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Published: October 20th 2009
Our flight to New York was a red-eye from LAX to JFK on the new airline, Virgin America. Since I had been impressed on my two flights with Virgin Atlantic, I thought this new airline must be just as great. Immediately after a full days work; Shea, Kevin, and I headed straight to the airport to catch our 9:25pm flight. Kevin's sister, Wendy, drove us to the Van Nuys Flyaway where we would catch a shuttle bus to LAX. The check in at Virgin America was the quickest and most stress-free check-in I had ever experienced. The ticket counters were brightly lit, flowers decorated the area, a red-carpet was placed on the floor leading to the ticket counter, and music was playing. If I didn't know any better, I would think I was about to enter a night-club. Once inside the terminal, we passed the time by having a few drinks at the Gladstone's Restaurant before boarding the flight. When we finally boarded, I was quite impressed with the plane. The cabin was lit with purple lighting, the seats were leather, and each seat was equipped with it's own personal entertainment device. Unfortunately, the seats in our row did not recline
and it made for a quite uncomfortable flight. Also, typical with all the flights I have taken in my life, I was unable to sleep on the plane. This means I'll have an entire day in New York with no sleep. However, there was good news. For some reason, our flight would be arriving at JFK almost an hour early. A 4 hour flight to go from coast to coast.
Our flight arrived shortly after 5am. Despite the early hour, the first thing that I noticed in the terminal was how muggy and humid it was. It reminded me of arriving at some tropical third world country. After collecting everyone's bags and going outside so Shea and Kevin can have a quick smoke, we caught the AirTrain to Howard Beach where we would then catch a subway into Brooklyn. While waiting for the subway, we met a really nice guy who lives in LA but is originally from New York. He gave us all sorts of ideas as to what to do and see while in New York. Another woman who spoke with a russian accent entered the conversation and gave us even more recommendations. We were not even
in New York for an hour and already we've encountered 2 friendly locals. Who says the people here are rude? Once on the subway, it was a long ride to our stop, Hoyt-Schermerhorn in Brooklyn. I had called our hotel, The Holiday Inn Express, to see if we were able to check-in at such an early hour. We would have to pay for half a day but at least we were able to store our luggage until the 3pm check-in time. The hotel was a bit of a walk from the subway station and was located in a rather sketchy industrial neighborhood. However, the reviews that I had read prior had said not to be intimidated by the neighborhood so I was not worried. After dropping off our bags, we decided to explore the neighborhood to look for breakfast. Since Fourth Street looked like a major road, we made our way there and walked amidst people going about their daily routine. We were about to settle on a McDonald's when one of us spotted a cafe that was just opening up for breakfast. Despite our sluggishness, we decided to venture out into the city to do some exploring after breakfast.
Gotta get a photo with my employer, Bank of America.
So we got back on the subway and chose to start our exploration of the city in Times Square. Even though it was early in the morning, Times Square was as bustling as ever with people heading off to work. We walked around trying to soak it all in. Everywhere you looked there was a huge neon advertisement with blinking lights. It's as if every corporation in the world had bought advertising space in Times Square with each one trying to outshine the others. One can only take so much of the neon advertisements, huge crowds, incessant honking of the taxis, and constant sales pitches from the touts trying to get you to buy a seat on the double-decker tour buses; before sensory overload begins to set in. Thankfully in the middle of all this chaos, there was an area set aside for a few tables and chairs. We sat here for a good half an hour just observing all the madness unfolding around us. Shea and I decided that it would be good for our sanity as well as our feet if we bought tickets aboard the Hop-on Hop-off double-decker tour buses. These buses took you all around the
city and dropped you off in front of all the major attractions. However for $54, the price was quite steep. Kevin didn't seem fond of the idea at first. I could tell that he was very hesitant about shelling out that much money. However, we did convince him that this would be our best bet to see as much as we can of the city in our limited amount of time. Later he would finally admit that the $54 was money well spent as it saved us a lot of time and we got some good information that we probably wouldn't get if we saw the sights on our own.
