This summer, I visited New York City for the first time. As someone born and raised in the southeast, New York City was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. Having no concept of what the city would be like except for what I had seen on the various TV shows set there, my mother and I set off on a road trip for New York.
The road trip may have been our first mistake. In the south and even on trips to California, road trips are easy. You get on an interstate and go wherever you want to go, no problem. A road trip up north was a navigational purgatory. Bear in mind, our GPS was broken and we were relying solely on the map on my phone.
Why does I-95 seem to appear and disappear without warning on the map? Why are there so many tolls on major interstates? Why can I not get through the northeast without paying over $30 of tolls? What’s wrong with you people?
Why does Delaware want $4 to cross a single bridge? Why, Delaware? Your state is tiny, and I only went through a corner of it.
I will concede that the New Jersey Turnpike is fantastic. Separate, divided lanes for cars and trucks. Service areas that stay open all night, which was especially fortunate since we were there at midnight and didn’t know where to stop before we just drove right into NYC hours before our hotel (and thus our parking space) would be available. Luckily, when we tired of the service areas, we were able to find apparently the only open hotel room in a 50-mile radius of New York City.
We were meeting other family in New York, so as they flew in and made hotel arrangements, we started the drive up and had our first glimpse of the city.
However, between us and that skyline was the drive into New York. Which was fine, until we reached… (dun dun DUN)
The Holland Tunnel. The most confusing cluster of cars I have ever been in. Where they merge roughly six lanes into two, and the only way you will go anywhere is by playing chicken with the car next to you to see who will stop and let the other merge first. Note: do not play chicken with taxis. You will lose.
Once you enter New York, you had better have a clear idea of where you’re going, because you will not be able to change lanes. Our hotel desk clerk had given us directions to go left after the Holland Tunnel. Our hotel was to the right. I managed to use three lefts to get on the street we were actually supposed to be on. Driving in New York was not as stressful as I pictured, however, despite no less than three close calls with other cars and a complete confusion about how to make a left turn on a busy road due to the total lack of left turn lanes..
But we did it. We finally made it to the hotel and met my sister and brother-in-law. We parked our car, not to see it again until we left the city. It was time we ventured into the streets of New York City. After all of the crime shows I had watched, I expected a more sketch atmosphere, but the sheer number of people on the streets tends to make you feel safe.
Our first stop was Battery Park, with a distant view of the State of Liberty.
Ah, yes. That looks vaguely like the outline of something I’ve seen in movies.
Next, we saw the old battery that Battery Park is named after (now called Castle Clinton). While my family was taking pictures there, I noticed a man who seemed familiar. It took me a minute of thinking, “Is that…?” before I realized it was Questlove from The Tonight Show/The Roots. By the time I left, the heart pin, the multitude of apparently assistants following him, and the fans that came up to shake his hand convinced me.
He also accidentally walked into my picture.
After Battery Park, I took my very first subway ride up to Central Park. The subway is also not as sketchy as I imagined it being, although it is realistically just a series of holes in the ground with trains in them. That being said, I didn’t mind the frequent subway travel. Except when we accidentally went to Queens, my brother-in-law accidentally went to Harlem, and other such navigational mishaps.
We arrived at Central Park, and it was (somewhat to my surprise) absolutely fantastic. It’s gorgeous. Beautiful trees and rocks and benches where you can just sit for a while and relax. The first thing we saw there was an awesome gazebo with flowers growing up the side and surrounded by huge rocks.
It was also full of lots of bees, but it was still pretty.
After spending a little while wandering around there, we headed out to sunset at Times Square. Between the immense crowds, overstimulating lights and signs everywhere, and various locals yelling when you don’t know which way to go or how quickly to do so, Times Square was my least favorite tourist destination. If you decided to create a place that gave everyone the feeling of having ADD, it would be Times Square.
Pictured here clutching my phone in my dress pocket in a paranoid manner because I was told to be wary of pickpockets.
Times Square is the kind of New York I expected, and I did not find any of the rest of the city to be like this. After dinner and an unfortunate exploding Dr. Pepper incident, we headed back to the hotel before it got too late. I was warned not to stay out and take the subway past roughly 10:30. On our way into the subway, we ran into an impromptu and very impressive breakdancing performance.
The next day, we set out for more of Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Our first stop was Belvedere Castle, a beautiful castle building in the middle of Central Park.
I could really stay at this place for a long time. The people there were even quite nice when we all had to navigate the two-way narrow staircase only big enough for one person at a time. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay very long because we had to get on to the Met.
