Today was a hell of a day.
Once I repacked my things, we hopped into the car and headed off to Manhattan. A neat little caveat of New York weather – as the snow melts and freezes, small slates of ice form on the top of the cars, and at highway speeds these fly off and shatter as they hit the ground (or your car), resulting in these sparkling ice bombs taking you by surprise.
We were still an hour away from the city, but I could already see the tops of the skyscrapers popping up from over the horizon. This city is huge.
Upon our arrival in Manhattan we were treated a nice serving of New York gridlock. Getting from lower to upper Manhattan took over an hour. when we got to the hostel the whole back side was surrounded by police cars and fire trucks, with a large crowd huddled around a small area near the wall and what looked like some cops and investigators on the roof. Being my first experience with hostels, I was absolutely horrified. I immediately thought someone had committed suicide.
I decided to continue on and check-in at the hostel. Waiting in the lobby was an old lady with blonde hair and an extravagant fur coat. The receptionist told me to put my bags in storage and come back at 4pm when my room was ready. I kept my backpack and decided to go exploring.
Getting lost in a city is the best way to get your bearings I find, so that’s what I did. Adventure time! I headed to the nearest subway station with no idea of where to go, and no idea of how to get there.
At the subway I ran into that old lady from the hostel, who recognises me from my bright red shoes. We begin chatting and she invites me to come with her on the subway down to Soho. Tag along with a stranger 3-4 times my age who I didn’t know existed less than half an hour ago? Sure, why not.
This lady actually turns out to be really interesting – Justine, a former journalist for the New York Times who has travelled the world and lived in France for a couple of years. She’s done some pretty cool stuff, like preventing the construction of skyscrapers in the heart of Paris with some of her articles. She also lived in Montreal for a year, and said I needed a bigger coat. On the list.
And that crime scene on the roof of the hostel I was staying at? It turns out that they were filming an episode of Law and Order: SVU up there. Awesome.
Being a native New Yorker, Justine was really informative too – giving me a quick rundown on how to navigate the subway (it’s complicated as hell) and a short list on the best places to go and see. Once we arrived in Soho we said our goodbyes. She was a very nice lady. Definitely a worthwhile detour, I’m glad that happened.
On my hunt for food I trekked into Chinatown. In most cities I’ve been to, Chinatown is just a street or less than that, but here in New York it’s the real deal. China TOWN. Literally an entire district in Manhattan. Really beautiful at twilight too (as is everything, to be honest) – with the neon lights from the decorations and shop signs contrasting with the violet backdrop of the sky. I ended up finding the most amazing dumpling place too – $2.50 for 10 dumplings. TEN. JACKPOT. And they were delicious!
From there I took the subway uptown, getting off close to Times Square. I could’ve gotten off right at Times Square but I think this turned out to be better. At night, the sheer scale of this over-the-top shrine to pop culture and commercialism is so great that it can be seen from a distance – the place literally glows. I couldn’t even see it yet but the night sky is almost 10 times brighter in the direction of Times Square. It’s so bright that you can use the light emanating from it as a point of reference to navigate yourself around the city.
Once I arrived at Times Square it became obvious why this place is one of the must see destinations in New York – It is spectacular. Gigantic LED billboards bombarding your eyes with photons no matter which direction you look, advertising every big brand in existence (including of course the iconic Coca Cola sign) and a whole host of Broadway shows I’ve never heard of. It’s pompous, grandiose, indulgent, a little dirty and completely over the top – but I loved it. This is America and pop culture in a nutshell.
After that I headed to the Rockefeller Centre to check out the famous Christmas tree, the ice skating rink and all the other festivities there. One thing that’s become blatantly apparent in my short time in New York – These guys really get into Christmas. Like HARDCORE. Buskers sing Christmas songs in the streets, Christmas lights are everywhere and are hung between every street light, Christmas events are peppered all through the city, entire buildings are wrapped in gigantic Christmas ribbons and even the Empire State Building is lit up in red and green. It’s pretty astounding. Normally I’m not into Christmas but I can’t help but admire the enthusiasm here.
Well that was just one day in New York! I tried to walk back to the hostel up around Central Park but I gave up about halfway and took the subway. This city is too large to comprehend. You win this time New York, you win.