I recently spent a week in NYC and thought I’d write about my trip.
New York struck me the most as a place of infinite paradox. Everything meets its opposite here, and somehow they mesh together in harmony and with a perfection like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else.
I went to NYC with expectations. A big, scary city with rude people dwelling in cramped spaces. Dangerous. A city of concrete and stone with little natural beauty.
And yet, I was wrong. Perhaps the fact that I expected the city to be something much worse than it was lended a hand to the fact that I like NYC so much. I’d even consider living there.
Yes, the cost of living is out of control, the apartments are small, and you’ll probably never feel alone. But people there have learned to live together. I saw small acts of kindness that were totally unexpected. There is a rhythm to the city, and the people who live there get it. I picked up on it quickly, but you can easily pick out those who are out-of-towners. And the missteps are probably the only indication of an out of towner. I heard more languages spoken from people who, on the outside, you’d assume were just another American. And, they probably were. If America was ever called a melting pot, it was solely because of this city, and being there, I see why that nickname got its beginnings here in New York.
In NYC, there are cabs everywhere. Just like in the movies. They’re expensive. And a little dirty. But the cab drivers speak enough english to get by and they are friendly enough to not make you worry about climbing in. It’s the driving you have to be afraid of. There may as well be no traffic laws in the city. They are hardly obeyed. I cringed as I saw how closely the 3 cabs I rode in drove next to and behind other vehicles. Thankfully, although many traffic laws were not obeyed, there are many other laws in the city governing passengers and their rights. Every cab must take credit cards, and there are license numbers, phone numbers, and a myriad of other protections the city has put in place to keep passengers safe and happy. One thing I found interesting was the TV screens embedded in the seats. You could watch some TV clips, look at a map of the city, etc. Pretty cool.
The subway system in NYC may have been one of the most memorable things about the city, and the most revealing about its character.
NYC has got public transit down. I’ve lived in and used public transportation in other large cities, such as Denver, CO, and everything about them pales in comparison to the MTA’s system. For a week of unlimited rides, I paid $31. And I’ll tell you, I got my money’s worth. My single one-way cab ride from the airport cost more than that. I rode probably a dozen different subway lines, and by the time I left, was a subway expert.
Granted, I studied the anatomy of the city and had downloaded MTA’s app so I had a map with me of the routes at all times. But, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone travel to a new place (especially one of any magnitude) without getting one’s bearings first.
Inside the dingy and dirty stations there was art. Mosaics, statuettes, and musicians who waded through MTA’s audition process, and even a few musicians who sneaked through without doing so.
The subway is fast and efficient. People get on and off quickly, and for the most part, everyone minds their manners. This part I wasn’t expecting. There are basic rules to public transit. If someone is older than you, you let them sit. If they have some visible disability or special need for something, you accommodate them. I even saw men giving up their seats for women. My ideas about people in NYC being rude were wiped away because of the behavior I observed in the subways.
I was nervous about riding at first. All you hear is: stay out of cars that are empty. Don’t ride late at night by yourself. If you have to, pick the middle car because the conductor is there. Don’t look at other people.
Those are all great. But, I didn’t find the subway that scary once I got on board and was on my way. People don’t stare at each other on the trains. But why would they? I will say that I saw more pairs of shoes than I ever thought I’d stare at. I also had a chance to observe the unique fashion of the city. And for the most part, I didn’t like it that much, but that is likely due to the fact that I’m not wild about the latest fashions anyways! I will say that most women were wearing heels, and I was impressed that they could get around in a city that you had to walk so much in without it drawing them away from such impractical footwear. All in the name of fashion, I suppose.
When people arise from the seats in the subway, there is an immediate rush of others to the empty spots. And people aren’t wary about personal space. In NYC, you have none. You’ll be arm to arm with strangers on either side. And when you hit a station that is full of people and your train is already full….it’s going to get fuller. I couldn’t believe it the first time it happened. I was in a mosh pit of strangers, crammed into every spare spot there was. A few stations later would bring a reprieve and a little more airspace. I’m happy to report that all New Yorkers keep up with their hygiene. I didn’t smell one stinky person on my whole trip.
