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Published: August 10th 2007
Here’s another travel entry (or 12) about our recent trip through the USA, provided that I can remember what we did & when, since I didn’t write any of it down! Overall the trip was really amazing, & both Vaughan & I still find it very difficult to pin down any one aspect of the trip that was the ‘highlight’, as everything went really well & we saw & learned so much. Of course, catching up with my friends Kelly (& family), & Jeremy was great for me, & I can’t wait to return (maybe next year). For now, I am back in Nelson spending some time with my parents, & Vaughan has gone back to London, so make sure you keep in touch with him as it can be a lonely place sometimes. Anyway - here’s what we got up to……
We headed off quite early to the airport for our flight over to New York City. We had decided to stay in a hotel near the airport for the previous night (thanks Sueanne!) so that we were close to the airport in the morning, not to mention the fact that all our
towels & bedding & stuff were all packed & stored away, so we didn’t actually have access to anything we needed. The flight was pretty uneventful but we were a bit nervous once we arrived in New York as Vaughan still didn’t have his visa, & we weren’t sure what would happen at Immigration. The line was long but we eventually got in without any problems (even though they now take your photo & fingerprints), so we managed to get sorted out with our luggage & onto the subway (metro/tube/underground) where we could finally breathe a sign of relief. The first thing we noticed was how friendly everyone was - it was a really nice introduction to New York City. People could see we were tourists & kept asking us if we were OK & pointing the best ways to get to where we were going. These weren’t people after a quick buck for their help, but often business people who just noticed that you might need a hand (even if we didn’t actually need one). Sometimes all we would have to do is pull out a map or even just stop walking for a moment & people would just
walk up & help us. One lady even said she was going in the same direction & that she would take us most of the way. Really, really helpful - & a complete change after London where no one even makes eye contact, & you generally couldn’t get help there even if you asked for it.
We made it to our hostel which was pretty average (with the tiniest rooms I had ever seen) but luckily they also had air conditioning, which was much needed as it was really hot. New York City is incredibly expensive so it was all we could afford on our budget, but it was in an excellent location - close to the central city & right opposite the bottom of Central Park. We dropped our stuff off & then went back out for a walk around, stopping at the bottom entrance to the park where people were selling photographs, offering horse rides, playing music, & generally just doing stuff. We kept on moving towards Times Square & went past the theatre where the Late Show with David Letterman is filmed, past loads of shops, tourist stores, delis & interesting places. It was so bright
& colourful, with loads of tourists & locals, traffic & billboards. It was kind of like the New York I had imagined, only larger than life because it was finally real. It was really exciting to be there & there were so many things to see & do. Times Square was not really a ‘square; as I had expected, but more just a section of street with lots of theatres & bright lights & people. I have never seen so many electronic boards in all my life & you could watch the news on the giant TV screens at each end. We then carried on quickly to see Madison Square Gardens, the large arena where many events are held (concerts/basketball/etc). On the way we saw a group of guys playing jazz music in the street. Everywhere there seemed to be performers of all kinds right throughout the city & it was very exciting to watch - New York City really seemed so ‘alive’ compared to a lot of other places we have been, & it was great to see all kinds of things going on (music/breakdancing/etc).
After venturing around there for a while we decided to head over to
the Empire State Building, which wasn’t too far away. We weren’t sure about what time of the day we would like to go up there (daytime, nighttime, sunset, etc) but saw that the line wasn’t very long at all, so we went up straight away - 80 stories to the top on an express elevator (a first for Vaughan), where they take your photo & then send you on another small elevator to the observation deck a few more stories above. The view was a bit hazy but you could see so far away, including out to the ocean where the State of Liberty stood, as well as (in the other direction) Central Park & even our hostel! New York City is filled with so many huge skyscrapers that it’s like nowhere else in the world, so seeing above them all & out into the surrounding suburbs was amazing. After a while it started to get a big cold, which was a welcome relief after the hot day, & we ventured back down to the bottom, found a supermarket (New York really has everything you need, even right in the city) & bought some cheap food for dinner, which we
ate inside Central Park near our hostel. We had walked quite a lot & had had a busy day so we were glad to head back for a rest in the air conditioning afterward - what a great introduction to New York. It certainly came across as an amazing city!
