Friday, 10 April 2009

Manhattan & Ellis Island, New York

This is an old blog post from my live journal but since I'm gonna be shutting that journal down, I thought I might as well keep it here. And, I've got a rather long post to finish about my Dubai trip that happened in 2006!

Day One (12/09/2006)
Our flight to NYC was pretty smooth-sailing. I remember dozing in and out of sleep as I am not accustomed to sleeping without anything to lean on. AW had been the usual wall I'd have had when I get a window seat. I admire how he could so easily fall asleep and was oblivious to his own snores which was drawing attention from a few passengers. I found this all so amusing especially when an old man who sat across the aisle looked at him intensely when he finally realised who the owner of those snores is.

A spectacular sight which got almost every passenger off their feet as they poked their faces at the windows to catch glimpses of is the icy mountains of Greenland. Though distant and rather blurry from the little airplane windows, I thought these earthly giants looked rather beautiful from air.

On arrival at the JFK airport, we went through the usual check-out at the immigration counter. However, our friend, HL ran into a little problem and had to be detained for about an hour or more to face questioning because his name is similar to a suspected terrorist. Worried that our hostel booking may be cancelled due to our late arrival, we asked a lady police officer for help. First, we asked if she knew any place that could provide change services since we only carried with us notes and the phone booth does not accept them. She was pretty nice as she allowed us to use the police office's phone to call the hostel up. That didn't help as there was a crackling sound that kept interfering and the other end of the line couldn't hear what I was saying. She was kind enough to ask the other officer if the held-up was going to take long. The officer that interrogated our friend wasn't very nice at all. His tone was authoritative and almost rude. Our friend was rather soft-spoken and the officer couldn't make out clearly what he was saying. When this happened, he demanded, "I SAID, where were you before you were in UK?" There wasn't a tinge of courtesy in his tone. In fact, it sounded rather nasty and it irritated me. I understand the current situation with the terrorists and it is terrible when your own country was being attacked but before a person is proven a terrorist, there is no need for such ill-treatment especially when we're a bunch of students trying to visit a country.

When we were finally out of the airport, the guys soon started making jokes about the incident and I too soon joined in the fun. Nothing should really bring down our high spirits. We took the air train and subway as detailed on our hostel booking with the respective stations to stop at and such. The journey to the hostel was rather tiring but not too bad. It was after we settled our accommodation fees that we found out that we were staying at another hostel. The owner had purchased a new block several streets away. After three jaws were dropped and sighs were let out, we soon found ourselves walking towards this other hostel. The receptionist had convinced us that this new place was better than the previous place. I think he was right. I was very satisfied with our room. It was spacious with an ensuite bathroom and toilet. Only problem was that we had booked for a 4-bedroom room and there were six beds. This was later sorted out. Though 6 beds, there will only be 4 occupants all throughout our stay. Great, we're staying at the Times Square Hostel.

After resting for a while and freshening up, we made our way to our first and nearest destination, Times Square. For the rest of our trip, I realised how convenient the location of our hostel is. It's a few avenues away from a subway station and there were plenty of shops all around it, the Food Emporium's just right in front of us. We had our sushi breakfast there everyday.

Times Square is an extremely lively place, be it at night or day. The place is always crowded with people. There are theatres and comedy cafes everywhere. The billboards decorating these streets have turned night into day. This have been our favourite hangout for the next few nights in NY.

The Grand Central Terminal is a pretty amazing building as well. I have always loved buildings with Roman pillars. The inside of the building is magnificiently decorated with painted ceilings of what looks like horoscope signs and grand columns surrounding the main area.

We also went into a market with a very interesting and pretty chandelier of a tree hanging upside down from the ceiling populated with leaves of crystals. The market itself is also an intriguing place, selling both cooked and fresh food, ranging from vegetables, salads, preserved veggies, dairy products and all sorts of cheeses, sea food and meat. We were so hungry then and I purchased some fried prawns and crabs with stuffing. Had they been served hot, they would have tasted so much more amazing.

As we were really hungry then, we started scouting for a suitable restaurant to dine in. We found an Italian restaurant serving a variety of seafood for a reasonable price and dined there on our first night. The dinner was scrumptious and the portion was so unexpectedly huge! We finished the stuffed mushroom which tasted extremely fabulous while we struggled on with the seafood spaghetti. I got so stuffed that I eventually stopped eating the spaghetti and hunted for the mussels nested in it only.

Day Two
The following day, we had our first sushi breakfast, which we purchased from the Food Emporium, on the benches along the jetty area where tourists alight on ferries to get to Liberty Island. Behind this area is a memorial ground for the navy soldiers. I didn't take note of the year, nor of the war these soldiers fought in. I thought the view was pretty with the massive eagle statue right in the middle of two columns of name-filled walls and that silvery, tall skyscraper behind them.

When the ferry had left the jetty for several minutes, looking back at the city was a rather breath-taking moment. New York City is simply jammed-packed with skyscrapers. Though I find this rather suffocating, it looks pretty nice from sea at a distant.

The view of the Statue of Liberty standing on the island in front of the city looked great. Strangely, the statue seemed smaller than I have expected. Since the entrance into the statue was closed by the time we got there, I couldn't get near enough to the statue to truly make out its real size. From a distance of about 50 to 100m, it just looked smaller than I'd normally have seen it on tv. Though there wasn't anything extraordinarily amazing about the place, the views of the statue and of the city were nice. We took a stroll around the island and bought some nice souveniers at the gift shop.

