A First Timer’s Trip To NYC

Nov 15, 2007
This was going to be a short blog about my trip to New York City for the first time… but as you will see it’s kind of turned out to be an epic… I’m warning you now.
I hate travel blogs that start out with a trip to the airport… but I really have to tell you to consider Newark International… no big crowds, easy access to everything… you can take the train to Manhattan but I opted for the Express Bus. I was kind of nervous about going in at 8:30am, and while traffic was backed up for miles headed to the Lincoln tunnel with all the toll booths, we are in our own express lane. 
One of the first landmarks is the Javits Convention centre and got a good tour of the midtown on our way to Grand Central Station…  and the New York City Public Library, and Bryant Park. I couldn’t pass up a visit when I spotted a restaurant in the park that is called Celsius  a “Canadian Lounge”. There’s also an ice skating rink, that was open even though the temperture was over 50 degrees farenheit that day.

 It’s an easy walk over to Times Square, which was still overwelming even at 10:30am.
But I bought my ticket for the Hop on Hop Off Downtown tour for $39.  Loved the double decker bus, and the guided tour. One thing to remember make sure you wear something warm, especially if it’s a chilly day, because riding around on the top of the bus, is extremely windy.  

I met up with my friend Lindsay and we hopped in a cab at 42nd street… and it was crazy. I thought Hong Kong cabbies were nuts, these guys were unbelievable… zipping through traffic jams, riding up on the curb at one point – squeezing through when there’s barely an inch on either side – definately wear a seatbelt! We got out at Columbus Ave and walked up a block or two when we found a great little Italian restaurant, Pappardella’s Zagat rated, and a huge menu. Our waitress was fun, she’d just moved from New Jersey so she and Lindsay commisserated about living in the big city.
In the Times Real Estate section there was an article on current prices and it is out of this world… the AVERAGE price for a co-op (least expensive housing) is $1.37M or $1021 a square foot… condos $1.64M while luxury condos go for $5.085M, lofts $2.07M and townhouses go for an average of $4.08M although they average $9.3M on the east side!!!
When I headed out on day two, I headed to the subway, and just like Toronto, sometimes you have to wait a few minutes longer for the train, and when it comes everyone jams in. I decided to wait for the next one, and about a minute later it arrived and was empty, so I got a seat. The trains shake rattle and roll a lot more than the TTC subway, 4 tracks with express trains in the centre rails.
I got out at Christopher Street to explore the gay neighbourhood. I was approached by a guy from the Human Rights Campaign – so we talked about the differences between Canadian and American gay rights. I gave him 20 bucks for the fight. Walked past the Stonewall Inn, where it all began, and past Gay Street,
and Christopher Park, dedicated to the fight for gay rights.

I got turned around on one of the side streets and ended up at the Hudson River,
 so I turned around and stopped at a great little diner called Sweet Love. Everybody seemed like they were regulars, and they all knew the waitress (owner) by name. She had a heavy New York, Puerto Rican accent… so cool. There’s also a wire mesh fence on Christopher Street that is covered in ceramic tiles, all made by children and dedicated to the victims of 9/11.

I headed to Washington Square Park and took a ton of pictures… I was asked 4 times if I wanted to buy pot…. was it the park or the way I look?? I walked over to the East Village and had to ask directions a few times, but everyone was very friendly and helpful. St. Marks was great, very cool. Every few stores were tattoo and piercing parlours. I checked out Trash and Vaudville, a store that has been there since the 70s – all punk rock and memorabilia. I bought a Siouxie and the Banshees T-shirt with Robert Smith from the Cure who was with the band at the time. When I got back on the subway this time it was late afternoon, and much busier… but we had this subway announcer with attitude. She kept yelling out orders over the PA… “DO NOT block the doors”… “DO NOT hold the doors open”… “Use ALL the doors”…. all said with a heavy New York accent… hilarious!!!
When Lindsay got home we headed out to the Zipper Factory Theatre in midtown for the Margaret Cho show. We had front row centre tickets and went with two of her friends from work. It was absolutely hilarious – I was laughing so hard, especially in the first set of her doing her standup. It was a mix of standup and comedy skits that were all very risquè. Her main message was that everyone is beautiful whether you are big or small. I really loved it. Afterwards we made a run for it in a torrential downpour, to a nearby restaurant and had a nice meal before heading home. I realized it is true that New Yorkers work hard and play hard. At least the PR people I was out with. They all complained about the ridiculous hours they have to work… extremely long and stressful days.
Next day we got up and Lindsay and I headed over to the Chelsea Market. I loved it. Reminded me of St. Lawrence market only a lot cleaner and better organized. The cake and cupcake stores were amazing.  There was one shop called The Fat Witch Bakery! The Food Network is upstairs – some of the produce is even more unique than what you find at St. Lawrence and I thought you could get everything there.
We continued to stroll through the Chelsea neighbourhood, a great little area, with tons of great stores… like Filene’s Basement. Thats where they have that huge wedding dress sale every year when women go crazy for the amazing bargains. You get all kinds of designer clothes there for really good prices.
The one bad part of the day is the Broadway stage hands have walked out on strike, and we have tickets tomorrow for The Grinch. It looked like it would be a really great show, but does not look like they will settle in time.
That evening I headed out for a picture taking adventure… Rockefeller Center,  Times Square, Radio City Music Hall,  but there are so many people- it must be because of the Broadway strike… everyone is out and about on Times Square. And they are all SLOW walkers . I settled into a groove, pushing through the crowds, yelling “we’re not all tourists ya know…. Move it!” kind of like Toronto but more so.  