Today we jumped up early as we thought we would try & fit in quite a few things. There just seemed to be so much that we wanted to see in New York, so even though we had a few days there, we already wished that we had more! We started off by getting some fresh fruit & yoghurt from the local supermarket & eating that on the grass in central Park - it was already getting hot by this time so we went back to the hostel to gear up on our cameras & water & other bits & pieces, & then headed off to the central city & around some of the parks - we stopped first at Washington Square, a charming park filled with friendly transient-type people & loads of dogs. It didn’t feel dangerous at all, & had a large section of
chess tables (like you see on TV). It was kind of cool, & the guys hanging out there all seemed interested in playing new people at chess. We kept on walking & had a quick look around one of the universities & then went down to Union Square, a decent-sized square with lots of shops around it, & a farmer’s market at one end. It was bustling & noisy, with all kinds of delicious foods smells in the air. There were different kinds of art for sale, all brightly coloured & interesting. I really enjoyed looking around, although it was already pretty hot so we made sure to stop regularly for Gatorade & sunscreen. From there we kept walking downtown through Soho & the East Village, stopping to look in some of the expensive boutique stores there, although we had often seen similar stores around London.
At the bottom of Soho we came across Chinatown, where we made the mistake of wading into the crowds doing their Saturday morning Chinese market shopping. It was so busy & really hard to keep moving or stay on the footpath, but it was kind of fun to see all the things they
had for sale, & I bought some knick-knacks which were cheaper there than anywhere else. We stopped off at Columbia Park where we saw heaps of Chinese people playing Mah Jong, kind of like the other people in the chess park. Our feet were getting quite sore by this time, & when we kept moving down to see City Hall (where we could see the Brooklyn Bridge) we deciede to have a decent rest in the park next door, where they were setting up for a jazz festival. We listened to the guys doing their sound check & managed to get a nice seat in the shade. It was really pleasant there, being in the park, by City Hall & the bridge, with guys coming around with wee carts selling cold drinks. We decided just to chill out there for a while as I was also getting a really large blister underneath my right foot, which was becoming quite painful.
After a while we decided to move on, & ventured even further downtown to see the site of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Centre. I had thought that there was already a memorial in place here, &
that they were just going to leave the two spotlights shining up into the sky at night, to show where the towers used to be - but when we arrived we saw that the whole place is pretty much under construction, where they are building a new building (taller than the last one) to replace the old towers. I am not sure how much of the land this new building would take up, but I did worry that the new building would become another target in the future. I kind of liked the idea of the memorial & the two spotlights, but I am sure that many Americans see it from a different point of view. There actually wasn’t much that you could see at the WTC site as much of it was behind construction fencing, so we kept on moving & finally made it down to the bottom of Manhattan to the Staten Island Ferry. There are many ferry trips you can take from this part of town, but the Staten Island ferry is excellent for seeing the Statue of Liberty. Although you can still take a ferry tour right out to the island (expensive), you can no longer
climb up inside the statue, so we decided to go to Staten Island because the ferry there is FREE (nice!). The trip was great & we got to take heaps of photos - the statue itself is a bit smaller than I had expected, but it was very impressive sitting out on it’s own island where immigrants first saw it as a sign of their freedom when arriving on boats from abroad.
On our way back on the subway from the ferry it really started to pour with rain even though it was still hot, so when we emerged in Times Square we had to hide out in some of the clothing stores & restaurants for a while. Vaughan managed to actually find some shorts for himself & seemed quite enthusiastic about clothes for the first time in ages, as he usually has so much trouble finding stuff to fit him. There seemed to be a lot available & at a really reasonable price (compared to London & NZ) so he got to have a mini spending-spree, which must have been really nice for him for a change! It was raining so hard outside that we couldn’t go anywhere,
but after about an hour the skies had rained themselves out so we were able to get on our way again. The blister underneath my foot was massive by this time & I was barely able to put any weight on it, which made walking so painful & difficult, but there was a lot that we wanted to see so I just kept going. Eventually we made it to an Italian restaurant which we had seen the day before near the bottom of the Empire State Building, so we went there for dinner - it was kind of like a buffet & the food was really good for the fact that it was mass produced, & we really enjoyed ourselves. I was glad to get back to the hostel with my sore foot though, but we had done so much with our day & were really enjoying New York!
