“New York, New York. The city so nice they named it twice. (Manhattan is the other name)” –Micheal Scott.
I visit the Big Apple. Photos, stories, and bucket list successes.
Going into summer of 2012, the top three places on my bucket list were Paris, New York, and Costa Rica. The universe just happened to come together perfectly (meaning: I am terribly privileged) so that I could cross off the first two almost back to back. I had just gone to Paris during a France/Spain trip with some of my classmates, and was looking forward to seeing New York with my family.
Flying into the city from above was spectacular. The grey-white clouds parted to reveal the sleek buildings below. We happened to fly in around sunset, so everything was visible. And I do mean everything. The bridges, the buildings, the harbors and boats, the parks, the skyscrapers. It was so familiar, but so brilliant and new.
When pulling into the terminal, I noticed that the marshaller (person with the yellow vest who directs the airplane from the ground) was closest to my window. I began to wave frantically, trying to get his attention. I really wanted to trick him into waving at me with one of the bright orange wands. After fiercely waving at him for a solid minute, he noticed me, smiled, and (yesss) waved. Yeah it’s pretty stupid but it amused me greatly.
From the airport, I also got to ride in a New York Taxi. The yellow ones that are so iconically famous. Our drive was not terribly hectic, and our driver was pretty quiet and calm. I loved watching the city lights zip by.
I think my favorite part about New York was just wandering around. I wish we had left ourselves more unscheduled time.
Advertisements bigger than our house loomed up above us, flashing neon and gold lights and screaming praise about frivolously insignificant things.
The city was humid and the air was thick. It rained on and off, in muggy lukewarm waves. For the most part, though, it was either sunny or overcast.
Of all our aimless wandering, visiting the jam-packed Times Square at night was by far the most exciting.
Big-name brand stores lined the crowded streets, with air-conditioned interiors inviting consumers inside. We wove in and out of the clothing and entertainment empires, admiring the great lengths to which companies would go to make the insides of the buildings unforgettable.
Most stores we entered as merely tourists, not actually intending to buy anything. One place I couldn’t resist, though, was the Hershey front.
This particular façade gives a pretty good feel for what every single store looked like. Looking back, I wish we would have glanced inside the Disney store to see how they had outdone themselves. All the buildings were at arms, constantly battling to outshine one another.
Hershey’s did not disappoint. Multiple levels of candy. Every type they’ve ever sold. With larger-than-life decorations exploding in color at every turn. There was a Hershey’s bar so large, that I could probably live off of it for three months. The wrapper could have easily been fashioned into a Laura-sized dress.
M&M’s store was very similar, with customizable stations and candy-coating colors I had never imagined were possible. Of course, there was also a fair amount of M&M art.
In contrast to the multi-million dollar, corporation storefronts, hundreds of street vendors were selling their wares on the asphalt, shouting out to passersby for business. Caricature artists, hot dog carts, musicians, spray paint artists, and people in character costumes measured up to pedestrians about 1 to every 10.
For the most part, none were particularly impressive. Counterfeit watches and generic caricatures didn’t offer anything new. The elmo costume was matted with dirt and probably sweat. Artists performing modern methods of art (i.e. spray-paint on canvas) I had already seen in other cities. While the throngs of vendors and performers definitely added positively to the overall atmosphere, nothing exceptionally interested us.
However, one vendor caught our eye. A quiet man with a plain grey T-shirt sat in a chair along a row of art vendors. His face was well-worn and sun-wrinkled. His customer sat in a metal foldable chair in front of him, and a small crowd of pedestrians were stopping to watch for a few moments.
He was a caricature artist, but instead of using pastels or paints, he was sculpting. A perfect grey-clay bust of his recent customer was taking shape in his delicate hand.
I decided to give it a try.
It took a while, and my parents left in shifts to go explore various shops. The man worked quietly, and the only thing he said to me during the whole hour or so was, “You have… very cute nose,” quietly and in accented English.
The person before me, that had convinced us to have our busts taken, had curly hair and a beard, and sort of looked like Seth Rogan, which I think made his bust look very obviously like him. More so than mine at least, but that may be because I’ve never seen myself from another person’s perspective.
Whether or not it’s accurate, I love that I got the experience of being immortalized in clay by a complete stranger.
Vendors and performers and shops are all well and good, but as I said before, nothing quite beats the adventure of wandering. The shining lights and loud streets were so energizing.
It’s very rare that people WANT to see ads, but I think Times Square is an exception. The broadway billboards and fashion displays were massive and colorful and awe-inspiring.
One in particular won the crowd over. There was a jumbotron, which was nothing new or uncommon here, that would transition in between advertisements. One of these advertisements (and no one really cared what it was) got peoples’ attention by displaying the crowd on the screen. Everyone would crowd around and wait for the junbotron to switch to the massive pixellated mirror.
At the end of Times Square, there was a large raised staircase, which merely served the purpose of letting people get a better view. It was fun to climb up the stairs, which I had seen in so many New-Years ball droppings on television. They were lit up with red light that cast a surreal glow on everyone.
