23.10 The journey
DISCLAIMER: These are going to be pretty long posts because I record these events not only for your entertainment, but also because I don’t want to forget all the wonderful things that we did in New York, the things we saw the reflections I made. I use headers so it’s easier for you to find things that might interest you. If you don’t have time / inclination to read everything, I advise you to do what we had to do in NYC museums, run through it and spend more time with the parts that really interest you.
We set out on our Big Apple adventures on Tuesday, 23rd October. This is going to be a travel diary, listing my impressions, thoughts and tips. We did quite a lot of general tourist-y stuff, but tried to also spice it up with activities of our own interests.
We traveled by Norwegian Airshuttle, which was a super modern and pretty plane, apparently they have blue lights in order to ease the jet-lag. I looked forward to the seven hour journey hoping that I could work and catch up on my writing, (hahahahaha) but I ended up watching Love, Simon (It was such a letdown! I LOVED the book, but the film… meh) and Trivial Pursuit. The food was nice, I could even choose a diabetic meal, but I found the flight attendants a bit brisk and not too friendly.
There was a small patch of turbulence, where else than above the open ocean… This nasty thing always make me rethink my whole life… I also realized that I’ve never flown over such a big mass of water. My longest journey was to Japan, but I flew over Russia (and god, that’s a big country!) which was at least land.
We arrived to JFK, went through immigration which was less complicated than I’d feared. I thought of changing a bit of money on the airport which of course was a rip-off, don’t do it! We took a taxi to our Airbnb which was in a somewhat remote part of Queens and I was first honestly stressed that we’re not going to find it, but the welcoming dance of ghosts cheered me up.
We brought not enough socks and underwear, but too many books and board games. We had no time to read or play, so it was not a great idea. Not to mention the fact we ended up finding great cheap bookstores and managed to buy ourselves 2 kgs overweight worth of books…
Don’t forget that American plugs are different!
Don’t forget to check your country’s visa requirements. We submitted and had our ESTA approved 2 weeks before our journey.
Dorothy, you’re not in the EU anymore! With the abolition of roaming one can feel at home anywhere in Europe, you can call people, look stuff up online, check Google Maps. Well that doesn’t work in the US. So if you’re from the EU I advise turning of your mobile data upon arrival. There is wifi in subway stations and most of the big museums and in restaurants, so you’re not going to be completely lost and off the grid, but getting around requires a tiny bit more of concentration. However, it’s nice to be a bit off the grid sometimes. Since it was our honeymoon, it was nice to give each other our undivided attention.
Alas, without your friend Google Maps it doesn’t hurt to have a real, tangible map even though allegedly NYC is super easy to get around because of the logically numbered streets. Well yeah. I think my brain must be incorrectly wired or I’m just too much of an old school-old country type of girl, but I just couldn’t wrap head around all the blocks and the numbering so after one day I gave up trying and lay my fate into the hand of my lawfully wedded husband.
Our map came from La guide du routard, the bible and accessory of any (stereo)typical French tourist, kindly lent to us by my very nice and well-prepared mother-in-law. But you should probably get a guide book or look sights up online before you arrive.
I ordered an English learning game called “A weekend in New York.” It’s original purpose is to help (German-speaking) students to learn English and I’m always on the lookout for expanding my teaching materials, so I bought it with the hidden agenda to familiarise myself with the city before we get there.
Also, very thematically, in my October Owlcrate I received Pride by Ibi Zoboi which is a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice set in Brooklyn. I started reading it on the plane and I got very involved, but then we arrived and I had no more time for reading…
NYC has a sh*tload of stuff going on at any moment. If you’re into something Google it with adding “New York City” after it and I’m sure you’ll find something. This is how we found a Dr. Who bar and a Poe / Lovecraft related walking tour among other things. So do some research!
I strongly suggest getting the New York CityPASS if you’re coming for more than 4-5 days. I found it very good value and got us into most of the essential sights. In some cases you still need to queue, but it does make life easier. If you don’t want to waste paper, don’t worry the QR code works perfectly on your mobile screen too. It gives you access to 6 sights, sometimes with a pick-and-choose option.
