18 December 2014

New York

Yes, the skyscrapers exist. And so do the yellow cabs, as well as the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge. New York is all that. However, New York is all that and more. You can come here for all the above, but also to visit a truly multicultural and diverse city, a city of neighbourhoods and pretty parks. Enjoy your visit, for the city is like no other.

This post will focus only on Manhattan, as I simply did not have the time to visit the other boroughs! However, that certainly does not mean that they have nothing to offer.

New York is a city of five boroughs, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. Two of the airports serving the area, JFK and LaGuardia (LGA), are located in Queens, the largest borough while the third, Newark Liberty airport (EWR) is located in New Jersey.

The island of Manhattan is long and thin, and can be broadly divided into Downtown (the southern part with the main financial district), Midtown and Uptown. These definitions are not precise, and are used here simply for the purpose of this post.

New York's downtown is home to some of the city's globally famous icons, such as the Statue of Liberty.

Statue of Liberty and Battery Park
"Liberty ... is one of the greatest blessings that Heaven has bestowed upon mankind"
                                                                                                 - Miguel de Cervantes

A supreme symbol of friendship, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States, the Statue of Liberty is the first sign many new immigrants saw of America- a symbol of freedom. A large proportion of newcomers arrived in these very waters, and were processed for entry at Ellis Island, where the immigration center now houses a museum.

Statue of Liberty
There is only one licensed operator which takes you by ferry to Liberty Island, where the statue is located. Tickets come in various classes, the tickets to the crown sell off months in advance, and even tickets to the pedestal level face a demand-supply mismatch. You can directly buy tickets over the web and turn up at the ferry terminal at South Ferry in Battery Park, or you can buy them on the spot (you can expect queues) at the nearby Castle Clinton.

Security is tight, and there will be a check just as you enter the island, and another one to go inside the statue (provided you have applicable tickets). Lockers ($2 per hour) are available at the second security check, where all food items and big backpacks must be stored, as only small personal bags and cameras are allowed in the statue. 

There is an interesting museum in the statue, which details the entire history and story of the statue, with models of the statue's foot and ear, as well as newspaper clippings showing the reactions of the statue. The pedestal level (where I went till) offers good views of the city. 

View of the city from the Statue of Liberty

The tours go until Ellis Island, however I didn't go there. 

Battery Park offers nice views of Statue of Liberty, as well as Downtown's skyline. It is home to Castle Clinton, America's first immigration station, now a national monument.

Battery Park to Wall St
If you walk north on Broadway as soon as you leave Battery Park, you will come across the beautiful facade of the National Museum of the American Indian. Continue walking straight and you will come across the Charging Bull, also known as the Bull of Wall Street. The bull is a symbol of financial optimism and this sculpture was installed following the 1987 stock market crash. Tourists are constantly huddled around the bull for photos.

The Charging Bull
At the junction of Broadway and Wall St is Trinity Church.

Interior of Trinity Church
Built in the Gothic Revival style, the Trinity Church has a small chapel with certain relics, such as the foundation stone of the church.

Wall Street
Center of global finance, with some of the most important financial institutions in the world, Wall Street has a large impact on the entire world. Some great architecture here includes the buildings of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Federal Hall.

New York Stock Exchange
City Hall and around
The area around City Hall Park is home to some grand buildings which house major municipal institutions, such as the City Hall and Civic Centre.

Very nearby begins the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Completed in 1883, the bridge was an engineering marvel of the time as it was the first steel-wire suspension bridge. Pedestrians and cyclists have a nice path offering good views over both the boroughs.

Brooklyn Bridge, looking towards Brooklyn
City Hall to Little Italy
New York is truly a multicultural city. You can experience this first-hand if you walk into, say, Mulberry St and enter Chinatown. There are a great number of Chinese and Vietnamese shops, and not to forget the food!

Along the way, Chinatown blends into Little Italy, where Italian restaurants, delicatessens with their cheeses and other goodies, and cannolis all vie for your attention.

Washington Square and around
Around W 4th St in Greenwich Village is Washington Square Park, one of the city's most well-known parks. Greenwich Village itself is a beautiful neighborhood and its cobblestone streets reminiscent of Europe are worth a meander (in particular, Bleecker St). 

