Welcome to New York… It’s been waiting for you.
How typical of me to introduce NYC with this song. The past four days have certainly been an interesting experience. There are so many thoughts that I need to compile and articulate into words – way too many to quickly glance over this in one short post. Instead, I’ll be slowly documenting and writing over this week… whenever I can find time in between working on a billion assignments all due this week
Before my departure, I talked to a lot of people and told them I’m taking an overnight bus to NY. A ton of people replied me with “I’ve done that before. Worst decision of my life.”. And when I say a ton, I mean at least a good 5 or 6 people. Well then… at least I’m flying back? Regardless, I booked my tickets already, and you know me. I’m open for any adventure, so why not just try it?
Speaking of that. I keep telling people that this is my first long distance bus ride,and I actually thought it was true… until I stepped onto the bus. Immediately the memories came flooding back – the scenes of spending the night of my birthday 2 year ago on an overnight bus to Hiroshima. I believe that was under 6 hours, so a lot better than this 12-hour ride to New York, but still.. the truth is, I have taken a long, overnight bus ride before.
Funny story: when you fly domestic nine times of of ten, you sometimes forget that you need a passport to travel. And I knew that about myself. That’s why I was completely paranoid that I would forget to pack my passport and I kept that thought in my head every week leading up to this trip. “Bring passport, bring passport”… yeah, I had that track stuck on repeat in my head.
Don’t worry, I remembered to bring it.
So I arrived in New York at around noon on Thursday, at 7th Avenue and 28th Street, right next to the Fashion Institute of Technology. The first thing I did was run into Panera Bread and get changed. I was in my comfortable clothing for the overnight ride, and I didn’t want to be walking around the city with sweatpants and a t-shirt all day. I also got a bagel for breakfast, and sat in Panera Bread for maybe half an hour while waiting for my phone to charge up. I didn’t have my charger with me on the bus ride (it was in my luggage), and so even though there were outlets, my phone was at 10% battery by the time I got to NY. Lesson learned.
After that short break, I started walking along 7th Avenue to get to Times Square. After maybe 3 blocks or so, I realized I was walking south instead of north. That’s one of the things about New York. The whole city is gridded with tall buildings, and you have no intuition of where you are. I thought Toronto was bad in terms of that – I remember when I first landed in Toronto 4 years ago, that was one of my first observations. But no, it’s different. You can see very far in Toronto; you just don’t know where you are because everything is so flat. (For me, coming from Vancouver, of course I always get my bearings from wherever the mountains are). New York City is hard to find your direction because you can’t even see far at all. Of course, one good thing about it is that the blocks are not spaced very far away. Each street/avenue is numbered, so it’s quite easy to figure out which way you’re headed by seeing whether the numbers increase or decrease. But yeah… that’s one of the first mistakes I made when I arrived.
It was early afternoon when I started by walk – probably 2 PM? I actually chose one of the coldest weekends to visit New York, but the few hours of sun in the afternoon made the cold bearable… and by that I mean it was dancing around 0 C. In the early morning and evenings, it got as cold as -15 C. What’s worse is that the city structure I just described – tall buildings and all perfectly gridded – act as great wind tunnels. So when the wind blows, you really feel it, and just like what I’ve experienced more than enough in Toronto, it chills you to the bone.
So i was walking north along 7th Avenue, headed towards Times Square, and not really knowing what to expect. Then all of a sudden, I see Madison Square Garden on the left, and I’m super excited. As a hockey fan, you can’t not get excited at the sight of MSG. I even had to take a selfie.
After Madison Square Garden was the huge Macy’s which I stepped into just to get a rest from the cold. Thursday happened to be Chinese New Year, and there were some nice decorations inside Macy’s to celebrate the festival as well. However, I never really intended to shop on my trip; I’m more of a wanderer. I did walk in and out of stores, but I didn’t buy much at all. Most of the money spent was probably on food and postcards/stamps. The one purchase for myself that I’m super happy with are these fleece leggings from Century 21 – more on that later.
I stepped out of the other side of Macy’s and found myself at Broadway. You know how every city has a street that acts as a bypass and crosses everything diagonally, but if you don’t know where you’re going, it gets really confusing? I’m describing Kingsway in Vancouver, but in New York City, that street is Broadway. Luckily or unfortunately? With Google Maps readily available, it’s quite hard to get lost. Sometimes I wish I could get lost though, because those experiences come out to be the most memorable.
