Tag Archives: NYC

Geek in New York

I recently returned to New York, almost exactly 5 years after my first visit. By coincidence I entered the city exactly the same way as the first time, driving Interstate 95 from New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge and then following Henry Hudson Parkway south towards the Midtown Manhattan. It really gave me a strange feeling of a deja vu.

The big difference from the first trip was the fact that back then I didn’t really know what to do or see, I simply followed a random path across the city, while now I had a list of attractions which I really wanted to see.

Roosevelt Island TramThe first of them was the Roosevelt Island Tramway, located just a few blocks from the parking lot where I left my car. It must be one of the most spectacular parts of the Big Apple’s transportation system and, as a transportation enthusiast, I simply couldn’t skip it. As the name suggests it is an aerial tramway that spans the East River and connects Roosevelt Island to Manhattan. It travels 940 meters in 3 minutes and at the highest point it reaches 76 meters above the water, offering great views of the East Side of Manhattan including the United Nations Building. It is really great fun to ride and I would recommend it to anyone regardless of whether they are interested in strange transport modes or not.

The next attraction on my list was much more mainstream, the Rockefeller Center. To be precise the viewing deck located on the 70th floor of its tallest building. I chose it over the more famous and taller Empire State Building as it is much less busy. In fact even on a busy Saturday it took me less than 20 minutes from entering the building to getting to the top, including lines to the ticket desk and the security check. It is much better than the legendary lines to enter the viewing deck of the Empire State Building.

Now, the view. In short, breathtaking. You can see for miles and miles, the entire island of Manhattan is visible with its regular grid pattern. Not far to the north you will be able to see the green rectangular patch of central park then Harlem and then even further north the George Washington Bridge.Central Park from high

To the south you can see the beautiful shape of the Empire State Building (another advantage of choosing the Rockefeller Center) and then all the way to Lower Manhattan with the rising towers of the new World Trade Center. The weather was glorious and I spent good hour or so on top, taking plenty of pictures and simply admiring the views. It is by far one of the best viewing points I have ever visited anywhere in the world. Only from such a high vantage point is it possible to comprehend the size and vastness of New York City.Manhattan

There is a lot to see at the Rockefeller Center apart from the panorama from the top. For example in winter there is the iconic ice skating ring which has featured in so many movies and TV dramas. It had just opened for the season during my visit in late October. Then of course there are all the Art Deco details including murals and statues. The two most famous of them are the bronze gilded statue of Prometheus (located at the sunken plaza where the ice rink is) and the statue of Atlas on Fifth Avenue.

From the Rockefeller Center I headed towards Times Square. There is no other way of describing it than as spectacular. It is a sea of humanity surrounded by a cornucopia of neon and LED signs.

But I wasn’t lingering there for long as I was on my way to the next stop on my list, the High Line. It is a 1.6km linear park built on a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. It opened in 2009 (with extension in 2011) and as soon as I heard about it I knew that I would want to visit it at some point. I simply loved the idea.

High Line 2

So here I was, finally walking along it, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. It is a really cleverly designed as well as meticulously planted and maintained park. To be honest, the word park might not be the best description, I would say it is more of a footpath or urban trail. However you call it, it is a great place to stroll away from the city traffic but at the same time one can still admire the heavily urban environment and some great architecture along the way. Apart from being a nice place the park also changes the whole neighbourhood which has gentrified very quickly. For anyone interested in architecture, design or urbanistics it is a must visit.

From the south end of the High Line it was only a short subway ride to Whitehall Terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan. Here you can experience one of the best bargains of NYC, the Staten Island Ferry. It is a 24 hours, 365 days a year, commuter service to the borough of Staten Island. It offers great views and it is absolutely free.

Statue of LibertyI boarded one of the afternoon services and started taking photos as soon as the ferry departed the terminal. From the open decks you can admire the amazing skyline of Manhattan getting more and more distant with every minute. You won’t have much time to reflect on it before you notice the Statue of Liberty on the starboard side of the boat. Before arriving at Staten Island terminal you can also see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on the port side of the boat. Once the longest suspension bridge in the world it is still the longest in the Americas and a magnificent site indeed. In general during the 25 minute journey you can admire the vast New York Harbour from many different angles.

I was lucky in a way that my outbound journey let me experience sunset over the harbour while on my way back I was able to admire the New York’s skyline after dark. It is a view which you won’t forget for a while.One World Trade Center

By the time I got back to Manhattan it was getting rather late so I had to abandon my plans of visiting Brooklyn and headed straight back to Midtown where I had left my car. Before departing the city I wandered a bit around Times Square which after dark is an absolutely mind blowing experience. To fulfil my experience I ended the day with a slice of New York pizza and buying some gadgets in one of the countless gift shops surrounding the square.

I have to admit that I had fallen in love with New York. Somehow it didn’t happen during my first visit but this time it got me. I will definitely visit the city again and this time I promise myself to finally make it to Brooklyn which annoyingly has eluded me so far.

12 Hours in Manhattan

For most people the city of New York is one of the major destinations in the US, but for some reasons I was never particularly drawn into it. Still, as it was on our way back to Boston, we decided to give it a go.

We spent the night in one of the countless and totally indistinguishable suburbs of the great city. Here it makes sense to point out that such suburbs are home to majority of the metropolitan New York population. All the hippy and cool folks of Greenwich Village, East Village or SoHo are actually far less representative New Yorkers than people working in McDonald’s in Bronx or driving delivery vans on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Anyway, we had only one day and decided to get the most out of it.

