On Monday, March 12, over spring break, we visited New York City for a day. We took a charter bus from D.C.’s Chinatown early in the morning and arrived in New York’s Chinatown a little after noon. It was my first time to Manhattan so it was quite exciting. The view coming into the city was less than attractive, however, as the New Jersey side is full of industrial sites and power plants. I guess they need to be somewhere in a metro of over 18 million.
Getting off the bus in New York City’s massive Chinatown was a bit disorienting at first. Unlike Chinatown in Washington, it is much more authentic and gritty. Thousands of tiny retailers and restaurants are packed into shared buildings, generating an almost overwhelming experience of so many different things to look at and see. We walked a little bit until we found a subway station near the courthouse in the financial district. On our way, we passed filming for Law & Order in front of the courthouse. Interestingly, everyone around the production went on their way as if it were nothing special.
The New York City Subway was quite the experience with some obvious differences between it and the Washington Metro. Station entrances don’t seem to stand out well and, in many locations are simply staircases along the sidewalk. Hence, much of the NYC Subway system is not wheelchair accessible. All the stations we visited appeared a little bit different, but still notably similar. Entering most of the stations began with a walk down a staircase before arrive at institution-like gates to pass through. Past the gates, additional staircases or in some stations, ramps continue to the platforms and tracks. The stations were unrefined, cramped and grimy. They are much more exposed than the newer Metro system in DC, with exposed structural beams between the platform and mezzanine levels. The system itself is of course much larger than the Metro and so it is more complex. Instead of simple rail lines, there are many interconnected lines throughout the city and then different trains making various routes along the different lines. Some trains were express, stopping at only a few stations along the line, which is a feature that would be nice in D.C.
Our first stop was at Grand Central Station, where we continued on foot in Midtown Manhattan, passing Bryant Park and eventually reaching Times Square. Like I said before, no place I visit is quite how I expect it to be. Even Times Square was a lot different in person than what I had expected. First of all, the orientation of Times Square surprised both Spencer and me. The typical broadcasted view of the New Year’s Eve ball drop and the large Panasonic television screen is actually looking from north to south. We both had always assumed it was a northward view and expected that same sight as we approached Times Square.
We continued on to a few side streets and walked all the way up to the new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle and the southern edge of Central Park. The north-south avenues were wide and busier than many of the east-west streets, which are placed closer together. Times Square is of course very complex and flashy, but some of the side streets were actually quite void and lacked much vibrancy. The whole area is impossible to take all in all at once so I didn’t even attempt to. In general, retail, restaurants, and service businesses utilize most of the buildings. I found it interesting how almost tacky many of the buildings were, most being very old and reused for so many different activities. It seems as if that is acceptable there, that individual buildings don’t really have to look real nice, because they’re already in New York. Since New York has no problem attracting new residents and visitors, they don’t need to be as strict about those sorts of things and tourists and residents alike will accept those traits as unique character of New York. As a visitor, I find it interesting and compelling, but if I were a resident, I’m not sure to what extent I’d admire it.
Next, we headed to Rockefeller Plaza where we went to the “Top of the Rock” observatory. It has a couple different levels and offers magnificent views of Manhattan and the surrounding area. The bustling city of New York below seemed so quiet and serine from up high. Once we got back down, we briefly stopped by Central Park and came out in the Upper East End.
The Upper East End is very well kept and notably more sophisticated than Times Square and Midtown. As the evening approached, we took the subway back to the Financial District where we came out right by City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge. Here we walked part way up the Brooklyn Bridge and then around Wall Street and Ground Zero. Unfortunately my camera battery died about now, so I wasn’t able to get many pictures of these areas.
We got back to Chinatown around 8pm, as many businesses were closing for the evening and many others receiving deliveries. Our bus departed about 9pm, and we were on our way. To our pleasant surprise, the bus stopped briefly in downtown Philadelphia and dropped off some passengers in Chinatown there. It was noticeably smaller than New York City’s, but definitely more real and authentic than D.C.’s. It was late so downtown was pretty lifeless as we past through. Heading back, we also drove past Wilmington, De. in the distance.
All in all, it was a pretty neat day in New York City. It’s impossible to see everything in just one day, but I think we did pretty well in the time we had. New York is a great city and truly an international center. However it seems very impersonal and too large to conceive. Unless perhaps you were born and raised there, I can’t imagine ever being able to fully adopt it as one’s home. It is simple to huge to fully embrace. I enjoyed visiting New York, but it is not the place I’d like to call home.
See all my photos of New York City here.