Washington Square Park
The surrounding neighbourhood is home to New York University.

Union Square to Madison Square
In the Flatiron district, Union Square is located at the junction of Broadway and W 14th St. It has a very popular Christmas market in December.

Walk north on Broadway until you reach Madison Square, another city park. The junction of 23rd St and Broadway is home to the Flatiron Building with its unique triangular shape, built in 1902, and one of New York's icons.

Flatiron Building
Midtown is home to a vast array of sights, from beautiful churches and busy street corners to famous skyscrapers. 

Herald Square and around
Herald Square, the corner of W 35th St, 6th Av and Broadway, home to Macy's flagship store. A block east, at the junction of W 34th St and 5th Av is the jaw-dropping Empire State Building, one of the world's most famous skyscrapers. 

Empire State Building
When completed in 1931, it was the world's tallest building, a title it held for around 40 years. 

A few blocks west, at W 33rd St and 8 Av is Madison Square Garden, a major indoor arena. At the same corner is the beautiful building of the United States Post Office. 

Walk further a couple of blocks west to 10 Av to reach the entrance of the High Line.

High Line
A glance at Manhattan's map would show you how precious any available space is. The High Line therefore is an ingenious plan- some greenery and jogging space above ground on disused rail tracks. It goes south till the Meatpacking District, at the corner of Gansevoort St and Washington St. There are great views of streets to be had from there. Definitely worth a stroll!
High Line
View of a Chelsea street from the High Line

Times Sq and around
Not a square in the usual sense of the word, the 'Crossroads of the World' is an X-shaped junction of Broadway and 7 Av in the heart of Midtown. Famous for its brilliant lighting day and night, Times Sq is effectively in the Theater District. 

Start your Times Sq adventure by taking in the views of the square from the staircase of the TKTS ticket booth at the junction of Broadway, 7 Av and W 46th St. 

View from the TKTS ticket booth
Walk to the heart of Times Sq at 42nd St and turn left. At the corner of E 42nd St and 6 Av, you will find Bryant Park, a piece of serenity in the buzz of Midtown. During Christmas, there is a beautiful Christmas tree and skating rink. There is also a nice view till the Empire State Building.

View from Bryant Park
Right next to Bryant Park is the New York Public Library.

New York Public Library
Walk down E 41st St from the library to have a look at some literary quotes.

At the corner of E 42nd St and Park Av South is the Grand Central Terminal. Now only serving trains to Upstate New York and Connecticut, this station used to serve the Amtrak too, until Amtrak train services were shifted to Penn station in 1991.

Grand Central Terminal
Visitors can enter the station to marvel at the interior.

Interior of the Grand Central Terminal
Only a block away, and easily visible from outside the Grand Central Terminal, is the Chrysler Building, an Art Deco skyscraper which was the tallest in the world when built in 1930, only to be surpassed 11 months later by the Empire State Building.

Rockefeller Plaza and around
This section considers the area between 6 Av, 51st St, Park Av and 49th St.

At Park Av between 50th and 51st St is St Bartholomew's Church, with a lovely neo-Byzantine interior.

St Bartholomew's Church
Interior of the church
At the corner of E 50 St and 5 Av is one of New York's most touristy and popular churches, St Patrick's Cathedral. Built in Gothic style, the cathedral is renowned for its stained glass. 

St Patrick's Cathedral
Interior of the cathedral
Rockefeller Plaza, bounded by 6 Av, 50th St, 5 Av and 49th St is a particularly festive place during the Christmas season, with a skating rink and an impressive Christmas tree. Home to the commercial buildings of Rockefeller Center, visitors can go up to the Top of the Rock observatory for amazing views over New York.

View from the Top of the Rock
At the corner of E 59 St and 2 Av, you'll find the access to the Roosevelt Island Tramway, an aerial tram which connects to Roosevelt Island, where you can enjoy fabulous views of the Manhattan skyline.

Columbus Circle and around
The south-western junction of Central Park, Columbus Circle is a large traffic circle, home to a Christmas market during the season. Also located around is the Maine Monument, to commemorate the 260 sailors who died when their battleship exploded in Havana in 1898.

Maine Monument

Home to the city's largest park, Central Park, Uptown too has a large range of sights to keep visitors interested.

Upper East Side
This area covers Uptown east of Central Park.

