For most people, the city of New York is one of the major destinations in the US, but for some reasons I was never particularly drawn to it. Still, as it was on our way back to Boston, we decided to give it a go.
We spent the night in one of the countless and totally indistinguishable suburbs of the great city. Here, it makes sense to point out that such suburbs are home to the majority of the metropolitan New York population. All the hippies and cool folk of Greenwich Village, East Village and SoHo are actually far less representative New Yorkers than people working in McDonald in Bronx or driving delivery vans on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Anyway, we had only one day and decided to get the most out of it.
It was Sunday morning, about 9am, when our frenetic 12 hours in Manhattan began. We entered the island of Manhattan via George Washington Bridge which is located at its northern end. To be honest, it is a far less spectacular approach than some of the others, but it didn't really matter as we quickly made our way towards one of the highlights of the city, the Central Park. Well, to be honest, it wasn't really that quick at all because we had to park our car first. And it is not an easy task in NYC, even on a Sunday morning. Anyway, we finally managed to squeeze it into one of the smallest and most claustrophobic underground parking garages I have ever seen in my life. However, located on 96th street, it was just minutes from the park. But before we managed to reach the park, we unexpectedly got caught right in the middle of a street party. The road was closed to traffic and, even early in the morning, full of people enjoying themselves. I later learned that it was probably the Annual Upper Broadway Autumn Festival. Or maybe not? It doesn't really matter; it was fun.
Finally we reached Central Park. Here I, must admit that I absolutely love it. I find this perfectly rectangular bit of tamed nature, located right in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities on earth, absolutely fascinating. Whenever I looked at the map of Manhattan I always wanted to visit it.
Covering 843 acres (341ha) of almost entirely landscaped land, it was designed by the renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. If you ask me, he did an amazingly good job. The park looks really natural in its appearance and it is much more heavily wooded than, for example, Hyde Park in London. In places it might sometimes be possible to forget that you are really in the middle of a teeming metropolis. But on Sunday, around 11am, the whole park was full of people and you would know you were in the city. They were jogging, cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding or just walking with or without dogs. It seemed to me that New Yorkers are quite an active bunch of people.
We leisurely crossed the park, stopping here and there to admire some of its quirky monuments, like for example Alice in Wonderland or Polish King Jagiello. Finally, we reached the Columbus Circus in the south-western corner of the park. Here you can see a sharp contrast between the greenery of the park and the concrete, steel and glass jungle of Midtown Manhattan, which is one of the densest and tallest parts of the city. In this part of town you can also find such architectural icons as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Rockefeller Centre. I would love to visit all of them, but unfortunately we only had time for a quick lunch in the slick and modern Time Warner Centre, before continuing in our quest south.
Another iconic stop in Midtown was Times Square. It is so well known that there is not much point to write about it. I can only say that it did confirm all my preconceptions. It is crazy busy, noisy, bright, and colourful, somehow seducing you like a brash city girl. For anyone familiar with London, comparisons with Piccadilly Circus are unavoidable. Yet, Times Square feels busier and noisier. Its massive screens and neons are larger and brighter than the ones in London and there are many more of them. It is simply bigger and louder, like many things in America.
From the full-on extravaganza of the Times Square we kept walking south, sometimes on Broadway, sometimes venturing into some small side streets of Greenwich Village or East Village. In the 1960s, these neighbourhoods were the real bohemian heart of the cultural life of New York. They are now almost totally gentrified and horribly expensive places to live, but it is still nice to walk their relatively quiet streets and admire the well-preserved buildings. Also here, at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, is located my favourite shop in New York, the Strand Bookstore. One of the largest second-hand bookstores in the world, it claims to have 18 miles of new, used and rare books. It is also an incredibly messy and fascinating place where chaos seems to be the rule. I could have spent hours there, but unfortunately it was already late afternoon so we kept going south, all the way to the World Trade Centre site. At the time of our visit it was one huge building site and the scars of the attacks were still visible.
As I was travelling with a person who is mildly obsessed about all things Irish we couldn't skip the Irish Hunger Memorial. Located on the banks of the Hudson River, near the Battery Park City, it is an interestingly landscaped plot, which utilizes stones, soil, and native vegetation brought in from the western coast of Ireland and contains stones from all of the different counties of Ireland. From the nearby esplanade you can get a clear, even if a bit distant, view of one of the New York City landmarks, the Statue of Liberty. It was just before sunset, so the view we got was especially spectacular.
By the time we got to the famous Brooklyn Bridge it was already dark, so we only had enough time to reach its midpoint before returning to Manhattan. This iconic bridge offers great views from its centerline walkway located above the traffic. In my opinion, it is well worth visiting, but you have to take to account the fact that I am a bridge and road-enthusiast.
The last places we visited in New York were the neighbouring Chinatown and Little Italy. Nowadays, Little Italy is really little and is getting smaller by the year. By contrast, the Chinatown is growing and gradually taking over the streets once inhabited by the Italians. They were busy and booming places, even on a late Sunday evening. In fact, the Feast of San Gennaro celebrations were going on that evening and it was impossible really to know where Little Italy ended and where Chinatown began. We had a really good evening wandering among the stalls and sampling some delicious Italian-American food before settling for some Chinese takeaway.
It was about 9pm and we had by now been exploring Manhattan for about 12 hours. We were dog-tired and it was time to head back to our car. As it was well over 10 miles away, we had the chance of using the world-famous New York subway system, which offers fast trains and even air conditioning. As a Londoner, used to small, slow and hot trains, I got seriously jealous.
We finally left Manhattan, probably at about 10 or 11 pm, just after nearly crashing into some dodgy characters in northern Harlem and our day in NYC ended.
It was a crazy, hectic day and that's probably why I enjoyed it so much. Of course, it is impossible to visit NYC in one day, this is just a silly and stupid idea, but even a few hours can give you a taste of what to expect when you come back later for longer. Because you will come back, and so will I.
By: Gregor Swiderek
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