A sneak peek at New York City
A somber, gloomy mood on a Monday morning lit up almost immediately the moment I was told I would need to travel to the United States of America for an official conference. America was just an image so far and I hadn’t expected to visit the place so early in my career. Of course, I was excited. The excitement of the trip, the mayhem of going through the procedures of procuring the visa, making sure I had all the warm clothing and my fine thick overcoat to combat the chill winter in New York, (which I managed to forget at the security check just before boarding the aircraft), not to mention the last minute nervous breakdown until I and my overcoat took off with Emirates were enough to set the tone of the new experience I was about to discover. Whatever it is, there’s nothing like a first time experience and that’s when I realized I should document every bit of it.
After a tiring eighteen hours of journey via Dubai, we reached New York at around 1:00 pm. I glanced out of the window expecting to see snow everywhere. The sunshine confirmed it was not to be so, for a day or two. Yes, I was a little disappointed unless I stepped out and felt the chill wind and realized it was different. I was thrilled once again and immediately surprised at how desperately I wanted this to be altogether so different from my usual experiences. We all have our preconceptions and how triumphant we feel when those match with reality! True, it seldom does.
Without much difficulty, I managed to find my way to the hotel that was arranged for us. Roger Williams, 5 th avenue Madison Street. Throughout the trip, my eyes were all set to swallow every tiny bit of detail. It was mid February and the trees had either their branches up towards the mighty heaven or their leaves hanging like golden tresses of a witch. The grass had a different tinge of green altogether. A recurring question I had was how could the shade of green be so different from place to place? I guess it’s similar to people’s skin tone!
Anyways, here, the houses, the streets, the way people park their vehicles, the shops, the government offices all looked quite different except the color of the skies. The grass looked trimmed, the trees were all lined up in neat rows, the streets were spick and span, smooth, and strangely all the traffic lights seemed to be working.
We entered Manhattan NYC, the land of skyscrapers. The streets looked narrower, the buildings even taller and the sidewalks broader. There was a strange order everywhere. Things were uniform. The most striking thing for me was the way people followed the rules of traffic. There wasn’t a human traffic regulator anywhere to be seen yet people seemed to have been regulated by some universal authority. The traffic looked like automated toys pausing and resuming activity at the flash of the red, the green and the yellow.
It was cold and dark, around 4 degree Celsius, 5.00pm when I reached the hotel but nothing could stop me from going out again. It was a perfect damp weather when you would easily choose the cozy comforts of the hotel suit. But this was not just another place. I couldn’t afford to lose any bit of the moment.
Completely bundled up from head to toe with my thick overcoat, ear muffs, gloves and hand warmer tucked in my coat pockets, I placed the woolen cap carefully on my tiny head, took one final look at the mirror and set off to explore the New York City.
As I had already mentioned, the weather was damp quite immediately after 4:00 pm. The sunshine that welcomed us was nowhere to be seen. The buildings, rather the skyscrapers were mostly painted grey and red(brick), a five feet broad balcony and iron steps were all that defined an external entrance to any of the apartments, unlike our spacious verandahs. Overall there was a tinge of dullness all around unless suddenly lights lit up and a festive mood encompassed the dullness of a setting day. It was quite a transition.
According to the recommendations of the receptionist at the hotel, I headed towards Times Square. It is something no one would want to miss, a different experience altogether. It’s nothing but a hub with shops, malls, eateries and everything else that a perfect hangout place could have. But what make it different are the lookout screens that display a host of attractive pieces apart from commercials. It’s there that you feel even the skyscrapers are walking, running, laughing and participating in all the mirth of the event.
At 350 Fifth Avenue, my eyes constantly went up scanning a building that seemed extraordinary with its tip totally decked up in red and green. After asking some people, I got to know it is the infamous, Empire State Building. The view from the 86 th and 102nd floor was simply amazing. I could literally see every bit of New York City and its neighboring cities from the observatory, New Jersey, Brooklyn, Rochester and several others. The entry fees cost some $20s and with another extra $10 we received a wireless commentary that explained every bit of the view and places we could stretch our eye sight to. The beautiful Brooklyn Bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn spanning over the East River looked simply decked up for a bridal evening.
Early morning next day, I took a day and night tour for $20. It included a hop on and hop off bus tour covering all of down town, up town and Brooklyn. The idea of a hop on and hop off bus tour is that you don’t need to cling to one bus that’s allotted to you. You can get down at a specific sight and spend some time there. There are busses from the tour agency arriving at specific tourist spots every half an hour. Once you are done, you can get abroad one of such busses after showing your ticket and continue your journey. It was flexible and the most convenient once for specially folks who wanted to get down whenever we saw or heard of a nice shopping complex or folks who wanted to take pics or a walk.
One absolutely extraordinary thing about this tour was the jovial guide who entertained us with his brilliant sense of humor, detailed history of places, anecdotes and several other interesting tips. Some of his interesting tips still keep ringing again and again. He said “There’s a difference between a traveler and a tourist. A tourist is somebody who comes directly to the hotel from the airport, sets of the next day on a tour package, has meals in remarkable tourist dining halls, shops in the famous malls and has their entire trip planned out well in advance. A traveler on the other hand weights out each hotel in terms of price, comfort and convenience, talks to the local people to identify the best places for sightseeing, shopping and dining. Conducts self research and knows whether they like shopping or sightseeing better, uses yellow taxis or the metro instead of tourist busses. They wouldn’t have their meals in specific hotels. They hop in to a restaurant, order starters, taste the food pay bills and move on. They hop into another restaurant with a different cuisine to taste that and so on and so forth. I thought the later sounded better and it was quite candid of him to give that suggestion. The best way to know a place is to understand the culture and mingle with the locale.
We reached Chruch Street Road and I couldn’t help but get down from the bus. It’s the place where once the infamous World Trade Center twin towers stood. The very site of the vacant space sent jitters through my veins. The place is a construction site now with severe attempts to bring back the two towers along with memories of the people who met with the tragedy.
Right after this, we headed towards the Statue of Liberty in a ferry. The island was a conglomeration of people from all parts of the world, all bundled up to beat the winter. The history of the statue of liberty signifies the bond between France and America. In 1865, Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, a leader of the "liberalsonce commented at a dinner party that the people of France should offer the people of America a monument as a lasting memorial to independence and liberty that they cherish. France had already established this passion for freedom and liberty by supporting America in its struggle for freedom during the American Revolution. This comment did strike a chord in one of the guests present there, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, a successful, 31-year-old sculptor from Colmar, a town in the eastern province of Alsace, France. Later Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi designed what came to be known as the Statue of Liberty commemorating the two countries passion for freedom and liberty. A look at the New York Harbor definitely gives you a bird’s eye view of a completely new world; radiant, sophisticated and one that is only born to rise higher and higher like the numerous skyscrapers.
Also, I decided to set off to Washington DC which is only four hours by bus from New York, the day our conference in New York was over. That night, I told myself, the White House is not very far and the adventure is yet to begin……