Summer 2014 – New York

It’s only a short hop from Ottawa to New York – 45 minutes on the plane if that.  The planes have been getting progressively smaller too, as we’ve travelled north from Orlando and this one’s the smallest yet – but it means that it’s easy to get a good view of the city that never sleeps as we fly into La Guardia airport.

We were expecting it to be considerably busier than Ottawa, and it was! As our taxi took us into the centre of the city, the traffic slowed down to crawling point.  All around us, the pavements (sidewalks!) were thronged with people. It was quite a culture shock.

We took a hop-on hop-off bus tour which also included a ferry trip to try to pack as much as we could into our three days and as we drove around the streets, it made me wonder what exactly it is about New York that draws so many people.  There’s a magnetism about the place that attracts attention, both good and bad, and I found myself looking around to see if I could work out what it was.

There are the iconic buildings, of course, which seemed familiar even though we’d never actually seen them before because of all the films and TV programmes which are set in New York.  Who wouldn’t be tempted to live on a film set?

The Empire State Building

… the Chrysler Building … I loved the way it gleamed in the blue sky …

Grand Central Terminal

I couldn’t resist showing you this rather wonderful picture that big daughter took of the inside of the station …

and here’s her favourite, the Flatiron Building.

These buildings are all so tall that you spend all your time craning your neck to look up, and they look as if they are leaning in on each other in the photos. It seems as if every street corner as another view of somewhere that you feel you’ve seen only yesterday.

The tall skyscraper in this picture is the Freedom Tower, built at One World Trade Center.  It’s a gesture of defiance, the tallest building in America. Perhaps that is what New York is -a city that refuses to be beaten – and people want to be part of that.  Close by are the memorials to the Twin Towers, huge pools of constantly moving water built on the footprints of the original towers.  It’s a strangely peaceful place; surrounded by trees and with the sound of the water muting the traffic noise. Names are inscribed on panels around the memorial and we found ourselves drawn to touch them, as if in some way that gave us a connection to the people who were lost.  After all, we are all someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister.

Another peaceful place in the midst of the bustle of the city is Central Park.  It covers 843 acres of Manhattan Island, so it’s no wonder that you can forget that you’re in the middle of a city when you are in the park.  Instead, we listened to birdsong, children laughing in the playgrounds, the soft hiss of bike tyres and the rhythmic tread of jogging feet.  Is that what New York is, the contrast between the bricks and the trees?

I expect you’ll recognise this zoo entrance if you’ve ever seen the film Madagascar

And then down another path, there’s the city again.

It’s not all skyscrapers in New York.  The Guggenheim Museum building fascinated me with it’s curved walls although we didn’t have time to do more than admire it from the outside.

Big daughter has wanted to visit New York for a long time and was looking forward to a bit of retail therapy.  We’d been warned that New York would be very expensive after the other places we had visited, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case.  On the advice of the tour guide, we moved away from Times Square and Broadway, and found restaurants that were just as good but much cheaper, plus we got to see a side of the city where souvenir shops made way for hardware stores and greengrocers’ shops.

Small daughter loved the souvenir shops and wanted to stock up on gifts for her friends.  She insisted on buying a foam Statue of Liberty crown which she modelled with great delight, holding up an ice-cream for a torch and our rather crumpled map as her book.  She was very pleased with herself!  Big daughter had her sights set on a different store …

Again, we were surprised to find that what she wanted to buy was mostly within her budget, and she left the store with several bags!  Big daughter has wanted to go to New York for a long time, and our visit didn’t disappoint.  She spent most of our three days there with a huge beam on her face which was lovely to see instead of the rather worried look we’ve got used to over the exam period.

And then, all too soon, it was time to head back to the airport.  We saw so much in our short visit but there is still so much more to see.  Have I worked out what it is about New York?  Of course not, and that is also part of the magic.  It’s the people, the buildings, the food, the contrasts, the noise and the bustle – all of those things together create a whole which would be diminished if any of them were removed.  It’s impossible to define a city in one or two words when it has evolved over time and been shaped by people from many different countries to become the place it is today.  There’s no harm in trying, though, and if that involves a return visit in the future, then so be it.  We won’t be complaining.


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