So after paying our $54 and collecting our 2 day pass, we jumped aboard and began seeing the sights. We drove by such notable landmarks such as Madison Square Garden, Macy's, the Empire State Building, and the Flat Iron Building. Our guide was giving us some great background information on the landmarks we were driving by. He had a thick New York accent and had a sarcastic sense of humor which I very much appreciated. Continuing on, we drove by Greenwich Village which the guide would inform us
Total hustle and bustle!
has great nightlife and outrageous property values and rents. We drove by Washington Square Park and City Hall before arriving at the stop for Ground Zero. None of us really wanted to check it out. After all, it is just a huge hole in the ground. I had seen it during a previous visit and Shea thought it would be way too depressing. So we continued on to Battery Park where we eventually got off. Battery Park is a small park at the southern tip of Manhattan. Here you could catch a ferry to visit Ellis Island and see the Statue of Liberty up close. We were just content with just seeing her from the shoreline. It was probably a good idea that we chose not to go out to the statue. The waters of New York Harbor were extremely choppy and Battery Park extremely windy. A sculpture that was in the World Trade Center Plaza and survived the events of 9/11, was moved to a temporary location in Battery Park. Along with an eternal flame, they both serve as memorials to the events of September 11th. Battery Park was a nice quiet urban escape an a good place to
relax despite the high winds. Back on the double-decker bus, we drove towards the South Street Seaport with great views of the East River and Brooklyn Bridge. The bus route continued into China Town and Little Italy. Apparently New York's Chinatown is one of the largest chinatowns in America. Driving through here, it appeared authentically chinese and very congested. Much of the housing here appeared to consist of cramped tenement buildings and according to our guide, many of them having common bathrooms in the hallways for all to share. I couldn't imagine living in such cramped conditions.
As the bus tour continued, whatever energy we all had left began to wane. Fatigue started to set in but it was way to early to head over to the hotel to check in. We continued through the East Village and had a great view of United Nations Building. Once we finally arrived at Rockefeller Center, we decided to get off and do a little exploration. By now, I can tell everybody was running on empty so I decided after this we would catch a subway and head back to the hotel. Rockefeller Center was bustling with tourists as expected. Ocean Spray
Where they drop the ball on New Years Eve
was having some kind of promotional seasonal display in the plaza. They had a cranberry bog set up with displays on how cranberries are harvested. However, everybody seemed to be more interested in the free Ocean Spray juices they were distributing. The plaza was decorated with hundreds of flags from the various nations of the world. It was as if we were at the United Nations. We just walked around the plaza admiring all the flags and checking out the skating rink which had yet to be set up. We saw the barricades that they put up when Al Roker comes out to film the Today Show as well as huge advertisements of various NBC shows. By now we had all had enough, so we caught the nearest subway back to Brooklyn to check in. If any of us thought the subway ride back would be quiet, we would be in for a wake up. While sitting there zoning out, 2 guys boarded our subway car and began to sing. I knew what their motive was so I just looked down and pretended to sleep. Who knew the subways would feature live entertainment? Not long after, a homeless man came
in and loudly asked for any change we could spare. Can't I just enjoy this ride in peace? Once things had finally quieted down a bit, I hear a woman yell "What the fuck are you looking at?......Who are you?........ I immediately look over and think to myself, oh no, Puerto Ricans gone wild. All of a sudden I see her spit in the face of the guy she was yelling at. The guy retaliated in turn by hitting her with his umbrella. I thought a huge skirmish was about to break out in the subway before a huge guy got in between them to break things up. Just as quick as everything unfolded, it was quickly over. Everyone on the subway went back to minding their own business as if such skirmishes break out all the time!
