Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Concrete Jungle

Leaving Las Vegas (teehee) saw us leaving behind some fantastic members of our group of awesomeness (sad face) but we did get to keep the irreplaceable Bridget and on top of that we were joined in New York by the beautiful Olivia... And so our adventure continues.

New York, New York... The city that never sleeps... The Big Apple... Concrete jungle where dreams are made... What other clich├ęs can I mention? Well it is all justified! New Yorkers definitely walk to a different beat... A much faster, grumpier beat. A week in New York was not even close to enough time to see much at all, Obviously we managed to see the big hitters, but there is so much more to see in NYC than the chick with the book and torch!

Our time in New York consisted of (but was not limited to) visiting the following... Deep breath now... Grand Central, Times Square, M&M World, Olive Garden, 9/11 Memorial, Brooklyn, Broadway, The Met, The Guggenheim, Tiffany's, Trump Tower, Fifth avenue, Rockefeller Centre, Flatiron building, Staten Island ferry, Statue of Liberty, Wall street, Greenwich village, Washington Square park, Chrysler Building, Rockefeller centre, Empire State Building observation deck, Central park, Brooklyn Flea Market, Brooklyn Bridge, Supreme court , Madison Square Garden and Macy's... So as you can see we were quite busy little tourists and all this action left us absolutely wrecked by 3pm every day! A valuable lesson was learnt here...

Handy Shanwah Hint: Pace yourself! What is the point in visiting these amazing sights if you don't have the energy to enjoy them? I would suggest that you set yourself a limit of maybe two or three major tourist destinations every day and mix them up so that you have some high excitement activities next to the more reserved ones (a lesson Jade and I learnt in Berlin when we decided that it would be a good idea to visit every Museum on Museum lsland in one day... By the end we were on the verge of being kicked out because we were delirious and pretending to be elks and lions...)

On our second big day of sightseeing we braved the elements and took a trip to see the former site of the World Trade Centers, current home to the 9/11 memorial. The weather was miserable but we were very keen to pay our respects and learn a bit about the events that occurred there almost eleven years ago. The best advice I can give you here is that you need to prepare yourself. To gain entry to the memorial you are required to pick up tickets at a nearby museum (for a voluntary donation) and you are offered entry into the small museum along with this. The museum is small but there is so much emotion packed into such a tiny space that you need to be prepared to take it all in. You will be standing in front of statue of liberty miniature that has been absolutely covered in photographs, prayers and dedications whilst people around you cry and a documentary is playing behind you recounting the stories of the victims' families. I don't pretend that I am an overly strong person emotionally but I actually had to leave to stop myself from sobbing. The next thing you need to prepare yourself for is the walk. The area is still very much a huge construction site, the Freedom Tower is half built and the rest of the buildings are also in varying degrees of completion. From the ticket collection point you are required to walk around this construction site to get to the entrance of the memorial... Quite a trek if it is raining/blisteringly hot. Next comes the long line and security check but if you have done any other sight seeing in America you should be used to this by now. After all this you are granted entry into the memorial... And you will be amazed... Firstly by the size of the memorials, two great fountains sitting exactly where the towers once stood that have been inscribed with the names of all those who lost their lives during the September eleven attacks. Secondly by the sheer size of the empty space in the middle of the New York financial district. The memorial itself is still under construction but the two fountains are complete and the survivor tree (a tree that was in the gardens of the original World trade centers and survived the devastation) has also been replanted. This place has definitely got an aura of quiet reflection and mourning about it without being too showey or touristy, I definitely recommend this place over most of the other big hitters.



Memorial ribbons tied to the survivor tree inscribed with prayers and messages of remembrance, A temporary expression of love from a stranger written in the raindrops, flowers over the name of lost loved one, a view of the fountain basin.

