The Big Apple. New York. The greatest city in the world, as every tour guide in the city will tell you every 5 minutes.
I went for a business trip to the USA, to Mountain View, California, but before that I took two weeks of vacation: one in New York and one in Richmond (before I get any more questions as to why on Earth would I go there, it was for a Christian Conference).
I was very curious to see New York for myself. I had heard so many things about it: some people absolutely love it, others complain about the insane rental prices, insane traffic, insane pace of everything. I couldn't really grok why would anyone want to live there. After a week there, the city left a good aftertaste. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but my general impression of it was a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. I would definitely like to visit it again and it's a city where I could see myself living for a couple of years (unlike the Bay Area).
When I arrived on Saturday afternoon, some friends picked me up at JFK and we went to have dinner and then to where I was going to stay, somewhere in Flushing (Queens). The only thing that I got to see is how slow traffic was. On Sunday afternoon, when I went into the city, I took the E subway from Forrest Hills to World Trade Center. I went, I went, I went and I went. I knew that New York was huge, but it was starting to dawn on me just how insanely big it is. 40 minutes with the subway, sometimes with 10 minutes between two stations, with the train going at probably 40-50mph60km/h? It's just huge.
When I got out of the subway, I was overwhelmed. The One World Trade Center is the tallest building in New York (and America) and the surrounding buildings aren't small either. My mind was continuosly getting blown as I was walking around, trying to orientate myself. That same feeling of "Blimey, how can these buildings that are around me be soooooo tall?" came up several times again during the rest of the week and it leaves a good impression :)))
On Sunday I walked around without any objective in mind, mostly being guided by the principle "Uuuuh, that looks shiny, let's go take a closer look". I walked in the southern part of Manhattan, around the Piers there and through one of the Marinas???. I saw the sign for Wall Street, so I walked through there as well. It was unexpectedly quiet and with almost no traffic. I was quite surprised.
One of the first signs of a different mentality that is in America, in contrast to Europe, or at least Switzerland, was a literal sign, forbiding, among other things, camping and the erection of tents on a pier. What I reasoned from this sign, though I might be wrong, is that the default is that it's okay to set up a tent anywhere on public property. I'm no lawyer, but I think in other civilized countries, the opposite is default: you can set up a tent only where explicitly allowed (at least in cities).
Another surprise was the amount of food carts. Most of them are running a generator, which is quite loud (and polluting I think). I didn't try any of them (didn't want to have any problems). After a while I realized that even though there are all these trucks everywhere and there is a lot of traffic, air quality is not bad in New York. I don't know if it's because of the almost constant breeze or they are doing something else, but I didn't feel any smog.
The next day, some friends took me for a tour. We went to see the United Nations building (which is now closed for visitors :( ) We had lunch at a Forrest Gump themed restaurant called Bubba Gump. Guess what I had. 4 different kinds of shrimp.
Then we went to the top of One World Trade Center. It is super impressive, but it's not too good for photo taking, because there is a curved glass wall, which reflects everything from the inside, including you. The elevator goes from one floor underground, to the top, on the 102nd floor, in 60 seconds. And the acceleration doesn't kill you and smash you into the ceiling, the transitions being done very smoothly (aka: the jerk, the derivative of acceleration, is kept low). Very impressive. The walls of the elevator are one big display actually, and while you go up you see the evolution of New York from the time the indians roamed the plains to the building of the OWTC. When going down, you are taken on a virtual tour around the building. It is realistic and gives you a bit of a dizzy spin. Tip: don't get the tablet that shows you what you're seeing around the city. It's really not worth the 13$.
I had on me a T-shirt showing the ingredients of the human body, similar to how food has its labels. One of the security guards at OWTC asked me what my T-shirt meant and said it was cool. I would think that this would not have happened in Europe (or at least it would have been very surprising).
On Tuesday morning I went to visit the Google office in New York. It's really big, quite confusing to a visitor, and it has a lot of cool spaces set up. And some nice views.
