Well, I´m STILL in Cuzco. Made my way to the bus station yesterday to book a ticket out of here today, but apparently there is some strike on which affects all the private bus companies (makes no sense to me but there you go), so I have to stay here tonight, and then I have a long day tomorrow as the bus doesnt leave here until 9:30p.m.
So, for something to do, and because I never really did it before, Ive decided to tell you all about the beginning of my trip and the few days I spent in New York. At the time, I was too busy running around trying to squeeze everything in, and then internet access costs a bomb there, so I never really got around to describing what I got up to in my 3 days there. Here goes.
The Pain of Separation
The usual flurry of Christmas distracted me from the arrival of the Big Day - Jan 3rd. It arrived suddenly and I wasnt prepared for how difficult it was saying goodbye to my family. It felt as if I was saying goodbye to them forever, that I was never going to see them again. I had such an enormous lump in my throat that morning I couldnt even say what I really wanted to as I left home. Driving to the airport in the fog and the darkness, the trip suddenly lost all its appeal and I just wanted to turn the car around. Deep down, I knew it was just a knee-jerk reaction though, and once I checked in survival instincts kicked in and I had to focus on boarding passes and security checks and not getting arrested for ridiculous things like packing scissors in my hand luggage.
Hours later, sitting on the Aer Lingus flight half-way across the Atlantic, I had a surreal feeling as if I was suddenly going to wake up in my bed at home. It was hard to take in that I was finally on my way, after a year of planning and preparing. This was it! The whole time, I had this nervous knot somewhere in my gut about what lay ahead. I tried not to think about the trip as a whole and just focused on the NY part. I watched the in-flight movies to distract myself and bought stupid things that I didnt really need from the gift trolley.
Getting through JFK was fine - no hitches - and I even managed to get on the right train out of there. At the subway station, I met another backpacker who was falling over with the weight of her backpack and we huddled together on a bench for warmth as we waited for the train. She was from Manchester and was pretty friendly, so it was nice to have some company for the journey into Manhattan.
I managed to find my hostal, Jazz on the Town in the East Village, easily enough. As luck had it, it was right next to the subway so I didnt have much wandering around to do. It´s a poky enough little place with no communal area but it had internet access and the rooms had their own bathrooms which was great. I spent the first night with a guy from Texas and a couple from Australia. Once I had dumped The Great Weight, I set off walking with my little map of the city in my pocket, hoping to cram in a few sights before the day´s end.
Doing the Tourist Thing
Brian was right - I ended up like a big Paddy wandering around gawking up in awe at the skyscrapers! You jsut cant help it really, at least for the first hour or so anyway. I walked up to the mid-town area of Manhattan and spent an hour getting my bearings and figuring out the layout of the streets. New York is idiot-proof! You cannot get lost there! Anyway, I managed to get to the Empire State Building, Rockerfeller Centre (fab Christmas tree!!) Radio City, Times Sq., the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station and Broadway on the first night. The weather was perfect and the city twinkled everywhere with Christmas lights! I went into an Irish pub just off Times Sq. in the hope of maybe bumping into some other backpackers. Ended up chatting to the barman who, it turned out, was from Kilkee and knew my uncle Tom really well. What a small world! He couldnt do enough for me after that and gave me my drinks on the house. Was shattered when I finally got back to the hostel - I had been walking for hours and my poor feet were in shock! Slept like a baby.
On Day 2 I was up at 9, refreshed and rearing to go again. It was a fabulous morning - crisp, cold and sunny with blue skies. Perfect for sightseeing. Decided to head downtown towards Little Italy, Soho and Greenwich Village. Stopped for some people-watching in Washington Sq. Pk. While I was sitting on a bench taking pictures of squirrels and the like, this guy came up and asked me where I got my camera, which put me on my guard straight away, but I think he was just being friendly. Of course, he was "Irish" too!
Moved on to Bleeker St., Canal St. and then turned towards the river. The walk through Battery Pk. was beautiful and I couldnt stop smiling. Crossed over for a quick look at Ground Zero, and it was very sobering to think of the images from TV from 2001. It was a very strange feeling to look around the streets and remember the smoke billowing down them. Its just a scar on the landscape now but there is a sense of possibility there with diggers and men with hard-hats milling about the site. Queued for over an hour to get on the ferry to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty, but it was worth it! I did an audio tour of the island which was really interesting. The statue is amazing up close and more impressive than I had expected it to be. When I got back to Pier A, I was freezing from standing on the ferry and was glad to start walking again. I made my way towards Wall St. and the financial district of the city. I stopped for a few minutes in the Trinity Church which is like an oasis in the middle of all the mayhem. Did some shopping in Soho (couldnt help myself - I had to buy a Ramones T-Shirt!) Took a quick detour right to see Brooklyn bridge, but didnt have time to walk across it which I was disappointed about. Back in mid-town later that night, I got chatting to a waiter, and I´m not sure how, but we ended up having a very philosophical conversation about people´s personal gods and "the meaning of it all". I was really enjoying it as well, but I think he got the evil eye from his boss and had to go.
Spent my last day in uptown NYC. I shared a taxi as far as Times Sq. with a girl from my dorm and then walked the rest of the way. This is the more residential part of the city and there are a lot of nice buildings and less shops. I was blessed again with spectacular weather and it made wandering around Central Park very enjoyable. It funny - I recognised so many areas of the park just from movies and TV. Walked all the way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was one of the highlights of my stay in NY. Good tip given to me by Anne: You dont have to pay the amount they ask for on the Tarifs Board. For example, for adult entry they have $17.50 (I think), but if you dont look carefully, you miss the very small writing beside it saying "Recommended". Thanks to Anne, I was wise to them and asked the girl what I should donate. She said I could give as little as 1 cent, so I gave her $5 and off I went, delighted with myself! The Met is great, and I got to see some amazing artists I hadnt heard of before, such as Georgia O´Keeffe. Was thrilled to find a big Santiago de Calatrava exhibit there. They had models of all his most famous erections around the globe. Funnily enough, the Dublin bridge wasnt represented. I also saw some Picassos and Chagalls, and a LOT of American art, some of which was very dull. All in all, a very enjoyable morning!
Spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the shops in mid-town and finally tramped back to the hostal to make my way out to JFK.
I fell in love with NY. I cant wait to go back - if only for the shopping I couldnt do this time!!! I found the New Yorkers very interested in the fact that I was alone - they´re funny because they arent worried about appearing nosey. They jsut ask you straight out "Hey, where you from? Why are you on your own?" When you tell them you´re doing a round the world trip, they are just amazed! and think you´re the best thing since sliced bread. I loved them - they seemed to me like a very positive, helpful bunch, and of course they LOVED you if you were Irish! In my 3 days in NY, I felt like the city opened up its arms and welcomed me, and I cant wait to go back there.
Little Things I Loved about NY
- You dont have to ask for anything twice, or even once. e.g. if you buy a yoghurt, they´ve already popped the spoon in the bag. In Ireland you have to sell your soul to get the spoon off the harodin behind the counter!
- The food! You can get anything you feel like at any hour!
- You get a little napkin under your drink instead of a big soggy beermat.
- Steaming manholes! (ok, I know thats stupid)
- Anyone can fit in in this city
- The way the New Yorkers yell at each other one minute and are best friends again two minutes later
- The Shopping....lost for words...
- The firemen! Yum!
- Attention to detail - like, in the shops, when you buy something they wrap it up perfectly for you
- The buzz of the city