New York and Manhattan
See it all from the small screen.Enjoy!
See New York the cheap informal way
Two senior backpackers pack in all the sights
Enough of being pampered in California on an all-inclusive luxury coach tour. We took New York by storm on two feet a day. We had a ball and saw it all on a skin flint budget and took the pictures, got the badges and would do it all over again - the same way. Back in South Africa one would not dare ride around the subways at midnight or shop at street markets near the station after dark. We felt equally at home in the back alleys or in opulent shopping malls and were never threatened, robbed or insulted by anybody. (Lest people fear that all big cities are crime infested.) New York is big on crime busting and people behave well. They don't have a chronic littering problem, and most of the people just get on with their lives in a friendly way.
New York, New York - we made it!
We decided to live, eat and do New York like the locals do and we loved it. For 3 nights we stayed at the La Guardia airport hotel in the Queens district. We made 3 full day excursions to Manhattan via the economical train and bus services that run frequently. As seniors we got many of the fares at half price and nobody argued that I was only 61, not the official far gone 65. They would check out my Husband Jim's ID, take one look and my grey hair and crumpled up skin and issue 2 senior tickets. The suburban stations are old and some of them are way above the ground, slung across the busy streets on raised platforms and rickety bridges. The trains make a huge din and the surrounding streets and shops shake - every few minutes during rush hour. People get used to it. They sleep under the subways in New York - Darling!
Life at the level of simple ordinary people in the Queens district is totally different to the opulent cosmopolitan downtown areas. Here we sit cheek to cheek with a racial assortment of Hispanics, Chinese, Indian and of course Negro travel companions. All are friendly and helpful and use their travel time to catch up on snoozing, chatting or plugging into their wi-fi devices. We shopped and ate around the station district where there is an excellent spread of simple, hearty Indian, Spanish and Chinese food. There is no shortage of fresh vibrant fruit and vegetables and quick snacks on the streets as well as the supermarkets. Where else can you have a curry buffet with all the trimmings for US $ 7! So we decided to eat off the street after spending US $ 14 on a measly mangy hotel breakfast.
The first day we took the train to Manhattan to see the famous sights. Jim immediately headed for the 9 11 Ground Zero memorial to see it again. He took photos of the original World Trade Centre towers from a previous business trip many years ago before the skyline was ravaged. It was a sobering and heart breaking experience.
The two square fountains are built over the sites of the two skyscrapers where over 3000 innocent people lost their lives. Seeing people break down and weep when they touch one of the names of their loved ones on the surrounding walls was too much for me. It was so sad. One wonders what it was all really about in the first place?
The names are engraved on metal strips that surround the two fountains. There are photographs and little messages mingled with tears next to some of them. Fresh white roses are placed on the names of the dead people on their birthdays. The atmosphere is heavy, like a vortex with the vertical waterfalls pumping sheets of water into underground wells of gloom. If water holds memories and emotions it would add to the negativity and hopelessness. I collected a few acorns from beneath the avenues of oak trees they planted in the park. One day my seeds will produce trees of love and laughter. I will have to find a suitable place on this planet where people don’t judge and kill each other.
From the 9/11 it is a short walk up Wall Street and past the word famous Stock Exchange building. The area is small and Wall Street is not as long or high as I had imagined it to be. It all felt a bit old and decrepit, compared to the flashy glass skyscrapers of Dubai that were overwhelming. The narrow street in front of the famous and financially important building was being cordoned off for an important event - Halloween! There was only one shop opposite it. A door to a basement level shop filled with trashy spooky items to enhance the celebration of the day of the dead. I am sure the stock exchange has contributed to many a death but is was bizarre to find this happening in Wall Street.
The only shop open - directly opposite the Wall Street Stock Exchange!
We strolled down to the East River end of Wall street. A few antique tall ships add to the old world atmosphere of the pier. The area has been renovated and the warehouses are now used for offices, food markets and restaurants. The atmosphere is pleasant and cozy and so unlike the New Yorkish frenzy I had anticipated.
We then headed for a brisk walk around to Battery Park at the tip of the island. Here we strolled through beautiful gardens, clean streets on a warm sunny autumn day. Squirrels darted around and children frolicked on the well-manicured lawns. New York is full of surprises.
The Full Circle Ferry Tour took up most of our second day as it is a mission to get to and from the popular sights of Manhattan. We took a look back at Manhattan from the ferry and saw the island from a new perspective - a pincushion full of skyscrapers competing for fresh air. Our guide was an elderly and very knowledgeable Irish gentleman. He told us interesting details, history and amusing anecdotes that added to the enjoyment of the ride. Manhattan means many hills. They were flattened and levelled out to build the forest of skyscrapers but they have a solid rock foundation. There is basalt, dolomite, crystalline quartz and a lot of mica.
There was no need to stop and climb up to the top. Our boat then turned up the Hudson River. Many more bridges later we reached the top end of the island. It was like a park and full of indigenous trees all sporting their autumn colours. I looked up at the sky and saw two jet aircraft that were flying in opposite directions. They crossed over and each one left a clear white trail in the sky - a crucifix directly above the ground zero site.
We took another walk around after the boat ride to soak up some more Big Apple vibes down Broadway and the Rockefeller Centre. Yes, there is an ice rink and real people skating in the middle of the city. The only open plaza curtained off by high-rise walls of stone and glass.
