I am trying not to take any preconceived ideas with me when I visit new places, and mainly take every advice as a simple point of view. New York was a bit different. It is well known that the city is huge (8.5mil people rushing around), and I would expect it to be very busy. Also, as a worldwide known business center, one would expect to be very expensive and business oriented.
I found out this is not entirely true. The city is indeed packed with businessmen, but there are definitely a lot of tourists and a lot of life (indeed, this city never sleeps). We met beautiful people, we were hosted by few amazing guys and had a wonderful time (surprisingly, we sent a lot more requests to people in Philadelphia than in New York). The city is huge, and we did a lot of walking, but we couldn’t have made it without the 7 days metro card – it’s a MUST and you cover the expense in about 2 days of travels.
We’ve seen a lot of New York City and quite a bit of New Jersey, thanks to Alwin who drove us around. The driving is a bit chaotic in terms of who gives way to whom in any intersection without lights, as you may see the STOP sign on all roads in a crossroad, and the right doesn’t have priority as in Europe! We were warned about jaywalking, but it’s hard to stand still when EVERYONE does it and the road is clear. I think this is a direct consequence of the fact that everyone is running from one place to another. And if the road is not clear, it means there’s a traffic jam, and people still find their way among the cars. Nobody yelled or honked at us for jaywalking. As a general rule, everyone goes extremely slow in the city (30-40km/h) and that makes me think about the high fines instated here.
Plenty of nice parks around the city, but somehow different than a normal European park. There are a lot of kids playing around (barely supervised by their nannies), and a lot of people running or doing yoga, or other sports, even during daytime. We were sweating hard by just walking around, and people were running! How dared they?! The parks are reasonably sized, but certainly too small for the lunch time when the ‘working class’ gets out with their Starbucks menu.
In order, we passed by the Prospect park in Brooklyn, walked along the W shore starting at the South Ferry in Manhattan, spent some time in City Hall park, cooled down our feet in the fountain in Washington square park, watched some interesting dance performance in a crowded Bryant Park, and walked along the Brooklyn Bridge Park and Brooklyn Heights. Hardly a park, the Union Square still qualifies as a green open area, where people usually go to eat what they get in the nearby market.
Finally, the Central Park is big but also full of people – it’s hard to find a quiet place to truly relax, as there’s someone passing by every 10s, plus the noise of the city is still there, no matter how deep you go. We went to the Central Park on few occasions, and we even pedaled around it on rented bikes (1h on a rush, plus a couple of small breaks). In NY, the best is probably the High Line, but also quite crowded. My favorite was South Cove park (however, not certain this is the name) as it was full of small copper statues and lots of huge cents. The park I liked most in the area was located north of Jersey City – North Hudson Park. Really peaceful, with geese, turtles and fish on the lake, and away from the swarm of the big city.
BUILDINGS / MUSEUMS
Here, we were mostly “Woa” or “that’s strange”, not knowing why or what that building is. We didn’t come for a detailed examination of the architecture, but we appreciated what looked good and we were intrigued by the ‘out of the ordinary’.
The new observatory and other tall and touristic buildings were obviously charging for going up, so we just skipped that. No regrets here. However, we had nice night panoramas of the city from Wil’s rooftop, from Alwin’s hot swimming pool in the evening (from New Jersey), and also from rooftop terrace of Jordan’s, on the 6th Avenue.
In terms of museums, we visited all, mostly on the outside and till the reception, however we got in for about 3h in the Museum of Natural History, which was really nice. It’s a one day visit to go around and admire everything. We visited one floor and a half in those 3h.
When it comes to bridges, Brooklyn bridge automatically pops in everyone’s mind. We only walked a small part of it, but I would definitely call it overrated. Since Manhattan is an island, bridges and tunnels are definitely a part of any commuter. It may seem to be plenty of them, but apparently there are traffic jams and lots of cars on all.
We walked the Manhattan bridge, hoping to get a nice view of the Brooklyn bridge, but we ended up walking on the bicycle lanes as we were hunting for shadow. Will never do that again for sure, and I would never advise you to. The hipster bikers going to Dumbo are definitely rude and going really fast!
We haven’t been to all of them, but I can’t say there’s much we missed. We skipped Queens and the Bronx. Maybe the Yankee’s stadium would be a thing to see, or the Botanical garden in Bronx, but there’s nothing to even spark the curiosity about Queens. Our plan included a visit to Coney Island for a mermaid parade, but the rain cancelled our plan in the last minute.
Here is probably the big wow: the people of Manhattan are young. I believe the average age is about 35 or less. If you’re young, you’re in a cheap school in another neighborhood (unless you can afford an expensive one in Manhattan) and if you’re old, the city is too expensive and busy for you. The mix of cultures is more obvious than in London, and Spanish is just as common as English, but it comes in many flavors and accents. Here people strive to make a living, and there is an hard competition for survival and for a better life. Beggars here must be very creative to ‘earn a buck’ and everyone is selling something. The best thing about the people here is that everyone is eager to help as long as you probably don’t ask for money. You need directions? Just look confused for a moment, and a passer-by would stop to help.
And people here need excuses to get out – love to spend time in the nature, no matter the reason as long as there is one. The free concert of the NYC Philarmonica Orchestra in Central Park turned out to be a huge picnic where everyone ate and spoke to the others. We couldn’t even hear the instruments. For another event there – log cutting contest – people were buzzing around at the company stands for goodies, mostly ignoring the impressive speed of the guys racing to cut out slices of wood logs.
FEELINGS & EXPERIENCES
There are definitely some areas in the city where people of the same kind gather, and not being one of them might make you feel excluded. As we came from the airport, we felt strange passing through Brooklyn as we were the only whites walking the streets. Not discriminated, not pointed at, but definitely feeling as we don’t belong there. Very similar to this – Chinatown. There we walked among lots of Asians, not understanding anything they say, and not being able to get what we want without a lots of hand gymnastics. We even got to a supermarket and the only things we understood were: TOFU and pre-packed ham, or biscuits. All else eluded our understanding.
The best feeling however, is a person’s welcoming smile when he opens the door of his house and lets you in. We must thank for that to Wil, Alwin and Jordan – really great hosts.
(After several problems with my free hosting at hostinger, I am again able to access the blog and continue with our story – I am sorry for this delay. And just to have this pain off my soul, and as a short review for hostinger.ro – don’t ever have your blog hosted with them! It worked like a charm for the first two weeks and then failed miserably. It might still be reachable from Europe, but definitely down from all other online tools, and unreachable to me. Their support kept saying the site was up or that the server was under maintenance. However, the free hostinger.ro is totally unreliable, at least for wordpress)