New York was like a rushed vacation. We had 48 hours, no information and a serious case of jet lag.
Our hotel was 7kms from JFK and the shuttle guy sneakily charged us way more than he should have! To make things worse the ride to the hotel gave me a sinking feeling as I saw nothing of the hustle-bustle, the lights, or the people I had associated the city with. I saw tall grey buildings with windows the size of pigeon holes, a depressing traffic jam and people in black cars smoking and browsing through their phones while driving. I rolled up the window and sank back into my seat, feeling nauseated by the overpowering smell of cigarettes that the cab reeked of and also by the disappointment that the first sight of New York brought. Since it was already evening and we were too tired to start exploring, we just walked down a couple blocks from the hotel looking for food. Street vendors lined the streets and offered fajitas, chicken and lamb with rice and some wraps. We walked on not knowing what to eat till the blue and red lights of Dominos beckoned us in and before we knew it we were walking back with two boxes of hot, good-smelling dinner.
The next morning saw us refreshed and energised and all ready to be wide-eyed tourists in the fast moving city. This time we moved out cautious and informed. Our first stop would be Liberty Island, we decided to greet Lady Liberty before we did anything else in the city which still did not seem like the “New York” I had imagined. The subway was a life saver – efficient, cheap and fast. We reached the south ferry station without much hassle. I did take incorrect directions from an ill-informed fellow passenger and made us travel in the opposite direction for 10 minutes, but that was soon identified and rectified. As soon as we stepped out of the station we were engulfed by “canvassers” of various cruise rides that would give us a view of Liberty Island, Brooklyn Bridge and so many other places I didn’t quite catch all the names at once. The lady who roped us in must have sensed our suspicion (thanks to the previous day’s shuttle fiasco) and showed us her ID and valid tickets and then the shuttle bus full of tourists waiting to take us to our ride. Well it all seemed legit this time and so we hopped on and the shuttle fare was just a dollar! We got off at the ferry stop and waited with a bunch of other tourists (most of whom were Indian and Chinese) till the boat arrived. The ferry ride was a tour of the two places mentioned above along with a view of Governors Island and Ellis Island. It was a good beginning to our express sight-seeing and it lifted my spirits as it now began to look like New York.
After the boat ride we went to the 9/11 memorial which was just five minutes by car. The sight of the memorial was breath taking! I could not have imagined anything so beautiful. The architecture, the landscape and the spirit of the place was heart-warming. The giant, serene pools where the twin towers originally stood and the names of the victims engraved in stone, written down in history suck you back into time to reminisce the tragic loss that shook this beautiful city. Yes, this was New York. This sight erased my first cold, grey impression of the city and replaced it warm memories of beautiful parks, amazing architecture and vibrant people. The ‘humans of New York’ are walking libraries. I had been observing them since the time I landed and they just got more interesting. Each one from a different corner of the world, with a different story to tell, with a different outlook of life going through their own struggles trying to fulfil their dreams in this city that seemed to have something to offer everyone.
We went on to explore the rest of Wall Street with buildings so tall you could fall backwards trying to see where they ended. There were people in power suits looking very busy, talking very fast and making no eye contact. There were also people walking around aimlessly, sampling street food and clicking pictures at every step. Parks broke the monotony of buildings and offered people a place to lunch, hangout or show-off some skateboarding tricks. We ended up having chicken biryani from an Indian vendor who explained to us that the different types of rice listed on his menu were all the same and he just gave them different names, well, because people liked it that way! After the filling lunch in a park full of tulips, we set out in search of the charging bull and the recently installed little girl looking him straight in the eye. We found both thickly surrounded by tourists who would not budge an inch. We managed to take our iconic pictures (without which no one would have believed we had been to NYC) amidst the madness and then moved on to stroll aimlessly through the heart of New York. That was our first day of sight-seeing well spent! The ride back to the hotel was easy-peasy, we had figured out the subway.
Day 2 in the city (technically Day 3, but we shall ignore those few hours spent eating pizza and sleeping). We had 12 hours to see as much as we could, had a late night flight to catch. It had to be Times Square! We had stumbled right into a movie, it looked like! New York has extreme settings from dark and dingy to bright and blingy. If Paris hadn’t claimed the title, I would gladly call NY the fashion capital of the world. Brands, brands, brands – screaming, glaring, beckoning and tempting. We walked through all the glam trying to take it all in, we also walked past some of the ‘homeless’ playing games on their smartphones! Madame Tussauds gave us our dream night with the stars and we clicked away to our heart’s content. Rockefeller Centre, Trump Towers and many a wonderful sight were gaped at along the way. Our last stop we decided would be Central Park. We were exhausted by this time and all we wanted to do was take in as much of the city as we could before we had to leave dreamland and head back to reality.
Central Park sprawled out far beyond the horizon, it was alive, it was breathing. It’s like the whole city and the millions of tourists just kept pouring in there and the park embraced everyone. It replenished and revived all who came. I could just sit there forever and look at the happy people, the gorgeous trees and the skyline of that beautiful city or I could try walking through the park which would take forever too. It was the perfect end to our very short visit. There was lots more to see, many landmarks to check off the list but instead of cluttering the day with everything we just took a step back and admired as much of it as we could.
As I drove back to the airport on the same route that had given me the chills about New York, I knew we had to visit again. Once was just not enough!