We spent the next few hours just relaxing back at the hotel room. The room was rather tight and small but we were all too tired to really care. About 8pm, we finally decided to venture back out to find some dinner. The long day was still taking a toll on us and we didn't really have the energy to go
back into the city. Since Kevin had wanted to check out some authentic New York style pizza, I decided that we should go to Grimaldi's which was here in Brooklyn. I had done a little research and discovered that Grimaldi's was rated one of the best pizza places in all of New York City. It was a bit of an ordeal to get there as it was quite a walk from the nearest subway stop. There didn't seem to be much action on the streets during our walk so I was beginning to worry if the place would even be open. Once we arrived, I thought for a second that all our walking was for not as it looked to be closed. Thankfully, they were still open and didn't close until 11pm. I don't know if it was because we were all starving at this point, but the pizza at Grimaldi's was delicious. We all shared a large pepperoni pizza which we devoured rather quickly. Thinking that a few slices of pizza would not be enough, Shea and I ordered an antipasto salad that we thought we saw on the menu. It turns out that the antipasto on the menu
The Statue of Liberty
Seen from Battery Park
wasn't a salad at all. We just assumed that antipasto referred to a salad. Instead, we received a plate of about 4 slices of salami, a chunk of mozzarella cheese, some marinated tomatoes, a few olives, and a basket of toasted bread. We had thought this was mistakenly brought to our table. However when we looked back at the menu, we learned that it wasn't a salad after all. Antipasto simply refers to something before the main meal. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise as we placed pieces of the salami, cheese, and tomatoes on top of the bread topped off with some olive oil. After dinner I figured since the Brooklyn Bridge was close by, we might as well take a stroll across it. Walking across the bridge is one of those really touristy things that most visitors do and we were going to be no exception. Since it was almost midnight, there were very few people walking across. However, that made it more enjoyable as it seemed like we had the bridge all to ourselves. We walked about halfway across and had some great views of the Manhattan skyline. After soaking it all in and trying
to take a bunch of night photos, we just decided to call it a night and head back. Getting back to the hotel was much more difficult than we anticipated. Since it was after midnight, the subways switched to a late night schedule where some stations were no longer serviced. Of course, the station closest to our hotel was one of them. We figured out an alternative route and eventually made it back around 2am.
The next morning, we had a bit of a late start. We deserved to sleep in considering how little sleep we had the day before. It wasn't until about 10am that we finally made it out of the hotel. The plan this morning was to walk up to Atlantic Street and catch the hop-on hop-off bus at the intersection of Atlantic St and Court St. This area is known for it's plethora of middle-eastern restaurants and as being an antique furniture district. When we arrived at the intersection, we sat around and waited for a bus to arrive that would never come. Eventually, we decided to stop waiting around and walked up Court Street to catch a subway over to Battery Park in
The New York Skyline
Seen from Battery Park
Manhattan. Once there, we joined our hop-on hop-off bus to the South Street Seaport where we joined the Brooklyn Tour. We really had not intentions of getting off at any of the stops in Brooklyn. We just wanted to get a feel of what Brooklyn was like. The tour through Brooklyn lasted about an hour and we drove through such neighborhoods as Brooklyn Heights and Flatbush. We also drove by such landmarks as the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I didn't really have the best impression of Brooklyn prior to visiting here. However from what I've seen in these past two days, I've been rather impressed. It seems as if Brooklyn is on the up and up. Neighborhoods appear to be gentrifying as those priced out of the expensive Manhattan market look to Brooklyn. When the Brooklyn tour ended back at the South Street Seaport, we decided to explore the area a bit more before returning to the hop-on hop-off buses. South Street Seaport is just south of the Financial District and features a modern tourist mall as well as many food and shopping choices. While in the area, Kevin was looking for a place to
The temporary memorial to the events of 9/11
eat but all the places we checked out appeared to be overpriced so we just decided to wait and go to Lombardi's in Little Italy. Since we were in close proximity to the Financial District, we chose to check out the sights of Wall Street. The center of America's financial dominance was a strange mixture of camera toting tourists and well dressed Wall Street employees on their lunch breaks. We arrived at Federal Hall where the first congress met and where George Washington took the presidential oath. After snapping a few photos with the statue of George Washington, we continued to the New York Stock Exchange just around the corner. This is where it all happens, the symbol of American capitalism and financial strength. However in some circles, the symbol of all the world's evils. A huge American flag drapes the front of the building and it's hard to imagine that all those scenes on TV of stocks being bought and sold was taking place right inside that building. Security had a huge presence here as everywhere you looked it seemed there was a machine gun toting security agent. After getting our fix of capitalism, we walked back to the
Shea taking a break from New Yorks chaos
South Street Seaport and got back on the hop-on hop-off bus to reach our next stop.