Empire State Building
9/11 Memorial & Museum
American Museum of Natural History
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ferry Access to Liberty Island and Ellis Island
Read all installments of my travel journal and you can collect all of them.
The thing about our Airbnb is that it was a good 30 min. walk from every subway station. Adventurous little minxes we are, we decided to walk to the station at Astoria Boulevard. We had to follow a very wide and loud main road and without GPS and far from my comfort zone, I felt a bit lost. These two weeks taught me to rely on my husband, usually I’m the one who looks up routes and organises stuff, I don’t like to feel vulnerable. It was a long and not very interesting walk, everything seemed so grey and uninteresting, but weirdly enough I discovered some vehicles that made me happy: for example, I spotted several yellow school buses, things I’d only seen in film before alongside very clean and shiny trucks (I saw a Coca Cola truck which was just like in the ads) and some very pretty fire engines. Mind you, I have literally zero interest in cars, but since we were really just walking by the road, I had nothing better to look at. We stopped at a Dunkin Doughnuts and two have second breakfast, (just like the hobbits) and after my dear husband bought half a dozen of doughnuts as well, I started to seriously worry about putting on weight. Luckily my diabetes and common sense prevents me from overdosing overly sugary stuff, but since I’d never eaten doughnuts like that I had to taste it. That was the first time I really became aware how much waste fast food places produce. It’s incredible and somewhat scary. Although most places collect waste selectively and as far as I understand there are recycling schemes in place, it’s still a lot. Since August we try to be as zero waste as possible so we did our best to be well-prepared during our holidays as well which sometimes worked out more, sometimes less.
I’m going to share some simple and cheap ideas that can help you not only to save the planet but also to save some money. You can find these if you look for GREEN TIPS.
PRACTICAL TIPS: TRANSPORTATION
Your key to get into the extensive network of New York transportation is the Metro Card. To be honest, I’m not at all impressed by the card because it’s piece of magnetized paper, not something as sturdy as the plastic Oyster Card of London or the Navigo of Paris. This makes it much easier to lose it (happened to me after a week) or bend it in your pocket which makes it erroneous and really annoying to use (also happened to me, one day after I bought the new one.)
I find that using the metro is a bit expensive (although I’ve lived in London, so it eclipses the prices of every other city…), basically you pay 2.75 for a ride, no matter where you go. Contrary to Paris you don’t need to “check out” of the system, you swipe your card only when you enter. Since you always pay the same price, there is no need to bother with anything when you exit. I found that they have a lot of stairs, but not a lot of escalators.
I’ve always thought that if I were a goddess, I’d be a goddess of public transportation. I love the colours of metro lines and the beauty of a nice transportation map. (Weird, I know…) Well, now I have to specify that a transportation goddess in Europe, because I’ll be honest, I didn’t get the logic of subway lines in NYC. (There must have been a logic, I just didn’t seem to click with it.) I also found the trains a bit bleak and depressing. I know public transportation is not a beauty contest, I’m just giving my impressions.
However, when we came back and faced the fact that there were no trains going to Paris from the airport (okay, there were replacement buses, but everybody hates those, bleah) and on Monday I was late from work because the train was forced to stay in a station for god knows how many minutes and I decided to go around, I really looked back at NYC transportation with longing nostalgia. (Later discussion with one of our dear compatriots who is now a New Yorker unveiled that problems are just as frequent and annoying in NYC as in Paris and actually on the long run Ile-de-France public transportation is prettier, cleaner and more efficient. I’ll try to think of this when I’m stuck on a crowded train in the rush hour.)
It’s really worth getting a 7-day pass, which we didn’t manage to find at first. When you choose top up your Metrocard you have to options: Add money and Add time. You find the week passes in add time. (It doesn’t seem to be the most logical organisation for me, but as we have seen countless times my brain just functions on a different wavelength than the US.)
Bear in mind that certain forms of transportation fall outside of the scope of this pass, for example, the air train that takes you to the airport. You can pay for it with money on your Metrocard, but you have to add it on top of your pass. The air train costs 5 USD.
