Manhattan Medley – The New York Memoirs

Manhattan


” Dream pleasantly; the dreams we hold onto, someday become a reality”. – Larissa Milne.

N it certainly did …

Being a hardcore travel enthusiast, my mind constantly wanders to all the corners of this mesmerizing world of ours. From the deep jungles of Amazon to the secluded beaches of the Pacific. From the sleepy medieval villages of Europe to the greatest cities of the modern world.

Greatest city of the modern world??? Well,there could be numerous contenders vouching for that tag. Paris for its sheer elegance and ‘joie de vivre ’. London, where history and modernism walk hand in hand. But the one city that  jiggled my conscience since childhood the most was always NEW YORK…

King Kong beating his chest atop the iconic Empire State Building, Spider man swinging and swirling across the streets of the awe inspiring Manhattan, the neon lit billboards of Times Square, or Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack ice skating on the Wollman Rink at the Central Park on a snowy night in ‘Serendepity’. Just a vision of these unforgettable instances made New York the No 1 destination in my list from the very beginning. A dream in the truest sense of the word.

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                                 All set to board !!

 

And then the moment finally arrived. Still remember pinching myself while getting down at the John.F.Kennedy airport on the morning of June 15, 2014. AMERICA…WE HAVE FINALLY MET!!!!

One of the toughest job while visiting a city like New York is to select that perfect hotel.  When I say perfect, I mean the location. N am glad I chose Hotel St James. Its the perfect location one can expect in New York. The property is located right in the heart of Manhattan on the 45th street, walking distance from the major tourist hot spots like the Times Square, Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue, Central Park, the Empire State Building and lots more. The friendly staff made the experience even sweeter..Especially Joey, at the front desk.

I strongly believe that walking is the best way of truly absorbing a city’s atmosphere . In this way one can really have a good sense of the locals, find a cool road side bistro that would be really hard to find on google, and explore and marvel at the city at your own pace and convenience. It is for this very reason that I chose ‘Free tours by foot’.  Its an organization that conducts various walking tours covering all the major attractions of New York. It follows a ‘Pay what you like’ concept. They won’t charge you anything. You yourself choose how much you thought the tour was worth…..

I had got the first walking tour booked on the very first day of arrival. Generally people take up to a day to get used to the vast change in the time zone from the eastern to the western hemisphere. But such was the urgency to come face to face with the icons of the Big Apple, that I just threw the luggage in the room, took a quick shower, grabbed a quick bite from a kiosk just across the hotel and hit the road. It was time for the real action to begin.

The city of New York has been divided into five boroughs, namely Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The island of Manhattan, the most densely populated of the lot, is home to some of the biggest attractions of NYC. In fact, Manhattan hosts three of the world’s ten most visited tourist attractions in 2013; Times Square (2nd), Central Park (3rd) and the Grand Central Terminal (6th).

The starting point of the first tour – The ‘Midtown Manhattan’ tour- was Bryant Park, that was just a five minutes’ walk from the hotel (another advantage). This small walk enabled me to understand the way Manhattan has been planned. It is based on a ‘Grid System’ pattern. The ‘Avenues’ run from north to south, whereas the ‘Streets’ go east to west.  The avenues happen to be wider than than the streets. The merging of various avenues and streets lead to numerous cross streets arranged in a right angled grid.

The corner of Bryant park (intersection of the 6th Avenue and 42nd street) is a superb point to see two of the most iconic structures of Manhattan, the Empire State Building right in front, and The Chrysler on the left. It is at this point that my Midtown Manhattan tour commenced.