The area is home to some of the greatest museums in the city. Most are located on Museum Mile, the stretch of 5 Av between E 80th and E 92nd St.

Occupying a portion of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art straddles 5 Av between 80th and 84th St. With an eclectic range, from ancient Egyptian to Byzantine to Renaissance, one can spend hours in the museum.

The suggested donation is $25 per adult but you are free to pay below that amount.

The highlight of the Egyptian section is the Temple of Dendur, moved from its Nile-side location to the museum.

Temple of Dendur
Other interesting sections include the Byzantine and medieval European art.

The Italian Renaissance section includes the studiolo walls from the Ducal palace at Gubbio. 

The studiolo walls

We stayed at The Lucerne Hotel, located in Upper West Side.

Rooms- 7/10 Good rooms, though small (yes, it is Manhattan). No minibar or kettle in the room was very surprising though.
Staff- 8/10 Helpful staff, no special comment here.
Location- 8/10 Great location- just a block from the subway, two blocks from Museum of Natural History and Central Park. Many dining options in the vicinity.
Overall- 23/30 Recommended.

With its stunning diversity, New York offers a large variety of cuisines. It is true that the city may be expensive but given its diversity, there are a surprising number of places to eat cheaply and well.

Ah, Chinatown, where you can pop into unassuming bakeries and enjoy baked, steamed and fried treats for around $1 each.

Deluxe Green Bo Restaurant - Extensive menu of delicious Chinese dishes. They have good options for vegetarians too and while service may be on the slower side, people are courteous and the food is fabulous and portions are filling.

Lung Moon Bakery - Delicious variety of buns, sesame balls and other bakery items. Very good value for money.

Good Century Cafe - Another great stop for superb Chinese and Vietnamese delights.

Vanessa's Dumpling House - Much cleaner and organized than you may expect, this busy little place serves excellent dumplings, other simple fare and a heavenly steamed red bean bun. Be prepared to share tables assuming there is space or take out.

Taim - A decent falafel place, they have some interesting falafel flavours beyond your average falafel place. Seating is very limited.

Bantam Bagels - An interesting concept of small bite-bagels stuffed with cream cheese and served warm (each bagel is about 100-110 calories). There are some interesting flavours and the bagels are very good.

Maoz Vegetarian- Get your sandwich and add any toppings from the salad bar for free. Very nice apple cider too.

Max Brenner- Very popular place for all things chocolate. A bit overpriced and overrated in my opinion, though.

Chelsea Market - A city highlight, Chelsea Market brings together dozens of gourmet vendors, from bakeries to gelato to numerous other things.

TIMES SQ and around
Abitino's Pizzeria- At Broadway between 40th and 41st St. Tasty, if a bit too oily, pizzas by the slice.

Zabar's- A New York landmark, Zabar's is both a supermarket and a restaurant next to each other at the corner of W 80th St and Broadway. Good sandwiches, and the supermarket has interesting items too.

Cafe 71- At Broadway and W 71st St. Wide variety of sandwiches.

Celeste - A very popular neighbourhood spot, Celeste offers superb Italian cuisine. No cards accepted. The owner greets everyone at the door and service is professional and courteous.

Coffee Break - This is not your average unassuming tiny coffee shop/bakery. The bakery products are delicious and they also whip up simple, quick meals. Prices are much lower than their quality should suggest, for New York.

Levain - A branch of the popular bakery, come here for its mammoth and sinful cookies - deliciously gooey from the inside.

Best Market - Not only a great place to pick up on groceries, but their bagels are of top quality at very reasonable prices.

Within Manhattan, subway is generally a good way to get around. A single ride costs $2.75. If using the machines to buy, note that machines will not dispense more than $8 in change, and tickets can only be bought individually so if buying single-ride tickets, have coins (pennies are not accepted).

Walking is also a great way to get around the island.

If taking taxis, note that Midtown is especially prone to terrible rush-hour traffic.

The tourist areas of Manhattan are generally safe during the daytime and shouldn't cause problems while walking. As in any big city, trust your instincts.

The subway has become much safer and cleaner over the decades, but as always, watch your pockets and bags when the car is crowded.

Last visit- Dec 2014
No of visits- 2
First visit- May/Jun 2002

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