Friday, December 22, 2006

More shopping & tourist activities in NY

December 17th, 2006:

After recovering from the night before, I popped back into the city center to do some of the bigger tourist activities in the city.

First stop was the Empire State Building. I visited it seven years ago, so it wasn't high on the list of priorities. Just as well, as the queue was around the block and I didn't fancy waiting for hours in the freezing cold. It wasn't a waste of a trip though as something happened there which was straight out of a Hollywood movie: a convoy of Feds "took-down" a "perp"! There were five black Cadillac's, with discreet flashing lights on the dashboard, filled with guys in black suits and they pulled over a car from which they extracted a passenger and escorted him into one of their cars and sped off again. I started taking a picture, but one of the suits gave me a warning look so I thought it best to play it safe and put the camera away :(

After the Empire State Building, I wandered through Macys for ages (the "World's largest department store" is quite sizable alright) and then it was off to Battery Park to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. This didn't quite work out as planned either: there were big signs up with symbols for things such as no guns, no knives and no explosives, but it was the first banned item in the list which caused a problem: no packages or backpacks... I looked doubtfully at my Macys bags and my backpack and wondered if they'd let me through anyways: however, none of the other tourists had any bags whatsoever (how did they know not to bring anything? I must have missed the memo...) and after asking a guard for advice I was politely turned away :( I didn't make it to the Statue of Liberty on my first trip here years ago either, but maybe next time...

After dropping the bags back to the hostel, I met up with someone from Texas and together we explored more of Central Park and even though she liked "power-walking" we still only got to see a small part of the place.

Last thing on my list of things to do in NY was to get a picture of the city lights at night time. The easiest way of doing this, I thought, would be to jump on the free Staten Island Ferry and get a picture of the city from Staten Island. Now, on the subway maps Staten Island looks like its a quick hop across the Hudson River: it is not all that quick(!) By the time the ferry arrived at its destination, the city looked very small on the horizon and taking a picture of that seemed pointless :( Still, the ferry ride at night time is worth doing: the city looks great when you are up close to it (though taking a picture at night time from a moving ferry makes the picture end up blurry) and the State of Liberty also looks impressive when its lit up, with the torch glowing golden orange at the top. Watching the twinkling lights of the city skyscrapers was a fitting ending to my NY trip and I can't wait to come back again.

Shopping in NY

December 16th, 2006:

Well, I'm back in New York after a seven year absence and all I'm wondering now is why I waited so long to come back! There was a little problem finding the address for my accommodation when I arrived at the airport but hooray for JFK(!): free wireless Internet access to deal such emergencies.

Despite it being nine days to Christmas, for the first year ever I did not have the slightest feeling of Christmas cheer this year. They just don't do Christmas down under in Oz and there are even people at my employment in Sydney who are (prepare yourself) working on Christmas day(!) (and no, they are not of a non-Christian upbringing: they just don't seem to want to lose a work day). I haven't heard much Christmas music, the shops in Sydney put up the bare minimum of decorations (no streamers, just the odd wreath here and there) and its far too hot: its just surreal seeing Santa with his big red coat while everyone else is in T-shirts and shorts!). All of northern Europeans agree on one thing: its too hot to be Christmas.

Within five minutes of getting into my shuttle bus from JFK though,I was "Ho-ho-ho"ing with the best of them. Its cold here (tick), has loud cheesy Christmas muzac (tick) and has the over-the-top decorations (tick tick tick!). I was hoping for snow but they have record-breaking warm weather at the moment :( Still, at least there is the crisp frosty-breath air which helps set the mood.

While in NY I'm staying next to Central Park in the Upper West-Side of Manhattan. I'm staying at the "Central Park Hostel" and so far its nice 'n warm and I have my own room with a TV with about 1,000 channels (naturally there's nothing much on). The hostel, at 103rd street, is conveniently located on the same block as a Subway station (called the 103rd street station, oddly enough) which makes getting to and from downtown easy enough. The last time I was here I staying in the Chelsea area (near 34th street) which is near the Empire State Building, and that was more convenient, but at least using the subway to get to the current hostel is cheap.

