Adventures in New York

At dinner o’clock, as I walk around, my head is generally whipping from side to side almost fast enough to cause some sort of spinal trauma. On a lot of the roads there are just restaurants or food places on either side that all look so great and are generally packed with people, so trying to decide on a place to eat becomes this incredible excercise in mental anguish as I try to make sure I’m getting the best meal possible.

Yesterday I decided the weather was good enough to try going out to the Statue of Liberty. I got on the subway and made my way down the entire length of the island, got out and wandered over. I saw a massive line of people but I figured they were there to get someone’s autograph or something, because it was far too massive to be going to see the Statue – right?

Sadly, I was wrong – they were all going to see the Statue. It’s like it is some sort of incredible tourist attraction, or something. I’ve never seen so many people lined up for anything anywhere I’ve been doing tourist stuff. We’re talking easily in the thousands of people.

I decided that I wasn’t going to stand in line with the rest of the chumps so found another tour thing (one that didn’t actually land on the island) and spent the next hour or so getting an instructive tour of the southern end of Manhattan Island, including a look at New Jersey, Queens, Brooklyn, the Statue, plus a bunch of other places. We ended up pretty close to the Statue (and you can’t go up it any more since 9/11) so I think I’ll save visiting it ‘properly’ for next time.

I then was planning on going to the Metropolitan Museum, but on the way back I went past the Chrysler building and decided I had to get out to get some photos – it is easily the best looking building in the city. While I did that I remembered the UEFA Cup Finals was on so wandered around until I found a pub that had it on (poor old Arsenal, getting their keeper red-carded in the first 20-odd minutes).

Then my plans fell apart, because I’d forgotten I hadn’t had lunch, and as it was 4pm I was getting hungry, so I went to Hard Rock, ate and checked my email (free wifi rules), then stupidly decided to walk the 50+ blocks back to the hostel. I arrived and that was effectively the end of the day; I was exhausted.

Today is my last day in NY and it looks like the weather gods have decided to tease me by offering the best day yet – all blue skies, 20+ degrees, really beautiful. Unfortunately I leave in about 3 or 4 hours so don’t have time for a lot but hopefully I can make a museum or do one last cool thing before I jet out.

New York Bits and Pieces

Today I did a bunch more walking, went to the American Natural History Museum, went on a tourist bus trip which went around the entire south of Manhattan Island, checked out Ground Zero, aka the Hole, aka the World Trade Center site, saw the second oldest suspension bridge in the country, went up the Empire State Building.

Unfortunately the weather turned on me and it was raining yesterday morning when I set out, but by the afternoon’s bus trip it had cleared up, and I even saw the sun for the first time (whilst on the ground, it doesn’t really count when you’re 30,000 feet up) in about 2 weeks.

Given the weather change I decided to head up to the Empire State, thinking that this’d be the best time to do it now that it had cleared up a bit. I knew I was about ten blocks away so I set my sights on the building and started walking.

Unfortunately once I got within about 4 blocks I was surrounded by massive buildings and completely lost my sense of direction. It is surprisingly hard to find the cities tallest building when you can’t see it.

Anyway, eventually I found it and went up – along with a billion or so other people who thought sunset might be a good time to head up there. The wait wasn’t too long – maybe 45 minutes or so from bottom to top. Every time you turn a corner you find yourself in another queue for a lift.

I got the special extra super high pass, which gets you up to the 102nd floor – the view from the normal observatory, which is on the 86th floor, is pretty good though and if you want to save the fourteen bucks you can probably live without going to the 102nd, unless you’re an altitude junky like moi.

One of my earliest memories of anything to do with the Empire State is watching the original Spiderman movie (not the Toby McGuire one) – at some point, Spidey gets some device pinned to his shirt and it takes over his brain and makes him try to jump off the top of the Empire State. As he’s climbing over, I remember some safety prong thing luckily tore off the mind control device, bringing him to his senses and of course saving his life. I was very excited to see that those prong things actually exist.

The bus trip around the south of the island was also great, got to see a bunch of cool places.

The WTC site was weird; it appears to be a massive tourist attraction – I didn’t think anyone else on the bus would be getting off to check it out but most of the other people did. There were hundreds and hundreds of people wandering around the site, which is protected by some big fences. In true capitalist style there are people walking around trying to sell you WTC mementos, despite signs on the fences asking citizens and tourists not to buy anything from them.

I suspect it is called ‘The Hole’ because of the massive hole in the ground that now exists where the two massive towers once stood, but really to me it seemed more like a hole in the skyline.

I didn’t spend a lot of time there; its a little depressing and the ghouls wandering around make it more so.

Will try to write more later but now I have to go and battle the New York hotel system. It seems everything on Manhattan Island is totally booked out at the moment – except the $800-$2000 per night (seriously) hotels.

New York, Day One

I’ve wanted to come to New York for a long time. One of the truly iconic American cities, made even more so by the terrorist attacks, it has always held a stack of appeal – the Empire State, Central Park, getting mugged, pizzas, Times Square, Broadway – the list goes on.

I ended up at a hotel in what I believe is the upper West Side – just up and west of Central Park. It appears to be a great place, and Manhattan Island is small enough so that you can walk around most of it in a couple hours, which is great.

Day 1 consisted of some serious sleeping to get some recovery time from the last week of pain. I eventually arose at 11, grabbed a bagel (oh, the bagels) and commenced walking.

I didn’t really have a plan, other than ‘go south’. I walked a couple blocks to the park and wandered around there. I’d always assumed the park was a little dinky slot of green but it is actually a pretty massive affair. Lots of joggers, walkers, kids and squirrels. Cute little nut eating rascals.

I wandered around for maybe thirty blocks – sounds like a big haul but the blocks are pretty small – and veered west, ending up at a military museum hosted on an old World War 2 aircraft carrier – the Intrepid. This was a pleasant surprise, especially when I saw the F-14 Super Tomcat perched on the deck – I’ve always wanted to see one of these up close ever since Top Gun.

So I went aboard. It was way, way cool. Those things are massive, and I suspect the more modern nuclear powered ones are even bigger. The hangar had a bunch of exhibits, including a lot of great World War 2 memorabilia that was on loan from a private collector – the dude had some great stuff.

The deck was awesome, had a bunch of typical carrier-borne planes on it – the Tomcat, a Vietnam-era F-4, an AWACS, plus some other things that aren’t typically found on carriers – like an AR-12, which is the CIA version of the SR-71 Blackbird – the world’s fastest plane. Very hot, but smaller than I expected! There was also some cool choppers, an F-16, an AV-8C (US Marine Harrier) – heaps of stuff.

Lots of the interior of the carrier was on display as well – the bride, CIC, radar rooms, communications rooms – all very compartmentalised. Really incredible to think of that ship getting dive bombed by kamikazes – which happened to it back in World War 2.

In addition to all the military stuff, there was also an actual, real, whole Concorde. Way smaller than I expected! I walked down the aisles of it, and it was very sad to think that these awesome machines are no longer in service – the day they stopped flying was a step backwards for this whole planet.

After that, I decided to aim for Times Square. This might sound stupid, but Times Square isn’t an actual Square, but just an area of the inner city south of the park. I sure didn’t know that. It is packed with amazing shops, lights, billboards – all very impressive but probably less so if you’ve been to Tokyo :)

I basically wandered up and down the streets for a couple hours, including Broadway, just soaking it up and exploring and deciding what I should do for the rest of my time here.

Walked back through the park and got back in time for dinner, Sopranos and Big Love on HBO. Awesome.