Getting lost in the tourist crowd.

OK. This is going to be a BIG one…We have now been in New York for seven full days. And I actually feel like we have done a damn excellent job at getting out there and ticking off all of the generic sights.. Which has been great.. And it has really been cool to see and mess around with the family again.. But for the large part.. its not been as worldly or spiritually satisfying or moving as some of the experiences which I really do love to write about on here.. However, I shall construct a list of all of the things we have seen/places we have been while here any way, and some more moving moments are bound to find there way in there…

1. Ground Zero. Otherwise known as the Twin Towers/World Trade Center Tribute. This was actually really stunning. Probably largely due to the fact that I went into the whole experience completely unprepared, and without having seen a photograph. But basically, where the two twin towers used to stand, two giant tribute fountains have now been placed. And these things are massive. you can just tell that no expense has been spared. And the names of all of those who were lost on the day of the 9/11 (2001) terrorist attacks, and actually also during an earlier attack within the same premises in 1993, are cut into a beautifully finished plaque which surrounds the two fountains on all sides.. And it is quite a numbing experience to see in an illustration like this, just how many people were lost in those attacks, because a number as large as 2,753 is otherwise really quite hard to imagine..
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And of course, a new tower (The Freedom Tower) has also been erected to replace the two which were lost. And I really am unsure if that is an act of pure pride.. or was a necessary development in rebuilding a broken community… But either way.. It is a cleverly engineered glass building, which is an only slightly irregular upright rectangle shape – like most office buildings you find in a city scape.. However.. from directly below, appears to be.. a pyramid.. This is a concept which is easier to explain with photos…

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2. The Macy’s Christmas window display. I actually got way too excited about this one.. Its just a window display… But people actually line up to walk along and get a good view of it all.. And for some reason it was all based on the solar system this year, with a window for each planet… But they were really well done! And it did some how emphasize the spirit of Christmas.. Must be something about all of that crowdy madness..
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3. Macy’s department store. Of course being close enough to see the window display, we had to go and check out the inside too.. Which was actually something like the outside madness multiplied by 10.. The whole place was packed out! And everything was appropriately and beautifully dressed for Christmas..
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We went all the way up to the top floor (which I think would have been floor 6 or 7..) and meandered through the Christmas department, which was decked out with trees and decorations and nutcrackers and candles and all sorts. And then we even waited in line for at least half an hour.. waiting to purchase a single, carefully selected decoration… And.. Being a hospitality student… I must say.. That line could have moved MUCH faster.. If only ALL of the staff behind the counter were properly trained.. and weren’t just generally pissing around with their cellphones and social lives.. Especially at one of the stores busiest times of year, in one of the most popular departments.. Where was management..

