Sunday, July 19, 2009

The rest of NYC

Sunday morning it was off downtown to catch a tour of Brooklyn – still didn't get to go over the Brooklyn Bridge as it is so old it can only take cars, pedestrians & bikes. Another gorgeous day, with temperatures in the mid-seventies & none of the humidity I had been warned about. Brooklyn (would be the third largest city in the States if it was a city in its own right) was OK – but as it wasn't a hop-on, hop-off bus it was hard to see much behind the main streets. Back over the East River & walked a bit around downtown with the aim of getting up to Chinatown to find the three regular Flight of the Conchords outdoor locations. On the way wandered past Bodies: The Exhibition, that the tour guide had recommended – decided I might as well go in. The exhibit was really well done – basically it was quite a lot of (dozens) of cadavers dissected & preserved in numerous different ways (& quite a few posed in different actions – as opposed to just standing) to exhibit all the different systems in the human body (muscular, nervous, digestive, bones, circulatory, all organs & so on). The placards were really good at explaining how it all worked & while about half-way through it got a little stomach churning, it was well done & it was staggering just how complex our bodies are (I always knew they were, but this hit it home). Fortunately or unfortunately, there was no photography allowed (probably fortunately) – the weirdest thing was none of the bodies had skin, but they all still had finger & toenails. So quite the different thing for me to do – can't say I've ever held a human brain or liver before – but well worthwhile.

It was a bit more a walk up to Chinatown & as I wandered off the main streets looking for Bret & Jermaine's apartment building, I quickly realised I was the only white face around – it definitely did feel like the biggest Chinatown in America. Just had to wander in to one of the supermarkets & marvel at all the live fish & seafood & all sorts of other strange & exotic fruits & vegetable (& some quite normal ones). Found the apartment building & also the pawnshop – but being Sunday it wasn't open. The Consulate building on East Broadway was deserted & quite a dump – but at least there was no one pulling the fingers outside our consulate, alas I couldn't say hi to tech support girl.From here it was a short walk to Little Italy, which as been crowded out & shrunk by Chinatown – it's just a touristy street or two full of Italian restaurants & souvenir shops & tourists. Being one of the said tourists, I couldn't really resist a bowl of cheesy pasta (not nearly as cheesy as the four-cheeses in Devonport – oh, you of little Faith). Hopped on a bus to take me back to midtown (after buying a couple of t-shirts from a young artists' market – I think that's as close to a souvenir I have come to buying so far). Next it was off to the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Centre), at about eight-something floors up, for some stunning views of Manhattan & over to New Jersey & the other four boroughs. There must have been a bit of time left in the day so I thought I'd pop in to Madame Tussaud's as it was one of the things close to the hostel that was still open & covered by my New York pass. At $35 admission, it was the most expensive entry of all the things I'd been to & by far the most overpriced – I would have been severely peeved if I had forked out to get in there & look at models of celebrities & some people with accomplishments to their names. Still it wasn't all bad, just not worth that amount of money. The long days of sightseeing were starting to take their toll, so it was back to the hostel for an earlier night & catch up on world happenings & sorting photos.

Monday morning started out at the NBC Studio tour (Rockefeller Center) – it was quite interesting to see the some of the studios, but as I wasn't familiar with the news & sports programs that the ones we went in were dedicated to, it wasn't spectacular – the Saturday Night Live set was marginally more enjoyable; it was however amusing to watch a couple of kids in our group volunteer to be a newsreader & weather presenter. From there I went to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Some neat sculptures outside, & I had my height, name & the date recorded on a whitewalled room along with thousands of other visitors – it had a neat effect (the whole artwork, not just my name). Naturally there was a lot of other works – some I was quite impressed by, but most were just plain weird in that it didn't really look deserving of being in such a museum. A whole room was filled with items that an artist's mother (in China somewhere, possibly Hong Kong) had hoarded over many years, so as to be able to keep something just in case it could be refashioned or reused. It was astonishing just how many used everyday items were there dating back twenty or thirty years. After too many more unfulfilled architectural hopes & dreams, I was out of there for some lunch before wandering down to the Empire State Building to go up to have a look at NYC from the observation deck. While the ESB is taller than the Top of the Rock, the latter was much more preferable – I'm not sure if this was due to the view being slightly different or the much larger crowds as the ESB or something else (don't pay for the Skyride simulator at the ESB – ok, but not worth it in a similar way to Madame Tussaud's).

From the ESB I decided I would walk all the way down to the Hudson (near to where that plane ditched after birdstrike earlier in the year) & see if I get myself on a evening river cruise. On the way, I found a replacement pair of Merrels for the ones I've been wearing for close to three years (I'm not that hard on shoes) & not wanting to carry the old ones back to Philly or have the spare luggage capacity, I went all Jack Reacher & threw them in the first trash bin I could find. Managed to get a ticket on a 6.30 cruise that would go down the Hudson, across to the Statue of Liberty & up the East River before returning past downtown. Had a delightful Thai meal while wandering & waiting for the boat to board. The cruise was a very pleasant way to take a load off my feet & see Manhattan, New Jersey, Brooklyn & Queens from the water & the commentary was informative, but light.For my last day in NYC I decided to visit spend a little more time in the boroughs outside of Manhattan. So it was on the subway uptown early in the morning to walk around the Bronx. From the train I wandered the streets & then found myself walking up Bronx Park & went in to the NY Botanical Gardens. Such a peaceful retreat from the city (although there is little escaping overhead planes) & I happily strolled around the rambling grounds - I think I preferred this area to Central Park as it was less groomed, more wild & you could walk for quarter of an hour & not see another soul. The rose garden was a bit of a disappointment (I have vivid memories of the one in the Esplanade in Palmy for some reason to compare it to), but I was still enjoying the quiet. From the gardens I wandered down the edge of Bronx Park & found myself at having to get across the park to the subway line – with this in mind I used my NY Pass to get in to the Bronx Zoo amongst a lot of kids on summer camps (one of the hazards of being a tourist in the States during summer holidays). After being spoilt rotten in San Diego, the zoo didn't do much for me – although the polar bear was in a rather playful mood, so that was interesting. Beating a hasty escape & walking a few more blocks I found the subway line overhead & wandered around the town centre for a while, grabbed some white pizza (I'm still unsure what was actually on it – creamed cheese perhaps) for lunch & then road the train down to Brooklyn.

The main reason for going back to Brooklyn was to walk back over its bridge, but there was also the transit museum to check out. This was housed in a disused subway station, consequently it had a lot of historic subway cars on the lower levels. I found the place pretty interesting – especially the train & subway part – the bit about building roads & bridges was pretty ho-hum. Useless fact – the MTA (they run the public transport in NYC) is the biggest user of dollar coins. Another quick rush around what I had left of the museum, as it closed at four & it was out in to daylight again to join all the other tourists walking across the Brooklyn bridge taking pictures like these. Ducking off the bridge earlier than most, I was off downtown via any route I could find (not difficult) to catch the free ferry to Staten Island. I had planned, once on Staten Island, to take the train half way down the line & get off & have a look around at whatever was there. But after five days of pounding sidewalks, my feet were starting to protest so I walked a little around the waterfront & then settled down for a great dinner that was probably two or three days' worth of food spending – but the NZ lamb was great & it was almost still alive – mmmmm. Nice setting sun on the trip back to Manhattan.So that was pretty much my time in NYC – fantastic place with so much going on & so much to see & do

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