Suddenly, there were gasps and cheers, and I looked just in time to see that a marriage proposal was being made (she said yes). This probably happens multiple times every week, but it was so exciting to witness it actually taking place.
Times Square is probably one of the most epochal locations in America. Every year it probably is the epitome of modern american culture. To witness it in this exact decade, with these exact fashions, and these exact values, is something that is extraordinarily unique. I am so lucky to be able to cross it off my bucket list.
Empire State Building
When visiting New York, it would feel like a crime to not climb to the top of the Empire State Building. We went during the day, and a particularly overcast one at that, but the majority of the climb was out of sight of windows, so we didn’t miss much. It was exciting to be herded up escalators and stairs like sheep, and I felt like we were in one of those never-ending lines at Disneyland.
For all my life, The Empire State Building has been idolized as the tallest building in America, and I’m really glad that I got to make the climb in this iconic building before it is overshadowed by 432 Park Avenue, which is to be the new tallest building in the country.
For a building with such fame, I was surprised at how plane it looked. Square and solid, without much shine or glamor on its façade. In fact, unless you knew what to look for (which you do, because who among us hasn’t seen at least one movie featuring the building), the building wouldn’t look extraordinary in comparison to its neighbors. All the buildings disappeared into the sky from the ground perspective.
We soon made it to the elevators, which were carefully chaperoned by workers, and which were monitored carefully to make sure they wouldn’t exceed weight limits.
One excited vertical ride later, and we were at the top.
A central enclosed space had windows to look out of, for those who weren’t comfortable enough to look out over the edge. Lined with tinted windows for people to see the skylines. However, it was difficult to see much from inside. There was also a ring around this central window-box, where tourists could walk around. Concrete and solid, it felt safe to me. Metal grating further helped promise security. After climbing to the top of the (pretty exposed) Eiffel Tower, this felt luxuriously and overly safe.
The views were amazing. Sparkling, vibrant city was displayed before us in iconic splendor. The Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler building, the harbors and the monuments. Everything was… to put it not-so-eloquently, cool. Really, really cool.
Taxis and rooftop gardens could be seen when we looked directly below, and a gorgeous skyline could be seen from the 360º viewing area.
Bridges and buildings were as wild and tangled as blackberry bushes.
The view was unforgettable, and I’m glad I was able to cross off “climbing to the top of the Empire State Building” from my bucket list. Especially since I got to experience the views in one of the last years that the Skyscraper is considered the tallest building in the U.S.
The Statue of Liberty
One of our excursions was to take a ferry ride to visit the Statue of Liberty. As expected, it was a hot, humid, overcast day. My mom urged us to bring jackets “just in case” despite our incredulous whines.
We were sweating hard as we headed to the docks in the park, and I was looking forward to some harbor mist and city breeze on the boat.
The ride started out slow, with grey water sloshing underneath us and grey sky bright above. The city skyline stretched along the water, and we were able to get a different perspective of the giant buildings.
Suddenly, it got colder. And wetter. It started to rain. It started to rain cold, icy, heavy drops. It started to pour. My glasses needed windshield wipers. My jacket needed another jacket.
I was very grateful that I was grudgingly talked into bringing a jacket in the first place.
The icy wetness made us cranky, but no more so than did the humid heat back on the mainland. It was exciting to traverse the cold and icy harbor. Exciting to imagine the way our ancestors must have felt coming towards this same statue.
The island was no less cold, and for some reason, the museums were also blasting air conditioning. We had to choose between wetness and slight coldness, or dryness and extreme coldness. In the end, we only spent as much time in the museums as we thought we could stand. The immigration exhibits that were offered were very fascinating, but not worth more than an hour or so of exploring.
My parents tried to pick out maiden names and surnames of possible distant relatives from the historical accounts in and around the museum.
Tourists are no longer allowed to climb to the top of the statue, but it was enjoyable enough to see it from the ground. And honestly, we were already so far from the city skyline that I doubt the view would be that much more spectacular.
All in all, I’m glad I got to visit the island.
I can’t find any photographs of this particular activity, unfortunately. My family and I went to Yankee Stadium to see a baseball game as one of our excursions. An all-American sport in this all-American city. A prime way to experience modern culture.
I hate sports. But I love going to professional sport games. The sights and smells and excitement are invigorating. I don’t even watch the game. I watch the people. The vendors selling overpriced cotton candy and hot dogs, weaving their way up and down the isles of fans. Little kids wearing oversized baseball caps and tiny jerseys, holding scuffed up mitts. Adult men who get red in the face from yelling at referees far out of their decibel range. Bad pop music echoes throughout the stadium, and sometimes jumbotrons invite the crowds to sing along or join in chants. It’s all beautiful, in its own way.
I like to think that, thousands of years in the future, scholars and archeologists will discuss this barbaric display of the celebration of athleticism, not unlike the way we discuss the Romans.