Central Park, Guggenheim
Our third and last day was spent in Central Park. We enjoyed seeing all the places from our favourite romantic movies - the bridges, the lakes and the sweeping lawns. The place is huge and to walk around it provides a good workout. We saw the Guggenheim art gallery and crossed it off our must see art history bucket list. We didn't visit any museums or galleries this time because one would have to devote a day to the museums and we only had the afternoon left. Apart from costing a small fortune in entrance fees, both Jim and I have seen just about everything in just about every other gallery around the world. Well, at least all the famous pictures in our art history textbooks!
At the South end of the park we saw some elaborate preparations being made for the New York City marathon race that was to end in Central Park. We were entertained by some black city rap dancers at the Times Square station and what we saw was not trick photography. Yes, one man spinning around on another man’s head and other wonderful street acrobatics. (You can see them on our movie at the end of this article.)
WASHINGTON DC and Capitol Hill. Full of Pumpkins
The Fall is a tourist attraction for the ”Leaf Peepers”
We enjoyed the 4 hour bus ride down from New York to Washington DC because it gave us a free show of autumn leaves and splendid indigenous forests all decked out for the fall. During autumn the most common leaves that you see are from the following trees: Ash, Beech, Sugar Maple, Aspen, Birch and Red Oak. We were treated to plenty of colourful scenes, quite unlike anything we get in Cape Town. Thanks to lower crisp temperatures, the leaves change colour rapidly. Yet they linger with hues of bright red, orange, yellow and lime green.
We walked across from the Washington Station to our hotel where we spent two days in the downtown area. This place is made up of a huge collection of office buildings that vacate at night and are dormant during the week ends. We were close enough to the Capitol and see as much as we could of the historic buildings and monuments. The Smithsonian institute was not to be missed and now has expanded from the original red stone building to an extensive collection of specialized museums. We only had one full day to take it all in our stride and still rush back up to the Capitol building for their last tour at 3:30pm.
The priority is to gawk at the huge obelisk that dominates the area between Capitol Hill and the Lincoln Monument with its imposing temple-like edifice. The one you see depicted on the one cent coins. Behind the vertical columns is the larger than life marble carving of Uncle Abe looking out over the giant reflecting pond.
People throw coins in it with intentions to do good to make a difference as inspired by Martin Luther King. My husband threw in his pocket full of acorns that came from Ground Zero. I had already given most of mine to squirrels. (But I did plant a few when I got home.)
We made a short detour to stand at the famous iron fence outside the White House. They were decking it out for Halloween, with larger than life pumpkins! The white edifice was covered in ghoulish drapes. They take spook worship seriously in this place and everybody dresses up in costumes for huge parties. Including the president and his family, it seems. He had set up a huge marquee in the park and was expecting thousands of guests, judging by the activity. This Celtic tradition of scaring people and mingling with detached souls and ghosts goes on throughout the month of October. Even opposite the Wall Street Stock Exchange, there was a party zone. (As if we don't get enough shocks with real life at the mercy of the masterminds who create Ebola, terrorism, nuclear bombs and the 9/11 wipe outs at Ground Zero.
We planned to get up early the next morning to see the Space Museum and a few of the other Smithsonian institute complexes but alas, they only opened at 10 am and not 7 am as was stated on our tourist map. But we enjoyed seeing most of the sculpture and botanical gardens. The area around the Red Indian museum was very interesting with plenty of outdoor displays.
Boston is steeped in history and culture
Our first day in Boston was allocated to walking the famous Freedom Trail that commemorates America's struggle for independence from Britain. It is a DIY walking tour and all you have to do is set off from the information centre at Boston common and follow the rows of red brick that meander the rough historical sites - mostly churches and meeting halls (yawn) for a couple of hours.
The weather report promised us rain and possibly snow. We kitted ourselves out in rain gear, gloves, and warm caps and scarves. We braved the storm and headed for downtown but the hail, sleet and eventually a solid wall of snow prevented us from reaching the park. We hailed a cab and sought refuge in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I know we said we were not doing art galleries this time round but it was a fabulous way to spend the day.
We were treated to a special exhibition of Goya's work. Unusual pieces, especially his cartoons and pen and ink drawings and prints. Who was to know that the Americans had acquired so many of the most valuable and famous artworks from around the world? Especially from Ancient Egypt - we found out. Their archaeological expeditions resulted in a hoard of unique artefacts, including an exclusive collection of funereal items. Egypt seems to have been involved with this continent but not much is ever spoken about the items they found in the Illinois caves. Similar, it seems to what is seen here. I wonder why?
The gallery also included a lot of works from private collections including portraits by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other Dutch masters. Outside of Paris they have the largest collection of Monet’s and a generous representation of other French Impressionists. The time passed quickly and soon we were back at our hotel, enjoying a picnic in our generous lodgings that included a lounge, kitchen and bedroom. We were able to buy super salads and other healthy group and still had plenty of Argentinian wine from our suitcase stash.
The next day was sunny and almost warm, but with very chilly wind. Perfect for the Freedom Trail and we walked it flat and returned to the hotel 7 hours later. From there our shuttle took us to the airport where we passed the time nursing the local pale ale from the Boston micro-brewery. All that remained of the trip was to spend a few days and nights cross-crossing the time zones, plus another 8 hours sojourn at Dubai airport and then home - Cape Town.