It’s certainly hard to sum up New York City in a few paragraphs. The first thing I noticed about the city was the abundance of black-coat-wearing, fast walking, hoards of people..everywhere. It’s not like I grew up in the sticks or anything.. you know, where my closest neighbor was 5 miles down the road. No, I was born and raised in sunny Fort Lauderdale. We have our fair share of tourists, dotted along the beach and huddling around open air bars on A1A, but, New York, those streets are filled to the brim with everyone and everything under the sun.
First Impressions of New York City.
Our plane arrived just before midnight, being in this huge city without the comfort of my own personal transportation seemed daunting. At first, I didn’t want to leave the airport – just wanted to glaze over and people watch for a while, besides, I love the airport..I mean who doesn’t? Watching the cars whizz by, horns blaring and people-a-plenty, I wondered how New York got such a bad rap. It’s actually the safest large city in the United States according to the FBI. We called our hotel’s shuttle for a pick up and I actually was happy to hear it would be a 30 minute wait! We arrived -bright-eyed and bushy tailed- after 1am, my husband and I ventured out in the cold empty streets of Queens in search of something to fill our deprived bellies. Everything was closed. I thought this was the city that never sleeps? About 6 or so blocks down the road we found a 24 hour diner, Georgia Diner, that hit the proverbial spot. The oddest thing.. it was PACKED and I mean, big city, lunch rush-hour packed. Clanking dishes, chattering conversations and laughter filled the entire restaurant. As we strolled past each table, I played a game in my head, identifying the different languages. After I giant plate of nachos, of which I couldn’t even finish a quarter of, we were on our way back to the Pan American Hotel to make sleepy time for the night.
As much as budget travel seems desirable, we are fortunate enough to afford a decent comfort level on our jaunts. See? Hard work does pay off. I was a little shocked at our tiny hotel room with rock hard beds, but it didn’t matter because I was where I wanted to be and it was going to be an amazing trip. The next day we started off early, walking another 5 blocks to the Subway station. The subway rides proved to be my favorite part of New York City! The who expierence of mindless chaufering and crowds of strangers shoulder to shoulder together was comfortable to me. I heard horror stories of the NY subway and all the dangers that lurked but I wasn’t phased. Our first stop was Ground Zero, I had reserved tickets a few weeks in advance, not seeing much of anything the previous night I was bombarded and enthralled at the sheer size of the buildings around me. It wasn’t as grand or glorious as Washington, DC but it was charming and fancy in it’s own special way. The first photograph I took was at Trinity Church with my iPhone, the bright green grass seemed to glow among the decrepit gray headstones. It was music to my eyes. Day one was ambitious, we hit up all of the “must-see” spots in the area.
We took the free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, saw random street performing groups serving the masses. Ate my first real slice of New York pizza from a hole-in-the-wall joint. We floated past the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, gawked at Clinton Castle, and roamed around Battery Park. We headed over to Chinatown, one of the places I was most looking forward to, and did not fail me. Bizarre asian oddities lurking around every corner, faces that seemed to all blend in together. Watching a distinct foreign culture operate right here in my home was astonishing. There was culture all around me! The most disappointing of places on our first day in New York was Little Italy. I guess the hype and my imagination dreamed up a concept, like that of Vegas, a huge let down. The streets were lined with fancy restaurants and employees begging us to come inside for wine or pasta. Thinking back, I don’t really know what I was expecting completely, but it was something more grandiose.
Does the sun set in New York City? Not by my estimation. I was shocked to see darkness at 5 o’clock and a “sunset” that seemed to last a mere 10 minutes. Compared to my last far-away trip to California where the sunsets are gorgeous and seem to last hours, New York had nothing. I chalk it up to the winter nights, next time I visit..I’ll wait for the spring. We hit up Rockefeller Center for a few hours, what a gem.. Watching people crowd around to snap that family photo, couples skating methodically below a giant lighted Christmas tree.. Everything was twinkling, and I couldn’t help but to feel overwhelmed with joy. For once, this holiday season didn’t feel like a consumers paradise, instead, it felt like it used to when I was a child, before I knew any better and the memories came pouring in. We ate a delectable sandwich shop called Pret A Manager; quite possibly the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted. After the 12th hour of walking, I was looking forward to that stone bed by 11pm.