A visit to the big apple is definitely not complete without a visit to the famous Central Park! This oasis in the heart of a bustling metropolis is definitely sizable, so I would suggest allowing a good amount of time to take in the sights and sounds of famous Central Park. During your time amongst the trees you might want to wile away your day sailing miniature ships on one of the smaller lakes, hire a boat and row around the big lake, feed the ducks, get a hand drawn portrait made up, ride a bike, watch some Shakespeare, listen to some buskers play some classical music, have a picnic, walk, jog or run... The list is actually ridiculously long! We spent hours just strolling, hired a boat and had Ross gallantly row us around for some amazing views of the park (it is a whole different experience from on the water) and finished up with a picnic on the grass. You wont actually achieve much while you are here and your photographs (if you take any) will look much the same as any other major parkland, but the key here is relaxation... After a few days trying to keep up with the New Yorkers! You will need it!



A sign in the right direction (I definitely recommend renting a boat), the view over one of the lakes, some of the many ducks that are an integral part of the Central Park experience, an example of the grade separation that makes Central Park so comfortable to navigate.

I'd heard whispers that Washington Park was a place worth visiting if you happened by the neighbourhood and, as it turns out, those whispers were true! Although it is only a small park with very little to do, I certainly recommend a quick bout of people watching on your way through Manhattan. While you are at it, visit Greenwich village and amble around the streets! The restaurants and boutique designer stores dotted around the place are substantially quieter than their shopping mall siblings and the staff are nicer! Quick Tip: if you are a Marc Jacobs fan I suggest a trip to Bookmarc... It is a super trendy Marc Jacobs boutique and bookstore!

We had the good fortune to know a NY local (thanks Eileen) who recommended we visit the Brooklyn flea market for a handmade bargain and secondhand treasure or two. The market (located in the beautiful Fort Greene area of the hip Brooklyn borough) is run every Saturday from 10am to 5pm (for more details visit www.brooklynflea.com) and consists of countless stalls selling secondhand bric-a-brac, local art, tasty food, unique fashion and even some hand made Australian beauty products! The beautiful thing about this market is that it is not so big that you get lost or end up seeing the same thing over and over again, but it still has a fantastic variety of products to oooohh and aaaah over. In my opinion, this is the perfect place to pic up a unique souvenir of your time in New York (I know I did), do some people watching and support some local creative types. You can top this off by taking a casual stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan. The bridge affords you fantastic views of both Manhattan and Brooklyn as well as some much needed exercise and open sky (rare in New York). This brings me to my second handy hint for this post... Here it comes...

Handy Shanwah hint: Try living like a local! There is an absolute gold mine of local attractions, restaurants and boutiques in every neighborhood that are waiting to impress you. If you have the good fortune to know a local then grill them for information! These things are always more exciting than the tourist traps.



Some views of the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge that you might not normally see.

One of the last points on our long list of things to do in New York was to take in the view from the "Top of the Rock" (the observation deck of the Rockefeller Centre). The Rock is said to have amazing views of both the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, but after failing to get last minute tickets (sold out on account of the Bieber fever fans filling in time while they waited overnight for the Biebs to perform the next morning) we trekked to the Empire State to see if we would have more luck there. As it turns out, the Empire State Building is cheaper by a few bucks and we could get tickets. I am sure there is a quicker way to get to the top but if you are going last minute then you have to do your time and wait line for a while, so if you want to do this I suggest you look into advanced bookings or the like. Once you are up it is a fantastic view over New York (we did it at night) and the lights are just fantastic! It was amazing to see Times Square lighting up like it was its own miniature city and the roads cutting through Manhattan like little rivers.



The gang looking like the Brady bunch on the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square and on the lake in Central Park.

Shanwah's tasty tip: New York is a restaurant city! And you can pretty much luck onto some amazing places to eat no matter where you go... BUT... We are not all able to enjoy a gourmet dinner every night so I will tell you about my new favorite restaurant chain in America... Olive Garden! You have probably already heard of Olive Garden but for the conscientious traveller who still wants to eat good food, this place is a must! The salad is fresh and endless (but be warned, they will not bring out mains until you are finished with your salad) and if you order soup... That is endless too! There is complimentary garlic bread, a good selection of mains to choose from, and not only is the figure on your bill a surprise, it comes with chocolates too! There are at least two in Manhattan and many more around America.

My first trip to New York was jam packed and exhausting, But I feel it is almost a right of passage to overdo yourself in NYC... Just don't try and struggle against the city, it will win every time.

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