The final chapter of my big adventure…
Our flight arrived from Heathrow at about 4:30 and by the time we got to our hotel it was around 6, or 11pm London time. By this point I was pretty keen to crash but we managed to haul ourselves out to find some dinner at ended up at a classy burger joint. When in Rome, right? After that it was back to the hotel to finally sleeep in the glorious double beds (thanks America).
After finding a Starbucks for breakfast so we could take advantage of the wifi, we headed downtown to the UN where we were hoping to do a tour. Unfortunately, as there is a whole lot of construction going on at the moment the system’s changed, so you basically found out that, after rocking up to the dodgy little gate, that you had to buy your tickets online in advance. In fairness they did provide wifi and the guard was very nice. From the times available we decided that 4:15 the following day was the best option, so headed back across the city to the World Trade Centre. One thing I will say for New York is that although it is BIG, and distances are long, it is very easy to walk due to the straightforward, grid-like layout and of course the convenient numbering of streets. Avenues run north to south and streets west to east, numbered by block – so 1001 doesn’t mean there are 1001 buildings on that street, but that it is the first building in the 10th block.
Once at the WTC we joined the ominously long line which luckily moved pretty quickly. After making our donation and passing through the security check we came to the memorial garden, with the two huge pools in the footprints of where the Twin Towers stood. It was really tranquil despite the construction still going on all around it, and everyone seemed to be respectful. They had computers where you could look up names to find where they were and I found the one Kiwi who died; on Flight 93. It was a great place for reflection although a pity that it is so hard to access. Unfortunately we were just a bit too early for the museum which is scheduled to open next year, along with the new 1WTC/the Freedom Tower (I think).
From there we grabbed some lunch at a deli and made our way down Broadway to the Staten Island ferry, via Wall Street and Battery Park. Fun fact – the famous façade of the New York Stock Exchange is not actually on Wall St. Who knew. The Staten Island ferry is free so we caught that for the views of the Statue of Liberty (closed for post-Sandy repairs) and Manhattan on the way back. Managed to get at the front of the boat for both legs; great success.
From there we subwayed uptown to Chelsea/the Meatpacking district, where we explored the Highline. The Highline is an old railway line about two storeys high which has now been converted into a very ~hip outdoor space; basically just a place to relax, with plants, seats, buskers and vendors. I bought a nectarine and jasmine iceblock (interesting) and some pop art prints. It really did seem like a whole world away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and was possibly my favourite place in NYC!
Dinner that night was at a fancy wine/cheese bar where I had a three-cheese mac and cheese, which was amazing but so small! I think they were too highbrow for American portions…
First on the agenda was MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, home to just about all of the 20th century’s most famous artworks (a very broad, but pretty accurate statement as far as I’m concerned). Just about everything I’d studied in my modern art paper last year is in there, including Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, pretty much the holy grail of 20th century art. They also had a temporary exhibit called The Rain Room which, from what I understand, was a ‘crate’ you went into and it rained everywhere except where you were, if that makes any sense. Way cool! But with a queueing time of six hours, way not doable, unfortunately.
I spent a good couple of hours at MoMA, and from there we headed to the Solomon R Guggenheim museum. This was meant to be museum day, but given our appointment with the UN we could only fit two in. We decided to go to the Gug as it was the furthest away, so checking it off the list meant we wouldn’t have to head up there again. Now would be a good time to mention that NYC’s subway system isn’t a patch on London (or Paris…or even Lyon), so often by the time you walked to the nearest stop, waited for a train, and then walked to where you wanted to go, it was just about quicker to walk from A to B. This is the only reasonable explanation for why ‘we’ decided to walk the whoollle way in the sweltering heat (although, still not as hot as waiting in the subway).