Walk up another two blocks, and next thing you know, I’m standing in front of a very familiar yet unfamiliar scene. Times Square. And I say ‘familiar yet unfamiliar’, because everybody has seen Times Square before. It’s that intersection of bright lights and glamour, and NYC is almost defined by this one place. But I don’t know why – maybe because I was there in the middle of the day instead of at night? This intersection was just so… well, normal. It seemed so much more magnificent in other pictures. On that Thursday afternoon, I can’t even say that it was packed with tourists. An average intersection in Hong Kong probably would have more people.
That’s mainly why I’ve been telling people that New York is overwhelming, yet not really quite what you expect. The thing that strikes me the most about this city is how big it is… how much culture and different faces it holds… all within one island of Manhattan. Mind you, I definitely would not call Manhattan ‘tiny’. It’s huge. I spent four whole days exploring that island, and I think I probably got through 40% of it. And that’s just Manhattan! There’s still four other boroughs surrounding it. Of course, I know the other boroughs are probably not all “Manhattan”, but still… this city is huge.
I felt that what really defined Times Square was what I saw inside the stores rather than outside. There were flagship stores for everything, and undoubtedly they had tons of targeted souvenirs. I’m sure you probably won’t see any of these products in other stores around the world.
Oh, and here’s me being a tourist. (I couldn’t resist. I love m&ms.)
From Times Square, I headed past Radio City to Rockefeller Center. There’s a skating rink surrounded by flags, and a Lego store that has a Lego display of the skating rink surrounded by flags. Inception.
One of the things I actually had on my shopping list was a Pikachu doll from the Nintendo Store at Rockefeller Center. Sadly, they sold out of Pikachus and only had the leftover double Pikachus from Valentine’s Day. So the one thing that I actually wanted to get, I never got around to buying it. That’s okay – the stop at Nintendo World was still worth it. I love their display of pretty much every console they ever released, dating back to even before the original Game Boy. I didn’t get my first Nintendo console until the DS Lite, but I definitely grew up with these things in my childhood.
I found myself at 5th Avenue, and so naturally I took a walk up this famous street. I feel the same way towards this street as Times Square. It’s not as glamourous as what I would have expected. Of course, the stores are huge, and everything is nice and pretty. But I kind of imagined all these unaffordable stores lined up one by one, and instead, I saw the exact same stores I know from everywhere else. It’s nice, but I don’t feel the ‘upscale’. I guess not every Forever 21 has a photobooth inside it, but you know, it’s essentially the same.
It’s quite interesting that these retail stores have photobooths inside them. I know that the Urban Outfitters in Toronto got a photobooth recently (within the past 4 months or so), but I didn’t know that this is already a common thing in NY. I don’t know exactly when it became popular, but I’d still imagine that it’s somewhat recent.
Funny sign I saw at 5th Avenue. I pointed it out to my friend and she said “Oh it’s true, and it’s not just because of traffic. Your car will get demolished by scratches if it’s stopped here.”
I had Chipotle Mexican Grill for dinner… not really that exciting, I know, but it was my first time trying it. It reminds me of Freshii, but only the burritos.
Speaking of Freshii, I didn’t see any Freshii stores in NYC, but I did see a bunch of Fresh & Co. I wonder if they’re the same?
After dinner, we took a cab to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in the middle of Central Park. The MET had a free college group event that evening for students, called A Knight at the Met. (Unsurprisingly, the theme was knights). We got drinks and snacks, played around with photobooths, made some crafts, and saw a part of the exhibit. Not everything was open, but there was a small portion available. What a good deal!
It was a good first day. Lots of places seen, lots of first initial thoughts and feelings. I admit it was kind of the ‘standard thing’ you do when you go to New York City, but you have to start somewhere! It’ll get more interesting, I promise.
Interesting fact of the day: did you know that the US has loonies? Except of course, they don’t call them loonies – it’s their $1 coin. But apparently, nobody uses them aside from the subway machines.
PS. Speaking of currency, I told my friend that US bills all look the same, and that they should use these $1 coins more often so it’s easy to tell them apart. She replied with the usual “Canadian money looks like Monopoly money”.
PPS. I’m not gonna dwell on the topic of money…. and the expensive exchange rate I had to pay for my visit 😦