New York: The City that Never Sleeps
In 1609 Henry Hudson sailed up a river that now bears his name. He went past Manhattan, which was then only an island of hilly woods and peaceful meadows. Little did he know that by 1900 Manhattan Island would be at the centre of New York City, which itself had mushroomed into the biggest metropolis on earth. Millions of immigrants had poured in by boat from all over the world. Although in the new millennium it is no longer the largest urban development on the planet, for most of us it still captures our imagination. Recently I flew westwards to discover what one could do on typical day out in the Big Apple.
Mid-morning after a short train-ride, I emerged from the dark subway beneath the labyrinth of Manhattan’s streets and avenues to a ray of autumn sunshine. My first visit was Chinatown followed by nearby Little Italy. I felt I had just walked into the chaos of Taipei or Shanghai with all the shop fronts plastered in Chinese script. The locals here can exist in their own enclave and almost without having to acknowledge America beyond this district. Even the cuisine is said to be as authentic as back in Asia itself. A mile later after crossing by a series of those “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” illuminated signs I was in awe beneath the shadow of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, amidst one of the biggest financial capitals on earth. I was surrounded by “suits” clutching mobile phones, scurrying by me in rather a hurry.
An appropriate way to soak up the enormity of New York Harbour is to catch a ferry out to Liberty Island and onto neighbouring Ellis Island. I sailed by the Statue of Liberty and felt a case of déjà vu having seen it a hundred times before on travel programmes and films. Ellis Island really was captivating, being a perfect way to appreciate the history of New York City and indeed the wider United States beyond. I stood in what was a registration hall for immigrants until the 1920s, but now a museum. Previously this would have been a tense scene, in which immigrants would have queued for hours having their health and travel documents checked out, not knowing whether their perilous journey on a boat across the Atlantic Ocean would result in them being refused entry into the “land of the free”.
After a busy morning on the move, Central Park gave me the ideal lunch stop. Though busy with street artists, rollerbladers, joggers and cyclists I found relative peacefulness in the leafy park. I entered Strawberry Fields, and saw a mosaic memorial to John Lennon, whose near-by apartment the Dakota building overlooked the park. Since New York is renowned for having a fine choice of museums so just off Central Park I entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other popular choices include The Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim.
I was careful not to lose myself in a museum too long however because the highlight of the day awaited me at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. A trip to New York is not complete unless you take a lift, or should I say high-speed “elevator” to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. I timed it just right, as the sun was just about to dip beneath the horizon beyond the Hudson River. The surrounding skyscrapers reflected gold in the last light of the day. From 1250ft above midtown I got arguably the best urban landscape view in the world. When twilight beckoned the scene grew more spectacular as the city buildings lit up and shimmered in the night sky. Below I could hear the wail of sirens blaring across the city, a sinister reminder that beyond the glamour of New York City, which the tourist encounters, there is an everyday existence of hardship and crime in some of the more dingy suburbs. But for me a fine day was almost complete. It was a toss-up whether to watch an ice hockey game at Madison Square Garden or take in a Broadway show back at Times Square.