Friday, September 19, 2014

The City of Dreams - New York!

For at least a month, I was waiting for the day to come. The day when we were supposed to venture out of Florida and explore other parts of the US. Tickets were booked, places to visit decided....we just had to wait for a month for that day to come. The countdown had already begun for me. And finally with slow pace did that day arrive when we were supposed to go to the busy city of New York!

US is too vast. NY was a 3 hours flight from Fort Lauderdale. And can you believe NY has 3 airports? When NY itself is so huge, can't imagine how expansive US must be! Phew!

The moment we reached Newark Airport (one of the 3 airports in NY), we could see Indians around. Sight of desi people does give you a warm feeling in a foreign land. It is like finding Marathi speaking people at Chennai Airport waiting to board the Pune flight ;)

We took a taxi to our hotel in New Jersey. Trust me the driver drove as if he is participating in Formula 1 race. I was swooped to the left corner of the car when he took a sharp turn and he was laughing on that! And so here we were experiencing the world renowned NY taxi ride with a driver who thought he was Michael Schumacher. After such a dreadful ride the driver still had the audacity to ask for a tip! Beat that. Later in my trip I came to know from the tour guide, there are 30,000 yellow taxis running in NY. And the colour yellow was chosen as it can be spotted easily by human eye.

The hotel we had booked looked economical when we reached but prices were much higher compared to the amenities provided at the hotel. So this was our second cue on how expensive NY might be! They say you can guess if a city is overcrowded by the amount of traffic and the cleanliness/lack of cleanliness across the streets. By that standard NY has to be one of the most populous places in the US. The roads were packed with vehicles and streets were filled with litter. First time in the US, I saw something like this! So after all when the city cannot handle so many people this is what happens! And we blame Indian govt. for not giving basic amenities to its citizens!

We kept our luggage at the hotel and set out for lunch, both Sujoy and me were famished. We decided to have lunch at the Indian Street near Journal Square. It was a 10 minutes shuttle ride to the Indian street. When we got down there, it was like I was in mini India. The street had Indian restaurants, Indian grocery, beauty parlours and even Ramdev Baba's clinic along its sides. The feel was of India. Cuisines ranged from Indo chinese, punjabi, south indian, andhra biryani to assal mumbaiyya vada pav. It even had paan shops and we could not resist having a Calcutta mitha post our lunch. 

Can you see the kite paper decoration over the street? Just like back home

And then begun our NY Adventure!

New York is made up of 5 boroughs or pockets you may call them - Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Each borough has its own character. There is a ferry which goes to Staten Island and can you believe for free! It is rare to get anything free in NY.

Whenever a major avenue meets a street they call it square like Times Square, Madison Square, Union Square etc. New York is made up of streets and avenues, they run cris cross to each other. One mile will have 15-20 blocks. You have to be in NY to experience this knit of streets and avenues. So if you have to give an address to the taxi driver giving just the street no. will not help, you have to specify the avenue no. also.  

Just to give an idea about this avenue street concept

It was night by then and we thought of hitting Times Sqaure. OMG! The amount of power used to lighten all those innumerable billboards in this square is enough to provide electricity to a third world country. Broadway ads, CBS sitcom ads - Madam Secretary playing on this massive billboard. 
There is a American Eagle shop there and a billboard just on its upper side. They call it the 30 seconds of fame - the folks who buy clothes there get a chance to be seen on this huge billboard for 30 seconds. And you should see folks screaming seeing themselves on that huge canvas and basking in the glory of fame :)

The next day we hit the city sight seeing cruise which takes you around NY through the water route! One thing about New York City is you will never miss the sky scrapers - It just tingles your eye sight with these longitudinal buildings and you need to strain your neck to catch the height of these monstrous outgrowths! Be it land or water, you just cannot get rid of see it everywhere. 

 You just cannot miss the tall structures!

We saw the two bridges viz. Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge that connect two important boroughs of New York - Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge has a cycling path as well as footpath for pedestrians and one can enjoy the view from the bridge on feet. That is such a thoughtful construction I would say for a bridge built almost a century ago. The bridge was completed in January 1867. Now that is a big feat!

The rusted look one is the Brooklyn bridge and the parallel one to it is the much newer Manhattan bridge

We were enjoying the water and sites from the cruise when we saw her! I could not help but stare at the royalty of the Roman goddess holding the torch in her hand held high. Yes, we saw a glimpse of Statue of Liberty which is a welcome sign to all the immigrants coming to USA and we were thrilled to see her live. Just then the tour guide announced that we will be having 15 minutes around the statute for the photo sessions and that sent a shrill of excitement all over the ferry! Statue of Liberty is huge and you have to see it to experience the magnificence of this fine sculpture standing haughtily in middle of the water!