After lunch, I went on the Circle Line boat ride around Manhattan. It's about two and a half hours long and it's a good deal. The presenter knows a lot about what you're seeing and about its history. He tries to make jokes, but I found most of them to be not so funny. One thing that was a bit annoying/saddening was the excessive pride he had for his city. "100% man-made success", "Greatest city in the world" repeated a hundred times, he quoted some numbers on the diversity of the population and how anyone can make it here by working hard. It was sad to see God left out of the picture completely :(. One thing that stuck with me was the mnemonic to remember the order of the three bridges that connect Manhattan to Brooklyn: BMW (Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge) :D.
Wednesday was museum day. I went to the American Museum of the Natural History and I walked my butt off. Short summary: lots of dinosaurs, lots of various cavemen, lots of stuffed animals from all over the world, lots of pretty rocks, and a really cool section about the universe. For the last part, I went to a presentation about dark energy, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Lots of shiny things, lots of old things, lots of fun stuff :D
After the museum, I went to have dinner at a place called Isabella's (hint: don't have the grilled shrimp salad). At the table next to me, a family was sitting. I think they were planning a trip to Europe, because the adults were quizzing the children about the names of European capitals :))) And even the adults got some of them wrong (not that I know of the top of my head all of them).
After that I went shopping on Broadway. The most interesting thing that I saw was a guy walking with what looked to be like a big snake resting on his shoulders. On the street. While talking to somebody else. Didn't get a chance/was afraid to take a picture of him.
While New York's public transportation system is quite good by US standards, it still has some flaws. Such as the train stopping somewhere but the doors not opening, so I had to walk back from the next stop. But at least I got to see the Mets Field Stadium. Or the train stopping at one station, announcing that it is taken out of service, so please take the next one. Which was already quite full, and with an added load of people, it became extra full.
Thursday was Brooklyn day. I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot and walked around a lot in Brooklyn. I had one of the best ice creams I've ever had from a place called Cold Stone Creamery. Too bad they don't have any shops anywhere in Europe :( Tip: American medium-sized ice cream would be called large or even extra-large in Europe. But it was sooooo good.
I got all the way to Prospect Park. It was sooo nice. It's a quite big park (213 hectares), right in the middle of Brooklyn. You enter it, go about one minute inside, and you are surrounded by trees, grass and other vegetation and you can forget almost completely about the surrounding city with all its noise. And Central Park is very similar (except it's even bigger, at 3.41 km^2). This I liked very much in the US, that even though you have all these busy streets, all these tall buildings, you still have this place to retreat in "nature", or as close to it as it gets.
On Friday I met with some friends who were doing internships at Google and Facebook in New York. Together with them, we went up to the Top of the Rock. Where do you think was the longest queue? At the exit, of course. While this building is not as tall as OWTC, it has a big advantage: the top is opened up, so you can take much better pictures, without all the annoying reflection from the glass :))). The whole Rockefeller Center is actually very nice, with lots of fancy decorations and statues.
After that we went to Central Park to laze around. We wanted to have lunch there, so we walked across most of it, but there are like two or three restaurants actually in the park. They were either full or with nothing interesting on the menu. So we ended up going to a nice Italian place, Via Quadrono, which was really narrow and deep inside a building. Because of this, there was no signal inside and they offered no idea. What a terrible way to spend your lunch, without being able to post pictures of your food to Facebook. The food itself was very good, but the place was quite cramped. After this, we went back to Central Park to laze around some more. It was a nice, warm sunny day, perfect for doing just this kind of thing.
A large part of Saturday was spent shopping. I was looking for a pair of more comfortable sandals, but I didn't find any. I found only one pair that would have been nice, but it wasn't available in my size. I was terribly dissapointed by my shopping experience in New York. As a consolation prize, I bought myself a nice pair of Bose Bluetooth headphones (review coming Soon™). After that, I went to some friends place next to the East River and watched the 4th of July fireworks from there. It was super awesome!
On Sunday early morning, I left for Farmville, Virginia, where the conference was held. It was a really blessed time, I met a lot of people and made new friends and I really hope to be able to go again.
Next post: San Francisco.