When one seat opened up, myself and a gentleman both went for it. When we got there, at an impasse, I looked at him, noticed he was a man in his 40s, and, being shy and new at this, motioned that he could have the seat. “No, no,” he said, “go ahead, please.” And so I sat with a gracious smile. Perhaps he, thinking that I was a woman, should let me, thinking he was older than me, sit. Regardless of who was right, I was surprised by the courtesy. I also saw a seated woman drop papers and a young gentleman, standing, pick them up for her.
It’s the little things like that I saw during my trip that made me realize that everyone in NYC knew we were all dealing with the same thing – cramped spaces, need to get somewhere….and so the niceties of life did not go withheld. And they were what made the trip for me.
I will say that at one point, a woman with a giant stroller tried to pick a fight with a woman exiting at the same time as her. That was the only incidence of rudeness I observed on my trip. And a man was quick to tell them both to settle down. Another stranger, unafraid to raise his voice to promote the peace.
This was the attitude of New York. Stick up for yourself, speak your mind, but be kind to others, too. And that is something I can dig.
The architecture of the city is one of the most brilliant things about it. And I’m not just talking about the skyscrapers and marvels of the city. Everywhere I looked, I saw a conscious effort to bring beauty into the city. While concrete did line the land in every direction, trees, flowers, statues, and even buildings themselves were something of beauty. Window frames had decorative stonework above and below, doorways were adorned, and you almost couldn’t turn a city block without a statue or fountain or other man-made thing of beauty presenting itself for you to see. One of the most frustrating things for me about New York was that there was too much to photograph. I came away with close to 1000 photos, and still felt I hadn’t captured the city. The city was in the details. And there were many. There were many blocks I didn’t even travel, statues I didn’t photograph, and places I didn’t go. I had a full week in the city, and still plan on visiting again to see the things I missed this trip.
I rented a bicycle one day and toured Central Park. This was a much more daunting task than I anticipated. Being someone who hasn’t been on a bicycle in 11 years, I must challenge the old adage that things are “just like riding a bicycle….you never forget how”. Ok, I didn’t crash and burn or anything, and my rented bike was far from grand, but it took me a while to figure out the gears and I probably looked really silly on it for the first ten minutes. It felt awkward. It wasn’t until the end, after I’d pedaled up and down the many hills of the park that I finally had the hang of it.
Central Park is HUGE. A lot huger than I thought it was. I was truly exhausted after biking the whole thing. The most annoying part for me was that you could only ride your bike on the roads that traversed the park. Any other paths, which of course led to the interesting things, you had to walk your bike on. Safety-wise, this makes sense. But, it was an unanticipated aggravation to my already sore feet.
The park was beautiful. Every section of it had its own personality. And there were, of course, people populating every corner. It was, however, a place to get some air, and it did feel like a little escape from the big city. I imagine NYC would not be functional without the park. I did come across several other parks throughout the city – and they are the little oxygen bubbles that keep the city moving.
Top of the Rock
The Top of the Rock was an experience with no equal. It was well worth the $40 ticket. I purchased the day and night pass, which I would recommend to anyone. The experience is spectacular. My ears popped three times each way up and down to the 69th floor on the elevator, which was surprisingly fast, and with a glass ceiling. The photos were spectacular and you can truly see why NYC is “the city that never sleeps”.
Food is half of the experience in NYC. While it may be miles from any farmland, the food is fresh and superb. There aren’t many places you can walk a block and see so many types of cuisine. And thanks to Zagat, you know if the place is the best of the best before you go. These photos are just a sample of the things I ate. I had turkish food, cuban food, thai food, chinese food, italian food, barbecue, street food, seafood, pastries, breads, and the list goes on. I even had some great beer from Brooklyn Brewery. I spent most of my money on food – and while you have to eat while on vacation, I made food a destination during my trip.
I also will note that one thing I LOVE about the city is that wherever you live, whatever you need is just around the corner. It’s not driving miles to Wally World or the grocery store, or across town to wherever….it’s across the street. I was amazed to see the low prices on some of the produce, and the local grocery store had a fruit stand exterior and the inside was like a miniature Whole Foods. And of course, the selection of food inside was great, too.