4. Time Square. This is one part of the city that I am well and truly sick of.. Its hectic. Like.. Its really really hectic. Every time we make it to this center, we regret it… Its just so darn busy, the crowds move so slowly, and really all that’s going on.. Is shopping.. Which doesn’t particularly interest any of us (Bless my non-materialistic family – We do hold some values in common..).
And the corporate giants have never been more present. And I guess that’s exactly what the fascination with this place might be.. Or what it should be any way (let’s face it, people are obsessed with material possession – purchasing is the fascination).. Because it is amazing to walk into a square as big as this and just feel the billion dollar marketing efforts pressing down on you.. And then to see the instant effects it has on the population – A population of millions of international people from all over the world who come to this one place to give in to the manipulation of these giants.. And while they are distracted with looking up at the bright lights and pretty colours, they crash into one another constantly. And it is tiresome.
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5. Central Park. Well.. it is truly quite a big park. And probably one of my favourite sites of those we have seen, although the pathways always take you in completely unexpected directions, and the maps are particularly useless.. However we still managed to find the Museum of Natural History, the Alice in Wonderland statue, a couple of pretty lakes, a damn awful street pretzel.. actually that one is a point of its own.. I’ll write more on that one.. Also, several tropically colored birds, a playground with a cave, and a small 2 man orchestra playing a cello and a violin under a picturesque bridge. So all in all, it was a pretty good days walk.
And I cannot understate the pleasure of hearing bird life and seeing greenery in the middle of a North American winter.. It seems for some reason the councilors of both Toronto and New York have never thought of planting ever-green tree varieties within their cityscapes, and the result is a pretty bleak and dead/apocalypse look.. And of course no trees to nest in, means no birds.. and no beautiful bird noise. Which has left a hole in not only my own, but several of the Australian and New Zealand exchange students lives over the last 4 months. It’s just completely unnatural for us to not hear nature screaming to make itself heard 24/7 – whether it be tuis, ravens, sparrows, or cicadas.. And the absence of this regular summer time music has been sorely noted. Actually I guess that’s why people think New Zealand is so green. It’s all relative. And, you never know what you have till its gone.
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6. Street pretzels. OK. So these street pretzels.. they’re awful. Don’t bother. It’s just really really yeasty bread which you can get in 2 varieties – hard or soft. Which turns out to be code for: Rock solid or undercooked (respectively). Neither are good. Both are questionable forms of food. The salt.. Makes it worse.
However our eagerness to try these alleged “food products” did lead to an excellent string of jokes. Which I won’t list.. but which revolved around the number of ways someone could die by pretzel (including being stabbed by a sharpened pretzel stick), how difficult it must be to pass a pretzel, and also the general unwillingness of the park birds and squirrels to eat our unwanted pretzel shards.
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7. The New York subway system. OK.. not really an attraction or a sight to see… But this has been a particular thrill for mum and dad.. And I am surprised to say, the New York subway system is quite easy to navigate and pretty much explains itself as long as you have a map, and know where you’re going (as is generally helpful with all systems..). However this same point, means that it is apparently impossible for my mother to navigate… (and so it is probably also impossible for any other indecisive, slow moving individuals who lack all forms of a sense of direction). None the less, in following the lead of the young, we were never once lost in the New York subway. Thank goodness.
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8. The Museum of Natural History. This was one of the stops we found during our day of strolling central park. Although the museum itself is not actually located within Central park..But it is literally just across the street, and therefore was worth a look. Pretty much, I assume the excitement for the place must have been significantly aided by the Night at the Museam movies.. because it was packed. And yet, wasn’t necessarily as excellent as the number of patrons would lead you to believe it should be. Basically it is a museum based specifically on human and animal history and broken up into continental categories. This means that there is a LOT of taxidermy.. which is cute I guess.. and excellent for children. But not so much my passion.. What was particularly funny was that all of the information posts in front of the human history exhibits deliberately and quite pointedly set out to disprove commonly held misconceptions about each artifact. And this caught out my little brother on two occasions, by quite snarkily denouncing non-facts which he legitimately believed to be true.. And unintentionally, I guess this lead to a learning experience for all of us. So maybe the museum wasn’t so bad.. There were just too many people there.

9. Madame Tussauds. This was pretty fun. Actually when I think about it.. Running around among a group of wax celebrities, of which several have now passed away is quite an unusual amusement.. But none the less we were able to easily waste hours here, posing in ridiculous fashions with a huge number of well known faces (both deceased and currently living).
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10. New York public Library. This building was actually one of my favourites. It was gorgeous. And it was huge. And it is not just a tourist object, it is actually a currently functioning library.. Which I imagine is quite annoying for the people who do go there to check out a book.. Because the place was over-run by tourists snapping pictures anyway. But I can’t deny.. I too was one of those photo snapping tourists, and my sympathy for the legitimate library members was not enough to persuade me to put my camera down as I witnessed the beautiful art and architecture of the many reading rooms and arch ways.
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11. Grand Central terminal. This place was also amongst the favourites. Functionally it is just a subway terminal… but it is MASSIVE. And the central room has a huge, high dome ceiling painted in a beautiful turquoise, with stars and zodiac signs across it. And it’s huge arch ways, numerous stair cases and thick, polished surfaces just give the whole place a generally mystical or ancient-ruins type of feel. Of course it was unfortunate that, like everywhere else on he thus trip, it was crowded with people. However here at least, there were less tourists, and there was more movement.
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12. St Patricks’ Cathedral. A little disappointing was the fact that this stop was pretty much completely covered in scaffolding on the inside.. which absolutely detracted from the beauty of what I imagine the place held. So for us this was actually quite an un-remarkable stop.. However I do imagine from the height that the scaffolding reached up, that it would have been amazing it people weren’t in the process of messing with it.

13. The Rockefeller center. This building is impressive from the outside. Its lean and tall and just generally sleek and modern. Its lit up purple at night (I don’t know why) so it stands out in the skyline.
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And as its the Christmas season, all around the outside of the building are night markets, a giant Christmas tree, decorative angels, giant Christmas decoration monuments (unsure if those are there all year or not.. but they are pretty big to have to lug in every year) and.. of course.. huge crowds of people.. (Being in New York for a week has really helped me to realize how much I hate people.. and crowds in particular).
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As for the inside… it was even more so over run by tourists. And although there is apparently an amazing view from the top.. we never made it up because the line to get in the lift was so significant.. and I don’t regret that decision. The spaces within the Rockefeller building were not the gand and open ones that you find throughout most of American architecture.. they were closed and cramped and connected through all too many hallways.
And the lighting was horrible. Which I can admit is an unusual aspect to note.. but it was really dark in there…
I can also admit that being in a crowded building on the bottom floor is something that maybe I am instinctively hyper-aware of after the Canterbury earthquakes in 2011.. However being in those conditions in America… evokes greater feelings of insecurity and nervousness for me, than I would feel at home or in Canada.. As a country America has simply passed too many people off and encouraged the attention of too many “terrorist” motions.
So leaving without getting into a lift, was perfectly fine with me.

