Thursday, 17 March 2011

I know you so well...or do I?

The funny thing about New York (and some other major cities as well), is that you feel as though you know it before you even arrive. We are flooded continuously with familiar buildings/statues/areas and iconic images through TV and film, so that being there can feel like an ultra-HD version of it's on-screen alter-ego. Wandering though the city, we could identify particular streets and squares, the famous yellow cabs and school buses, famous faces staring down from their stone or metal commemorations.

Yet, although a part of us felt like we 'knew' New York before we'd even arrived - knew what was situated next to what, recognised what we would find around the next corner, it is the atmosphere, the people and the life of a place that creates and identifies it. There were, of course, some aspects that we had hoped to find: the smells from the delicious street stalls, the liveliness of Little Italy and Chinatown, the bustling inside Grand Central.

But there were also some surprises. The city, as a whole, was no-where near as crowded as I had imagined. This may partially have been a result of the weather, and the wide pavements and roads certainly help, but step away from the main tourist sites, just one block down a side road, and we could hear the birds, the leaves rustling in the wind and a truly peaceful atmosphere.

Then there was the friendliness. Usually, in bigger cities, people keep their heads down, getting on with their day. Admittedly, the guidebook and cameras might have helped, but we found residents chatting to us in all kinds of places. Lifts, museums, shops...many people we met had a kind word and a helpful manner. It was lovely.

Anyway, back to the sights, and the best tip of all. It's not a secret anymore, but I will confirm that using the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty was by far the best choice for us. If we had visited in the summer months, we may have taken a trip to Ellis Island and spent some time exploring. However, the last thing we fancied was shivering in the cold, and we'd seen the skyline from the top of the Empire State building, so the ferry it was. Comfortable, free and easy, we had a good view (sharpen the elbows in advance - everyone will be crowding on the small outdoor viewing platforms, cameras at the ready...) and an enjoyable ride. We had no problems boarding a ferry, and the whole thing from start to finish was less than an hour and a half.

The biggest shock? How small the Statue of Liberty actually is in real life. Then again, everyone told me it would be, and I didn't really listen. Too much Ghostbusters in my youth had somewhat unrealistically skewed my view... TV? Film? Perhaps not quite as close a representation as we might think...

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