I’m told that you can select your groceries online and have them delivered to your door for only $5. Most places in the city will deliver. So, you don’t even have to walk down the block to your favorite restaurant if you don’t want to.
I found that, although I am married to the idea of always having my car, it is totally feasible to live without one here.
There truly isn’t enough space on this blog to put up all of the pictures I took at the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Art Museum. All I can say is, they are worth the trip. Of the two, I was most astounded by the Met. The AMNH has a wonderful collection of taxidermy. The animals are placed in scenes that might fool anyone looking at a picture of them.
There was also a really great exhibit on butterflies going on there when I went. They had an open aviary you could walk in and be around tons of fluttering butterflies. While I don’t recall any landing on me, I got quite a few spectacular photos.
The Met was much more than I had anticipated. There were artifacts there from ancient Egypt, the dark ages, and everything in between. They had spectacular room examples from different styles of furniture and decor through the ages, and being among relics that have survived so long was truly awe-inspiring.
Some of my favorites were the suits of armor. The metalwork was so detailed and spectacular that you understand why they are in an art museum. They even had armor from Henry VIII.
The sculptures were also awesome.
One of the most striking things I felt was standing before some of the great masterpieces that are renown the world over. Nothing but air stood between me and the famous works of Van Gogh, Monet, Lautrec, Renoir, and so many other artists that I could barely believe my eyes. Some of the works were so life like! And very many of the pieces were vastly larger than I had imagined.
This particular piece, as you can see, is wall-sized. Note the man on the left side of the frame.
Some of the works in the museum you were not allowed to take pictures of. I saw the famous Woman with Parasol by Monet, among other of his and other artist’s original works.
I’m sad to say that I only had a few hours to rush through the Met, as I had only the half day before my flight to visit there. On my next visit, I plan on devoting an entire day to this spectacular place.
The Statue of Liberty
It wouldn’t be a New York trip without paying a visit to Lady Liberty. Of course, Ellis Island and Liberty Island were closed due to renovations and cleanup from Hurricane Sandy. I was happy to say that my FREE cruise by the statue gave some awesome views and I got great pictures. The Staten Island Ferry leaves from the tip of Manhattan, cruises right by the statue, and lands on Staten Island, and the fare is $0.00. I didn’t go any further into Staten Island, but I’m sure there are some great things to see there, too.
Wall Street and Downtown Manhattan
Downtown Manhattan had a much different feel than uptown or midtown. Midtown was probably my favorite, and held many of the icons of New York in my eyes. It felt like the city. Downtown was a much quieter place. I’m told that during rush hour, it is quite busy there with business men rushing to or from work, which I find quite believable. In late morning, however, it was a much calmer scene. I stopped by Trinity Church to view the inside and tour their extensive churchyard.
The yard itself was beautiful, still, and quiet. There were gravestones there so old that they were no longer legible. Alexander Hamilton’s gravesite lay there and I also found the grave of a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Certainly, these are our ancestors who founded America, resting right here, in the middle of one of the busiest cities on Earth.
The inside of the church was lovely as well. I visited 4 different churches while in NYC, the rest of which I will describe later.
I had to stop to get a picture with the famous Charging Bull statue. I was impressed at the crowd that had gathered around the statue. The streets had seemed empty until I got there. It took some time for me to get in for a picture of me, and I am happy to report that neither of the two strangers I asked to take my picture for me decided to take off with my new camera. Not surprisingly, neither of them had an American accent. One interesting factoid I was told about this statue: the artist who made it dropped off the giant beast in the middle of the intersection without permission, and no one ever bothered to move it. And so it stands, and icon in the City of Dreams.
I had a grand time taking pictures of the Flag throughout the city. She waves from the tops, fronts, and sides of buildings, hangs from apartment windows, and is unabashedly displayed on every block.
