New York, New York

When I was two years old, I visited New York for the first time. I have but one memory of that trip – a blurred image of the Statue of Liberty. In 2008 I decided to take my first trip as an adult to New York City. It was time to experience the Big Apple with memories I could retain. I owed the Lady Liberty another visit, anyway. 

Sightseeing in New York – Sunday, June 1st

Any person who considers themselves a traveler has New York on their to-do list. People from all over the world travel to our Eastern corner

A person cannot fully experience New York City without becoming familiar with the subway system. As a California girl, I was amazed and intimidated when my friend first introduced my aunt and I to New York’s form of public transportation. Everyone is in a rush. Sometimes you sit. Sometimes you stand, clinging to a pole for dear life. Watching various faces come and go, wondering why one person smiles as she hums to herself, and why a couple sits in frowned silence. Seeing a man dressed in torn, dirty clothes on the opposite side of a train of a women wearing Coach shoes and a Gucci handbag.

In a mere 15 minutes, I felt like I was experiencing the heart of the city while I sat in a single car on the subway.

After being introduced to New York’s famous public transit system, where we bought our week’s tickets, my aunt and I waved good-bye to our friend and set off to explore the other wonders of New York: the Empire State Building.

Empire State Building New York
Empire State Building New York

The beauty of the internet is that my aunt and I had bought our tickets months in advance, so we were able to skip at least one extremely long line when we arrived at the Empire State Building. After standing in numerous other lines and going up several different elevators, we eventually made our way to the top. The view was incredible. Knock-me-off-my-feet incredible. Literally. The wind is so strong I was relieved I had a fence to hold onto, for fear of falling off the top of the world.

My aunt had been dreaming of this trip since she was a little girl, so she was able to point out all of the sights we would be seeing in the following days to come: Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Battery Park, Radio City Music Hall, Twin Tower memorial… the list seemed endless.

After we came back down to earth, my aunt and I made some stops at more mundane areas, like the typical souvenir shops. Shirts, hats, pens, and purses were all labeled with the standard “I Love NY” imprint. These shops were scattered all along the streets, and eventually became a running joke with my aunt and I as we saw the prices shift from five shirts for ten dollars, to ten shirts for ten dollars. Well, bargains will never cease.

From below the Empire State Building
From below the Empire State Building

On a more sober note, my aunt and I made a point of taking a subway down to the barren square of the missing Twin Towers. There was nothing to see except for fencing surrounding the beginnings of construction. Years passed, and there was still a sobering quiet among the scene. It was one of those times where silence was more deafening than any noise. Neither of us spoke much as we took it all in, remembering where we were that day, watching the news in California. Miles away from the wreckage and yet the pain still sits deep within us.

Without realizing where our feet were slowly leading us, we found ourselves in Battery Park, which was surprisingly close in proximity to ground zero. Transitioning from a place of quiet sadness to a place of quiet peace was an odd feeling. However, the change in atmosphere made Battery Park that much more enjoyable with the green trees, grass, and blue water running alongside us. I was personally grateful to transition from a somber scene to a peaceful one.

By 6:30pm, my aunt and I were exhausted with sore fee and grumbling stomachs. Apparently our bodies needed to adjust to the demands of the Big Apple. The great thing about the busy city is the mix of cuisine. For nourishment, we found a little Thai/Vietnamese restaurant called Thai-Nam, and enjoyed a calm dinner without all of the traffic noise outside. The place was practically empty – lucky for us. We shared a creamy shrimp and scallop dish in coconut sauce over rice, with a plate of fried bananas for dessert – not too sweet, but extremely satisfying.

After our leisurely dinner, my aunt and I headed back to the apartment. We had been all over Manhattan… well not really, although the blisters on my feet would tell you otherwise. I cannot stress enough the importance of buying comfortable shoes for a trip to New York.