Unfortunately, the Gug turned out to be, in short, a disappointment. I’m sure any Joe Bloggs who has heard of the Guggenheim knows it as the ‘spiral’ museum, and I was there as much for Frank Lloyd Wright’s building itself as what it houses. For the benefit of anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about, the museum is a spiral shape, ‘hollow’ in the middle, with the art around the walls, and you proceed through the museum by ascending/descending the spiral. Or, you should. Unfortunately for me, my visit coincided with an installation which meant not only was the whole spiral ‘hollow’ blocked off with screens (so they could project lights through it), but they had also taken ALL the art off the walls?? Really bizarre, and no explanation anywhere. Certainly not worth the US$14 (student) price. The pièce de résistance was when I was told off for drinking NEXT TO A DRINKING FOUNTAIN IN AN EMPTY CONCRETE CORRIDOR. I left after 40 minutes a very unhappy chappy.
One disaster led to another as we headed to the UN for our tour. There were three groups the the same time, and we were the last to leave – 20 minutes later. This seemed to be because we were waiting for the last members of our group, as we left as soon as they arrived. No-one explained anything of course. This was an English tour (obviously), but only three of us were native English speakers – the rest were from Malawi, Turkey, Venezuela, Brazil, and Germany. Cue next problem – our tour guide’s first language was clearly not English and she was INCREDIBLY hard even for me to understand, so the others had no hope. The grandmother from Malawi even asked if she had any pamphlets/info she could give them (i.e. to read, not listen to), but she went on this huuuge tangent about the UN website and how there are no secrets and the information belongs to all of us. She also took her job very seriously, with pretty much the first thing she said to us being to bark at the wheelchair for stopping in a doorway as people needed to get through, despite the fact that she had stopped the rest of the group right in front of it about five seconds earlier. She also couldn’t cope with stragglers or people wanting to look at other interesting things she wasn’t telling us about. For example, there was an exhibit about Palestine and its place in the UN (i.e., is it a country) which I would have been interested to learn more about, but it just wasn’t worth asking her a question! Finally, as I mentioned before the UN is undergoing renovation work at the moment and the General Assembly was closed. This meant all we really saw was the Security Council and Economic/Social Council chambers and a few little exhibity things in the corridor outside them. Mum had done the tour in 2011 and said not only the route but the whole talk was completely different.
So that day turned out to be a bit of a disaster really. Adding those two my list of things I have to go back to to do properly (looking at you, Vatican Museums). It did end on a high note though as we went to Once on Broadway, an Irish musical which was also a movie a couple of years ago. It was my first time in an American theatre and it was a bit disconcerting to enter straight off the street into the side of the auditorium! What was especially cool was that you were allowed on stage beforehand; there was a bar (not that I could buy anything) and all the musicians had a bit of a hoedown, or whatever the Irish equivalent is, before the show actually started. I really enjoyed the music and the whole way the show was set with all the actors also being the musicians, but did find the plot of the show itself a bit…meh. Most importantly, however, was the fact that the lead was played by Arthur Darvill, aka Rory from Doctor Who, who I not only got to watch from three rows back for the whole show but also got to meet afterwards. Fun times!
Thursday was our last full day in NYC and also happened to be the 4th of July. The city was eerily deserted in the morning, with everyone presumably sleeping in or out of time. It did get busier throughout the day. Our first stop was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I spent a good couple of hours. The Met is huge and has every sort of art and object imaginable. I confined my exploring to the European Art and Greco-Roman sections.
From there we headed to Central Park where we got a late lunch; it was at least 2pm by the time we got a table and food. By this time it was HOT. It had been mid-30s all week and so just SO HUMID. I think it hit 37 that day; it was a low point. Sadly we didn’t have time nor could we face exploring the whole park (we had planned on cycling it), so we went to the John Lennon memorial at Strawberry Fields and saw the Dakota Building where he was shot, then worked our way back through to the city. There were lots of New Yorkers out in the sun, though not as many as I’d expected for a public holiday.
The next stop was Top of the Rock, the observation deck at the top of the GE building in the Rockefeller Centre and the only place you can get a 360 of NYC with the Empire State Building in it! This literally was the top of the rock, as in on the roof, and it had a few sort of tiers to it. Luckily the fog that had been hanging over the city all week finally lifted and it was the perfect day to be up there!
