came to us as we went to leave the area, the subway entrance we tried to use was gated off. A horrible reminder of the people underground during this event.
And then no trip to New York is complete without seeing the Statue of Liberty! I actually saw her flying in, as well as some of the other landmarks that are easily visible from the air. We took the Staten Island Ferry, a free service, and passed by the statue herself. I'd heard it was smaller than you'd think, and this definitely proved true. Chris also volunteered the information that she now belongs to New Jersey - sold by New York to gain needed funds.
Battery Park is right by where the Staten Island Ferry departs from. Within this area
there are numerous street performers dressed up as the Statue of Liberty - and then there's a statue of a different type. When the Twin Towers fell, a large bronze sphere in the plaza survived without too much damage, compared to all that was around it. It now stands by an eternal flame with a view of Lady Liberty. It's another testament to the strength and determination of the city.
On a whim, we got off at the Union Square stop on the subway. I'd heard there was an outdoor market - and there definitely was! Fruits, Flowers, and the usual art vendors encircled the center of the square. We bought some apples, a snack that proved a success for our trip - and brought irony: apples in the Big Apple. I also picked up a metal sculpture of 2 dancers. I'm always on the look out for "dancing art."
Needless to say, we were EXHAUSTED after the first day, so we returned to our hotel - a very modern place called: The Paramount. Lights were dimmed, art-deco furniture littered the lobby, and not-so-typical music filtered throughout the room. We were ½ block from times square on 46th
street - and had a good laugh at being next door to the Scientology church. (That's one service we passed on!) The rooms were a bit small, but for the location, décor, and price - a killer deal!
Day 2 brought new adventures also. My friends, Kevin and Brittany, were in town with his family for a wedding so we were all able to meet up. Chris and I were able to slow down our pace a bit, having seen some of the required New York fare. The four of us, plus Kevin's brother Scotty, saw the apple store, a neat building located underground with a transparent glass cube sitting above. FAO Schwartz also god a visit, as well as the Disney store. The Disney store was HUGE! There was even a Mr. Potato Head station where you could mix and match all types of parts - including specialty ones like the Statue of Liberty.
Parting ways for a bit so that they could go catch a Broadway show, Chris and I went down to Greenwich Village. Its quaint little streets reveal hints of the Alternative lifestyles within it: there were 3 adult novelty stores across
from each other. Walking around a bit more, we decided it was time I have my first New York pizza. We turned a corner and saw a little place, Bleecker Street Pizza, with 2 tables out front. One was open, so we hopped in for a bite. As we ate, I looked at the window beside me...turns out, we picked the place that radio stations.. and even the Food Network voted as the number 1 pizza place. I can see why... it was delicious!
The United Nations building also deserved a visit, and going on a tip from my guidebook, we knew that free tours departed every 30 minutes. Well, after passing through security, and seeing the tour line, we discovered this must have changed in the 2 years since my book was published. The free tour is now $13. We passed on the tour, and looked at some of the exhibits. A tattered UN flag - tattered from a deadly bombing, photography from around the world, and of course - products for purchase from around the world. Sadly, there were many different store areas within the UN building. I found it a bit too commercial, even if it
was in a basement area. Outside the building was a view of long island and gifts from other countries. One of which was a large statue of a pistol, the barrels tied into a knot - definitely a very powerful statement.
And then there was Grand Central Station. It was even bigger than I'd imagined! Shops, food courts, and even a direct shuttle only going back and forth to Times Square could be found in this travel hub. It really was a neat station. Standing next to the station was the Chrysler building, so we snuck a peek at that as well.
A couple different visits to Central Park revealed a few gems to us. We saw the Alice in Wonderland statue, truly a neat creation. Alice and some of the other characters were seated on and around a very large mushroom that the children could play under. Surrounding it were quotes - including my favorite: "Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat..." , well, you get the idea. Not too far West from there is the Bow Bridge, built in the 1800's; it has served as a popular backdrop for many movies. Continuing onward from here is an
area called Strawberry Fields. It serves as a memorial to John Lennon, whose death occurred in the city. Yoko Ono still lives in the building where he died. A ground mosaic with the word "Imagine" serves as the centerpiece to this area. On the day of my visit, it was outlined with roses in the shape of a peace sign. Also in Central Park, North of Bow Bridge is the Ramble, a neat wooded area highlighted by Belvedere Castle. This stone structure, 3 levels tall, serves as the weather center for the park now. We actually got a bit turned around trying to find it, and also stumbled across a chess and checkers area which is always a neat find. Central Park really was a unique area. There were tons and tons of people within the park, but you never felt like there were too many people. It really was a well planned and beautiful park offering open lawns all the way down to hilly areas overlooking ponds where you could rent rowboats, to even rocky secluded streams. The park was so much more than I could have imagined - and to see it from the sky was just as
...as I type this, it's hard to believe I've only gotten through just over ½ of my weekend trip!
The forecasted rain finally caught up to us Sunday evening, a pleasant surprise considering it was supposed to rain on and off on Sunday and Monday (we didn't see any rain Monday either!) So we got caught in a brief downpour in Times Square. Amazingly, the masses of people disappeared from the rain - ourselves included as we ducked into the M&M Store - three floors of hardshelled candy goodness. After exploring in there, we darted across the street to the Hershey store... easily only 1/6 the size of the entire store devoted to just the M&M's. After leaving there, while hiding from the rain in a phonebooth, Kevin and Brittany arrived from their Hungarian dinner with his family. To unwind from the day, we went to a place called the Perfect Pint. Brittany had spotted it earlier, and it was definitely a good find! The Irish pubs in New York were very clean and had a good feel to them... AND were run by real Irish. (Something I'm not used to in Atlanta.) It was a
great ending to the day.
Monday brought our last day in the city. We filled in the gaps as the afternoon ticked away towards our 7:30pm flight. We ate a late breakfast in Bryant Park adjacent to the New York Public Library. In the park, there is even an outdoor reading area with a few tables and magazines and books available as well. The public bathroom was quite neat - a push of a button meant a new, clean, plastic seat cover would rotate around. A very clever invention meaning no more laying toilet paper down!
We even had plenty of time to take the subway (we had unlimited daily ride passes) to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It's not a very pretty stadium, but it was neat to see the area. The bars all had the advertisements painted upon their garage style doors that were locked to the ground. Maybe not the safest area, but it definitely deserved a look. This was also were I saw some of my first real New York graffiti. It was about time.
We couldn't leave New York without looking for some deals. Chinatown brought some great finds
- I got 4 men's ties for $10 and a souvenir New York drawstring backpack, Chris got a great deal on a good looking watch and VonDutch belt buckle - and I found a discount place a few blocks away where I got a really cute little purse for only $2.50!
With time now ticking away, our last stop was St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was beautiful and had more candles lit than I have seen within any other cathedral. Understandable considering all New York has been though in the past years. It was a calm moment in a busy weekend, and served to end the trip on a bigger note than just tourism.
But it was time to head back. We caught the train to the bus to the airport... and after sitting 1 hour on the runway, it was back to the daily life Atlanta brings. Only 1 ½ more months until my next adventure: Brasil!
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