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Good old New York City, the pumping heart of the United States which never sleeps. New York is a metropolitan area located on a large natural harbor at the mouth of the Hudson river. New York itself is mainly located on the Manhattan island and is shaped like an elongated “island” spiting the island into two distinctive uptown and downtown parts, forming the lower and upper Manhattans respectively. The “island” itself is surrounded all round by this iconic river and is well served by bridges such as the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, themselves being historical iconic structures themselves. The city is one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world and in the United States.
Upon my arrival at the John F Kennedy airport, it is notable that airport security is tad tighter than most other airports in the United States, and I guess security here is as stringent as it can get anywhere. I’ve been to the States both pre and post 9/11 and I say there is much a stronger emphasis on the custom clearance now, particularly those done by the notorious TSA. These reactive forms of security screenings are often shunned by many as being excessive and a hindrance daily operations. Personally, I had no problems clearing customs on my entry and departure of the airport. I guess it pays to be prepared too. Being a frequent traveler myself, I always have all my liquids, laptops, shoes, etc all ready for the TSA at the queue, so It will be a fast 10min breeze through, plus one or two minutes more if you have to go through the full body scanners.
My stay in New York is at a budget inn right in Chinatown. The airport is well served by the NY subway system which connects us directly to our accommodation area. It’s surprising that expensive New York offers a variety of accommodation options for all visitor budget types, from the posh downtown hotels to affordable mid range hotel to shared inns. There are a surprisingly large number of backpacker inns here in the city, especially around the Chinatown area, though you have to manage with sub-par rooms and themselves being quite a squeeze at times, especially if you are about 6 foot tall. Good thing the one I stayed in have proper decent and working toilets, as well as clean proper hot showers.
My first night there was pretty much exploring the subway and integrating myself in the city, with late night walk around town for groceries and checking out the nearby Manhattan bridge. There is no shortage of food options here too, with several budget eateries, kiosks which all open till late, including fast food outlets such as Macdonalds and Subway restaurant. There’s aplenty for dinner, after all, this is America!
Particularity notably too, with the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacked approaching, it’s a no-brainer that security is beefed up in all the public and downtown areas. The strong NYPD presence have very good coverage over most parts of Manhattan, which makes the city relatively safe at night. It’s not uncommon to see patrol cars at every corner of the streets here.
The New York subway is a worldwide known entity and is no stranger to anybody. As iconic as it is, the subway system here together with the above ground bus services very much links the whole of New York together by providing seamless connection to various spots around Manhattan. The subway here is completely underground and is not as clean and well kept as the MRT in Singapore, with a show of it’s age with some parts of the subway left very much in neglect. The transport system here is very functional, much one down to basics without all the fancy bells and whistles, with stained walls, trash everywhere, no fancy platform plasma screens, billboards, etc which makes you wonder how pampered are the commuters back in Singapore. It functions pretty much with just the bare necessities for basic functionality and nothing else.
Times Square is a major commercial intersection in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It is located at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretching from West 42nd to West 47th Streets and between Sixth and Eighth Avenues from east to west. Also, known as the “The Crossroads of the World, Times Square is one of the key landmarks here in New York city.
Exiting the subway will pop you right up at the extended Times Square area, also called the Theater District. This street behind the Square itself is home to various brightly lit theaters, dining outlets and even the bizarre Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium and one of the few iconic Madame Tussauds Wax Museums in the world. Moving towards the center stage of Times Square at the intersecting junctions will bring you to a myriad of advertising billboards including the Coca-Cola and Samsung animated mega screens.
An elaborate Toys “R” Us store and Planet Hollywood resides here as well as few prominent show companies such as ABC’s Times Square Studios, where Good Morning America is broadcasted live. The One Astor Plaza located at the center of southern part of Times Square is the MTV’s New York studios in Times Square. There is also TKTS booth, a Bubba Gump Shrimp seafood restaurant and the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel. A huge colourful M&M’s store and Hershey’s store sits on the northern end of the square across the street from each other, offering various sweet indulges you never though possible.
On a little history, Times Square was formerly called Longacre Square, it was renamed Times Square in April 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters right to the square into the then new erected Times Building. The building is now presently called One Times Square and is the site of the annual Times Square ball drop event here right on New Year’s Eve.
Moving on downtown are few more rather prominent buildings such as The Paramount Building at 1501 Broadway. It once housed the Paramount Theater, where Frank Sinatra had bobby-soxers. This pretty much makes up the western part of the commercial area of Midtown Manhattan. The streets here are rather busy, but amazingly are not packed bumper to bumper even on a weekday workday. The NYC buses and taxis ply the upper areas of the city. While the iconic all-Yellow taxis is something New York is famous for, it’s not a colour which is only unique to the region. New York however has largest number of hybrid Prius taxis in service.
