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USA: New York: New York City
New York City, USA: The big apple
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Arguably, New York City is the most happening city in the world. Action happens 24x7. Indeed, it’s a city that never sleeps. Popularly known as “The Big Apple”, it has been luring travelers from all around the world to bite in… right from the early immigrants to modern travelers and businesspeople.
I was part of the Mauiva Aircruise group. After a 6-day visit of the east coast, our trip terminated in New York. On the evening of the arrival I was booked at the Hudson Hotel in midtown Manhattan. I will call Hudson Hotel a boutique / designer hotel. Just opposite to Central Park, it’s a great location to be in. However, many may like the way it is, but it was not to my liking. Tiny bathrooms, table and chair of steel, very dim illumination didn’t quite cheer me up. I extended my stay for 2 more days, but preferred to stay put in a different hotel – Double Tree, a Hilton brand, located on Lexington Avenue.
Before checking out from The Hudson, I took advantage of its location and decided to begin my New York exploration with an early morning visit to the Central Park.
A National Historic Landmark since 1963, Central Park was designed by landscape designer and writer Frederick Law Olmsted and the English architect Calvert Vaux in 1858 after winning a design competition. Central Park is bordered on the north by West 110th Street, on the south by West 59th Street, on the west by Eighth Avenue, along the park's borders, these streets are known as Central Park North, Central Park South, and Central Park West. Only Fifth Avenue along the park's eastern border retains its name.
Central Park welcomes nearly 35 million visitors annually making it the most visited urban park in the United States. It was opened on 770 acres of city-owned land and was expanded to 843 acres. It is 2.5 miles long between 59th Street (Central Park South) and 110th Street (Central Park North), and is half a mile wide between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West.
While foliage in much of the park appears natural, it is in fact almost entirely landscaped. The park contains several natural-looking lakes and ponds that have been created artificially, extensive walking tracks, bridle paths, two ice-skating rinks (one of which is a swimming pool in July and August), the Central Park Zoo, the Central Park Conservatory Garden, a wildlife sanctuary, a large area of natural woods, a 106-acre billion-gallon reservoir with an encircling running track, and an outdoor amphitheater, called the Delacorte Theater, which hosts the "Shakespeare in the Park" summer festivals. Indoor attractions include Belvedere Castle with its nature center, the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, and the historic Carousel.
In addition there are numerous major and minor grassy areas, some of which are used for informal or team sports, some are set aside as quiet areas, and there are a number of enclosed playgrounds for children. The 6 miles of drives within the park are used by joggers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and inline skaters, especially on weekends and in the evenings after 7:00PM when automobile traffic is prohibited. While I preferred to walk in the park for a few hours, visitors can tour around in horse-driven carriages, bicycles (you can hire them) or guided walking tours. The park is a great green patch providing New York City with a break it much deserves. I commenced walking at 7AM. I was back in the hotel at about 11AM. A good 4-hour walk in the crisp morning weather did cheer me up.
After a long hot bath, I checked out from the Hudson Hotel and took a cab to check into Double Tree. $10 did the trick. As expected, I had to wait to get my room. That generally is the case with hotels in New York. You got to be lucky to get a room before 2 PM unless of course, you are willing to pay for the prior night. If you plan to arrive early in New York City, you may want to keep this in mind or be prepared to hang out in the lobby.
For the benefit of those less travelled, I wish to clarify that New York is one of the 50 States of USA. New York City is a city and part of the New York State. New York City also called NYC is made up of 5 Burroughs. Namely, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. Generally speaking, Manhattan is where the action happens and to many visitors Manhattan is New York! To be honest, that was the case for me too. With just a little over 2 days on hand, there was no way I could explore beyond. In fact, it’s not even possible to see Manhattan fully, keeping in mind that Manhattan is divided in three – uptown, midtown and down town. Latter two is where you would spend most of the time.