Today we wanted to take it a bit easier since we had just about killed ourselves the day before. It was pretty hot & a bit muggy, & combined with my sore foot & our previous escapades around the city, we were already feeling pretty exhausted. However,
we still wanted to make the famous mission across the Brooklyn Bridge (even me, although I could hardly walk at that point). With my foot displaying enough plaster to thwart enemy fire (all of which came off in about 30 seconds of walking of course). First of all we did the fruit breakfast thing in Central Park, & then went to Wall Street, where Vaughan wanted to have a look around. There wasn’t actually that much to see there apart from more skyscrapers, but that area of the financial district was certainly impressive in general. From there we headed back to the City Hall area (but on the subway this time), arriving at the Manhattan end of Brooklyn Bridge before it got too hot. The bridge was certainly impressive, once being the largest suspension bridge in the world. There were so many wires & bits of metal attached to it - it looked so complicated! Since Manhattan is an island, there are actually many bridges connecting it to the mainland, many of which you can see when walking across any of the other bridges, & the view was amazing. It was cooler on the bridge as we were able to
pick up a breeze heading down the channel. There were so many people walking & biking across the bridge but it was kind of nice to see the views of the city, looking back across the water.
When we got to the other side we stopped off in a park for a while, sitting the shade & watching the kids play ball games, as it was Father’s Day there & many families were out & about in the parks. New York is certainly famous at least for Central Park, but they seem to pride themselves on the leafy green areas available in most suburban areas, & even in many central city areas as well. Brooklyn looked really pretty, with so many tree-lined streets & a real ‘neighbourhood’ air. We had wanted to take a look around Brooklyn but just didn’t feel that we had enough time. If we are ever to get back there then we would love to take a look around more of New York’s fine suburban neighbourhoods, to see the famous ‘brownstones’ & other local architecture. The more we saw of New York, the more we liked it, despite the current heat, & the knowledge of
how cold it can be in the winter. It had a real family & outdoors feel about it, & quite a fun vibe, with so much to see & do (especially within the areas of theatre & the arts), but without that whole snotty, trendy air about it. Sadly we headed back to Manhattan on the subway vowing to return to Brooklyn one day.
We headed back towards our hostel, stopping off in Central Park for a bit more of a look around (at least part of the bottom section, as it is just so massive!) & noticed that there was so much going on. Just when you thought you had seen what New York had to offer, it dished up more. There was SO much to see & do in the park - baseball fields (about 20 of them!), playgrounds, skating rink, swimming pond, fountains, rollerbladers, cyclists, horse rides, tennis courts, lawn bowls, croquet, football fields, lakes, boats, museums, even a bandstand with a large concert going on. It was amazing - any outdoor activity you could think of was available at Central Park. Vaughan & I were both really impressed considering we had only seen a fraction
of the park! We stopped for a while to watch a group of young people put on an organised break-dancing performance, which was really quite good. After a bit of downtime back in the air conditioning at the hostel, we headed off to the supermarket for some hot food (they have buffet containers & all kinds of breakfast & dinner foods to choose from) & cold drinks, which we took back to the lower part of Central Park for a picnic on the grass, which was quite pleasant, even though it was still pretty hot & muggy. Our feet were about to fall off at that point & Vaughan was complaining that his shorts were falling down without a belt (we should all be so lucky), so we headed off for a well-deserved sleep.
Today we had a slightly quieter day, heading off towards Times Square first, to score free tickets to the David Letterman show that night. However we discovered that the show was on summer hiatus for a few more weeks so that wasn’t much of an option, but Vaughan thought he saw Rupert from the Hello Deli near the theatre while we were
milling around - it was his proudest moment! We ventured again in to the tourists stores (much to Vaughan’s discontent) & did some shopping for people back home, where Vaughan also bought me a fantastic photography book with some beautiful photos of New York inside. I still wonder if it was a ploy to convince me to leave the store! From there we walked over to Grand Central Station for a look around the famous building - it was pretty massive, with a really good food hall underneath where we got some New York cheesecake. From there we took the subway up to the top of Central Park for a look around the other end of this beautiful place, ended up on a giant trek around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir & the Great Lawn, through various other smaller sections of the park until we were completely shattered, as the day was warm & very humid. Exiting the park near our hostel we went back for a bit of a rest & attendance to our sore feet for a while, before heading back towards the city.
Our next adventure was into a part of the central city renowned for
it’s street basketball, which I had really wanted to see - when we arrived, the place was buzzing, with an official local game of girls basketball taking place on the main court. It was kind of like a mini-court which was next to the road & surrounded by fencing. There were loads of people watching, & a few people playing handball in the courts next door as well. Most of the players were African American (in fact, perhaps they all were, thinking back) but it seemed like a good placer to get noticed by talents scouts. The game was really exciting & we arrived just before the end of the 1st quarter, so were able to see most of the whole game. I really enjoyed watching basketball in that kind of environment, & managed to take a few photos as well. My hat was off to the girls though, as it was still just so hot that even standing still out in the sun was a challenge for everyone there!