Culture Shock – Monday, June 2nd

On this morning, my aunt and I were headed to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Our tickets, which were bought in advance online, were scheduled for 11:15am; however, when we arrived a couple of hours early to the ferry, the line coordinators told us, in a rough manner, that we could hop on early. The interesting thing about New Yorkers is that even when they’re being friendly, they sound harsh. My aunt and I were looking at a map when some woman comes out of no-where, offering us help. Her voice didn’t sound friendly, but her gesture obviously was. Tone of voice is very telling in California, but not in NY, I guess.

Ellis Island, New York
Pointing to my destination – Ellis Island

Oddly enough, when we got on the boat, I actually felt less conspicuous with the rest of the tourists – and there were a lot of tourists on these ferries. Being amongst New Yorkers, where it is common to be brusque and vocalize complaints loudly, made me realize how laid back Californians may seem in comparison. Even amongst fellow Americans, there is still a form of culture shock, I guess.

Both islands, but especially Ellis Island, gave off mixed feelings of hope and sadness in the atmosphere. The struggles from past immigrants were heavy in the air: rejection, frustration, hope. I’m amazed at the determination of our ancestors. If it weren’t for their fortitude, I wouldn’t be here today.

Touring the Statue of Liberty’s platform, my aunt and I went up a flight of stairs that had 160 steps. 160 STEPS! (Why didn’t we take the elevator? I think there was a line…) Then, we stood in line for about an hour just so we could get within closer proximity to the big lady. The small museum inside may not be worth the wait to everyone, but we figured we should exhibit some fortitude; the least we could do for our ancestors.

By the time we got back to the last ferry, my aunt and I were beat. It was all worth it, though. I’m not sure if it was touring the islands or being amongst so many tourists from all over the world, but I had never felt as patriotic as I did that day.

The feeling of intimidation is often overwhelming in an unfamiliar city. My aunt and I had had plans of visiting Little Italy and China Town, but our subway dropped us off in a non-touristy area, which had a slight resemblance to the Bronx. Since we didn’t know our way around, we felt a bit uncomfortable and ran straight to the subway where we headed back to Greenwich Village and found an Indian restaurant near the Avenue of the Americas. We shared some salmon curry with fried prawns – a delicious way to end our day.

Arc de triumphAfter dinner, we walked around the upscale, clean, and surprisingly quiet area of Washington Square Park, where we saw the Arc De Triomphe. I couldn’t help thinking how spoiled that area was. There were street signs that threatened fines for honking car horns; residents heard minimal traffic when the rest of New York was blaring with obnoxiously frustrated drivers of compacted vehicles. I almost wondered if this was the feeling of segregation.

My aunt and I then called it a day and took our throbbing feet back to the subway, heading back to the Bronx.

Screams in the Sun – Tuesday, June 3rd

Today was a day of screams and thrills as my aunt and I headed for Six Flags in New Jersey. We took a bus from the Bronx, which was about a two-hour trip. Not bad for us Californians. The bus was a nice change from the subway since the bus has comfortable seats, and I felt safe enough to nap (I was warned, by a New Yorker, not to do this on the subway).

First on our list (and yes, we bought our tickets online months before), was to head towards the tallest roller-coaster in the world: Kingda Ka. Unfortunately, the ride was having “technical difficulties,” which is apparently common because of the tall track. So, we killed time at the Parachute Training Center. They may have been slow-moving, but the high lifting had me and my aunt squealing like little girls… that is, until we realized how gently the parachutes came back down the 25 stories.

I was a little hesitant about riding Superman: Ultimate Flight; however, I found it to be the best flying coaster I’ve ever been on. Other coasters (without naming names) try to simulate the feeling of flying, but they usually have too many corkscrews, or move so fast that it’s impossible to see what’s going on, completely ruining the feeling of flying. The Superman’s speed and twists were just right.

