New York and the Empire State of Mind

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New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of

There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,
New York
Courtesy – “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z (featuring Alicia Keys)
 
And when there was nothing I could not have done, this is what I did in NYC.
  
The big lights
The big lights
Empire State
Empire State
1. Zoomed up in an elevator to the 86th floor of Empire State building – “She is no longer the tallest, but she still behaves like one” announced the guy in the yankee shirt cajoling tourists to buy tickets for a trip to the Empire State Observatory deck. In the middle of the milling crowds that stream in and out of the deck, one can spend minutes and hours gazing as the sun sets and the lights come on – in the city that never sleeps.
Chrysler stands out
Chrysler stands out
2. Ambled down the quiet, leafy streets and uneasy history of Harlem (courtesy Free Tours by Foot). While vestiges remain, Harlem is no longer the unsafe neighbourhood it once was. In fact, a trip to New York is incomplete without experiencing the distinctive African-American character of Harlem. It is as famous for soul food, as it is for its quirkiness. Stories abound, including one of Fidel Castro having checked into the Hotel Theresa with his delegation in 1960, after storming out of the Shelburne Hotel in Manhattan, where he had a spat with the owner on his having brought live chickens with him, throwing lit cigars on the expensive carpet floors and what not. While in Theresa, Castro was visited by Nikita Khrushchev, Malcolm X and Jawaharlal Nehru amongst others.
Harlem
Harlem
3. Stared in silence at the streams of water trickling down into the abyss at the two World Trade Center Memorial sites. The glitzy new World Trade Center One rises like a phoenix, dominating the skyline and seen practically from every street in lower Manhattan. But its the small things that make one appreciate the resilience of the American spirit; like the tree earmarked at the memorial site that was once inside the lobby of one of the twin WTC towers and survived the disaster. Etched on all four boundary plaques of the memorial are names of those who died, reminding one that this was a global tragedy which killed people of all ethnicities.
WTC memorial
WTC memorial
4. Set sail on the Staten Island ferry late at night to watch the copper green Statue of Liberty, the glittering Manhattan skyline and a thunderbolt hitting the spire of WTC One. They say that the best things in life are free. So why go on expensive cruises when a ferry ride is all you need! The Staten Island ferry operates every half hour from the terminal. As lightning bolts darted across the ends of the blue sky, a collective crescendo of oohs and aahs reverberated across the ferry. “Did you catch that one or not?” the beaming co passenger inquired.  
Thunderbolt
Thunderbolt
Liberty
Liberty
5. Dug into Nathan’s hot dogs and Philly cheese steaks. Nathan’s Hot Dog is a rage, with ESPN covering the the Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating competition (it got as much importance as the FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon results!). Pity, I could not make it to Coney Island to watch the event live.
 
 6. Enjoyed the NY summer with picnickers and street performers at Central Park. There are many different worlds coexisting here – the cyclists and runners pacing on the tracks, the tourists lounging around the ‘straight from a fairy tale’ fountain at Bethesda terrace, the sun bathers stretched out on the grass, the acrobatic street performers flipping over and backwards with equal ease, couples lazily rowing the boat across the lake, artists selling imitations of New York life et al.
Central Park
Central Park
6. Had the most delicious risotto ever at Rubirosa in Little Italy. 
 
7. Discovered the ‘rich, layered and simmering beneath the surface’ history and ethnic diversity of New York through a walking tour across City Hall, Little Italy and China Town (courtesy Big Onion Tours)
Little Italy
Little Italy
8. Got caught in an unexpected thunderstorm while walking down the Brooklyn Bridge.
Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge for several years. An interesting trivia I have borrowed from Wikipedia – “On May 30, 1883, six days after the opening, a rumor that the Bridge was going to collapse caused a stampede, which was responsible for at least twelve people being crushed and killed. On May 17, 1884, P. T. Barnum helped to squelch doubts about the bridge’s stability—while publicizing his famous circus—when one of his most famous attractions, Jumbo, led a parade of 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge”.
Given this, is it not incredible that the daily traffic statistics for the bridge in 2011 were as follows  – 120,000 vehicles, 4000 pedestrians and 2600 cyclists.
Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
9. Reflected on the irony of Van Gogh’s life when I came face to face with his self portrait exhibited at the Met.
 
10. On a Lower Manhattan walking tour, stopped by the Neo-Gothic Woolworth building and learnt that back in early 1900s, Frank Winfield Woolworth paid 13.5 million dollars in cash to build what was then, the world’s tallest building.
 
11. Relished the super calorific Mac and Cheese at West Village. Who said comfort food was easy on the stomach!?!
  
12. Was underwhelmed by the kitschy neon psychedelia and overwhelmed by the buzz of Times Square. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is a perceptible yet inexplicable energy which makes it the nucleus of New York city.
Times Square
Times Square
13. Met the T Rex and Mammoth at American Museum of Natural History. An interesting display at the museum is the geological timeline. If the age of the earth is equated to a 24 hour clock, humans have been around for just a few seconds! Not to forget, the AMNH has an amazing cafeteria.
T Rex
T Rex
14. If there is anything close to the magic alleys of the Wizarding world, Grand Central Terminal it is. Walking down Vanderbilt Avenue, I almost expected to run into you-know-who. There is even a pretty iStore here, where we met Westin. A store salesman, he was thrilled to know that I was from Delhi, a city he had lived in to complete Buddhist Studies at the Delhi University. He had mastered Hindi impeccably during his two years in the north of India and was more than happy to share his tips on how to scare away monkeys in the hills of Mussoorie. His parting words were spoken in chaste Hindi – “Aaapki yaatra mangalmaya ho” (May you have a nice trip!)
Grand Central
Grand Central
15. Experienced the real New York through its subway. A 30 dollar worth seven day pass is all you need to navigate through the city. If you a true traveller, a subway ride is must to know the gritty, in-your-face character of the city.
Subway
Subway
16. Waited for hours for the Fourth of July fireworks with the crowds on Brooklyn pier. There could not have been a better way to end my NYC trip.
Brooklyn Pier
Brooklyn Pier