The midtown area of Manhattan is the real soul of Manhattan in general and of New York City as a whole. It showcases NYC’s most famous attractions, the tallest skyscrapers, the busiest sidewalks, the largest stores and the swankiest restaurants. It was an awe inspiring experience as NYC showcased its full glory with each step.  Leaving New York public library behind, we came across another of NYC’s attraction, The Grand Central Station. It is the world’s largest train station and certainly one of the most beautiful. The exterior itself is enough to bedazzle you with it’s sheer grace, but it’s a different world altogether the moment you step inside, to the main Concourse. This is the center of activity of the premise where you can see people rushing through the 275 sq ft hall to catch their trains. It’s when I stood at a corner admiring the stunning turquoise ceiling, depicting the constellations of the zodiac, I understood just why more than 20 million people flock to admire the beauty of the Grand Central every year.

I had set my foot on the famous Park Avenue now. The Grand Central itself is located on the intersection of the 42nd street and Park Avenue. Base of various corporate head offices and multimillion apartments, Park Avenue is the home of some of the most expensive real estates in USA. Important landmarks like The Met Life Building and the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel are located here.

IMG_4190             Finding a way in Manhattan..

 

Holding my head high (a never ending process in Manhattan!!) to judge just how high the Skyscrapers go, I was living my dream. Following the tour guide, from one street to another, we crossed over to Madison Avenue to reach the legendary Fifth Avenue. Voted as the world’s best shopping destination, Fifth Avenue has it all. From the uber cool high end stores to souvenir shops, you will find anything here. It has also been labelled as the world’s most expensive shopping street. The most well known and prestigious of the stores lie between the 49th and 60th street. The popular departmental store, ‘Saks Fifth Avenue’ is located on this stretch. There’s also a so called ‘Millionaire Street’ between the 59th and 96th street due to the mansions of the very rich & famous of New York.

Fifth Avenue is also home to some of the most famous landmarks of NYC like the Empire State Building (350 Fifth Avenue), the Flatiron Building (175 Fifth Avenue) and The Rockefeller Center, which happened to be my next destination.

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Rockefeller Center

 

Rockefeller center is probably the most famous and grandest plazas in New York. It’s well known for the ice rink and the legendary Christmas tree (where the final scene of Home Alone was shot), but the most famous of its attractions has to be ‘Top of the Rocks’. TOTR is the 70th floor observatory deck from where one gets the bird’s eye view of NYC. I had read about the long ques that one finds at the ticket counter at any point of day, therefore, I had already booked an online pass from India itself. This helped me immensely in reaching the deck in no time.

Breathtaking…Mesmerizing…Bedazzling…No adjectives were apt for describing the emotions I felt the moment I stepped out on the deck..The view was indeed out of the world. Surely the best place to see the Empire State and Central Park. If you ask me, the best time to visit Top of the Rocks in the evening. By doing this, one can witness the beauty of the city in daylight, watch the sunset and then admire the spectacle unfolding right in front of you when New York lights up itself to its full glory at night. Truly, one of the greatest experiences of my life.

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View of The Empire State Building from Top of the Rocks

 

Sleepy eyes, aching back, cramped legs. Well, in this state a cosy bed is what anybody would crave for. But hey, I am in New York City, isn’t it?? First day coming to an end without experiencing ‘THE PLACE IN NYC’?? Not possible even in my wildest imagination.. So here I was at the Times Square..Just a 10 minutes walk from The Rockefeller Center, you have to be there to understand why the place has been iconified as ‘The Center of the Universe’.. Right under those famous billboards and the neon lights. The masterpiece of New York. I could actually feel the adrenaline standing right in the middle..This was it…You just cannot go any further, any higher in the world, in your life..Ever…

 

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A Night at the Times Square

 

Second day…a new beginning..and a new set of attractions to unravel..Lower Manhattan, that withholds within itself another set of world renowned marvels was my next stop.  The best way to reach is metro. A direct train from the Times Square 42nd street station would get you to Bowling Green, which I used as the starting point of my Lower Manhattan tour.  A short 10 minutes walk from the station, you reach Battery Park.