The next day we headed out to Central Park…  a real oasis in the middle of this mad bustling city.    It’s so HUGE…and pretty unbelievable that they were able to protect such a large tract of land in the centre of Manhattan. We made a stop at Strawberry Fields, and admired the peace sign made from flower petals… we both wondered who does that… is it the city? A fan? Yoko?
Hopped back in a cab to take a few quick pics of the Guggenheim… I have always wanted to see that building…. But guess what, it’s under exterior renovation…  we did go inside though and checked out the beautiful interior design.

We took the L Train to Brooklyn – Williamsburg… very quaint neighbourhood – a bit like Queen Street West. We walked and shopped for a couple of hours and saw a cool bar called The Surf Bar 

and the floor was made of sand.  

We took the subway back to Union Square where we stumbled on a street fair.  We wandered through, smelling the most delicous street foods, and checking out the bargains. I found this one T-Shirt place that had some very unique Ts.. turns out the guy designs them himself, so I got one for $10. (http://www.rockstarrevolution.com/) Walked back to Macys and shopped some more… until we were both ready to drop.

When we were on the subway ride home, we heard this absolutely amazing street performer in the 59th Street station. He was singing the blues and it was bone chillingly amazing. If I was a record producer I would sign him up immediately. Instead he sits underground begging for a few cents. So sad. We stopped for dinner at the Vynl Café for pad Thai and then home to watch Barefoot in the Park and pack… a perfect way to end my 4 day New York adventure.
The next morning, got up bright and early at 6:30 grabbed a cab at Central Park West and 87th street at 7:30, got on the FDR and it was smooth sailing.,.. past Harlem (a series of dark brown tenement buildings) we went over the Triboro Bridge (the big suspension bridge) and got to La Guardia in less than half an hour… 2 and a half hours before the flight!!! I have a long wait.
Final Thoughts:
I had the most fabulous time in New York City… it is a high energy, beautiful city… with sky high buildings and a chaotic frenzy on the streets below. It’s combined with it’s own distinct smell… a smoky combination of tobacco, smog, and street vendors barbecues, and it’s a cachophony of sounds. All the honking horns is hard to get used to… even Montrealers are tame by comparison. The pace is unbelievable… a good piece of advice for someone who “wants to punch slow walking people in the back of the head” walk on the right side of the sidewalk… if you are walking slow, walk as far right as you can go… if you have to stop to tie a shoe, check a map or take a picture, stand behind a fire hydrant or mailbox don’t stand in the middle of the sidewalk. And you will notice that New Yorkers don’t wait for the light to change to ‘walk’… just make sure when you step off the curb you check for traffic. I saw one family almost get mowed down by a cyclist who proceeded to scream at them until they were humiliated, which they deserved, because they were crossing against the light and didn’t bother to check (I watched them do it) they are just lucky it wasn’t a car or truck that couldn’t stop in time. I can only image how stressful it must be to live here. It’s also an extreme contrast of rich and poor – bargains and ostentatious luxury (so many Lincoln Town Cars and SUV’s). For those with money, it would be an exciting and fabulous place to live and work. For those without a lot of money it would be a constant struggle, just trying to make enough money to survive and improve their lot in life. It’s also the American way to be constantly chasing the dream for wealth. Racially and culturally it is definitely a mosaic of cultures – you are always hearing other languages being spoken… like Toronto only LOUDER! Unfortunately there is also a polarization of various ethnic groups. You see it and you feel it. It’s not like Toronto where people don’t just ‘tolerate’ each other and their differences, but actually blend together relatively effectively. It’s like the prevalent philosophies have flipped: Canada is the melting pot of various cultures and America (New York) is the mosaic with each group very distinct and separate. The weird thing for me personally is that I haven’t felt this comfortable in a city other than Toronto. I love the energy, though it would be tough to experience over a long time, especially if you can’t afford the time or money to get out of town regularly. But I didn’t have any trouble getting around and blending in to the city. I can throw New York attitude with the best of them. I can’t wait to come back. I LOVE NYC!

PLACES I VISITED:
Times Square (and the Virgin Store)
42nd Street
Madison Avenue
5th Avenue
Park Avenue
Avenue of the Americas
Broadway
34th Street
Macy’s (and check out the cellar for lunch)
Bryant Park
Empire State Building
Battery Park
Christopher Street (and the gay village)
Greenwich Village
Hudson River Park
East Village
Washington Square Park
Soho
NYC University Campus
Chelsea Market
Meat Packing District
Chelsea Neighbourhood
NYC Library
Filenes Basement
Rockefeller Center
St.Patrick’s Cathedral
Central Park
Strawberry Fields
Guggenheim
Brooklyn -Williamsburg
Union Square
Triboro Bridge

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