We finally found the streetside entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art after walking confusedly around the back for a while. We went inside and started wandering around this enormous museum. The museum is not simply paintings and sculptures, but also ancient art from nearly every civilization. There was a Mesopotamian room, an Egyptian room with an entire Egyptian temple, and even a Mesoamerican room.
By the time we finished with this museum, I was drop-dead tired. It’s so huge, I wasn’t able to see it all on this trip, but I hit my personal highlights, including all the ancient civilization rooms, the Monet and Van Gogh paintings, and the fantastic view from the roof.
After the museum, we tried to hit the highlights of the south side of Central Park. The most impressive sight was Bethesda Terrace, a wonderful little alcove with a fountain where we saw two wedding photo shoots going on.
Although extremely tired from the day, I went along for a suggested trip to Hell’s Kitchen at 10pm for dinner. After a subway turnstile mishap, we got to Hell’s Kitchen from the Time’s Square station. At 10pm, all the area over there seemed pretty fine. When we finished dinner at midnight, things had changed. All the way between Hell’s Kitchen and Times Square was deserted, and I really started to question whether I should have agreed to this. In the things I thought I’d do in my life, I never considered “stroll through Hell’s Kitchen at midnight” to be one of them. I didn’t think I’d be so happy to see the crowds of Times Square appear again. Another thing I didn’t think I’d experience is a midnight subway ride, which it turns out was totally fine.
The next day, we set off to see 34th Street, the place of many Christmas miracles in the 1940s, apparently. Also the site of the Empire State Building.
It turns out 34th Street is kind of a high-end place. Lots of huge shops, including the Macy’s of Miracle on 34th Street and Thanksgiving Day Parade fame, which we visited. My hair got a surprising lot of attention on this street, even with one person wondering if I had my hair made instead of growing it myself.
Next, we were off to Central Park again, which had quickly become our favorite place in New York City. On the subway over, we spotted a band that was largely a brass section and drums playing the subway station.
I dragged through a lot of Central Park before I found any energy because the last couple days had been just about all I could handle, walking at least 10 miles every day until my feet ached. However, we found some parts of Central Park that were really fun to play with.
I discovered my favorite part of Central Park this day, the Ramble. It’s a kind of jumble-y, circuitous route near the water with a bunch of giant rocks and cute bridges. It seems to be a home to writers, artists, adventurous children, and at least one shy raccoon.
They also set our dinner on fire.
The next morning, I noticed something strange in the distance on the One World Trade Center building. Some very adventurous window washers.
For reference, this is One World Trade Center, now the tallest building in New York City.
These are the window washers, at the very top floor.
Our last day in New York, it was another day around Central Park, this time visiting the American Museum of Natural History, which we chose partly because it inspired Night at the Museum. On the subway ride over, we were surprised again by an a capella group that sang their way through all the subway cars. You never know what you’ll get in the subway. Then we found our way to the museum, which includes exhibits showing various animals in still life, fossils, and cultural artifacts.
After more wandering around Central Park, we headed back to the hotel and readied to leave the next day.
Did I mention that on this day, it was about 63 degrees? When we complained about the cold to someone on the elevator ride to our room, she said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” No. We’re from Florida. This is what February feels like in Florida. What is this cold you speak of? The New Yorker we were speaking to told us how nice the day was for New York after the winter they had, which was why she wore a skirt that day. She said this to me as my toes were still numb in my sandals, the only kind of shoe I brought with me. After that, with the weather about to get colder still and me having not brought a single item of clothing to cover my calves or my feet, I was rather glad to be off.
New York is a lot of fun to visit, but I couldn’t wait to get back to my warm home in Florida. My conclusions are as follows:
1) New York is extremely different from any other place I’ve been and thus really fun to explore.
2) When you drive in New York, you take a gamble with your life, your sanity, and your car insurance.
3) Central Park is the best ever.
4) New Yorkers are actually rarely rude and surprisingly helpful, and New York stereotypes seem to rarely be true.
5) However, their tolerance for cold is ridiculous, and you don’t want to mess with those people.
6) You never know what will happen on the subway, and it seems to be the perfect place to just perform stuff. That and under bridges in Central Park, where musicians are usually playing.
7) Really, you never know what will happen in New York City. So many people from so many different places doing so many different things with their lives.
Perhaps one day, I’ll be back in New York to see the sights I missed this time, but for now, I am glad to be back by the beach.