It was Sunday morning, about 9am, when our frenetic 12 hours in Manhattan began. We entered the island of Manhattan via George Washington Bridge which is located in its northern part. To be honest it is far less spectacular approach than some of the others but it didn’t really matter as we quickly made our way towards one of the highlights of the city, the Central Park. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t really quick at all because we had to park our car first. And it is not an easy task in NYC, even on a Sunday morning. Anyway, we finally managed to squeeze it into one of the smallest and most claustrophobic underground parking garages I have ever seen in my life. However, located on the 96th street, it was just minutes from the park. But before we managed to reach the park, we unexpectedly got caught right in the middle of some street party. The road was closed to traffic and, even on an early morning, full of people enjoying themselves. I later learned that it was probably Annual Upper Broadway Autumn Festival. Or maybe not? It doesn’t really matter, it was fun.

Finally we reached Central Park. Here I have to admit that I absolutely love it. I find this perfectly rectangular bit of tamed nature, located right in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities on earth, absolutely fascinating. Whenever I looked at the map of Manhattan I always wanted to visit it.

Covering 843 acres (341ha) of almost entirely landscaped land it was designed by the renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. If you ask me he did an amazingly good job. The park looks really natural in its appearance and it is much more heavily wooded than for example Hyde Park in London. In places it might be sometimes possible to forget that you are really in the middle of a teeming metropolis. But on Sunday, around 11am, the whole park was full of people and you would knew you were in the city. They were jogging, cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding or just walking, with or without dogs. It seemed to me that New Yorkers are quite an active bunch of people.

We leisurely crossed the park, stopping here and there to admire some of its quirky monuments, like for example Alice in Wonderland or Polish King Jagiello. Finally we reached the Columbus Circus in the south-western corner of the park. Here you can see sharp contrast between the greenery of the park and concrete, steel and glass jungle of Midtown Manhattan, which is one of the densest and tallest parts of the city. In this part of town you can also find such architectural icons like the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building or Rockefeller Center. I would love to visit all of them but unfortunately we only had time for a quick lunch in the slick and modern Time Warner Center, before continuing in our quest south.

Important stop in Midtown was Times Square. It is so well known that there is no much point to write about it. I can only say that it did confirm all my preconceptions. It is crazy busy, noisy, bright, and colorful, somehow seducing you like a brash city girl. For anyone familiar with London comparisons with the Piccadilly Circus are unavoidable. Well, Times Square feels busier and noisier. Its massive screens and neons are larger and brighter than the ones in London and there are many more of them. It is simply bigger and lauder, like many things in America.

From the full-on extravaganza of the Time Square we kept walking south, sometimes on Broadway, sometimes venturing into some small side streets of Greenwich Village or East Village. In the 1960s these neighbourhoods were the real bohemian heart of the cultural life of New York. They are now almost totally gentrified and horribly expensive places to live, but it is still nice to walk their relatively quiet streets and admire the well preserved buildings. Also here, at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, is located my favourite shop in New York, the Strand Bookstore. One of the largest used bookstores in the world, it is claiming to have 18 miles of new, used and rare books. It is also an incredibly messy and fascinating place where chaos seems to be the rule. I could spend hours there but unfortunately it was already late afternoon so we kept going south before reaching the World Trade Center site. At the time of our visit it was one huge building site and the scars of the attacks were still visible.

As I was travelling with person who is mildly obsessed about all things Irish we couldn’t skip the Irish Hunger Memorial. Located on the banks of the Hudson River, near the Battery Park City, it is an interestingly landscaped plot, which utilizes stones, soil, and native vegetation brought in from the western coast of Ireland and contains stones from all of the different counties of Ireland. From the nearby esplanade you can get clear, even if a bit distant, view of one of the New York City landmarks, the Statue of Liberty. It was just before the sunset so the view we got was especially spectacular.

By the time we got the famous Brooklyn Bridge it was already dark so we only had enough time to reach its midpoint before returning to Manhattan. The iconic bridge offers great views from its centerline walkway located above the traffic. In my opinion it is well worth visiting, but you have to take to account that I am a bridge and road enthusiast.

The last places we visited in New York, were neighbouring Chinatown and Little Italy. Nowadays Little Italy is really little and getting smaller with every year. By contrast the Chinatown is growing and gradually taking over the streets once inhabited by the Italians. They were busy and booming places, even on a late Sunday evening. There was in fact Feast of San Gennaro celebrations going on that evening and it was impossible really to know where the Little Italy ended and where the Chinatown started. We had a really good evening wandering among the stalls and sampling some delicious Italian-American food before settling for some Chinese takeaway.

It was about 9pm and we were by now exploring Manhattan for about 12 hours. We were dog-tired and it was time to head back to our car. As it was well over 10 miles away we had the chance of using the world famous New York subway system, which offers fast trains and even air condition. As a Londoner, used to small, slow and hot trains, I got seriously jealous.

We finally left Manhattan probably about 10 or 11 pm just after nearly crashing into some dodgy characters in northern Harlem and our day in the NYC ended.

It was crazy hectic day and that’s probably why I enjoyed it so much. Of course it is impossible to visit NYC in one day, that is just silly and stupid idea, but even a few hours can give you a taste of what to expect when you come back later for longer. Because you will come back, so will I.