Friday morning we checked out just after 11am and asked the hotel to keep our luggage while we explore a few more things in New York. I could not quite decide what I wanted to do with this extra day. There were a few places I still wanted to see and I wanted to walk the Brooklyn bridge but was really tired by now and did not know if I would have a chance to shower before boarding the plane that evening so in the end we decided on the Empire State building because what a way to take leave of a city than from the top.
We did the NY Skyride first which is a virtual simulator of a tour of New York City narrated by Kevin Bacon. It is located on the second floor of the Empire State building. It wasn’t great and felt dated as the ones I have done when I was in school (some many moons ago) were of the same standard so I don’t know why they haven’t updated this yet because technology has advanced so much since. The Empire State Building was great as the entrance, lift and view were exactly like in the movies so it felt like you were in a scene from Sleepless in Seattle or An affair to remember. I enjoyed the view from Top of the Rock more as you look onto the Empire State building but I did not want to miss out on one of the Top 10 attractions of NYC so I was happy that I did the Empire State building as well. It was a great end to a fabulous holiday.
We did some more shopping, had cherry pie at a diner before fetching our luggage to leave for JFK Airport. This was a great holiday with many special memories and lots of new and interesting places discovered that I will treasure always. I feel like the travel bug has bitten and I am already thinking where to next…
Thursday was a sad day as it was the last day of our trip. Our plane was leaving at 11am the next day which meant we needed to be at the airport by 8am. We were on our way to the Guggenheim museum near Central park but stopped at the pharmacy where I experienced my first self checkout counter where you scan your own items, pack and pay it which was interesting. We arrived at the museum only to find out it was closed on a Thursday. I could not believe it. I have never bothered to check because it just did not cross my mind that anything in New York would ever be closed. It seemed such an unlikely event. I took a few pictures of the beautiful building and we decided to cut across Central Park on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of art.
Central Park is big. It is 4km long and 0.8km wide. We started at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir which has a track where you can run/walk anti-clockwise around the water. Bill Clinton apparently likes to run there but I didn’t see him that day:- ) We somehow got lost and were suddenly on the other side of the park which has an East and West side. There aren’t many maps in the park and they are all the same so you do not know where the true East or West is in the Park and the “You are here” is missing on most of the maps so it does not help you much. The one thing about getting lost in a park is that you get to explore a lot of the park. We walked past the Shakespeare Garden, watched some rowboats at Turtle lake (which actually contains turtles which swim surprisingly fast), had a fruit salad at the boathouse restaurant before enjoying a view of model boats sailing around Conservatory Water which also has a tall bronze statue of Alice in Wonderland and her friends.
We eventually found The Metropolitan Museum of Art (or The Met) which contains over 2 million items – no wonder it is the biggest art museum in America. It will be difficult to see all the pieces so I got a map and decided on the things I wanted to see and did a few wings which included the impressionist painters. There was some beautiful stained glass and woodwork as well which I enjoyed.
Late afternoon we went shopping for gifts for friends and family at Times Square and also went to Macy’s which is the biggest department store in the world – it really is massive and has seven stories. We had our last supper at a diner which I enjoyed very much. It was one of those things I wanted to do as you always see it on TV or in the movies and the food was just great. I felt happy that I had seen and done most of the things I wanted to do on my trip.
We got back to the hotel at about 10pm and arranged for a car to take us to the airport the next morning at 7am. I was busy checking us in online when I suddenly noticed that our 11am flight was now showing as 10pm. I tried to call the airline in New York but they were already closed so I messaged my cousin to get hold of our uncle who works at the airline in South Africa (SA) to find out what was going on but due to the time difference it was 5am in SA. I eventually heard from my uncle a few hours later to confirm there was a technical problem on the flight leaving SA which was delayed which resulted in our delay. I don’t know why they say technical problem. Do they not know that I have watched most of Aircrash Investigation and those are not comforting terms. Anyway, we got to bed and at least knew that we could sleep late and have an extra day in New York.
Wednesday morning we arrived to a queue in Times Square at the TKTS booth which is located in the middle of Times Square underneath the red stairs where you can get discounted tickets (up to 50% off) to shows on the day of the show. The Times Square TKTS booth sells matinee tickets from 10am and evening tickets from 3pm so you can basically only buy tickets to one show at a time and it involves queuing of an hour to 90 minutes (which may explain why in the end I only watched one show – I just don’t have the patience to stand in queues). We got tickets for Cirque du Soleil at the Radio City Hall and I was very excited to see a show in the venue I have toured.
We went to Madame Tussauds to brush elbows with some celebrities. I think if you have seen one you have seen them all and I have been to one in London and Amsterdam so the wow factor of how well it is done was gone. It was however interesting to see how tall or short some of the celebs were and of course everyone was eager to get a photo with President Obama and the first lady in the oval office.