Manhattan is an island sandwiched between Hudson River, Harlem River and East River. The island is about 4 miles wide and 24 miles long. It was bought by the Dutch for just $24 in 1600’s. Try getting a good meal in a decent restaurant for that amount these days! The local population is 3 million which swells up to 5 million on a working day.
Manhattan streets are designed in a grid format. It has about 200 streets (east - west) and 12 avenues (north - south). The 5th avenue is deemed as zero – dividing the east and the west. Despite the island’s huge dimensions, it’s very easy to find an address – thanks to the numbering and the grid format. The street numbers, to an extent can indicate the distance. About 15 blocks make a mile. So if you are walking from say 32nd Street to 47th Street on the Lexington Avenue, you would cover about a mile.
To move around NYC, 24x7 local transportation (bus and subway under the management of MTA – Metropolitan Transportation Authority) is at hand. The city has an extensive subway network of 23 different lines touching 468 subway stations! For a visitor it’s definitely complicated. However, a few trips on different routes and a couple of mistakes later, one learns – as I did. It’s a good idea to get acquainted with the system else you are likely to run huge taxi bills and not to forget the traffic snarls.
A single subway ride costs $2.50. However, if you plan to be in NYC for a longer period you may want to consider buying a MetroCard offering you unlimited travel. However, if you are there just for a few days (like I was) it’s a good idea to buy a number of trips. I purchased a MetroCard with 10 trips. One could always top-up more trips. Any balance remaining is refunded through mail. Purchasing ‘trips’ offer a 7% discount. A trip is completed as soon as you enter after swiping in. Your exit could be the next stop or the last one – doesn’t really matter.
As a tourist you may want to purchase New York City Pass. A pass for an adult costs $79. CityPASS gives you admission to 6 New York attractions: Empire State Building; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; American Museum of Natural History; MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art); Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Cruise and Top of the Rock OR Guggenheim Museum. If you do get into all the attractions, you tend to save about 50%. More important, with a CityPASS in hand, you skip lines. This can indeed be a major plus during holidays and weekends. I had the New York CityPASS with me.
I was given my room at the Double Tree at 2PM. By 3PM I was ready to walk NYC. From E51st Street I walked all the way to 42nd Street to Grand Central Terminal that falls on the crossing of Park Avenue and 42nd Street. Along the way I saw the Chrysler Building.
Reborn as "Grand Central Station," the reconfigured depot’s most prominent feature was undoubtedly its enormous train shed. Constructed of glass and steel, the 100-foot wide by 650-foot long structure rivaled the Eiffel Tower and Crystal Palace for primacy as the most dramatic engineering achievement of the 19th century. The updated station also featured a "classical" façade, a unified 16,000 square foot waiting room, and distinctive ornamentation. The most notable feature of the Main Concourse is the great astronomical mural, from a design by the French painter Paul Helleu, painted in gold leaf on cerulean blue oil. Arching over the 80,000 square-foot Main Concourse, this extraordinary painting portrays the Mediterranean sky with October-to-March zodiac and 2,500 stars.
The Chrysler Building is an Art Deco skyscraper in New York City, located on the east side of Manhattan in the Turtle Bay area at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. Standing at 319 meters it was the world's tallest building for 11 months before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931. After the destruction of the World Trade Center, it was again the second-tallest building in New York City until December 2007, when the spire was raised on the 365 meter Bank of America Tower, pushing the Chrysler Building into third position. In addition, The New York Times Building, which opened in 2007, is exactly level with the Chrysler Building in height. The Chrysler Building is a classic example of Art Deco architecture and considered by many contemporary architects to be one of the finest buildings in New York City. It was the headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation from 1930 until the mid-1950s, but, although the building was built and designed specifically for the car manufacturer, the corporation did not pay for the construction of it and never owned it, as Walter P. Chrysler decided to pay for it himself, so that his children could inherit it.
From Grand Central Station I walked to 34th Street on the 5th Avenue – the location for the famous Empire State Building. There was a long line in the waiting; however, the CityPASS helped me skip the line. I was ushered directly to the line to lift that would take me all the way up to the observatory deck.