After Mexican for dinner it was off to the Hudson to watch the fireworks, which fortunately wasn’t too far from our hotel. I think we got there nearly two hours beforehand which meant a LOT of standing. It didn’t help that we had a group obnoxious, gum-chewing, loud-talking young Americans behind us who did not let up with their inane commentary, doing nothing for the stereotype (which I had been starting to reconsider as everyone we encountered in the hospitality industry couldn’t do enough for us). Anyway, there were five barges along the river all letting off the same display. We could see three of them from where we were (in the top ‘section’ – we basically got funnelled into holding pens, bag checks included). It lasted for just under half an hour and was certainly impressive, especially when we watched it back on TV once we were back at the hotel.
Friday got off to a slow start as we had to pack everything we couldn’t be bothered doing the night before and check out so we didn’t have to worry about it later. After breakfast we headed to Columbus Ave, which was meant to have lots of independent stores. After walking for a fair few blocks there really didn’t seem to be many, let alone open, and we were already way too hot and sticky to try anything on. So that was a waste of time. From there we headed to the New York Public Library and then past the Flatiron building to Eataly, chef Mario Battali’s Italian ‘foodmarket’ I guess, a mix of food supplies for sale and places to eat in. I had a porchetta, mozzarella and tomato toasted sandwich which was amazing but huge and I couldn’t finish it :( Broke my heart to leave a third of it behind! From Eataly it was time to head back to the hotel and begin the long journey home…
From the hotel it was a nailbiting taxi ride to the airport in a sweltering cab which we were convinced was taking us to the wrong airport as it seemed to go an entirely different route to the way we came in. Thankfully we made it and got on our flight to LAX without incident. This Virgin America plane was the same size as one going to Auckland (3×3) which I found really bizarre, as Auckland is a one-hour flight and this was five hours, you know, right across the United States. It was a really nice new plane with very comfy seats! Once we got to LA we pretty much went out one door, walked 100 metres and into the next door then straight into security. This was a far cry from the huge, sparkling airport I remembered from when we passed through LAX on the way to London in 2001. Eight-year-old rose-tinted glasses perhaps? (This reminds me, immigration coming in to the States actually wasn’t that bad; it moved pretty quickly and I didn’t even see any guns. We even had a very friendly ‘officer’ who was very chatty about our colourful passports and how few of them he gets to see . Also mum’s bangles set off the metal detector in London so by association I had to go into the full body scanner thing. Welcome to America indeed. Anyway, I digress).
Once through security we headed to the Koru lounge where you pretty much got hit by the Kiwiana as soon as you walked in the door. It really was like a little piece of home! We grabbed some kai, had a shower and blobbed out making use of the internet for the two hours or so until our flight. When it was time to board we had a little walking bus to the gate (again, right by the lounge, so weird) which was cute. As a last hurrah we were travelling ~premium economy~ for this leg, in Air New Zealand’s fancy ‘spaceseats’. Very exciting! I still only managed to sleep for about 4 hours but the novelty definitely helped alleviate the general tediousness of the flight! With Saturday nonexistent we landed in Auckland at 5:45am on Sunday, and were back in Wellington by 9. Just like that, I was back home, as if I’d never left!
So that brings me to the end of this blog. Thanks to everyone who’s read it, liked and commented! IT has taken a lot of effort to write all these long entries and having an ‘audience’ definitely motivated me to persevere! Right now I’m back in the real world with uni and no exciting prospects on the horizon but who knows, next time I’m out exploring the world I might might resurrect it. Watch this space!
In the words of the great Suzy Cato,
‘Ka kite, see ya later, I hope you’ve had some fun,
e noho ra I’m leaving I’ve really got to run, so
see ya see ya later, it’s time for us to end,
see ya see ya later, I’ll be back again’