The next place on our to do list was Madame Tussauds. We were greeted by Morgan Freeman at the entrance ;)
From a distance he looked so alive but as you approached near you could make out the difference. Madame Tussauds New York is a 3 floored museum having statues of most hollywood celebrities, few bollywood celebrities viz. Amitabh and Shahrukh, many politicians, peace workers and writers. I was not that overwhelmed being here, it was nice but did not impress me that much.

It was dark by the time we came out of Madame Tussauds and it was time to see the city that never sleeps from the top of a 70 floored building - Top of the Rock. The moment you come out of the lift on the 69th floor and peek through the glass windows - That's it - You are spell bound to see all those lights twinkling from the 69th floor of a skyscraper. It reminded me of my times when I used to travel from my native place Karwar to Pune after summer holidays in a state transport bus. The moment we used to hit Katraj ghat at night we used to see all these lights which used to hint on the proximity of Pune and that we were approaching it. I tend to divert to many places at one moment :)
So coming back to New York. The Empire State Building which is the tallest building in New York stood straight coloured in blue and green for the day. The view was awe inspiring and you just cannot take your eyes off those brimming buildings.

The green and blue building is the Empire State Building

The next day it was the time for Central Park. This park is spread over a 833 acres area. Those of you who thought Pune University is huge, this park is almost double the area of Pune University. Yes, that vast it spreads! We would have required one entire day to cover this park so we thought of visiting just a part of it and that had to be Strawberry Fields. To be frank I was not aware of the story behind Strawberry Fields. One of my best friends who is a John Lennon fan told me to visit it and take a picture there. That is when I searched about this place and discovered that Strawberry Fields is a living memorial to the world-famous singer, songwriter and peace activist, John Lennon. It gets its name from Lennon's famous song 'Strawberry fields forever'. The memorial is built here as he was shot in this place while getting out of his car to go to his place. There is big circle painting done at this spot!

Street vendors selling John Lennon buttons

We also had a chance to see the bow bridge from a distance. This bridge has been featured in quite a few hollywood movies like The Autumn in New York (this movie made me fall in New York for the first time), Spider man 3 and When in Rome to name a few. This is the first cast iron bridge in the park and the second oldest one in US, this bridge indeed has a romantic setting plus is a muse for photographers.

With Beatles song 'In my life' playing in my mind we set out to our next destination and that was the 9/11 Memorial Museum. You come to the place, you see a big void in between the come closer and then you see a double fountain on black marble. Water flows steadily over the marble and you come closer. You see names engraved on the marble, names of people who lost their lives in the most unfortunate man induced crisis. You are silent for a moment, you feel numb. You pray for the ones who could not make it and then thank God for not being a part of this mishap. Human nature, unless it affects your loved ones you tend to get over it fast...really fast.

The water fountains at the memorial
This memorial is built over the place where the WTC proudly stood before the attack. One can just imagine the actual ruins left after the attack and the havoc created by it. They say the ill effects of the attack were felt years to come and the task forces which worked on this site had huge impact on their health due to the radiations. Many folks lost their life post the attack due to irreparable damage to tissues and cells. A deed which no human should be proud of! I sometimes fail to understand the extent to which a human being can go to achieve their misguided notion of justice!

The engraved names of people who lost their lives in the attack!
There is a museum too but unfortunately we could not make it as it was closed when we had reached the place.

With a heavy heart we began to our next destination. How could we miss the aggressive charging bull of Wall Street. This was the perfect next destination for us to get over the gloom of the 9/11 memorial.  Did you know that the artist behind this bull Maestro Arturo Di Modica dropped it off in front of the New York Stock Exchange, in violation of city permits? Later when the sculpture hit stardom in just one fortnight, it was decided to keep it at the Wall Street. The belligerent bull is supposed to resemble the unpredictable nature of the stock market, and hence it fits in there perfectly.

The queue to click pictures here was huge disorganised line of people. And yet we managed to click our pics there!
With that came the end to our 2 and a half day trip in New York. These 2 days we were mostly on our feet and hop on and off open buses. We hogged at Chennai special Anjappar and Saravanna Bhavan on Lexington Avenue. This Avenue has all major Indian restaurants like Copper Chimney and the famous Hyderabad Paradise Biryani. We preferred to go south indian and relived our Chennai days ;)

The streets and footpaths of New York are always crowded. You will find people smoking at every corner, even teenagers. Makes me wonder the affluence this city has as one of the guides mentioned a cigarette pack in New York costs around $ 15. Now that is a big amount to waste puffing smoke! 

New York always bustles with swarms of people, the undying lights and innumerable dreams in every one's wonder they say New York - The City of Dreams!

And that is when I realised that I have fallen in love with this city all over again for the second time now! With a lot of memories of this place and dreams of my own mingled with the fervor of the city, I called it a day and went to sleep to start another adventure the next day - The Niagara Falls!

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