A last point about MTA: I found that the personal wasn’t very polite or helpful. Once they let me wait for five minutes just to tell me that window is in fact closed. When I discovered the problem with my card and showed it to the MTA employee, she told me off that “of course if it’s bent it’s not going to work!” and then after trying to straighten it for ten seconds she told me that “just try to swipe it again or whatever.” Thanks a lot. This was just my personal experience, however, I might have just come across the grumpy ones.
24.10 Central Park, The Met
Now finally I’ll start the description of our actual visit, yuppie!
First day, we decided to start with the Met which was part of our New York Pass. We took the subway to 5th Avenue and instead of changing to another line, we decided to walk through Central Park.
It’s huge. It’s immense. There are squirrels! I missed squirrels, they don’t really hang out neither in French nor in Hungarian parks. We saw some horse drawn carriages which reminded me of Kate and Leopold, which I should re-watch now that I’ve actually seen the setting. The magic of New York is that you can do the most banal, every day thing, because of all the American movies you have seen, it feels like you’re a film character yourself. “This is the soft power of the US,” my husband noted and he is right.
After some forced march we arrived to the museum. A thing about the US and consequently of American museums is that everything is HUGE. At least that was my impression.
Now one thing you have to know about me and museums is this. In Hungarian folk tales, when an evil witch is chasing the protagonist, the protagonist needs to throw a handful of grains at her and the witch cannot continue her pursuit until she counted all the grains. (By which time the protagonist is over the hills and far away.) Now, I have my own “witch curse” as we call it. I have this almost obsessive compulsion that I have to read each and every text in a museum. I remember well that when I was in primary school my mum and her friend took me to Vienna to an exhibition, I spent a good amount of time looking at each picture. When my mum tried to egg me on, I told her in outrage “I’m going to tell daddy that you don’t let me count the butterflies!” I think now you have a very clear picture of how I am. (No, annoying is NOT the word you’re looking for…) Oh well, this kind of museum visiting is so not going to work in New York. It just won’t. Been there, tried it, failed.
On the way upstairs, we passed through the Egyptian section where the most intriguing piece was a scroll containing “The book of the dead,” all the magical rites connected to the art of embalming. We didn’t spend a lot of time there because we’d already seen our fair share of Egyptian exhibitions in our lives, so we wanted to discover new things.
“There is a saying: Poetry is formless painting; painting poetry in form.” Wise men have often talked of this idea, and it has been my guide. Thus, on idle days, I leaf through ancient and modern poetry of the Jin and Tang, finding beautiful lines that give full expression to the feelings within men’s hearts and the scenes before their eyes.”
(Guo Xi ca. 1000-1090)
We saw temporary exhibitions about Chinese landscape which was amazing not only because I like East-Asian cultures, but also because these painting are so different from the ones we are used to as Westerners. These landscapes are full of poetry and the two art forms are much closer and much more intertwined than here.
“The world has many wondrous and inaccessible places: If these are not transmitted by artists, people will grow old and die beneath their windows without ever being able to see them. But it is not necessarily a matter of these very places actually existing in the world – anything that exists in the minds of the artists also exists in the world.” (Gong Xian 1619-1689)
There were some beautiful paintings, but the fact of the matter is that after a certain point the human brain just can’t take any more new info. I remember seeing the famous Great Wave (Under the wave off Kanagawa) by Hokusai which is a pretty big deal.
We also saw statues representing Hindu deities and the contemporary collection which thanks god was smaller than the rest. (What I want to say is that it was a doable amount of stuff.) I’m not really into modern and contemporary art, but I really liked “The Seven Deadly sins” (1945) series by Paul Cadmus. We saw the roof garden and the installation of Huma Bhabha “We come in peace” a thought-provoking representation of a meeting between aliens and humankind. But is it really about aliens or is it about how we treat other humans who are coming to us seeking help and refuge? More on these thoughts in the description of the last day when we did Ellis Island and the UN building.
The installation was inspired by the movie “The day Earth stood still”
There is also an amazing Oceania collection and some fabulous Fabergé eggs and a gillion of other things we didn’t even have time to see.
In the next episode,we are visiting the 9/11 Memorial, The Museum of the American Indian and we are also discovering the ghostly secrets of the West Village.