By afternoon, Kingda Ka was finally in working order, and had created quite a line, too. I think it was about a 45-minute wait (I’ve had worse). I am so glad that I can brag that I rode the tallest coaster in the world, because there is no way that I would ride it again! There is so much speed needed to jet off and get up the hill that it shook my head so badly it hurt. And just when you think you’re reaching the peak, there’s still so much more to go before you get to the top. At least that adventure is over and done with. Whew!

My aunt and I calmed our nerves on some tame log water rides after that. We even went on a wooden railroad coaster, which was expectedly bumpy (all wooden-coasters are). Finally, we went on what would become my very favorite roller coaster ever: Nitro. It went 80mph on 23-story hills, which made us riders lift in our seats, but none of it was bumpy or jerky like most other coasters. Even the seats were comfortable – made from some firm foam material. All rides should be like Nitro. We had to ride more than once; it was so much fun.

My aunt indulged me, and we also went to a few animal shows that involved dolphins, tigers, and more dolphins. I enjoyed all of it, despite the corny lines from the trainers. Obviously, there’s still a kid in this adult’s body.

After six hours of shows, lines, and giddy, yet sometimes frightful screaming, we had seen and done everything that interested us at the park, so we hopped back on our bus. The park wasn’t crowded that day since it was in the middle of the week, which is why we managed to do everything and more that was on our list for Six Flags. After getting banged around and slightly sun burned, my aunt and I were in dire need of rest before the next day’s events.

The Amazing Metropolitan Museum – Wednesday, June 4th

My aunt and I had a day of museums planned on our trip to New York. First we would hit the Guggenheim, then the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Only half of our plans came to fruition, though.

The Gold Dog
The Gold Dog

When we got to the Guggenheim, the famous building was covered in scaffolding, and there were only two exhibits available for viewing. Although I would assume the museum is opened in entirety now, last summer this was not the case. I recommend checking a museum’s status ahead of time, so as not to waste your time. Even though admission was reduced from $20 to $8 per person, which is actually a great deal, my aunt and I decided to change our plans and head straight towards the MET. Hopefully I can experience the Guggenheim to the fullest on another trip.

The MET is huge , so spending the day at just this one museum was far from disappointing. Not only are the two floors vast, but even the roof of the building had a small, but large-scale exhibit by Jeff Koons. Statues that appeared as though they were covered in shiny wrapping acted as eye-candy for us art enthusiasts.

Once we left the roof, there were ancient works by Egyptians, Africans, Greeks, Romans, and Americans to behold. Walking through the evolution of art for nearly every continent felt almost like time traveling. It was like experiencing the world’s art history lesson in one day – walking through time across the globe.

My head of headsOf course, seeing my favorite artsists’ original work was the highlight of the tour. I was especially excited to see work by Van Gogh – my very favorite painter. Monet, Manet, and Renoir were amazing as well. Seeing the original works literally made the copies in books and posters pale in comparison. I even bought a poster of Monet’s Water Lilies since I was so impressed with the original work – and I am not even a fan of Monet! I guess I was excited. But, like I said, the copy that now hangs on my wall is hardly as vibrant as the original.

Along with the countless exhibits, there were also restaurants, cafes, and a fancy cafeteria inside the museum. My aunt and I ate at the cafeteria where there were soups, pastas, sandwiches, and even sushi to choose from. Having an eclectic meal felt suiting after seeing the world’s array of best artists. Obviously, the MET has plenty to offer in terms of art and food. Whatever your taste is, it will be satisfied.

After some hours at the museum, my aunt and I were spent. It may have only been a museum, yet my head and feet felt like they had traveled the globe over.

New York Shopping – Thursday, June 5th

Crack your knuckles and stop at the ATM, because this day was meant for shopping. As New York offers so much in regards to purchasing souvenirs and high fashion, it may be difficult to buy anything if you are on a budget. Luckily for me, my aunt just happens to be very thrifty and a genius at finding bargains.

New York buildings

First, we headed to China Town, where purses appear to be designer, but are incredibly cheap because they are actually knock-offs. We got this tip from our friends who we were staying with in NY. Being locals, they had an edge on what’s up in China Town. My aunt and I were even told that if the vendors liked us, they would show us into a back room with even nicer goods. Though I must admit, this did not seem at all safe.