I remember that at Yankee Stadium, the concession stands had three sizes of soda cups: Large, extra large, and jumbo.
I sat next to a true New Yorker. He had the accent to match, and he mumbled that the other team were “a bunch of commies,” amongst other comical New-York stereotypes. He and his girlfriend were pretty sweet, and he asked me a couple of questions about what we were seeing as tourists in his city.
The Yankees lost, and he apologized to me that this wasn’t how the Yankees normally play, and said he was sorry I happened to come at one of the very rare bad games.
Honestly, I wasn’t disappointed. The home team’s losing was a better exhibition of New York’s culture than a win could be. Plus, I got hot dogs.
Central Park & The Metropolitan Museum of Art
We took a bike tour through central park. Looking back, I don’t think this was the right way to do it. I wish we had given ourselves an entire day to explore the park on our own. There was so much to see, so much to do, that there was no way you could cover it all from a little bike tour. Nevertheless, the park was gorgeous.
Streams and playgrounds and carousels and beautiful buildings. Central Park was like a country all in itself. We visited Shakespeare garden, strawberry fields, Bethesda fountain, and many more locations within the park’s boundaries.
At the fountain, we were approached by someone trying to get us to sign something (not the first time). When we refused, he was shocked and said “Well excuse me for thinking you were nice people,” which he said so dramatically that we giggled about it long after it happened.
We also saw the apartment building that John Lennon was shot in front of.
I really wish that we had allowed ourselves more time to explore central park. If I ever go back to New York, I will make sure to give myself at least a full day.
Another location that we didn’t have nearly enough time for was The Metropolitan Museum of Art. We went inside just as the front entrance workers were telling us that closing time was coming soon. We strolled through the museum, seeing as much as possible. I got to see works from Picasso, Van Gogh, and even Andy Warhol. My favorite room was Monet, and seeing the sleepy water lilies brought me back to my childhood (Picasso’s series of people eating lolipops comes in close second, though).
Other rooms were just ridiculous. There was an entire room dedicated to paintings of squares. Yep. That’s it. Just big canvases with single red squares in the middle. Another room had nothing but unfinished rough sketches of plants. There were also a fair number of canvases of what looked like splashed paint, something a toddler could easily accomplish of similar caliber.
I loved every single part of it, although walking around the Museum for so long (as well as the walk to the museum) was a bit exhausting.
One excursion that I had mixed feelings about was our visit to Broadway. I had gone to musicals before, albeit back in on the west coast. They had all been very different, some of which (Wicked, The Lion King) I loved, while others (West Side Story, The Chorus Line), I had hated. While I was excited to be inside of a real theatre in Broadway, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as the show itself was concerned.
Before seeing Mary Poppins, we went to the famous Shake Shack along the Theatre district in the heart of New York. The line stretched out the door and down the street, but we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of overpriced burger joints. At some point, it’s just easier to go to a chain restaurant. But my dad was really looking forward to this particular burger joint, so we went in. It took a while to find a seat, and when we did, it was on high bar stool style chairs squeezed in with some strangers.
I don’t even remember what I ordered. I mean, obviously it was a burger and a shake, but that’s as far as my memory stretches.
After filling our bellies and killing some time, we finally made it into the theatre.
The inside of the theatre was gorgeous, and our seats were pretty decent. We were high above the stage, but we were centered so that we wouldn’t have to view the play from an awkward angle. It was fun to look up at the gorgeous ceiling as we waited for the show to begin.
When booking tickets, my mom had given me the final say in choice of what we would see. It was a decision between Mary Poppins and The Book Of Mormon. I had never seen either before (besides the cinematic version of Mary Poppins), so it came down to whether I wanted a comedy or a classic.
I ended up deciding on Mary Poppins, but hesitantly, and I questioned my choice all the way until showtime. Did I make the right decision? Was a timeless classic going to be much more boring than a shiny new comedy?
The lights dimmed, the curtains opened, and I was not disappointed. The play went above and beyond my expectations.
The bigger-on-the-inside bag scenes used Vegas-magician style magic tricks, and Mary once produced an entire table from thin air by using a white tablecloth. It was like two shows in one. At the park scene, the statues came to life and danced across the stage. The sets and costumes were stunning. The best was the chimney sweep scene. Bert, with some help from hidden wires, tap-danced up the wall of the theatre, and then even on the ceiling. Impressive doesn’t even begin to cover how talented these dancers were.
Absolutely one of, if not THE, best shows I’ve ever seen. And one of my favorite bucket list items can now be crossed off!
In addition to all of these excursions, we also saw FAO Schwarz toy store, which was UNBELIEVABLE. We saw the 9/11 memorial (with a tour),
which was a bit too preachy about patriotism for my taste, and we saw Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum,
which was pretty stupid but still very fun. We also did a fair amount of strolling through different parts of the city, eating at wonderful restaurants and just experiencing this not-so-ancient and not-so-foreign culture. I’m so lucky that I am privileged enough to get to go to all of these unforgettable places.