Day two was a hour by hour running total of New Yorker observations. What did I learn? They love their iPhones – 98% of every person I saw was using an iPhone. 95% everyone I saw had those stand-out white earbuds of Apple lust. I wondered what they were listening to. Bopping their heads with closed eyes sitting on the train or eyes dead forward walking at a definitive pace. I learned that I simply adored watching people through the subway windows on the opposite side of the tracks. I took TONS of video of the subway and it’s people. Ahead of myself here, the first thing I desired when I came back home to Florida, aside from Bubble Tea was an underwater clear subway route to the Bahamas.. Brilliant idea right? Our first stop for the morning was The Dakota Apartments. John Lennon’s former home, where Yoko still resides and the site of his assassination. It’s a bit dark, but the curiosity needed to be fulfilled. I simply obsess over things like that; I find it most fascinating. This time it was different. We walked across the street to our second destination, Strawberry Fields, before heading over to the Alice In Wonderland sculpture, my favorite story in the world. We spent nearly half the day wandering around Central Park. I could write an entire essay on the beauty of that place, and the irony of such a peaceful place surrounded by a bustling city.
We also visited Greenwich Village, a hipster paradise, and enjoyed the book & record traders that filled the sidewalks. However, the lack of public restrooms boggled our mind. We waited nearly 20 minutes in a Starbucks and a line of 5 people to use the pot for 2 minutes. A man came out finally, drenched in water – He just took a bath in that room, and shuffled on his way, the distinct smell of “street bum” lingered behind him. Do the people of New York not have bladders? Is that why water is served in such small glasses? Oh, the places we will go. The night ended at Times Square, the only place I’ve been too where it seemed brighter at night than in the day. Times Square was a zoo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in such a concentrated area, ever. We ate street food, watched billboards, scorned the blatant advertisements on every square inch of the “square” and browsed through the many many shops. We sat for a while, capturing moments frozen in time with our cameras, watching the people surround us. This is where I found the beauty of crossing the street 100 people at a time. It’s the simple things that make my heart melt, really. The excitement of darting in-between racing crazy cab drivers, people walking in every direction, and the united safety between the people and the machine that I just found fascinating. We made our way to Delancey, Essex Street Market in search of the best pickles in Manhattan. On our way home we had the pleasure of finding “The Meetles” a Beatles cover band, BLARING at an underground subway concert. It was almost magical after the day we just lived. It’s funny how the world seems to present a glimmer of happiness, in the form of coincidence like that.
We explored Queens on our third day. Ate at the famous Ben’s Best that was featured on Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives. Perused russian owned import stores, and wicked .99c + shops that were stuffed with anything you could imagine, and even things you didn’t know existed, or possibly shouldn’t. We unknowingly discovered another Chinatown. After doing some research, the second largest Chinatown of the 6 in the state of New York. It was SO much better than the Chinatown in Manhattan. We grazed upon cart after cart of street food, bubble tea shops, stood jaw-dropped at the site of 20 dead roasted ducks hanging in the windows to entice hungry passer-bys. We chuckled at the duck heads, pig heads, and other unidentifiable asian cuisine along the sidewalks. We talked with some locals, and marveled at the new world around us. I didn’t want to leave. I loved the cheesy pirated chinese porn DVD booths scattered about, the smell of cooking meats that the smoking street vendor carts emanated through the air, the colorful signs in a language I didn’t understand, and most of all the bright lights that made me feel safe. That night we ordered in some good ole NY chinese food take out. It was delicious, albeit too large of a portion to finish. The next day would be our last in New York, for now.
We arrived in the heart of Manhattan seeking cheesy souvenirs to bring home to our eagerly awaiting friends and family, super early in the morning with temperatures in the 20s. We scurried over quickly to “The Pickle Guys”, the last known pickle vendor in Manhattan. It was completely worth it, I got some pickles for now and some to send home with us. We had just enough time to walk over to the Empire State Building one last time and say goodbye to New York, I snapped some of my best photos that morning.
Imagination running wild? Check out the gallery below to match the places with faces.
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