We knew we were in the purse district when young women would casually rub past our elbows whispering, “Louis Vuitton, Coach, Chanel, Gucci.” At least we didn’t buy any purses from these vendors – a little too shady for us – or even the ones who were blowing bubbles in the street. I never found out what the bubbles were really about, but there was something suspicious about thuggish looking men standing around with bubbles guns.

After walking up and down China Town’s various shops, acting like picky princesses, since there was so much to choose from, both my aunt and I bought Dolce & Gabbana purses for twenty dollars each! That’s quite a steal… and in the case of my bag, that statement may be more true than I’d like to admit.

Radio City Music Hall Manhattan New York
Radio City Music Hall

I found a legitimate D&G mesh bag in my purse when I opened it up later. Yikes! Oddly enough, it’s not illegal to buy the purses from these vendors, only to sell them (which is the opposite law in Italy, but that’s another story).

So, don’t feel intimidated if you see a neighbor vendor with the NYPD making inspections. They aren’t after you .

Don’t get me wrong, there was more than just purses in China Town, but the watches, clothes, jewelry, and wallets were overshadowed by the eight-foot high walls covered with bags of all sizes, colors, and designs.

After our exciting adventure in China Town, my aunt and I headed back to the upscale stores of Manhattan, where we couldn’t afford anything. New Yorkers’ wares are just a little too rich for my blood. Although, I did notice many pedestrians staring at my Dolce & Gabana purse, so that reinflated my pride.

Hatters NY Graduation Wedding 201

We ventured into Bloomingdale’s, which reminded me of a much fancier Macy’s with workers constantly asking if we needed help – we only had a scone and left. Then we headed to FAO Schwartz: the fanciest toy store I’d ever seen. Their theme seemed to be an array of giant stuffed animals.

The World of Disney store was just a block further, and just as I remembered other Disney stores in California, only it was two stories bigger. Although this meant there was more stuff to buy, I only walked away with a small magnetic plush while my aunt bought numerous pins.

I was content enough with my purse from China Town, whether it was a knock-off or not, it was definitely eye-catching. I almost felt like a real New Yorker walking around with my precious find.

Central Park – Friday, June 6th

When I think of New York, the first image that comes to mind is made up of tall buildings, reaching the sky, while the night is illuminated by the numerous city lights. Since I am not much of a city girl, this depiction is not all that pretty to me – a gray picture that is lacking in natural luster. That is probably why I fell in-love with Central Park so easily.

central parkLeaving the city noise to enter the quiet and green Central Park is like hearing my entire body sigh. The silence I found hidden from the rest of the city – an assembly of green in the middle of so much gray. The contrast of beeping cars and traffic sounds to the twittering of birds in the trees is too astounding to be described. I was even further amazed as I found more jewels to admire among the greenery.

The Bethesda Fountain and numerous bridges of central park were awing. They may have been man-made, but they only added to the beauty of the surrounding trees and grass.

central park wings of glory

However, what I found most refreshing were the endless streams of trees and lawns. There were families and nannies with children walking past enticing little zoos, mini cabs, and sketch artists all along the cobbled paths of the park.

There was so much to do in the park that I wish I had had more time to try everything! Maybe several days would have been needed to sufficiently explore.

I felt like I could have walked all day and still have failed to tread on each path in the park.  My aunt and I only left when we had the need to find a bathroom – the one thing we could not find in Central Park.

Bronx Zoo – Saturday, June 7th

We arrived when the Bronx Zoo opened at 10:00 am, as did the many, many groups of field trippers – ranging from elementary to junior high. Being a famous park, and a weekday, it’s no wonder the place was so popular with the schools. A day at the zoo involved watching many wild creatures running around, begging for food, playing, fighting… and then the children wanted to see the animals, too.