Battery Park happens to be the place from where the Statue of Liberty ferry starts. Not only the Liberty island, ferries to Staten island and New Jersey also originate from here. The entire process of getting the tickets and moving on top of the ferry took me more than an hour, but the beautiful windy journey to the liberty island more than made up for it. I would highly recommend the ferry top for the gorgeous views of Lower Manhattan and the statue itself.  You are bound to get goosebumps at the first sight of the statue. After all, it’s your first date with the Symbol of America. Your American trip is surely incomplete if you aren’t in the same frame with Lady Liberty. So there I was..With my hands on my waist..and a grin on my face..whispering,” Hello Lady Liberty”!!!!!!!

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Statue of Liberty

 

I had planned to go on top of the crown of the statue, but was baffled to find out that the tickets had got sold out 6 months in advance.  But one can anyway take a round of the island with another set of great views of Lower Manhattan and try to make up for it..Along with the Liberty Island, you can also make a visit on the Ellis Island on the same trip. Previously, the gateway for the millions of immigrants to the United States, it is now a National Monument.

Back to Battery Park, with a scoop of dark chocolate to cool off the scorching heat, I strolled down to the next symbol of NYC, the Charging Bull. Weighing close to 7000 pounds, the bull is considered as the symbol of the power of the American people. A pic with the legendary bull took me several minutes due to the mad rush around it, but it’s surely a thing not to be missed.

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Charging Bull

 

The Charging Bull’s right foot is forward, towards Wall Street, suggesting he is on the move financially. So following the path as shown by the bull, crisscrossing a few streets, I was there..Right at the heart of the financial District of Lower Manhattan..right at the epicenter of the Financial Capital of the world…I was there..at WALL STREET..I was there..right below the hanging  American flags at the famed New York Stock Exchange..right next to the Federal Hall..the Trump Tower..You have to be there to experience the power..experience the financial might..experience the rush in the blood….

 

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IMG_3291New York Stock Exchange                                                                                                At the Wall Street

 

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At the center of action……

 

Satisfying my hunger buds at the Stone Street ( 5 min walk from the NYSE) in a truly American style (burger, fries n coke!!!), I was fully charged for the next part of the walk..Crossing the historic Trinity church, I reached the 9/11 memorial. Two pools have been marked at the sites where the twin towers once stood. The names of victims have been inscribed on bronze plates that have been attached to the walls of the memorial pool. Truly heart wrenching..There’s even a ‘Survivor Tree’ nearby that was recovered from the rubble at the WTC site.

 

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Stone Street                                                                                                                           9/11 Memorial

 

It had been a back breaker day indeed, but just a thought about the icon that was waiting ahead, gave me that much needed charge I desperately needed. After all, Brooklyn Bridge is certainly not the thing you even think of missing. Standing right in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge is an experience in itself. It was evening by the time I was there. The view, the daily joggers passing by, the evening sun making the river and the skyscrapers go glittery, the wind gushing down the face, ahh..New York beauty at its pinnacle.

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 Brooklyn Bridge

 

Crossing the bridge, I reached Brooklyn. On both ends of the bridge lies Brooklyn Heights, one of the affluent residential neighborhood of NYC. The riverside area of this area is an experience in itself and undoubtedly, one of the best points to have a glimpse of the New York skyline. Spending an evening here and at the Brooklyn Promenade, that is located at a higher point, is highly recommended.

As expected I spent my evening here, sitting on a bench with just the Brooklyn river between me and the majestic Manhattan skyline. As it grew dark, the view from the promenade turned out to be even more astonishing. The long day came to an end with a night ride on the deck of the Staten island ferry ( another point to witness NYC at its resounding best ) An experience that convinced me that my long journey to this side of the hemisphere has been truly worth it..

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Brooklyn Promenade                                                                                                                 Brooklyn Heights

 

Central park was on my top ‘to-do’ list since the day of inception of my tour. On the third morning, I had planned for a jog covering the length and breadth of the park. But when I came to know about the humongous size (843 acres), I decided that cycling would be a better option keeping in mind the paucity of time. Crossing the 8th avenue, I planned to enter through the Columbus Circle gate. To my delight, I came across the ‘rent a cycle’ people at the entrance itself. So paddling my way, my Central park exploration went underway. It turned out to be a wise decision as within a few hours I was able to cover all the major attractions (Bethesda fountain, Bow Bridge, Strawberry fields, Belvedere castle, Great Lake, Sheep Meadow, the zoo), and that too, at my own pace..

