08 November 2009

New York - Day 4 and 5

Sun, Nov 1: Feet are now starting to feel a bit better. After arriving at Times Square again, we walked around and took advantage of the Visitor’s Pass in the oldest and biggest Macy’s. (Show your driver license and get a pass good for 3 days entitling you to 10% off).

Entrance to Macy's

After that we wandered around some more, because we still had about 2 hours to kill before meeting two other friends of my husband’s (also into animation) for the Hair Revival show at the Hirschfeld theatre. Quite by accident, we passed by the Discovery Museum which hosted the Titanic: The Artifacts Exhibition. This was one of the best exhibits I’ve seen. It started with the construction process of the Titanic, had short biographies of some passengers and crews, showed the differences between First, Second, and Third Class accommodations, and also the statistics of how many people of each Class survived vs. perished. The experience is quite real, because even the floor moves slightly so you have the impression of actually being on a ship. You see a replica of the grand staircase, and of a hallway with doors to the different cabins, and menus for the three Classes, along with a lot of other recovered artifacts. The price for the First Class ticket was $2500 (= $40.000 in today’s dollars). But even the First Class passengers had to pay extra for the Turkish bath (!) and the squash court!

We were barely finished with the exhibit when it was time to meet our friends for the show. The Hair Revival Show was excellent – much more emotionally charged than I expected.

A great show!

Afterwards we all had dinner together and then we wandered the streets a bit more, because we were wired on caffeine, and by the time we got to Staten Island, we barely caught the last bus going towards the hotel – btw, you can use your subway Metro Card for the buses on Staten Island as well – we did not know that!

Mon Nov 2: Last day! Went to Brooklyn, but ended up in a rather questionable neighborhood (Prospect Heights) – so after a short walk we turned back and went back to Manhattan to see the Empire State Building. It costs $20 for the general ticket to the observation deck on the 86th floor, another $15 to go up to the 102nd floor (glass-enclosed only), $8 for a “commemorative” round, laminated map that shows the sights of NY in all 4 directions, and/or $8 for an audio tour. So that amounted to a total of 2x20+2x15+$8+$8 = $86 for 2! But the view is incredible, and the building itself is a gem. Most of the time, however, you spend waiting in lines:

First, of course, you have to wait in the line for the airline-type security check (just as for the trip to the Statue of Liberty). Then you wait in line again to actually buy your tickets. Then you wait in line for the “mandatory”, commemorative picture taken against a green screen. Then you wait in line to get to the elevator to the 80th floor. Then you wait in line for the elevator to the 86th floor where the open observation deck is.

View south - Financial District

Another view

View up to the mast, which was meant as a mooring mast for dirigibles

Then you wait in line for the elevator to floor 102 which was apparently meant as the waiting room for zeppelin passengers. Then you wait in line to get back down to floor 86. Then you wait in line for the elevator down to the 80th floor. THEN you wait in line to pick up your commemorative photo. Then you wait in line to pay for it. Then you are automatically led through the gift shop (they have a lot of stuff that is actually of a little better quality than the usual junk you find in gift shops – I bought a replica of the poster advertising the original King Kong movie!) Then you wait in line to pay for everything. Then it’s back to the line for the elevator down to the first floor. That was a total of 13 queues! But I have to say that the lines moved fairly quickly, and everything is organized very well.

It’s worth it, definitely ... just to see the inside of this beautiful building … even the floors are beautiful (they look like sealed-over gold-leaf, copper-leaf, and other colors).

Empire State Building - Lobby

There was no food sold during the tour – no wonder! We saw a poor worker meticulously scraping off a sticker someone had stuck to the floor.

After that we found a sandwich shop and bought a few more souvenirs. On our way back to the hotel, in the 34th Street subway station we came across a really good musician playing his electronic violin: Michael Shulman – we liked the music so much that we bought his CD.

Final thoughts on New York:

Unless you have business on Staten Island – do not stay there! It’s a rather run-down looking area, and you are too dependent on either the hotel shuttle (for which you have to wait, and whose driver really likes to hear himself talk, and often says things that are patently wrong (and whom you have to tip!). Or you have to take the bus to the ferry station, which is a longer ride but "free" if you have a MetroCard. The one-way trip from our hotel in Staten Island to Manhattan via the ferry took us over an hour (waiting for the shuttle, waiting for the ferry, and the actual rides).

New Yorkers are much friendlier than expected. Twice someone saw us fumbling with our map and they came over asking whether they could help us! On the other hand ... you better get out of their way on the street (if you can!), otherwise you’ll get run over – everybody is in a rush! But this is contagious ... after a few days I found myself getting impatient when the person in front of me was walking slower than me!

There is a definite difference in outfits betwen NY and California: The women often have big, long hair, wear large (really large!) earrings, and half an arm full of bangles. And now I know who buys those Ugg(ly) boots! And almost everybody is wearing black this season.

Everybody will recognize you as a tourist! You will get hustled by ticket sellers, street vendors, and taxi drivers (at the ferry station in Staten Island). But they are not persistent - just ignore them.

New York is a very energetic, lively city - what a contrast to mind-numbing life in the suburbs! There is always something to see or to do, and so much culture all around ... theatres, museums, parks, exhibits ... We enjoyed our time in NY very much, and will return again!

And here is the most ignored street sign in New York:

Yeah ... right!

As an aside: This was our first trip without checking any baggage – all we had was one carry-on bag each. I was actually surprised that I was able to cram everything I needed for a week into one small bag – we even had enough space left to pack souvenirs (T-Shirts and mugs mainly)! That’s the way to go – no waiting at the baggage carousel any more! And you are much more flexible to go where you need to go.

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