Butterfly face cutout at Bronx Zoo, New York
Butterfly face cutout at Bronx Zoo

Besides the children, there were, of course, many animals in many sections. I found the butterfly house enchanting and colorful to walk around in. The monkey house was full of squeaky, cuddly, and cute mammals. The birdhouse was big – two stories – full of pretty and exotic flighty friends. There was also a rodent house, which ended up feeling like a spooky house since it was kind of dark and not all rodents are that cute (i.e. the hairless hamster things. Eek!). And, the reptile room was… skipped because my aunt was a little freaked-out at the idea of being surrounded by green scales and slimy skin – just another haunting house to her. I can’t imagine why.

Although all of the houses were interesting in their own way – beautiful, cute, weird, or creepy – The big kid in me enjoyed seeing the larger animals best.

The Congo section of the park contained an interesting assortment of animals. A couple kinds of Gorillas, including the famous silver backs, were entertaining as the younger ones taunted the elderly into playing. Even more animals were to behold when we rode on the Asia mono-rail, which allowed us to ride above the confinements of rhinos, pigs, various deer, and elephants. Having a bird’s eye-view was fun since we didn’t have to fight the elbows of everyone else up at the gates below. But, giving our feet a much-needed rest was probably the biggest perk.

Bronx zoo silver back female

As much fun as it was to leisurely view the animals, my favorite part of the day was going to Tiger Mountain. On first entering the room, the biggest of the tigers was sitting majestically right next to the glass – roughly six feet in front of me! Squeezing past the other spectators in time for a picture proved impossible before the striped beast moved out of my range. I experienced the same moment of opportunity and disappointment in the very next room. I just have horrible luck taking photos when younger creatures of my own kind are running around.

The zoo closes at 5:00pm, but my aunt and I seemed to have speed-walked our way through everything by 3:00pm, so we headed on out of the park and back to the subway.

It may sound like a short visit, but seeing as much as we did made it feel like a long afternoon. It was well worth the bragging rights earned.

Last Night Out – Sunday, June 8th

Since it was our last night in New York, my aunt and I wanted to make the most of our evening. Last minute shopping, dinner, and dancing were on our agenda.

My aunt wanted to buy another purse before we met up with our friend/host and roommates for dinner, so we took the train to China Town again before meeting up in Time Square. Luckily, another bargain was found, and my aunt was as happy as our first trip to China Town.

There were five of us slowly meeting up at BB King’s for dinner. Live music was played upstairs, but we were only there to eat, so we went to the downstairs section, which was called Lucille’s – dining area only. The food is not on the cheap side, but as a farewell dinner, it was alright to splurge. Besides, everyone seemed to enjoy their meals, and the ambiance was so quiet and relaxed that it made for a great place to chat about our past week of events.

Manhattan city lights New York
Beautiful Manhattan

When our friend asked, “What do you think of New York?” I said that it was full of history, cool to explore, and that I really liked the diversity of cultures. However, in this trip I discovered a little something about myself… I am not a city girl.

I was tasked with trying to hail a cab after dinner, to feel like “a real New Yorker.” But, my timidity just couldn’t sum up the courage to step off the curb and flag down a stranger’s car. Old teachings of “Don’t get in a stranger’s car!” and “Don’t stand in the street!” are too strongly ingrained in me, I guess.

After just a week of being in awe of the huge buildings and bustling people, I found myself missing the mountains, valleys, and ocean of California. I guess I really am a California girl.

After dinner, us girls dressed up and tried going to a club. Unfortunately, the clubs in New York apparently don’t get their parties started until after 1:00am, which is getting close to when Californians are calling it quits. We had to get up early for our flight the next morning anyway, so staying out late wasn’t a great idea. We settled for a night in on our last evening together.

Everything on my to-do list had been checked off. I could finally say that I experienced the Big Apple with all of its glory, and remember the Statue of Liberty as more than just a blurry, 2-year old’s memory.

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