Churches and Cathedrals
I was in awe at the places of worship that I visited while in the city. Each and every one of them had their own flavor and displayed a grandeur, the likes of which I’ve never seen. I walked into the quiet and dimly lit 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church as a side journey from my day’s excursion. You couldn’t hear any of the noise from outside.
I had planned a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and was dismayed when I saw the exterior of the building covered in scaffolding. You can imagine how much more I felt when I saw the inside was covered in it, too. Scaffolding was something I found throughout the city, and is something of a permanent fixture, though it may move from one building to the next. The structures in NYC are old – they endure hard winters and hot summers, hurricanes, blizzards, ice, and the incessant beating of the sun. In reality, scaffolding is a good thing to see – it is the sign of good stewardship and the preservation of the beautiful and historic architecture that enriches the city.
I was lucky to walk in when a service began. It was short, and I sat in a pew and awkwardly tried to follow along – the center section was clearly populated with church members, though some took seats in the pews where I was seated. I’m not Catholic myself, and though I’ve attended a few masses, I still found myself lost in the traditions of the service. I wasn’t sure when to stand up, sit down, kneel, cross myself, or reply to the priest with a pre-planned affirmation. Regardless, I enjoyed being there for the special service.
I happened to see an enormous structure on my first day into the city, and struck out to find it, curious about the sheer size of it. It’s the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and, as it turns out, is the largest cathedral in the world.
The inside was more awe-inspiring than the outside. Monstrous columns raised from the ground to support an impossibly high ceiling.
Around the main hall and altar were other rooms/chapels that were incredibly ornate and beautiful, adorned with stained glass, statues, metal and stone work.
The cathedral is simply something you have to see in person to appreciate fully. There is so much to see, and the feeling you get being inside such a place is not something you can explain with pictures.
World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial
Originally I had planned to come see this place and visit the nearby “unofficial” 9/11 museum a friend had told me about.
The memorial is another place that words cannot describe. Although the attacks that happened there were 12 years ago, the pain that echoed across the country and the world is still resounding in the very walls of the buildings in the area.
I remembered watching footage of the ash and dust filling the streets, and as I walked those very streets, those images flashed in my head. The buildings almost cried, still, the echoes of the people there that day. I could feel the dust still clinging to them and in the air, although it had long been cleaned up and appeared normal.
It was a long wait to get into the memorial. People from across the globe came to visit, and while going through security, I saw images that were taken from around the world – people from other countries in mourning over what had happened to a country so far away. And it was in that moment, before I ever reached the memorial, I started to cry.
Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in the notion that the rest of the world hates the US – for one reason or another – but seeing those images gave me hope that the human spirit still unites us all under a common flag of humanity. I didn’t live in NYC or know anyone in the attacks….but it still felt like a personal attack on me and I felt the sorrow and the pain of the thousands who were there and the thousands more who knew someone there. I love my country, regardless of how much we bicker and banter about politics and policies and laws….in the end we are all American – from the brand new immigrant to the backwoods redneck to the New Yorker and everyone in between.
It’s amazing how 12 years does nothing to diminish the pain. It’s also amazing that, 12 years later, people from around the globe still line up to pay tribute to everything that happened that day.
The memorial itself is simple, but beautiful. The pools are much larger in person than I imagined, and the trees inside the memorial are young and still growing. It will be a different place in 5 years. The museum on the grounds will be open shortly, as I could see they were finished with the construction of the building.
The pools are lined with the names of all of those who perished in the attacks, from the towers, the NYPD, firefighters, rescue workers, and those in the Pentagon and Flight 93. It’s tough, seeing all those names inscribed, even not knowing any of the names myself. I felt the worst when I saw a name inscribed next to “…and her unborn child”.
Being there, I couldn’t hold back the tears. And others couldn’t, either. And yet in the midst of the pain, there was still a peace in the place. Truly this is a place that God has touched, and continues to be a part of.
The pools lie in the shadows of two new buildings, One World Trade Center, or the Freedom Tower, as I like to refer to it, and Tower Four. To me, seeing these buildings rise to the skyline is a symbol of the American Spirit. When we’ve been knocked down by tragedy, we get back up again. We rise from the ashes, and with a heart of remembrance, rise again, standing even taller and stronger than before.