In the afternoon we watched Cirque du Soleil which was phenomenal and the fact that it was in such a spectacular venue was an added bonus. We had brilliant seats near the front and I just loved the show which is described as an acrobatic rock opera full of acrobatic shows and tricks. The stage and décor added drama to the show. I especially enjoyed the sand art where a woman painted with sand and the beautiful and poetic movement of a solo act by Anatoliy Zalevskiy (go YouTube him – outstanding!)
Late afternoon we visited the three storey high M&M store that sells different varieties of M&Ms (almond, coconut, peppermint, cherry, dark chocolate, peanuts, etc) and in every imaginable colour. You have never seen so many M&Ms in your life. They also sell T-shirts, mugs, cushions, games, toys and other merchandise.
We then went to the Discovery Center to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition, the six foot tall, 2000 year old defenders of the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuangdi, where an army of 8000 terracotta soldiers were buried with the emperor when he died to protect him in the afterlife. The exhibition and history around it was fascinating. What was interesting in the little video we got to watch was that they kept talking about BCE and not BC when referring to the period the emperor ruled. I don’t know if the BC (Before Christ) is not used in non Christian countries and that is why they use BCE but it was notable.
We went to Ripley’s Believe It or Not where some things are a bit silly but there are fascinating things as well as the guy (Willard Wigan) who creates creations so small it can fit on the back of a pin and can only be viewed with a microscope but the craftsmanship is just so striking.
We ended the day with a trip to the New York Public library and Bryant park (a public park next to the library where the locals get something to drink after work it seems while watching a live music performance) before we headed to a diner in Queens for supper. This was a jam-packed fun day!
Tuesday we went on a 60 minute sightseeing cruise of the harbour on the CitySightseeing Cruise where you get a close look at the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. I enjoyed the sights but I was not impressed by the touring company at all. I found their staff amateur, unprofessional and I did not appreciate the military style shouting of do this, do that, stand there, walk there, be faster, watch your step. You are on holiday and want to relax and not be shouted at by some punks. They were disorganised and it was the first tour I did that started late. They also had no regard for older or slower people as we all met up at the Castle Clinton at Battery Park but the boat was actually at pier 17 which is quite a distance away and they just ran along and the older people and young children must just come along or not. I don’t think they care.
The sights were beautiful. I loved the bridges most of all. There is something about Brooklyn Bridge that is inviting and captivating. One thing I have noticed about the Americans is that they love to use celebrities. There are celebrities in almost every advert on TV and even the narrating at some of the sights is done by celebrities. We had Kathleen Turner describing the sights on our cruise. We explored Battery Park which is a public park at the southern point of Manhattan. It has a beautiful garden, fountain where children play in the water and Navy memorial. There are also statues, a beer garden and the ferries to Liberty Island depart from there.
We went on the ferry to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty up close. She may have been a gift from France but she represents freedom and democracy. We could not go into the base or up to the crown as the statue is currently closed for restoration and upgrades as they plan to install a lift to take you to the top. There are rangers on the island that will give you facts or answer questions about Lady Liberty. They explained the inside structure and the design of the interior (done by the same guy who designed the Eiffel tower) the reason why she is green (from the weather as she used to be copper), her size and weight (she is a big girl who weighs 225 tons) and the fact that she has seven rays on her crown representing the seven continents.
We decided to skip Ellis Island and walked around in Battery Park chasing butterflies in the garden and watching a cool street act before heading back to the hotel.
Did I mention I got pulled over by the police last Sunday night? I have never had so many run-ins with the law as I have had in America. If anyone does not know, there is no turn on red in New York. The police could hear I wasn’t from around there, asked me where I was going and gave me some direction before walking off probably thinking “stupid tourist”.
Monday morning after we returned the car we went to explore the city with our first stop at St Patrick’s cathedral. It is a beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral that is over a 130 years old with a rich history as the church was built and paid for by the citizens and immigrants. Near the church is the Rockefeller Center which is a large complex (spanning three blocks) built in the 1930s in the art deco style. It is also home to Radio City Music Hall, Top of the Rock observation deck and NBC studios.
Our first stop was a tour of the biggest indoor theatre in the world – Radio City Music Hall which is an impressive theatre that can comfortably seat more than 6000 people. The design is also in the art deco style and the designer apparently used psychology in his design in choosing patterns and colours to create specific feelings such as the diamond striped carpet which is soothing and has a calming effect. The gold shimmering stage curtain is the largest in the world. The lifts are still the original lifts from the 1930s as well as the stage that was so well designed that there has not been a need to change it since it was built. It hosts the annual Christmas Spectacular with the famous Rockettes and has since it has opened its doors 80 years ago. It is also the venue for Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana. We got to meet a Rockette (world famous precision dancer) as well. The tour was phenomenal and it was interesting to learn more about the theatre and to just see this remarkable venue.