Following the route down 5th Avenue will bring you along NYC’s famous shopping and fashion avenue, with one of the largest Macys departmental store located here every known to mankind. It’s not long along here till we are at the American cultural icon in New York City, The Empire State Building. The Empire State, beside being the one which King Kong climbed has it’s name derived from the nickname for New York, “The Empire State”. It stands 102 story tall at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. On its completion in 1931, it stood as the world’s tallest building undisrupted for a whole 40 years, until the World Trade Center’s North Tower surpassed it in 1972. However, following the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building once again became the tallest building in New York City. It is 381 meters tall.
Fifth Avenue and Bleecker street
Moving on Fifth Avenue brings us to the celebrity stretch of New York, this stretch here is home to many affluent residential areas of the city, particularly high rise apartments. This area is home to various Hollywood stars such as Madonna, Woody Allen, Robert De Niro, Whoopi Goldberg and Lady Gaga just to name afew. Standing along here too is the Flatiron Building, also known as the Fuller Building as it was originally called, is a unique V-shaped building located right in front of a Y intersection just off 175 Fifth Avenue. It is considered to be a groundbreaking skyscraper for it’s time when completed over a century ago in 1902. It was one of the tallest buildings in the city and the only skyscraper north of 14th Street.
A quick stop at Soho and a shop around Prince Street yielded some good buys for some electronics, this too while checking out the RockStar Games HQ and various clothing and surf boutiques around the street. We are back on the bus soon after through the Greenwich village via Bleecker Street, where many good local recommended pubs reside as well as the 9/11 mural fence. Notable residents living here includes Craig Rodwel and Alicia Keys.
Statue of Liberty
In a matter of not time, we found ourselves right at the Battery park entrance towards Liberty. For most people, checking out the Statue of Liberty means getting on the Liberty Statues cruises, that possibly explaining to super long queues in Battery park by castle Clinton where the Liberty ferry ticketing booth is located. This may be the most direct route to see the Statue of Liberty, but unless you have your pre-purchased tickets online, there are better ways to get on a boat rather than spend half a day queuing up at the downtown castle.
Instead, head up to the Whitehall Terminal just outside Battery park right by the city’s subway station here and take the South Ferry towards Staten island. You can take the paved route through Battery park itself passing by scenic bay views of the south Manhattan river and the East Coast Army Memorial. The journey to Staten island is about 8km away by sea and the ferry itself is a large orange-coloured passenger ferry provided free by the New York municipal transportation, offering you a by-pass view of the Statue of liberty from the Hudson river itself. You can visit the Staten Island Museum while you are there or maybe a round trip back to Manhattan via the same boat. The views from the large boat are just as good, what’s more it is a free ferry service on public transport, contrary to getting on board the paid tour. This is somewhat a smarter alternative not many people actually know unless you do your homework.
We were back on the road along State Street towards Chinatown after lunch at the Macdonalds restaurant just off Battery park. Good thing they provide free Wi-fi in the fast food restaurants, courtesy of AT&T, allowing any mobile warrior to stay connected to you tweets and emails on the go. The public buses were very packed and in high demand here in lower Manhattan, even including the CitySights hop-on hop-off open top double decker tours with half an hourly buses. I will recommended going for their multi-day open top bus packages as it offers free-and-easy transportation through all the sights in NYC including Brooklyn using these open top buses. Otherwise, it will cost you considerable more, not to mention more time consuming if you were to commute using municipal public transport. Luckily there were extra buses dispatched to cope with commuter demand.
Chinatown here in New York city had grown out much than the small village it flourished from a long time ago. You can access it via Grand Street on north Worth Street to the South. It’s one of the oldest ethnic Chinese enclaves outside of Asia and spots the highest concentrations of Chinese people in the Western hemisphere. A clear way to know whether you are in it is to just look for the various Chinese statues such as Confucius, etc. in the area, or the Chinese worded sign boards littered all around the street, they shouldn’t be too hard to spot.
Do check out the streets and the wet markets in the mornings around Chinatown, they can be really buzzing with with lots to see, especially the side near the foot of the Manhattan bridge, you can find busy street hawkers selling fruits, vegetables and packed meals alike. Moving across the Manhattan bridge and past the iconic The triumphal arch and colonnade offers overlooking views of lower Manhattan and the impending Brooklyn East River in New York City. The Manhattan bridge starts off at Canal Street and connects Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn at Flatbush Avenue Extension through a 2km over-sea roadway with 7 roadway lanes, 4 tracks of the New York subway lines, pedestrians, and bicycle lanes, though the suspended portions of the bridge is only about half a kilometer.
It’s only a matter of time after crossing the Manhattan bridge where we are in the industrial looking city of Brooklyn. Brooklyn is the westernmost county on Long Island and the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs, home to nearly 2.6 million residents. Brooklyn was an independent city until its consolidation with New York City in 1898, despite this it continues to maintain a distinct culture form that of Manhattan, which is noticeable even on the streets. The place has a more homely feel and one which is more suited for the middle working class, with many hangouts, budget shopping areas and mega malls all lined up around a rather eccentric mix of modern skyscrapers and olden industrial looking areas.