The twin towers used to be a defining landmark in the city’s skyline. People said they used to know what direction they were looking depending on where the towers were. Having seen the skyline from Brooklyn, Queens, up- and midtown across Manhattan, I have to report that I found myself using the Freedom Tower as a reference point myself. As of May 2, the final part of the spire was installed, and the almost-finished structure stands as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. And she is grand.
While I was in town, a construction worker happened through a very small opening between two buildings, and came across a wheel from one of the planes that hit the towers. All this time, it, and who knows what other remnants and rubble, have lay there, undiscovered. Again you can feel the stirrings of a country, still remembering. And it brings to life the notion that the tragedy is still echoing in these streets.
I bought a postcard from a lonely postcard rack that still showed the towers. And a friend of mine compared skyline pictures from the same spot on in NY Harbor, and you can see how drastically the skyline has changed. Perhaps not only the skyline or the city has changed….perhaps we all have changed in the wake of 9/11.
I did not visit the museum after my visit to the memorial. I didn’t feel my heart could handle any more for the day.
I took a morning trip out to Coney Island. I had known that there was extensive damage there from Hurricane Sandy, but I decided to see what was out there, anyways. It was a rainy morning, and I felt very lonely on the empty boardwalk under my umbrella, the rides and shops closed up. There were people repairing the pier and although my trip was short, I could see that things would be up and running again this summer. Nathan’s building was renovating, and pretty much all the activity I saw on Coney Island was in the effort of preparing for reopen. Coney Island is a seasonal town, but in spite of the emptiness, I still got a few cool pictures, and stopped for some crab cakes on my way back to Manhattan.
A few other great sights from around the city
- There were MANY carriages for hire around the park. I found the dainty feathers on the horses quite lovely. And the drivers were very friendly and allowed me as many pictures as I liked. They seemed happily surprised at my politeness when I asked before taking them and thanked them when I left. It’s the little things…
I was quite puzzled by the locks I found hanging from any place they could on the bridge. I found this article that gives light to their mysterious existence here.
- Times Square – as spectacular in person as I expected it to be.
An invigorating trip
For all the delicious and surely calorie-stricken foods I ate while visiting NYC, I came home not gaining an ounce. I’ll attribute that the the uncountable miles I put on my shoes.
Aside from the physical workout that I got touring the many sights of the city (and believe me, I know I hit a LOT of them in my short week), being in the city brought something alive inside me as well.
I came home adopting a little bit of the attitude of a New Yorker. I took with me the strong impression that small acts of kindness and courtesy make on others. I took with me the realization that we are all human, whether we’re sharing airspace and touching each other as strangers on a subway, people from totally different countries waiting in line, or neighbors from across the way. And most importantly, I took home with me a sense of self-respect.
What I mean is that people in New York raise their voices for themselves and others. They speak up when needed, and they have a healthy, though not over-imposing, sense of self worth. If you can’t stick up for yourself in NYC, you aren’t going to make it. You’ll be stuck on the same train every time. You’ve got to lose the shyness that comes from living in a world of distance….comfort…and lack of human contact.
We pride ourselves in many parts of the country for our space – our land….our big, empty homes. But in all that space is a loneliness and a lack of human contact that we may have gotten too comfortable with.
I was able to assimilate quickly, and valued the company of the others around me. We were all strangers, and yet we were all neighbors, at least for a time. I didn’t feel unsafe during any part of my trip. I kept my belongings near me and in sight, and didn’t come across anyone meaning me any malice. Safety in numbers was definitely a concept being well-proven here.
I’m bringing home the attitude of sticking up for myself. It’s a part of me that has hidden away until I learned in NYC to unveil it. I’m bringing back more raising of my voice when I see something wrong.
Although many say that NYC is a nice place to visit, I think I could happily dwell there. It has its challenges, but I found the city itself to contain much more beauty and nicety than many give it credit for.
A city of paradox, NYC is something unique. The beauty exists among the grime, the courtesy cohabitates with rudeness, the rich dwell among the poor, and some of the grandest things I saw were often the smallest.