The Empire State Building is a 102-story landmark in New York City. It is 1,250 feet tall. Its name is derived from the nickname for New York, the Empire State. It stood as the world's tallest building for 40 years, from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center's North Tower was completed in 1972. Following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building once again became the tallest building in New York City. The Empire State Building has one of the most popular outdoor observatories in the world, having been visited by over 110 million people. The 86th-floor observation deck offers impressive 360-degree views of the city. There is a second observation deck on the 102nd floor that is open to the public for additional fees.
After spending an hour at the Empire State Building, I walked up to 7th Avenue to visit Penn Station and Madison Square Garden – a world famous arena.
Pennsylvania Station - commonly known as Penn Station - is the major intercity train station and a major commuter rail hub in New York City. It is one of the busiest rail stations in the world, and a hub for inbound and outbound railroad traffic in New York City. The New York City Subway system also has multiple lines that connect to the station. The station is in the underground levels of Pennsylvania Plaza, an urban complex between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue and between 31st Street and 33rd Street in Midtown Manhattan, and is owned by Amtrak.
I walked all the way back to the hotel for a little rest before I set out again to explore the city by night.
At 7PM I was out from my room. Just across the hotel is the 51st street station. I purchased a 10-trip MetroCard for $22.50. Taking train No. 4 I got down at 42nd Street (Grand Station) and hopped over to train No 7 that got me right below Times Square – the entertainment district of the world. In and around there are over 90 theatres and over 300 clubs that offer a range of shows to please theatre and music buffs of all kind.
Times Square is a major commercial intersection at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretching from West 42nd to West 47th Streets. The extended Times Square area, also called the Theatre District, consists of the blocks between Sixth and Eighth Avenues from east to west, and West 40th and West 53rd Streets from south to north, making up the western part of the commercial area of Midtown Manhattan. Formerly named Longacre Square, Times Square was renamed in April 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the newly erected Times Building, which is now called One Times Square and is the site of the annual ball drop on New Year's Eve. Times Square, nicknamed "The Crossroads of the World" and "The Great White Way," has achieved the status of an iconic world landmark and is a symbol of New York City and the United States. No trip to NYC would be complete without spending an evening at the Times Square.
From Times Square I walked to Rockefeller Centre located on 47th Street, 6th Avenue (also known as Avenue of the Americas). One of the many attractions when at Rockefeller Centre is a visit to Top of The Rock. Soar 70 floors high and experience the exhilarating joy of unobstructed 360º city views from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. There’s a ticket of $23 to visit the observation deck. However, CityPASS has it as an inclusion. Opinion is divided as to who offers a better view – Empire State Building or Rockefeller Centre?
From the Rockefeller Centre I took the train No. M for 53rd Street, Lexington Avenue. The hotel was only a short walk away. Having walked for miles and miles during the day, I just needed a good night’s rest. It would be more walking tomorrow.
Next morning, I left the hotel at 8AM. After grabbing breakfast at a local McDonalds, I boarded train No 6 that would take me all the way downtown to Bowling Green Station. A 10-minute walk, along the river, saw me at the gates of Manhattan Helipad. I had booked for a helicopter tour organized by HeliNY. I was scheduled to fly at 9:30AM.
The tour that lasts for about 12 minutes gives a bird’s eye view of Manhattan and the surrounding area in comfort and style. Marvel at the splendid architecture of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and more as you travel down the Hudson River to the New York Harbor and the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum. See the George Washington and Verrazano bridges that keep Manhattan connected. Delight in flying by New York’s historic landmarks including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Greenwich Village, South Street Seaport and the 120 year old Brooklyn Bridge. The tour costs $139 and certainly has my recommendation. It’s a different experience worth the price.
