It’s always funny to meet people in other parts of the world who have been to cities in your own country that you’ve never seen before. I’ve often felt I was saving those for later years when I might be less able or willing to endure 8 to 12 hour flights, or maybe I just needed an excuse. An excuse finally entered the picture for New York City, a place until recently that I had seen out the window of a plane a few times but in which I had never set foot before. But having two friends from a past trip (Costa Rica and Nicaragua) in town was all the excuse I needed to finally wet my feet in the city that never sleeps.
I flew out of Savannah’s airport. For some mystic reason known only to the airlines, it was the cheapest place relatively nearby to fly directly to New York. Atlanta’s only cheaper flight involved a connection in Fort Lauderdale – c’mon that’s not even in the right direction! And I have to say, if you ever have reason to use Savannah’s airport, it’s really nice. I mean, like the resort spa of airports, clean and new with rocking chairs in the terminal! Now, there aren’t a ton of options for eats after you’ve cleared security but security is so short, you could grab a meal before!
New York’s Laguardia was the antithesis of Savannah’s airport. While it was no dump, it was pretty much just another airport, and the only public transit connection to Laguardia is the bus. There are a few Queens buses, but I had to jump aboard the only Manhattan bound bus, the M60! This is almost an experience on par with chicken buses in Latin America! I could never understand the driver’s communications regarding stops and as it was peak travel time, the bus got more and more crowded as we made our way across the top of Manhattan. I ended up getting off several stops early – a bit of confusion over where I thought he said we were combined with the maddening crush of people entering through the rear door of the bus (thus avoiding paying a fare). It was only after I walked to the nearest station that I realized I either had a long jumble of trains and stations to make my destination on the upper West side or a walk to the correct train station. I guess hypothetically joining another M60 bus was an option, but I was having none of that, so I proceeded to walk along 125th Street in, yes, Harlem. Now, I’ve heard Harlem is far and away not the place of our collective historic memory today, but I can tell you I was a bit out of place. Still, I was pretty much ignored as I beat the street with my bloody heavy pack (my camera stuff probably weighed as much if not more than my clothes).
I spent only 5 nights there, and that’s not nearly enough time to even begin to take in all there is to see and do in the Big Apple. The first night I had dinner and caught up with Lenny and James, who had both been before. This of course meant that I was doing a lot of my own stuff since I was a newbie there. And I definitely think I squeezed in as much as I could, not even having time to blog about it while there – very unusual for me while traveling! If I hadn’t had my iPhone, I wouldn’t have even checked email, etc.
The first full day I had a late start but made my way to an office near Times Square to trade in a voucher I pre-purchased for a few bus loops around the city to get my bearings. I’ve done similar tours in other cities and found they were a pretty good way to see a city, getting to hop on and off a pre-calculated route. In retrospect, I definitely bit off more than I could chew, having paid for ALL of their bus loops plus a boat tour! This all had to be completed in 48 hours, which means a lot of my first two days were spent on buses! If you’re ever going to NYC and you think you might do a bus trip, just get one loop, my advice would be the downtown bus tour. Save Brooklyn and the upper end of Manhattan for either another trip or your own wanderings. I felt obligated to take the bus rides but just didn’t have time to get off in either place.
The boat ride was probably one of the highlights for me. We saw the city from the water and it’s here that you can really appreciate how unreal New York is. With every square inch bustling with towering buildings, it feels like something computer generated. Maybe a New Yorker wouldn’t feel this way, but when you grow up in a town with nothing over 2 stories, anything this big seems impossible! The boat tour also included a run out to the Statue of Liberty where we could appreciate her from the water and get some photos. This would turn out to be my only really good view of the statue the whole week I was there! But you could almost imagine seeing it as all those people processed through Ellis Island must have.
I definitely felt like I saw all the highlights, either from the bus or on my own two feet. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge three times! And no one tried to sell it to me even once! Darn it! I went to the top of Rockefeller Center – The Top of the Rock as it’s known to see the sunset with Lenny and James. The view was phenomenal, more of that vast city stretching to the water on one end and vanishing past the green tranquility of Central Park on the other. If you can only pick one building to go up, I’d probably make it this one, but I also went up to the 86th floor of the Empire State building one cool and blustery evening. I skipped the chance to shell out more $ to see the 104th floor as I was already blown to bits by the wind on the 86th! The view from way up is still magical even on a not so pretty night, I have to say!
The morning I had planned to go see the Statue of Liberty in person turned out to be a rainy morning. I decided that despite having paid the handsome sum of $12 for my tickets, seeing it in a driving rain didn’t make my heart go pitter pat and instead decided it was museum day! There are enough choices to make your head spin in NYC, but I ended up going with the venerable MoMA – Museum of Modern Art. It was an excellent choice even though my appreciation of modern art varies. I love the photography exhibit. They had a lot of quite old examples of photography with all sorts of mystical methods of creating the shots on up to examples of photos taken to document the times in the 1930’s in the US. I spent the bulk of my time right there before doing a, by comparison, world wind tour of the rest of the building. Where in the photography area, I pretty dutifully looked at every photo, once I got loose in the rest, it didn’t bother my conscience to bypass the works that didn’t call to me. I was at least impressed when I did like something enough to check it out to see the names of Picasso, Matisse, van Gogh, Dali, and Warhol. I guessed if I was picking those artists works I wasn’t a complete cretin. Maybe I have a little taste after all. LOL
During my time in NYC, although meals were not cheap, they were certainly varied, I had some good New York style Pizza at Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn (supposedly the best there is and I can attest it was good – and there was a line stretching down the block even for take out!). I had scrumptious cheesecake at the Junior’s in Time’s Square, and I ate Brazilian food at Rice n Beans! While I am and always have been terribly finicky, New York is definitely the place to go for any of you foodies out there, I suspect you could live there for years and keep finding new foods! I mostly sampled the “must tries” but thanks to being there with friends also scored a few new things such as the Brazilian place.
The last day in NYC was reserved for a group activity since the weather, which turned gloomy mid-week was better and most of the trip was us catching up over dinner since I was off doing my own thing. We took a bus out to East Hampton to see where the rich and famous like to spend their holidays. The Hamptons weren’t all about celebs, but the property prices in East Hampton certainly seemed to be aimed at folks with above average means. So, of course, it goes without saying that all the buildings were fairly gorgeous, the shops were high end, and my favorite part was still walking on that long beach, even if sand was blowing at us pretty much the whole time. It was a nice laid back way to end a hectic week. In fact, we even had Mexican at lunch, my favorite comfort food.
By contrast, my dinner that night was an Italian chicken sandwich and, oh my gosh, real gelato! I had tried some in Savannah, and it was okay but this was definitely the real deal. And of all places to find it, the food court at Grand Central Station (a phenom place to visit even if you aren’t going to board a train). Grand Central was very much a microcosm of the US. Gorgeous old architecture, renovated not so long ago, many dining options including sit down restaurants and a food court, plus something akin to a high end farmer’s market, and I got to watch homeless people dig through the trash for the left overs. Sad to say, this is America.
In the grand scheme of things, NYC was quite a fun place to visit, and ironically I’ve felt more ill at ease in many places in Atlanta than I felt anywhere I went in New York. Yet still, I’m going to have to say that it was not a place that spoke to my heart the way some others have. I may well go back one day but I also don’t feel an urgent need to just now. If you ever decide to visit, don’t overload on the bus tours (book one maybe and then get a good subway/bus map and do the rest yourself), and be prepared not to do everything you thought you would do, because even if the city never sleeps, you will!