For 8 years my wife nagged me for visiting New York without her when we were in grad school. I finally got an opportunity to make it up to her earlier this year. I joined her for a whirlwind 2 day trip to New York on the last day of her work there.
Friday night red-eye flight is always my choice of travel for weekend east coast trips as it saves one full day. I flew United (United mileage plus member for 10+ years now!) to Newark. NY area boasts an impressive public transportation system, more shocking for me as it is kind of non-existent from where I come from — southern California. Google map directed me to take NJ transit to midtown Manhattan, where my hotel was. As I got out of Penn station , I realized why NYC is called “the city of five senses”— pedestrians, skyscrapers, cars, smells of street food, roadside musical performances, it was literally a sensory overload. Fortunately, Club Quarters had my room ready though it was only 11am. After checking in, I had a quick shower and we jumped onto a cab to our first destination — Battery park and got ferry tickets to Statue of Liberty. Statue of Liberty, a universal symbol of freedom and democracy, is the most iconic symbol of USA. Dedicated in1886 to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence, statue of liberty was jointly built by USA & France. Ferry ticket gives access to both Liberty island and Ellis island. As we were on the 3.30 P.M. last ferry, we had to choose only one island to disembark. We opted to see the statue from cruise and get off at Ellis island.
More than 12 million immigrants entered the USA through Ellis Island, the nation’s primary gateway from 1892 to 1954. It is estimated that over 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who crossed Ellis island before taking off in all directions of USA. Ellis island definitely struck a chord with me since I am an immigrant myself. Park service offers a free ranger-guided tour of the main building. Some of the stories I heard during the tour regarding how the immigrants were treated were appalling. The unfortunate uncanny similarity of these 100 year-old stories with what is happening today in our country is equally disturbing!
We took the last 5.00 P.M. ferry back to mainland. Last stop of our day was Empire state building to see NYC in all it’s glory at night. The Empire State Building is a historical landmark and an American cultural icon. Built in 1931, Empire State Building ranked as the world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years. The observatory on 102nd floor provides amazing 360° views of NYC. The view was incredible and we just could not get enough of it. It was so windy and cold (SoCal weather spoils you), we could not stay put on the deck for long though.
It was past midnight by the time we got down from the observatory, but NYC is “the city that never sleeps” and there is no better place to witness that than Times square. We ended up walking to Times Square from Empire State Building, took a quick detour to see Grand Central Terminal. Built in 1913, Grand Central Terminal is a commuter rail terminal as well as a national historic landmark. The elliptical celling of the main concourse, which contains beautiful murals of constellations is a major attraction of the terminal.
We reached Times Square 1.30 in the morning and it didn’t look look like past midnight! It was brimming with people, cars and food joints. On it’s busiest days, more than 450,000 pedestrians pass through this area. What makes Times square unique at night is the collage of spectacular advertising billboards. Fun fact: it costs 1-4 million $/year to rent one of these billboards. I was surprised to see some clothing stores such as this H & M store open till 2 am. Times Square has an inexplicable unique vibe- definitely an experience of a lifetime.
It was a bit of a bummer as the forecast was rain all day and we decided to check out some of the museums. 9/11 memorial & museum was our first stop of the day.
9/11 museum is located at the former site of world trade center that were destroyed during the September 11 attacks. It was a somber experience. It hurts to see how many innocent lives were taken on that day. We spent most of our time in the historical exhibition section that displays the stories of 9/11 in three parts: events leading up to the attacks, the attack itself and the aftermath. The great length at which these details were laid out is remarkable yet discomforting.
Next stop was the the metropolitan museum of art, “Met” , the largest art museum in the United States. It has an enormous collection of 5,000 years of art from across the globe. Exhibits are categorized into two collection types: geographically designated (such as Egyptian, Asian, European, Greek, Roman etc.) and non-geographically designated (arms and armors, costumes, artworks etc.). Some of the must-see artworks include — “Self-portrait with a straw hat” by Vincent Van Gogh, “Bridge over a pond of water lilies” by Claude Monet and “Madonna & child” by Duccio di Buoninsegna (purchased in 2004 for a Met record of 50 million US$).
While the Met has massive collections and an enormous gallery space, if you are in a mood for modern and contemporary arts, MoMA — museum of modern art, is THE place to go. It displays classic works from impressionists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. “The starry night” by Vincent Van Gogh, “The persistence of memory” by Salvador Dali, Self portrait of Frieda Kahlo and “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” by Pablo Picasso are some of the major attractions of MoMA.
By the time we finished appreciating these remarkable artworks at MoMA, sky was clearing up. We walked to Rockefeller Center, which is right across MoMA. The ice skating rink in front of Rockefeller has a cult presence, present in all the classic movies based in New York. The observation deck on top of Rockefeller center, “top of the rock” is a major attraction. In my opinion the view from Rockefeller center is way better than Empire state building. Actually the presence of empire state building in the skyline make the view from top of the rock so special. Presence of central park at the foreground of NYC skyline also creates a stunning vista.
Last day in NY. We planned to see two more attractions today — “the oculus” & Central park. “The oculus” is a recent addition to NY city attractions. At a 4 billion dollar price tag, it is the world’s most expensive train stop and mall ! It is designed by world renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. The oculus at WTC mall replaces the PATH station that was destroyed during 9/11 terror attack. “Eataly”, an Italian marketplace chain comprising a variety of restaurants and bakeries at the 3rd floor of the Westfield mall is a good place to explore if you are an Italian food connoisseur.
Our final stop before catching flight back home to San Diego was central park. Central park is like a breath of fresh air - a place to rewind, relax and recenter- right in the midst of NYC concrete jungle. This is an enormous 843 acre area, from 59th street to 110th street — 51 blocks!!! Unfortunately, we had only couple of hours to explore but I can imagine spending an entire day here in summertime. We tried to spend time in some of the major attractions of central park — Bethesda Terrace, Strawberry Fields, Sheep Meadow and Central Park Mall. The “Imagine” mosaic lies in the center of Strawberry Fields, a tribute to the late Beatles, John Lennon. Central park was beautiful, but I think it really comes to life in summer time with brilliant foliage and flowers.
That was the end of a memorable and incredible trip, NYC lived up to its hype and we enjoyed even more than we expected. We loved the food, attractions and the vibe in general. If you want to visit one city in your life time, it is NEW YORK ! Adios !