Within walking distance from the helipad is the ferry terminal. CityPASS includes a ticket for a visit to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – another must do when in NYC. Ferries depart at regular intervals. A typical round trip is a 15 minute cruise to Statue of Liberty. From there a 15 minute cruise takes visitors to Ellis Island. The last leg is another 15 minute cruise back to ferry terminal – the starting point.
The Statue of Liberty National Monument officially celebrated her 100th birthday on October 28, 1986. The people of France gave the Statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. Over the years, the Statue of Liberty's symbolism has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as this international friendship. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture with the year 1876 in mind for completion, to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence.
The Statue was a joint effort between America and France and it was agreed upon that the American people were to build the pedestal, and the French people were responsible for the Statue and its assembly here in the United States. However, lack of funds was a problem on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In France, public fees, various forms of entertainment, and a lottery were among the methods used to raise funds. In the United States, benefit theatrical events, art exhibitions, auctions and prize fights assisted in providing needed funds.
From 1892 to 1954, over twelve million immigrants entered the United States through the portal of Ellis Island, a small island in New York Harbor. Ellis Island is located in the upper bay just off the New Jersey coast, within the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Through the years, this gateway to the new world was enlarged from its original 3.3 acres to 27.5 acres mostly by landfill obtained from ship ballast and possibly excess earth from the construction of the New York City subway system.
Before being designated as the site of the first Federal immigration station by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890, Ellis Island had a varied history. The local Indian tribes had called it "Kioshk" or Gull Island. Due to its rich and abundant oyster beds and plentiful and profitable shad runs, it was known as Oyster Island for many generations during the Dutch and English colonial periods. By the time Samuel Ellis became the island's private owner in the 1770's, the island had been called Kioshk, Oyster, Dyre, Bucking and Anderson's Island. In this way, Ellis Island developed from a sandy island that barely rose above the high tide mark, into a hanging site for pirates, a harbor fort, ammunition and ordinance depot named Fort Gibson, and finally into an immigration station. A museum on the island gives an excellent documentary of its history.
Back from the island tour, I boarded train No. 6 from Bowling Green Station and alighted at Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall. A good 15 minute walk brought me on the historic Brooklyn Bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River. With a main span of 1,595 feet it was the longest suspension bridge in the world from its opening until 1903, and the first steel-wire suspension bridge. Originally referred to as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge and as the East River Bridge, it was dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge in a January 25, 1867 letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and formally so named by the city government in 1915. Since its opening, it has become an iconic part of the New York skyline.
From Brooklyn Bridge I commenced my walk on Centre Street towards China Town and Little Italy. On the way I crossed the Courts and also witnessed New York State’s first same sex weddings. Being the first day to legalise marriages of the same sex, there was a long queue. Of course, protestors were there too.
As the name suggests, in China Town and Little Italy live and trade the communities from the respective countries. They are among NYC’s popular attractions especially to sample some authentic regional food. My lunch was at Little Italy… a pizza made the traditional way in a wood-fired brick oven, washed down with a Diet Coke.
It was almost 3PM. From Canal Street station I continued my journey on train No 6 to reach my hotel. After some rest, I took another train to Port Authority Bus Terminal and walked the 42nd Street enjoying the activities in the Theatre District. A large scoop of ice cream made at Stone Creamery ensured I got the needed calories for the day. Train E got me back to the hotel.
The next day my flight home was scheduled in the evening. That gave me the morning to visit Wall Street. I alighted at Wall Street Station using train No 6. From there I explored the neighbourhood including the Trinity Church; New York Stock Exchange; The Bull Statue and The Federal Hall where George Washington was administered oath as the first President of USA.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a black Monday. USA was undergoing a serious debt crisis. The stock market was expected to crash. Media guys were all around. Folks were anxiously waiting for President’s speech that evening… for some magic to happen.
Back to the hotel, I packed and got into a shared cab costing $20 took me to Newark Airport in about 90 minutes. I was ready to depart the east coast after eventful and tiring 8 days… especially the last 2 in NYC.
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