Archive for January, 2014

New York City Walkabout

New York City

November 2013

In the last 20 years, I have travelled to New York City many times, but on quickie fly-in-fly-out business trips. A pity, since the city is designed to be walked and studied, comprising grid-like streets with simple intuitive names, and cheap efficient subway system, albeit a bit old and shabby at places. So now it looks like I am going to do what I have always wanted to do — roam NYC freely. But first thing’s first, a hearty breakfast for the long walkabout ahead.

We stay in Queens, a bit out of the way, closer to the John F Kennedy airport than downtown Manhattan, so a stroll to the nearest subway station is in order.

In Manhattan, street vendors are out in force, hawking odd curios …

… such as these typewritten movie scripts at $20 apiece.

At W 50th St, a rather upmarket restaurant, so we just gawk at the interesting facade and the hip people, no need to waste time on the menu.

And right opposite this fancy eatery is the famous Rockefeller Center — a complex of 19 commercial buildings built by the legendary Rockefeller family between 1930 and 1939.

An ice rink is at the heart of the Rockefeller Center, where a bronze-gilded statue sits, behind scaffolding now. Atop it, behind the yellow curtain, is the famed big Christmas Tree. Unfortunately it is not yet ready — it’s mid-November and obviously we are a tad too early for it.

In NYC, you can never go hungry even if you are on a budget. Food carts and trucks are everywhere, and a decent quick meal can be had for a few dollars. In many cases, they serve halal food as well, which is great for people like us.

The area around the Rockefeller Center is full of headquarters of well-known global corporations, such as this one along 6th Avenue (officially Avenue of the Americas).

A block to the west, something you won’t miss — the huge living neon displays of Times Square bombarding you with all sort of stuff 24/7. It’s part of the landscape, and people just blend in.

They have built a platform here, and people climb up the wide staircase to be assaulted left, right and centre, by the sights and sounds of the one and only Times Square. It does look very spectacular at night, I was here several years ago gulping my Starbucks on a cold evening. All the huge living neon billboards … amazing!

It’s quite an experience, surreal perhaps, to be immersed in this assault on your senses, which can be mesmerising. And don’t be shy to gape in awe … everybody does that here.

We reluctantly pull ourselves away from Time Square, and around the corner, another halal eatery. These guys seem to be everywhere.

We stroll northwards and soon hit Central Park, glorious in late fall colours. It’s mid-November and these leaves won’t probably last for another week or so.

Benches are everywhere, and most of them carry some sort of little memorial plaques — this one is especially cute.

At the eastern edge of Central Park there is the highly-regarded Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the USA, and in the world’s top ten. It’s the 3rd most popular museum in the world with 6.1mil visitors in 2012, behind Louvre and the British Museum. This Victorian Gothic facade was completed in the 1910s. Entry is via a donation of $25 (recommended) — so if you are thick-skinned you can just say, sorry, I’m not donating, at the ticket counter. Feeling half-charitable I opt to give $10/pax, which the lady gladly accepts, I think.

Regardless of its more than 2mil works, we are here for only one thing — Vincent van Gogh (hence the $10 offer above). And of course, VvG doesn’t disappoint with his wonderful “Irises” from 1890! On the other side, “First Steps, after Millet” from 1890. Aina, a fan, is ecstatic!

“Two Cut Sunflowers” from 1887, painted in Paris. There are 38 works by VvG in this museum — click HERE for the listing.

And his rare signature below the sunflowers.

This is Augustine, the wife of his good friend, the postmaster Roulin, when he was living in Arles (France) in 1888-89. (Read my story on the search for VvG in Arles here: PART 1, PART 2, PART 3). At last I get to meet Mrs Roulin in person.

It has VvG’s signature too.

And of course for Aina, a mandatory pose with the man himself … self-portrait from 1887-88.

An art gallery is truly a place of calm and serenity. Well, it’s a temple, sort of. I never grow tired of its ambience … provided there are not too many people around.

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art — a must for art lovers and non-art lovers alike. Visit it!

Before we leave, a couple of masterpieces from Paul Gauguin, a housemate of Vincent van Gogh’s in Arles, till something happened between them that made VvG cut his own ear! Below, “Still Life with Teapot and Fruit” 1896, “The Siesta” 1892-94. Lovely!

At the eastern edge of Manhattan along the East River, there’s the venerable United Nations Headquarters (completed in 1952), and this is the 39-storey Secretariat Tower. It’s lunchtime, and diplomats and staff are thronging the gate to exit the compound.

Next to the tower, the General Assembly Building, adorned with flags of the 193 member-nations.

Here we decide to touch base with a dear diplomat-friend, His Excellency the Malaysian Ambassador to the Sudan, Mr Ashri Muda, at his apartment just around the corner from the UN HQ. Well he is in NYC, instead of in Khartoum, on a short-term assignment with the Malaysian Mission at the United Nations. In any case, we wish to thank Ashri for the wonderful lunch! We promise to visit him in Khartoum next March. 😉

Just a few blocks west of the UN HQ, the beautiful New York Public Library. Established in 1895, it has 53 million items, the 2nd largest library in the USA (behind the Library of Congress in Washington, DC), and 3rd largest in the whole world. This majestic main building was completed in 1910.

The main lobby on the ground floor — in the 2004 apocalyptic movie “The Day After Tomorrow”, a huge mass of water comes crashing through these glasses, with people fleeing to the upper floors of the library for safety.

The beautiful McGraw Rotunda with the grand entrance to the research area.

Now this is what I call a library!

Whenever you are in NYC, this is something you should do. Take the Statten Island ferry at Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. This is a free ferry, so just hop on together with regular commuters and fellow visitors, and enjoy the ride. The view of Lower Manhattan is fantastic, where the newly-built One World Trade Centre dominates the skyline. It’s built on the site of the former twin towers of World Trade Centre, tragically destroyed by the horrible 9/11 attacks in 2001.

The attraction of this Statten Island ferry is simple — it gives you a free tour of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. How close you get to the Lady depends on the captain of the boat. She has been there since 1886, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The torch is 93m from the ground.

In any case you get two chances to get close to it, since once you get to Statten Island, you have to disembark and reboard the ferry for the return trip to Manhattan. Not bad for a free tour of the Statue of Liberty.

Time to go home and back to the subway. The New York subway is legendary, began operation in 1904, it has the most stations in the world, but 7th busiest in the world, behind Tokyo, Seoul, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. We have ridden Tokyo, Seoul, Moscow and Shanghai, and yes, they are excellent.

The NYC subway stations are generally not pretty, and not as shiny as their Tokyo or Seoul counterparts, but the service is quite efficient and cheap. In short it gets the job done, which is great for New Yorkers.

We exit at a rather modern station in the borough of Queens, so it looks rather different to the older stations in Manhattan.

A few days in NYC and we are ready to depart for our next destination. We decide to take Megabus which is a pretty good intercity service at a great price. What we haven’t bargained for is the fact that in some cities, Megabus does not use the proper terminals — it uses the streets, even in NYC. Luckily the weather is great today, a bit cold, but I can’t imagine people queuing here in the rain, sleet or snow!

From my comfy seat in the lower deck of the bus, I say good-bye to NYC … we’ll be back in two weeks’ time, but Philadelphia is next!

> THE END

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DIRECTORY OF PICTORIALS 2004-2009

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