Central Park is so pretty.
One of the more famous landmarks in Central Park: Bethesda Fountain.
The Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park.
Times Square is huge and riddled with billboards. This is a tiny part of it.
The United Nations
The Empire State Building as seen from 51st street.
The inscription above reads: "In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.
The Vietnam Memorial
It does seem a shame that Lincoln's view of Congress is obscured by Washington's phallic monument.
I have committed the profoundly naÃ¯ve: I attempted to see two major American cities in four days. Let it be said that while it's definitely possible, I don't recommend it -- especially if your feet aren't very cooperative. Here, on day four in my Washington DC hotel room, my feet are dangling off of the bed and are in considerable pain. The tiny blisters on my toes are a testament to my daring, as well as my ignorance concerning the task.
Now with that out of the way, here's a quick run-down of my various sights and experiences :-)
New York is BIG. I know that it looks rather tiny on the map, but trust me, it's massive. With 8 million people in the city alone and 20million in the surrounding area, New York is too big to really experience in two months let alone two days. Like most places worth seeing, I think that someone has to live there to really understand it. For my part, I was just happy to have a few days to take it in. For the majority of my trip (save for a quick ride on the Staten Island Ferry) I was Manhattan Guy, so everything that follows can only apply to that tiny island.
I'll start with the simple: navigation. Manhattan is a narrow sliver island with only a few major avenues running North/South and more than one hundred streets running East/West. As a result of this sort of layout, walking 3blocks East is roughly equivalent to walking ten blocks North anywhere on the island. People jaywalk like crazy there, right in front of cops in fact. I can only assume that it's totally legal there. Traffic is always rough, regardless of the time of day, and is in fact just like you see in the movies: about 90% cabs... except that they're not yellow, but rather a kind of nasty orange colour.
As for sightseeing, I went a little crazy. In the space of two days, I managed to visit every landmark in the city and see/do exactly what I wanted to, which in most cases was just see that place and try to understand what it must be like to walk in its shadow every day. I went to Central Park, which again, is well reflected in the movies. It's a massive park nested in the midst of millions of people crammed onto an island. And it's not a park as you might have come to expect in your own town, no Central Park has a giant pond, a carousel, a baseball park and dozens of quiet trails, bridges, trees, and creeks. It's the result of more than one hundred years of curating and management... it's amazing.
I also found time to visit the United Nations, Ground Zero, The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Gardens, Grand Central Station, and the studios for CBS & NBC as well as Ed McMahon's theater where David Letterman does his show now. As per Stephen's advice, I took the (free) Staten Island Ferry just long enough to get reasonably close to the Statue of Liberty, and I even found the LEGO store... how awesome is that?
Some interesting tidbits about New York:
- The street food is amazing. There's nothing quite like lamb souvlaki on a pita at 11pm at the corner of Madison & 51st. I also tried both the bagels and the pretzels. Sadly, I was unimpressed on both fronts.
- The city hums, but it doesn't seem to sit well with me. It could be the American flags everywhere, or the general lack-of-pleasantries common with Americans, but I didn't feel very comfortable there.
- While cabbies are everywhere, they're not as crazy or chatty as the ones you see in movies. In my time there, I took 3 cabs: the first one was an old, Asian man, super-friendly, who'd been doing this for 23years. After all this time, his English was still pretty sketchy, but I appreciated his take on what it's like to do this kind of work for so long. The other two drivers however were like riding with a robot: little or no conversation, and very broken English when we did have to communicate.
- Rockefeller Center has tables & chairs out front in the summer since it's obviously too cold for an ice rink.
- The subway system isn't nearly as impressive as I was expecting. Obviously, I was only around for a couple days and only rode it twice, but I got the distinct impression that it was built for commuters rather than residents. Its cars are smaller than Toronto's, lacks helpful signage and doesn't service large portions of the island. Also, it smells like Toronto's subway system, which isn't a good or a bad thing, just an interesting curiosity.
After walking my feet off in NYC, I took a quick nap overnight and headed to Washington DC by train the next day. Let me just say that if the option is available, train is definitely the way to travel. Walk a few blocks to the station, wait less than a half hour to board, ride in comfort with free wifi and a power outlet for a few hours and then walk a few minutes to your hotel. It's cheaper, faster, cleaner, and far more comfortable. Also, the free wifi let me play Gowalla all the way from NYC to DC ;-)
Washington DC is a tiny town masquerading as a state within the larger state of Virginia. For the most part, the city appears to be a collection of government buildings peppered with statues and monuments all in the classical style. More than a few times I've found myself comparing DC to a modern Rome with all of the buildings still standing.
There's a pretty obvious racial divide here. While there's clearly a healthy mix of black & white in DC, a stroll through Union Station or down Pennsylvania Avenue will illustrate the imbalance. While I've seen a number of black people walking about with bluetooth headsets & blackberries, in two days here and I've not seen a single white person in a service-related job. It's as if the white population has "allowed" the blacks into the management sector, but somehow sees itself as "above" working at McDonald's or waiting tables. I've only been here two days though, so could be totally wrong on this one.
Like NYC, I went a bit crazy with the sightseeing here, and my feet may never forgive me. As soon as I arrived yesterday, I dumped my gear in my hotel room and started gallivanting. I visited the Library of Congress and did a quick tour through there, took some pictures at the Capitol, and then headed down to the National Archives, The Washington Monument, The Smithsonian, The WW2 Memorial, The Vietnam War Memorial, The Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.
Yesterday's highlight though was without a doubt, the National Archives, where I actually saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. The documents are ancient and faded, most of the text of which has been nearly erased with time. Regardless, it was rather inspiring to actually see it and read the words "We the People" knowing the reasoning behind those words. As Canadians, I think we often forget how different we are from the Americans: the Ideas that formed this country are very different from those that formed our own. Frankly, I think that even though we've been neighbours for all this time, there's still a lot we have to learn from each other on this front.
That night I gave my feet a nice hot bath and slept in today to recover before heading out to Arlington National Cemetery. Let me just tell you that no matter how big you think it is, no matter how strongly you might think it will affect you, you really can't prepare yourself for that place. There are over 350 000 people buried there, for each headstone, one life... and the stones go on, and on, and on, and on. Past presidents are buried here, including JFK, but I spent my time just trying to take in the acres of death. Over 200years have past since that place was founded, and nowadays they bury around 25 people as a daily average. It's a testament to patriotism and to the judgement of American leadership.
The last stop on my trip was to the White House, a palace surrounded by iron fences and concrete barricades. I took in the view from behind the distant gate, and didn't go for the tour (if there in fact was one). After Arlington, I wasn't really interested.
DC is an interesting town, with ancient classical buildings everywhere you look, and metal detectors in its food courts. It's the kind of place that everyone should visit at least once, but I don't think I'll be coming back.
So that's it for my trip. I had a really good time travelling, but will be glad to be back on Canadian soil tomorrow. America is scary, but that's a topic for another blog post some other time. I'll leave you with a link to my Gowallawalk map, a plotting of various places I've been, including all of the spots I visited on this trip.