Friday, August 7, 2009

Twenty-four hours in New York

My last travel adventure was a good month ago now. I felt it was time to relive it by retelling it. I find recounting travel stories more than a little self-indulgent but its a Friday so I'll allow it.

I was staying in Boston so decided to go to New York for 24 hours and visit our Tripbod person there, Scott. The Peter Pan bus was great apart from the 8am stop to get something to eat when all there was was burger or pizza. To my suprise the other passengers all returned with greasy parcels in their hands. 8am.

I arrived in NY and met Scott. We walked around the city centre down to Madison Square where we saw around 50 people waiting outside a kiosk. Apparently its the best place to get burger in NY; the proof is in the queue. I think New York has a particularly faddy culture, but that may just be from watching too much Ugly Betty. We passed the New York library - the famous location of Ghostbusters.

We walked through the farmers' market in Union Square. Apparently NY state is so much bigger than people realise and they have a lot of their own produce, including wine. I didn't realise how small Manhatten was until my sister showed me the map. I said, 'that can't seriously be a real map'. It was just a massive grid.

We passed a closed-up building where Scott (a political student) had recently held an occupation against its closure and the policies of his University President. Some people got arrested and now face hefty legal fees. So friends throw warehouse parties to raise the fees. The parties get shut down by the police, which brings more legal fees, which leads to more parties. That's the life of anarchist for you.

We took the Statten Island ferry because its free. I felt a sense of the people who first arrived here once upon a time. Anyone with a name that couldn't be pronounced got americanized (recently referenced on the Simpsons who got changed to... The Simpsons). How times have changed. New York does feel like a tour of a movie set sometimes and I think the Statue of Liberty is better seen from the perspective of Superman as he whizzes by with Lois in arm rather than from the deck of a very heavy and slow boat.

They have just built their first Ikea in NY and there is a special ferry that runs from the store to a wealthy NY district. For reasons unknown, the opening of an Ikea store always needs a mention.

There were some interesting characters on the boat. A couple of guys were wearing peruvian style wooly hats in 28 degrees centigrade. Fashion these days... Another guy was sporting NY fashion of several years back. He was wearing a full multicoroured shell suit, had a Fresh Prince of Bel Air hair cut and was carrying an actual boom box.

As we headed through Wall Street I saw my perfect stereotypical NY woman (that is, Sex and the City) looking pristine in her well-cut suit, cashmere sweater, heels and pearls looking impatient with one arm full of large box shopping bags and one arm flagging down a taxi. She could have been made from wax from where I were standing, something about the melting makeup in NY summer heat.

We took the subway towards Brooklyn as it was time for a pint of water and a pint of beer. There was a great bar serving local beers such as Blue Top and with 3pm-8pm happy hour so we sweated the early evening away in the concrete beer garden out back.

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In the evening we walked in to Williamsburg. Down Bedford Ave there are loads of great places to eat, drink and hang out. Its full of young lively people sitting outside shops, on benches eating icecream, talking loudly and playing guitars. I saw something I liked to call a 'Highcyle' - a bicycle made of 2 frames stacked on top of one another so it looked double decker. We stopped at Dumont Burger for something to eat which was pretty good. I would recommend.

The next day it was raining so much that we decided to give Central Park a miss and have brunch in a place Scott's girlfriend used to work at called Noho Star. The owner is almost a celebrity. Once a well respected doctor, he opened this place 20-25 years ago. Now he has many different restaurants all over the place. He famously once offered $5,000 if someone could find out the recipe for a tuna sandwich from another restaurant. This place has a lot of charismatic regulars. One guy always has to have a full glass of ice next to him or else he starts banging his glass on the table. He orders ice cream after every meal and if you put the spoon down before the ice cream, he throws the spoon at the waitress. Bright red lipstick is part of the uniform here. They get paid only $2/hr which means they even have to pay tax out of their tips. Many of the NY hostesses are models and a headshot is always required.

The NY subway is in a bad condition. It is infrequent and regularly delayed. It wasn't as scary as my images of it from the movie Ghost but convenient it was not. The transport department are expanding the service to the wealthier areas and even re-painting stations instead of improving services down town. They are also increasing fares to support the lick of paint. Scott and his girlfriend are not happy about this at all.

So my time was up and I ran to the bus station as I found out I'd booked my ticket for the wrong day and had to buy a whole new ticket. I hate it when budget travel ends up costing you a fortune. My trip to NY was great but too short. My biggest regret - not trying a slice of NY pizza. I'll have to go back with more time and a bigger appetite next time.

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