We got off at the Chinatown stop in order to make our way to Little Italy where we would have lunch at Lombardi's. Chinatown was heavily congested with chinese people going about their day shopping at all the various markets selling exotic fruits and seafood. All the signs including the street signs were in Chinese giving the area the feel of being somewhere in Hong Kong. Slowly, the storefront signs began to change from Chinese to more Italian names and we knew that we were transitioning into the Little Italy neighborhood. We really had no clue where Lombardi's was located. All I knew was that it was on Spring Street. Nobody seemed to take any initiative in finding the place and I was starting to get really irritated with both Shea and Kevin. It's seems as if they're just playing follow the leader. I feel like i'm doing all the work and making all the decisions as to where we go and what we see. I intentionally did not ask for directions just to see who would take the initiative and ask. Once
I realized that I had to take control again, I got really upset. I asked a few people where Spring Street was located and took off without any regard as to whether Shea or Kevin were following. I was so annoyed that I didn't care if any of them got lost. Eventually I made it to Lombardi's and not too long after, Shea and Kevin showed up as well. Lombardi's pizza was also regarded as one of New York's best. Like at Grimaldi's, we ordered the pepperoni pizza which turned out to be quite difficult to cut with our knives. In the end, we all agreed that the pizza at Grimaldi's last night was far superior to that of Lombardi's. While hanging around outside Lombardi's, Kevin and I were approached by some guy with 2 black eyes, a bunch of scratches on his face, and bloodied clothes. He kept insisting that I take his photo but I really didn't want anything to do with him so I just kind of walked off. He and Kevin started to chat and the guy layed out his entire story of what had happened. In the end, he eventually asked for some money to
which Kevin politely declined. Kevin was actually kind enough to give the man a cigarette. After Lobmardi's, we retraced out steps back through Little Italy and Chinatown to reboard our hop-on hop-off bus. The buses were jam packed. When one finally came that we were able to board, we had to cram into the lower level like a bunch of sardines where it was as hot as a sauna. After a few stops, a large group of people got off at the Waldorf-Astoria. We rushed to the grab their seats on the upper level to enjoy the cooler outdoor air. When the bus arrived near Central Park, we decided to get off and explore. The park was an oasis of calm and tranquility right in the middle of one of the most congested cities in the world. We wandered through the various paths that took us by ponds and over bridges. It was really nice to kind of get back to nature even though the huge skyscrapers of Mid-Town that towered over the park kept reminding you of it's urban setting. It was getting dark and we were starting to walk through some not so well-lit areas. Some of us
The Statue of Prometheus
started to get a little nervous recalling all the horror stories we've heard during our lifetime about muggings and killings in the park. There were still lots of joggers and bike riders on the trails so I wasn't worried about our safety. I knew that Central Park was much safer these days than in days past. Kevin and I wanted to make our way over to the Great Lawn. It was such a long and tiring trek to get there from where we started at the south end of the park. It ended up being a waste of time. When we got there, it was completely dark and nothing could be seen. In need of some rest, we just sat quietly on a bench and wondered aloud about who ever would have thought we would be sitting in Central Park after dark!
After Central Park, we caught the subway over to Penn Station. Tomorrow we had reservations for an Amtrak ride to Boston. We wanted to avoid any potential delays tomorrow by picking up our tickets tonight. Penn Station was an utter madhouse! Huge throngs of people were moving in every direction. If you stopped to try and get
your bearings, you were bumped into and in some cases almost knocked over. Eventually, we located the Amtrak ticket kiosks and printed out our tickets for tomorrow. Walking through Penn Station, I did notice a K-Mart inside the train station. Such a strange place to have a K-Mart! In fact, it was one of probably 4 that I had seen throughout the city. Here I thought that all of those stores had gone out of business. After Penn Station, we walked over to the nearby Macy's. This was apparently the largest of all the Macy's stores. Since I had somehow forgotten to pack pants, I had to buy a pair or two for the duration of the trip. One of the guides on the bus tour had mentioned that if you proved you were an out of state resident, your purchases at Macy's would be tax free. So of course, even more incentive to purchase something. This Macy's was bustling with tourists from all over the world. Their selection of clothing put to shame anything we have back in California. I seriously could have spent a few hours browsing through the men's department but I came here for one thing
only, some pants. Kevin even got into the act and purchased an Addidas jacket. With that out of the way, we decided to end our time in the city where it all began, back in Times Square. It was ten times more chaotic in Times Square at night than during the day. All of the tourists, neon lights, and overall congestion quickly started to give me a headache. We made our way over to the tourist hot spot, the Hard Rock Cafe where we would have dinner. Afterwards, we just made our way back to the hotel to soak up everything we had seen the past 2 days. We all agreed that New York is a great city but we found it to be really draining. Living here is something none of us could imagine ourselving doing. Perhaps if we didn't cram everything into 2 days and spread it out more, we would feel differently. All in all, I would definetly return to New York but see things at a much more relaxed pace.
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