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Sheep Meadow                                                                                                           Rowing on the Great Lake

 

If you are a shopping buff, Soho could turn out to be a great outing for you. A short metro ride from the Times Square 42nd street station (convenient in my case), it has a variety of stores suiting each pocket type. I made the most of sale season ( particularly at the Nike store..) that was going on at that time of the year.

A short walk from Soho lies Chinatown, which incorporates the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western hemisphere. The place is scattered with massage centers and famed restaurants. So after getting myself pampered with a badly needed ‘foot reflexology’, I tried my hands at the award winning ‘Joe’s Shanghai’. (Kung pao chicken was to die for!!!). People with a weakness for Italian food, can just cross over the road to ‘Little Italy’.

A New York trip seems unimaginable without that ‘BROADWAY SHOW’..I had already got the tickets booked well in advance (a wise thing to do keeping in mind the rush ). So just darted off back to Times Square so as to not miss even a single minute of the action. I had chosen ‘The Lion King’ that was running at the Minskoff theater. Spell bounding it was, to say the least. The visuals and the effects left everybody mesmerized..the Broadway experience had truly lived up to the huge expectation I was carrying..

And what better way to say goodbye to the city than to have a final look at it from probably it’s most beloved icon..I am indeed talking about the Empire State Building. The advance booking yet again helped immensely in beating the line and saved at least an hour. The crowd you see inside the premise waiting to get on top of ESB would leave you baffled. But it’s not their fault. After all, who wouldn’t like to be a part of the ESB fairy tale..That chill in the spine when the guard opens the door and says,” Welcome to the Empire state Building”, would remain with you forever. They generally take you up to the 86th floor, and with a premium pass, you can also go on the 102nd floor observatory. It is less crowded over there, though the place is glass covered and not open like the one on the 86th floor.

I was standing right there..on the top..on the 102nd floor…over the top of the city of my dreams..witnessing the grand spectacle one last time..And then the eyes closed..with a belief to come back again..with a desire to unravel the magic one more time..Yes…I’ll come back again NYC…..the smile said everything….The dream did become a reality!!!!!!!!!

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The Chrysler Building                                                                                                    Empire State Building

 

 

MY TOP 5 NEW YORK EXPERIENCES

 

  1. Brooklyn Heights Promenade (In my opinion, NYC’S best kept secret )
  2. Late night at the Times Square
  3. Top of the Rocks ( View much better than that of the Empire State )
  4. Cycling at Central Park
  5. A walk on the Wall Street

 

 

TOP 3 PLACES TO SEE THE NEW YORK SKYLINE

 

  1. Brooklyn Promenade
  2. Top of the Rocks
  3. Staten Island Ferry

 

 

DAY TRIPS FROM NEW YORK

 

Apart from NYC, I made two fully guided day trips to Washington DC & Boston. Both the trips were made through Gray Line Tours. The starting point of the buses is the Gray Line visitors center located at the south-east corner of 47th street and 8th avenue ( just outside Carve Sandwiches ).

 

 

Washington DC Tour

 

Distance                           –   365 kms (apprx)

States covered                 –   New Jersey , Delaware , Maryland

Attractions Covered      –  Capitol , Senate , White House , Washington, Lincoln, Vietnam and Korea Memorials ,

Smithsonian National Air and space Museum , Pentagon ( just across the Potomac river in the state of Virginia )

 

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White House                                                                                                                                     Capitol

 

 

Boston Tour

 

Distance                          –  354 kms (apprx)

States covered                –   Connecticut , Massachusetts

Attractions Covered      –  Harvard University , MIT , Downtown Boston , Freedom trail

 

 

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Harvard University                                                                                              Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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