Posted by: transcendingchaos | May 17, 2008

bright lights, big buildings

It’s Saturday morning, one week after Chris and I returned from the Big Apple, and I’m drinking coffee from my “I (heart) NY” mug and wondering how to encapsulate my trip into a few paragraphs of witty prose.

To borrow a well-known phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” — both the trip and the city itself.

In some ways, it was the best trip we have ever been on, but our fun was hampered by a few ongoing miseries. And the city, while oh-so-glamourous on shows like Sex and the City–and you do get some sense of that while you’re there–is actually quite dirty and not that exciting unless you have a bottomless bank account.

So, on the whole, I guess you could say that I did in fact (heart) NY, but somewhat half-heartedly.

We arrived in New York City during rush hour on Monday afternoon, after traveling via transit train from Newark. The train from Newark wasn’t all that full, leading us to wonder where all the people were. When we arrived at Penn Station in Manhattan, we found out. Hordes and hordes of people were pouring into the station (which is conveniently located under Madison Square Gardens). After fighting with the crowds, and feeling a sudden kinship with the salmon who swim upstream, we made our way up onto the street where there were still even more people.

The station was reasonably close to our hotel, so we decided to walk. Some of our initial observations: there was garbage everywhere and just about every other building was covered in scaffolding. It seems that in order to “clean up” the city (metaphorically), the city had decided to make the city that much dirtier. There are no dumpsters in New York. All businesses leave bags and bags of garbage on the sidewalk outside their shops. As for the scaffolding, it seems that the city was undergoing a bit of an overhaul, particularly in the area in which we were staying.

Then we arrived at our hotel, which was on E. 28th, not too far from the Empire State Building. Great location. Unfortunately, the hotel itself was not so great, and was certainly one of the low points of the trip.

First, upon arrival we discovered that we would be staying in a room that did not have a bathroom. This meant that we would be sharing a bathroom with the entire 7th floor. Now, we didn’t book the hotel ourselves, so we didn’t know this going in. I hadn’t brought any sandals or bathroom/shower sharing supplies. We actually went out the first night and bought sandals. I have stayed at hostels before and so I don’t have a problem sharing a bathroom when that is part of the deal, but this was unexpected and unfortunate.

Especially since, on Tuesday, our second day in New York, the toilet on our floor was plugged for the entire day, even though I called the front desk twice to ask them to fix it. To make matters worse, we had no hot water from 8am-4pm on Wednesday and Thursday, and had very little notice that this was going to be the case (i.e., they put a few posters up the night before).

So, that was too bad. But now for the good…

On Monday night, we walked to Times Square. And you really must walk to Times Square to get the whole experience. For blocks and blocks leading up to the Square, there are billboards and lights, hinting at what is to come. And as you get closer, you notice that there are more and more people on the street, all heading towards the square.

The Square itself is like 500 sq. ft. of visual stimulation. There are so many lights, it’s almost like daylight. There are tons of shops, restaurants, and street vendors, as well as an army recruitment center right in the middle of the Square.

After wandering around, shopping, and taking many pictures, we returned to the hotel, happy and excited for the next day.

The next day, in honour of Chris’ birthday, we went to the Empire State Building, which was one of the many buildings (as I mentioned above) that was undergoing restoration. That didn’t affect the view at all, though. After waiting in line for about an hour or so, we had our chance to go to the top. The view is amazing. Words are inadequate to describe it–you’ll have to visit my Facebook album here.

After that, we decided to catch the subway and head down to Ground Zero. The subway was an interesting experience. I love taking subways/skytrains/etc simply because, in many cases, it is the fastest mode of transportation. This is certainly the case in New York, where the blocks are long and it takes a while to walk, and the cabs are expensive and the traffic is heavy. A small subway map I found in the back of a tourist brochure became our guide for the rest of the trip.

Ground Zero, seven years later, is somewhat of a non-event. Nowadays, it really just looks like a large construction site that’s well cordoned off. Still, the site has significance for many people. We certainly weren’t the only tourists who came down to have a look. The impact of the loss was more evident from the Empire State Building. Looking south, there was a very obvious gap in the skyline where the towers used to be.

At the end of the day we were tired and so we decided to go shopping and then relax (or try to relax) at the hotel.

Our third day was wonderful. We ventured first to Central Park where we at two-dollar hot dogs for lunch and sat on a bench in the sun. It was actually quite warm the whole week we were there. It was a gorgeous day, but we had other plans: we were going to MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art).

MoMA was just fabulous. The range of art, the quality of the art, the diversity of pieces–the five hours we spent there were perhaps the most enjoyable five hours of the entire trip. All of the great artists from the last century or so were well represented, including Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Warhol, Rothko, Giacometti, Oppenheimer, Jasper Johns, and many many others that my brain is preventing me from remembering at this moment. It was a treat.

That night, we decided to return to Central Park for a horse carriage ride. I was really looking forward to it as the one truly cheesy touristy thing we were going to do. It was nice–I like horses and the park is gorgeous. Our driver definitely ripped us off, though. He charged us more than the price that was posted on the carriage, and when I complained, he just shrugged and told us that that was the way it was.

On our final day there, we were are jazzed up to go to the Guggenheim. And so we took the subway there only to find out that it was closed. Worse still, it was under construction and was covered in scaffolding, so we couldn’t even get a picture of the outside. I was so, so disappointed.

Feeling more than a little crushed, we decided to go to the Met instead, which was only a few blocks away.

Our first hour or two at the Met reminded me of the British Museum. The whole bottom of the Met is devoted to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art, and so there are plenty of sculptures, sarcophagi, and such. Having been to the British Museum, which, in my opinion, has a far better selection of ancient art, I felt kind of ‘meh’ about this part of the Met.

The modern art section of the Met was much better, but, having just been to MoMA… well, it’s not really fair to compare, given that MoMA is entirely devoted to modern art. Still, there were a number of pieces I was excited to see.

The Met’s real chance to shine came on the second floor where they essentially have a history of European paintings, right from Medieval times until Expressionism. Because the galleries are set up in order of time, we were actually able to do a walking survey through the last 600 years of art. The selection was very good and very large. For example, near the end they had an entire room devoted to Monet.

That evening, we went for a very nice dinner in Rockafeller Center. Since it was our last night there, and I hadn’t do so yet, I ordered a Cosmo. I figured it was an absolute must for me to drink a Cosmo in New York. The food was very good, and we were seated close to the Prometheus fountain which drowned out all conversations except our own.

The next morning, we returned to Penn Station, flew from Newark to Denver, sat in the Denver airport for 5 1/2 hours, and then came home–tired and really looking forward to sleeping in our own bed.

For your viewing pleasure, I’ve posted pictures on Facebook and you can find them here.

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