We had a stunning lunch in the centre before we went to explore NBC studios. We went on a guided tour of some of the studios, broadcasting centre and make-up room which was very interesting. The studios are kept very cold as the temperature rises by between 20-30 degrees when all the lights go on. High definition TV also means dust particles are picked up easily so when a studio is not in use the furniture gets covered. Make-up also needs to be sprayed on due to high definition that picks up so much detail. They also revealed some secrets of how they get the studio to look bigger and how the evening news anchor hangs around the studio the whole day in case of breaking news where they can prepare a studio and have the news to you in 48 seconds. It was a fun tour.
We ended the day with a view of New York City from the observation deck of Top of the Rock which is on the 67th floor of the Rockefeller Center. It gives a panoramic view of Manhattan, famous buildings and landmarks such as the new World Trade Centre buildings, Empire State building, the Chrysler building, Trump towers, Central Park, the many famous bridges, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square Ball and the Hudson river. We watched the sun set over New York and the many lights come on. It was a stunning day!
Last Sunday was the last day that we had the car as I was going to return it the Monday morning. We thought to get the most use out of our last day with the car by going shopping – for more luggage. As with any trip you end up not having enough space. Luckily we packed light coming so at least we knew we were not going to be overweight when leaving but we needed an extra bag or suitcase for all the things we gathered along the way (and were still going to buy in New York).
There is not really parking or shopping malls in Manhattan and you don’t want to be walking around with a big piece of luggage in a crowded street so we headed out to New Jersey in the morning and planned some sightseeing for the afternoon. We had tickets for the 9/11 memorial later the day. You need tickets (free) because of the construction of the new World Trade Center. We left New Jersey and were on our way to Pier 83 in Manhattan (to catch the water taxi to Battery Park which is close to the 9/11 memorial) when the Garmin suddenly got all messed up and sent us on a wild goose chase around New Jersey. It is like her brain got scrambled and she could not focus or give direction. The problem with being reliant on GPS is that you don’t pay much attention to your surroundings as you fully trust the Garmin to get you where you want to be. We tried everything, to reboot her, to put in different addresses, you name it – she just wouldn’t work and I had no data bundle on my phone to get navigation from there.
The highways are also tricky and you may be on one heading in one direction when the road turns and you head into a different direction. After two hours of driving around in circles we stopped at a McDonalds with Wi-Fi so I could get direction on my phone and as soon as we got to the New Jersey tunnel into Manhattan the Garmin suddenly came right. The tunnel costs a whooping $12 which is crazy. I see on the television that people have been complaining because this used to be something like $5 a year ago. My conspiracy theory is that the US jams the Garmin signal to any other non toll road to force you to use this expensive road which is also heavily congested as a bonus (how else can you explain the new Garmin going all cuckoo?) 🙂
We parked at Pier 83 which cost $35 – the most expensive we have paid for parking to date although Boston was a close $32. We got on the water taxi which was the last one of the day and arrived at Battery Park with a view of the Statue of Liberty in the distance. The 9/11 Memorial honours the nearly 3000 people who died in the terrorist attacks of 2001 and consists of two pools with cascading water where the towers used to stand. The names of all the people who died are inscribed in bronze around the pools. It is a sombre experience and you cannot imagine the devastation of such buildings collapsing. There was however a little feel good story about a Callery pear tree that survived after a mere 8-foot stump was discovered which they then nursed back to the 30-foot tree it is today that is standing at the memorial site. The new WTC plans look phenomenal and I think it will be beautiful once completed.
We were on our way to get a taxi to take us back to the pier when a sudden freak little storm appeared from out of nowhere. The wind was horrible and blowing fine black dust particles that could take out your eyes. We ran to a restaurant for cover and decided to have a drink while waiting for the storm to pass (it was my friend’s birthday after all so a toast was in order). It was my first ride in a yellow taxi which was cool as it is just one of those things you have to do in New York – another memorable day!
We arrived in New York City midday last Saturday and had to go look for a place to stay as we weren’t booked anywhere. I had kept a day open in case we decided to stay on in Boston because I wanted to see Cape Cod but after my sun burn incident I was looking for indoor things. We booked an extra day at the hotel we were staying at and because they were so full they actually charged us more. I thought I was going to get a great deal as this is last minute check-in but this turned out to be the most expensive night of the whole trip. We had an afternoon siesta before heading out to town late afternoon to go explore downtown Manhattan as well as the Brooklyn Bridge by car.
I may be condemned for saying this but I was not impressed arriving in New York City. It was the same when I arrived in Milan, Italy, after having visited the beautiful cities of Rome, Florence and Venice. It feels like it is just another big metropolitan city that is busy, dirty, smelly and ugly in comparison to some of the other cities and towns. Traffic is horrible, the drivers are rude and forever hooting at someone for something, there is a lot of shouting going on and everyone is in a hurry which defeats the object of a relaxing holiday.
We ended the day with a view of the Manhattan skyline, from across the Hudson in Long Island City, as the sun was setting which was too beautiful. People were out on the pier, some fishing, some just enjoying the spectacular view. This was closer to the New York charm I was expecting.