The ferry trip costed us a small sum but it is free to roam around Liberty Island. However, a cost may be incurred to enter into the statue before a particular time.

Disappointed that we couldn't get into the interiors of the statue, we left the island on the ferry that brought us there and headed on it for Ellis Island where the Immigration Museum is located. Visits to both the island and the museum are free though you have to pay for the ferry charges. From NYC, the view of the museum was rather intriguing. It looked like some sort of mediterranean palace with the domed columns. The museum was quite an interesting visit. Here, we got to see the procedures immigrants from many years back had to go through. There were mental testing, health checks, document checks, detention and such. A lot of these immigrants suffered from these stringent procedures. The museum used to be some sort of an immigration centre to run such checks between late 1800s and early 1900s. Ships used to sail to America ,passing this island. There is a particular room in this museum that invoked strong feelings in me as I watched the exhibits on display. It was a room with the costumes of the immigrants from different nations and on the walls hung blown-up, extremely old pictures of many of these immigrants, some solo pictures and some with families. There were all sorts of people; Indians, Dutch, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Irish and they were all in their traditional wear in all of these old, black and white pictures. It touched me as my eyes darted from one portrait to the other as I thought of my grandfather, like these immigrants, was ready to brave a completely new place for better security and prospects. I felt envious of their courage and faith as they travelled often in throngs with families and on a trip by sea was no joyride as facilities in these form of transport in the olden days were very much limited. Yet, the generations of many of these families thrived often in businesses and other services. It goes to show their endurance to not only survive but flourish in a different life they had chosen.

This was a nice exhibit in one of the main halls. It is a hologram of the American flag. From one end, you see the entire exhibit as the flag. But, as you walked along it, you soon realise that columns of the pictures of individual immigrants would start appearing as you can see in the picture below. As you walk towards the other end, you'll see the entire exhibit now filled with pictures of people. I thought it was a pretty neat piece of art and it carries with it the essence of being American in the land of freedom which is granted to every one of every different kind. That's at least what I think America is all about.

Since we were in the lower part of Manhattan, we decided to go to Bowling Green where the Charging Bull is. It's supposed to symbolise power and strength after a financial problem that happened.

The Bowling Green is situated in the Financial District of New York. In this area, you can see the New York Stock Exchange, the Trumph Building and other big financial buildings. There were many cops patrolling the area around the New York Stock Exchange building. One of the streets within this area is also the famous Wall Street. The church right in the centre of the picture is the Trinity Church.

A little further north west of Bowling Green, we arrived at Ground Zero where the World Trade Centre once stood. There was nothing left of the place. Everything was torn down and not a pillar stand on these grounds. Seeing the notes left for those who died in the 9/11 incident on the fences was depressing. I couldn't help feeling the density of the air around this place was heavy.

Right on the east side lies the busy and humungous Chinatown. This place is cluttered with stalls. It reminded me of that place in China where you can get all the imitation designer stuff. The whole place, though merry with business and people, was quite a mess, I thought. It was dirty and smelly in several streets.

A little south of Chinatown is Little Italy. This is quite an interesting place as tents are extended from the restaurants to the road from both sides and people dine in these tents. There were candles and christmas tree lights everywhere under these tents which gave the restaurants a more comfortable ambience. You can see diners enjoying the company of their friends or family, sipping on wines and having dinner. It was certainly nice walking along one of these streets and observing the scene.

Day Three
We wanted to catch a musical show on this night and hung around Times Square where TKTS is the entire day. TKTS consists of several ticket booths that sell broadway show tickets. When we went there at noon, we found out that the ticket booths were only opened at 3pm and had to wander around the area to kill time before returning to the booths. We went as far as the Rockefeller Centre and Radio Music Hall before returning to TKTS in time to purchase some tickets. Both the places aren't anything spectacular, just significant places which we may have heard or seen on television. Beside the Rockefeller Centre, we found a rather nice fountain that looked like a waterfall with a tunnel through it for passage. The water falls on both sides of the wall. As for the Radio Music Hall, it's really just what the name suggests. It is a huge theatre with many rooms for hosting shows and music performances.

I had wanted to watch Rent or any musical with music pieces written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, the guys were more keen on a comedy musical show. Weopted for Martin Short's musical but it was more costly. Tickets for Avenue Q, which was also recommended by a theatre show guide, was more expensive than Martin Short's. We finally settled with The 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee. I found the show a little disappointing. It was funny but I didn't find it very interesting. Despite this, I admit I did enjoy the show. There was dancing, the singing was nice and the songs were quite alright. It just didn't have the theatrical spark or magic that could draw all of my attention to the show like the way it did with Cats.

Trishaws were lined along the road at the entrance of the theatre when the show ended. I found the sight of this mean of transportation in New York surprising.

As the night was still young, we decided to head to the top of the Empire State Building to get some pretty night shots of the city despite the drizzle. However, it was foggy that night. When we reached the entrance of the building, we were greeted by a signboard with the weather condition and visibility status of the viewing balcony of the building. There, stated in clear marker ink, the visibility was zero. I took a picture of the massive building before leaving the area. I thought the bright light from on top of the building gave a brilliant effect to the building.

We headed back to Times Square instead and strolled around the area, taking in the energy of the crowd. The liveliness of Times Square is boundless and this always thrills me whenever I go there, whether day or night.

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