I have grown used to the modern-ness and cleanliness of the Sydney subway so New York's subway's well-used-throughout-the-ages look isn't as pleasing on the eye. Its also missing computer screens which give you updates on how long (to the minute) you need to wait for the next train and the seating inside the carriages runs along the walls rather than Sydney's bus-like rows, which gives NY's subway a lack of seating. Still, it must be said, NY's subway is fast: just make sure you hang on tight! Also, another big bonus in NY's favour is that you pay 2 USD for a single ticket and that is enough to get you anywhere the subway runs, even if you jump on the wrong train or change your mind and jump on another train to a different destination, that is no problem. With Sydney you pay for a single trip from source to destination with different amounts depending on where you are going and there's no room for error/change :(

So, after getting up on Saturday morning, it was time to do that which I usually successfully avoid: go shopping!
I made a quick stop over in Central Park to watch runner's racing through it, but then jumped on the subway to go to the city center. It was Broadway and 34th street where I jumped off and while I tried to "be cool" last time I was here years ago, this time I was the stereotypical tourist: camera in one hand, map in the other and mouth open as I stared/gawked up at the skyscrapers :)

First impressions were perfect weather, streets not too busy and finding where you wanted to go to was so easy with the grid layout of the streets. I also quickly became glad that it was not snowing as I had hoped before arrival: walking around with snow and ice might have proved challenging(!)

After haggling for ages with the street sellers on Broadway (and then buying nothing: how evil!) I found myself wandering through the law courts district, then past the Brooklyn Bridge and next found myself in the Financial District where things took a turn for the surreal. I wandered onto Wall street, expecting a sea of suits, but instead found myself being asked to remove myself from a movie set(!) I took up a position near some other tourists and we all had our cameras ready as the film crew started to film the next scene. Picture this: a car comes to a halt on the street, then a Justin Timberlake songs starts and the car gets surrounded by guys who start dancing provocatively to the sound of the music, rubbing against the outside of the car(!) Not too sure what it was all about, but we all found it very funny: hopefully that was the intention and we weren't laughing at something that the director was serious about :)

After Wall Street it was off to the World Trade Center site where people were signing the first metal pylon of the new building, the construction of which is starting shortly. Similar to Broadway, there are plenty of shops in the area so I braved the crowds and got stuck into the scrum in the shopping centers.

After spending the afternoon shopping, the light was starting to fade so it was off to Times Square which had enough bright lights of its own to make it appear like mid-afternoon again. It was so busy, though, that the crowds just stopped moving at times due to the squash of the multitudes of people ahead.

The day ended with a group of us from the hostel visiting a local bar to sample some of the local brews: it was a long day and an even longer night :)

On the way... to JFK!

December 15th, 2006:

After living in Sydney for nine months, I've come to the conclusion that I have become too much of a local(!) It's been ages since I organized any tourist activities and its been all parties and social events for the last couple of months. However, to rectify that I popping home for Christmas and am stopping off for a couple of days in the Big Apple: New York, USA.

There are no direct flights from Sydney to NY (apparently its too far), so a quick stop over in LA was required on the way. Or at least, it should have been a quick stop over...! The flight over the Pacific towards the US was as expected and I was surrounded by The Sick (sneezing, coughing, somebody with Whooping Cough, etc.) while we had The Screaming Baby (looked about a week old, but had a good pair of lungs) who kept us company throughout the night. However, as we arrived into LAX, things took an unexpected twist: LAX was closed due to fog(!) We had to divert to a nearby freight airport ("Ontario", not the Canadian version) and sat in the plane for about two hours while Qantas organized buying more fuel and a landing window at LAX for when the thick fog which blanketed the area disappeared. Its company policy not to serve refreshments while we sat on the runway(?) and also due to the engines being switched off, it did get quite warm but I chose to enjoy the tropical conditions as I figured that it would probably be the last time I would experience the like for a while(!)

So, while the first leg of the trip wasn't ideal, the second leg of the trip, from LAX to JFK is (as the locals say) awesome! I have my own row so I am currently lying out across the row, with a nice glass of wine watching movies on the TV panel at the back of the seat in front of me. The in-flight entertainment system works (its one of those "in-demand" systems which offers over 20 movies and allows you to pause, rewind, etc), the Sick are asleep and The Screaming Baby is absent.... Bliss!