Brooklyn also spots an independent art scene, and a rather unique architectural heritage. We visited few rather iconic theaters such as the Brooklyn historical theater, which most Broadway stars started their humble stage life beginnings from. The market place areas and fish markets are all buzzing with activity in the day, selling fresh seafood and flowers just to name afew.
No visit to Brooklyn is complete without a tour of Prospect Park. The main entrance of Prospect Park is flaunted by the Grand Army Plaza. It’s an historical arch (a National Historic Landmark since 1975) located on the center of a roundabout in front of the Brooklyn public library, consisting of concentric oval rings arranged as streets, with the outer ring being the namesake Plaza Street. The inner ring of The Grand Army Plaza was originally intended to be a circle, but it actually was arranged as a main street as what it is today.
In front of the plaza stands The Central Library which leads up to the Brooklyn museum along the eastern parkway. Brooklyn has the same boundaries as Kings County since 1896, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated county in the United States, after New York County (Manhattan). Many Brooklyn neighborhoods are ethnic enclaves where particular ethnic groups and cultures predominate.
It’s onward to the United Nations Headquarters back in Manhattan, it is located along the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan on large spacious fields overlooking the East River. The tall UN tower has been a global icon in the US and even the world for diplomatic issues since its completion in 1952. This old building complex here together with newer buildings across the street (DC-1 and DC-2) serves as the official headquarters of the United Nations. This site is also one of the places in the world with extraterritoriality status where the UN rules override the laws of New York City, except those who commit crimes here in the city itself. In addition, the United Nations Headquarters remains under the jurisdiction and laws of the United States, although a few members of the UN staff have diplomatic immunity
Moving along the Bay road will bring you to the Trump Tower. The tower is a 58 floor mixed-use skyscraper located at 721 Fifth Avenue and is home to Beyonce, Bruce Willis, Saudi Prince Mutaib and Donald Trump himself. Designed by Der Scutt of Swanke, Hayden Connell and completed on late 1983, it sits at the corner of East 56th Street on the upper east side of Manhattan. A Gucci flagship store is located at the tower’s ground retail area.
Also situated in the upper Manhattan areas in Morningside Heights between Riverside Drive and Claremont Avenue is the tallest church in the United States- the American Baptist and United Church of Christ. It sits specifically between 120th Street and 122nd Street and is otherwise also known as The Riverside Church of the City of New York. It is interdenominational and famous for its elaborate neoclassical gothic architecture which includes the world’s largest tuned carillon bell. The church was granted the New York City Landmark status in 2000.
Our night is spent chilling with a fellow friend from Harvard who is doing her summer job in Columbia University. We explored the Columbia campus for a while with her as our tour guide, which also means able to enter many of the student restricted areas which couldn’t be accessed otherwise by the public.
The campus itself is well served by public transport with buses and region’s subway station is just right in front of the campus grounds. Dinner was at Mels bar in University’s neighborhood area. The area is home to a variety of produce stores and various diners and pubs supporting the university, which is too recommended by the university student bodies themselves as good nearby student eating places for the buck. We pretty had much of the night free after exploring the whole of Columbia University. Surprisingly back in the olden days, Columbia university actually owns much of the land here in New York, the loyalties earned from the lease of their land all round New York provides a substantial amount to their annual endowment.
It’s back down on the Subway, heading back to Times Square thereafter to spend the night. There we were surprised to find the CitySights night tours operating an extended 90mins past their stated end time due to overwhelming demand. But we didn’t go for it anyway as we already more or less covered all the sights we’ve already seen on our earlier day tours.
- New York City & Brooklyn (Photos: New York City & Brooklyn)
- New York Hudson River Cruise, Wall street and Rockefeller Center
- American Museum of Natural History (New York) (Photos: AMNH)
- Washington D.C. (Photos: Washington D.C.)
- Newseum, Washington DC (Photos: The Newseum)
- National Gallery of Art, Washington (Photos: National Gallery of Art)
- Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC (Photos: Arlington National Cemetery)
- Smithsonian Natural History Museum (Photos: NMNH)
- Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Photos: Air & Space Museum)
- Orlando, Florida & Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort (Photos: Disney Magic Kingdom)
- Orlando Disneyland Hollywood (MGM) Studios (Photos: Disneyland Hollywood Studios)
- NASA- Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Cape Canaveral (Photos: Kennedy Space Center)
- Islands of Adventure, Orlando Florida (Photos: Islands of Adventure)
- Universal Studios Orlando, Florida (Photos: Universal Studios Orlando)
- Miami Florida, South Beach and Aventura mall (Photos: Miami Florida)
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Photos: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
- Cedar Point coaster kingdom, Sandusky Ohio (Photos: Cedar Point)