Everybody has been to New York, if not in person, then by way of TV, movies or music, and images of the action, people and scenery are familiar. Just hearing the words the Bronx, Yankees, Central Park, UN, 5th Avenue and Ground Zero transports us to the centre of The Big Apple.
Being there is both fascinating and familiar; it's overwhelming yet embracing. It is noisy, busy and full of entertainment, be it at a theatre or on the street. And it could take a lifetime to see and experience it all.
Getting a grip on whether places are in Upper Manhattan, Uptown, Midtown or Downtown is the first step in getting oriented. A map is indispensable to help figure out the different areas: The Garment District, Flatiron Gramercy, Chelsea, SOHO, Hell's Kitchen, Little Italy, the Financial District, Union Square and so on. The ubiquitous yellow cabs are plentiful and the cabbies like to know where you want to go and just get you there with little conversation or discussion. Investing in a MetroCard allows limitless travel on the public transportation systems, which can be used without trepidation, as all modes of transport were clean and without graffiti. Pedicabs are by far the most unnerving mode of transportation, but they can cut through just about any traffic or people jam.
New Yorkers are inundated with visitors but are unfailingly patient, helpful and go out of their way to help people find their way. Locals seem to have a good knowledge of their city and are happy to make recommendations, are willing to discuss just about anything from the state of the economy to the Empire State building. Impromptu conversations and discussions amongst bus passengers wasn't unusual allowing for an inside look at the local opinions. While the subway is quick and cuts across the city efficiently, bus travel allows a view from the window of areas you might not have time to visit.
The New York City Pass is a good investment since it gets you in the fast line, at a reduced rate, to some of the most popular destinations. If it's a clear day, going up New York's tallest building, the Empire State, is a great way to get your bearings. You will not be alone, but the long lines move quickly, the elevators even more so and, for some brave souls, walking up the last 10 flights in an enclosed stairwell makes the eventual arrival on the 86th floor observation deck even more stunning. A total of 103 floors, the art deco style limestone and stainless steel building were completed in 1931.
Completing the first-time visitor's orientation is an informative guided boat trip around the southern tip of Manhattan with views of the Statue of Liberty, New Jersey and the jostling cityscape. Now, armed with map and passes, New York awaits.
You could get lost in The Metropolitan Museum of Art for hours, days even. Collections range from Arms and Armor, to the Egyptian Temple of Dendur and rooms by Frank Lloyd Wright. Restaurants offer sweeping views of several floors of the interior of the Met or outside to Central Park. The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Solomon R. Guggenheim inverted ziggurat-style Museum houses works of art in its interior spiral galleries, which seem to embrace viewers into the structure itself. The Museum of Modern Art is also on the "must see" list with exhibits and building design features too numerous to mention. These are only three of the many museums in New York. Photographers may want to visit the International Centre of Photography, which featured Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights at the time of our visit.
Experiencing New York often costs nothing. A visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral was especially rewarding as a lavish wedding ceremony was taking place at the time. Dedicated in 1879 and with 2,200 seats, the cathedral was crowded with tourists, worshippers, celebrants and armed police at the door, but none of it impinged on the ceremony, and everyone applauded when the couple embraced, and many mopped tears from their eyes.
We wandered through the diminutive 1766 St. Paul's Chapel, which was spared in the 9-11 attacks on the nearby World Trade Center, and encountered a convergence of several fire trucks that unloaded heavily equipped firefighters. They hustled by T-shirt and short clad tourists down the subway to quell a fire. Moments before, we stared at the grubby bench and firefighter's uniform, which remains at the back of St. Paul's as a reminder of the succor and safety the chapel provided that historic September. At the area around the World Trade Center, we spoke with workers from the site, and looked at the memorials. No matter who came along the sidewalk, tourist or worker, the mood remained quiet, sombre, and yet expectant.
The 340-hectare Central Park with its meadows, lakes and forested areas is free, unless you want to take a horse-drawn carriage ride. Mostly, it is a place for recreational activity and offers endless visual entertainment. Prince Harry, along with others, many who were physically challenged, participated in a fundraising run while we were there. The stoic efforts and the participants sheer joy of achievement, made it necessary to bring out the Kleenex again. Strawberry Fields is dedicated to the memory of John Lennon and is a popular spot for visitors. It is near his former home in the historic Dakota Building and, from chatting with the doormen, we saw the exact spot where the former Beatle was gunned down. Good for walking, sports activities and just having a break from the endless roaring of the city, Central Park provides a refreshing natural pause.
Little Italy offers the taste of Italy with plenty of great restaurants but, as with most cities, the original Italian population has moved out. Chinatown, however, has shops and shoppers that could be taken from an image 100 years ago. Columbus Park is a hive of activity with Chinese opera, mah-jong, martial arts classes, tai chi and social gatherings.
A walk through the Beaux Arts style Grand Central Terminal is an awe-inspiring experience. If you get the chance to sip a coffee or wine from the upper level restaurant and watch the comings and goings, it's not so hard to imagine how it appeared when it was first built in 1913, and be thankful that Jackie Kennedy took on the project of saving it from the wrecking ball.
No trip to New York is complete without catching a show on Broadway, and we saw *Chicago* at the down-at-heel Ambassador Theatre. In stark contrast was the exquisitely maintained Carnegie Hall of which we had a thoroughly informative tour, and a chance to say we've sung at Carnegie Hall when our little group gave voice to "Happy Birthday" for one of us.
New York is a visit to the UN, which stirs hope and faith. It's going to restaurants where the staff are numerous and in uniform whether it's low- or high-end. It's the intimate embrace of jazz at Lincoln Center, the unreal goods in shops you'd never bother going in, and the monuments to business that poke into the sky with golden rooflines. It's the feather-bedecked reveller from the Gay Pride Parade waltzing around the train station entrance. It's the backpacker on the 3 a.m. train to Newark airport who was headed for Tofino. It's the Gothic spires of the Brooklyn Bridge and the cop who took time to pose for a photo while directing traffic in the middle of a wildly busy New York intersection. It's sitting in the middle of Times Square at a little round table while one of the world's greatest cities whirls around you.
NOVEMBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
Some Manhattan place names and their origins:
NOHO - North of Houston
SOHO - South of Houston
TRIBECA - Triangle Below Canal Street
DUMBO - Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass
Gramercy - from the Dutch De Kromme Zee
Flatbush - from the Dutch Vlacht Bos
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