From there we got some takeaway Italian (New York pizza & pasta - nice) & headed back towards the city to Grant Park, a smallish park where they hold
outdoor movies in summer. We went early (with a bottle of wine) to avoid the crowds (3 hours early) but there was already so many people there that there literally wasn’t anywhere to even sit on the ground. In the end we sat on a concrete area at the back where Vaughan managed to score a seat, & then later scored another one for me. We talked to all kinds of people around us while we all waited for the movie to begin, including an older couple from San Diego, & a local homeless guy who was interested in hearing about New Zealand. I asked him all about his life, which he didn’t seem to mind talking about either & I felt like I learned a lot - he was really smart & interesting. When the movie started (Annie Hall, with Woody Allen) we found that the sound was quite messed up (it was loud enough but they didn’t have speakers near the back, so the delay & echo made it impossible to understand, especially since it was a talking movie). Many people around us gave up & went home, as we did after a short time, but we had
both had fun, as the interactions we had with people while waiting for the film to start ended up being more enjoyable than the film itself. There were just so many people there (maybe about 5000 packed into this small park) - there was a real summertime air about the place & we were both really glad we had made the effort to get to a few local events.
We had booked some bus tickets to get us to Washington DC at 1pm so we really only had a few hours in the morning to sort out what we needed. We got some nice fresh breakfast again from the supermarket & ate that in Central Park - on the way back I stopped at some of the stalls on the corner & bought some nice photos of New York to bring home with me. I’m such a sucker for nice photography! After getting our luggage to the main bus terminal I realised that I hadn’t actually printed out our bus tickets, which had been sent to us via email (nice one, Toni!) so I went on a mini-mission to get that sorted out while Vaughan waited
at the station with our bags. Once that was sorted out I headed off again to Times Square where I paid a visit to the Hershey’s Store to buy some chocolate for our friends that we would be visiting in Iowa. It was so hot & I was walking at mad-woman speed to get everything done in time, nearly throwing slow-walking tourists to the curb when they blocked my path. Clearly London had had too much of an effect on me & I had to remember to slow down & enjoy what I was doing (buying gifts for people), rather than think about how hot it was & that I would really rather be in the air conditioned bus station.
The bus trip was really interesting. The land towards Washington DC was really populated & there were a lot of toll roads, which I guess are used to try & minimize the build up of traffic. It was quite polluted as we headed past Baltimore, although there seemed to be a lot of industry going on, especially next to the water where we travelled for quite some time. It was interesting to see all the kinds of factories &
stuff, combined with our first large motorways, which introduced us to the kinds of roads we would later be driving on once we hired a car. The trip took about 4 ½ hours & we arrived in Washing DC in good time. After catching the metro close to where we were staying we found it to be so incredibly humid that we took a taxi the remainder of the distance to the B&B, as it was mostly uphill. The B&B was amazing & we had been put into a giant family room of a beautifully kept Victoria house, just outside the central city area in a residential area. The streets were tree-lined & the neighbourhood was very tidy with some fabulous old houses, all of which had also been upkept. It was really stunning & I was amazed at the difference in accommodation between Washington DC & our tiny hostel room in NYC, considering they were around the same price. The B&B was large (taking up 3 houses altogether) but maintain it’s homely feel. There were all kinds of nooks & crannies, & we were both just so impressed.
We happened to be staying near the main restaurant area
of the city, so picking up a recommendations list from the B&B, we ended up just a short walk down the road outside a number of great places to choose from - it was so hard to decide. In the end we chose to go completely out of our depth, & tried out an Ethiopian restaurant (I can hear you making the jokes now - no, we didn’t just have flour & water - haha!). It was a really popular place & we shared a large platter of mixed foods, so that we were able to try a bit of everything. It was amazing - curry type dishes with flour wraps to dip in all the sauces, all served on another giant wrap so you could eat your ‘plate’ at the end (of course, Vaughan had to test this theory!). It was well-priced & so tasty - we would recommend it to anyone & we later found out that the restaurant is highly regarded throughout the city - no wonder it was so busy. We had a bit more of a walk around (there was a supermarket, some pubs, more restaurants & some clothing stores), so we made sure that
we stocked up on all the things that we needed - it was a great area to be staying in - central with lots of shops, but on a residential street. We headed off for a decent rest in our spacious room, missing the city of New York but loving our new accommodations. It was a great welcome to Washington DC!
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