14. Chinatown… theres a stop which is probably the same no matter where you are in the world… pretty much just a couple streets of generic Asian restaurants, cheap plastic crap and fake branded rip-offs.

15. The statue of liberty. Not as big as I had been lead to believe it would be through the media.. But I have no major qualms with the thing.
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Again this is a sight which was over run by tourists (but that was completely to be expected). Pretty much the statue is on its own little island – Liberty Island – Which you have to ferry out to.. When you get out there, all there really is to do it walk a circle around the statue and buy cheap souvineers. The island is no theme park or party island thats for sure. Although some people did buy packages to have a look inside the statue.. but I had been told that again, theres not all that much to see in there.. So all we did was the walk around the outside. You can investigate a few information posts and listen to an audio tour as you walk around depending on how invested you are in the statue.. I just read the posts, because after the first 20 minutes of audio tour I felt too much like I was listening to porpaganda and was being brain washed by rediculously biased facts about America and their ‘oh-so-fair-and-open-ways’. I guess I can understand thay for many people escaping poverty and war-time conditions and depression and joblessness in their home countries, this lady statue was the first sign they saw of freedom. And she probably did offer some hope to such arriving immigrants who were in search of a new beginning. But for many she would also come to represent the first sign of opression, social rejection, exclusion and discrimination. And then of course for some others, actually reaching the land of America would never be an achieved goal, they would be halted at the gates on Ellis Island after hours or sometimes days of processing.. And I understand that that would possibly have been a minority group.. It depends on which media outlets you listen to and believe, but all I’m saying is that the audio tour… conveniently forgot about all those troubles.
What was more interesting was Ellis Island.

16. Ellis Island. Ellis Island is another small Island that Immigrants would actually pass through (they wouldnt get off on Liberty Island like we did, they would simply pass it by – That island was purely in place for its intangible meaning, not any functiobnal purpose). This island was home to the proccessing buildings which housed the critics who would ultimately determine whether a given traveller would be allowed into the United States to live or not. In other words it was here that immigrants would be subject to the medical and interview-based tests which were conducted to ensure a person met the requirements deemed desireable by the states. And it was here that the green card was issued, or where a traveller was sent home.
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Of course today Ellis Island is no longer the center for such things, and instead Immigrants are processed in a newer facility based on the main land. So for us, the Ellis Island processing center has been converted into a museam explaining its own history. And this was quite interesting to view. Unlike the Liberty Island audio tour, this museam included excellent exhibits which contrasted the opinions of the local Americans and foregin immigrtants of the time, directly alongside one another. And it was hillarious. Where an American would claim that the Chinese could not bend to their societal norms, a Chinese man would claim that current immigrants already were.. Where an American would claim that the Chinese were too different, a Chinese immigrant would claim both nations were much alike… Contrasting letters that were not written to one another, but rather were composed in unioson and delivered to a third party were broken down and laid out alongside one another.. and it was just brilliantly done.

17. Wall Street. OK when we got to this one it was actually night time, and outside of business hours, and not alot was going on.. But it was another one of those sights that had to be seen. And so we saw it. It would have been more awesome to see during the day, when the place was crazy with shouting business men like you imagine and see in movies.. But I was quite satisfied having a nosey around the outside, as the whole building was a big, nobel looking place, and the streets directly outsdie it were actually even fenced off – Which I assume is to prevent tourists getting in the way during business hours.
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18. TGI Friday’s. This is not so much a sight to see… But is generically American none the less. My mum and my little bother and I stopped in here for dinner on one of our nights in New York, and we were all really pleased with the food.. and the dessert! It was all so good, and the portion sizes were generous too. Actually it was exactly what we had hoped for in an American diner. And the whole place is set up with the generic, red, booth seeting and of course old school sign posts and ads adorne the walls to complete the experience.. I must admit.. We all struggled to move by the end of it.

19. A show off-Broadway. OK there are a LOT of shows both on and off Broadway. And these two terms simply mean that you can either see a show on the street that is called Broadway (on Broadway) OR, on another street within New Yorks CBD (off Broadway).. I can only assume that the on-Broadway shows must be those which are the most popular and feature the most adored “stars”.. because I guess other wise Broadway wouldn’t have such a recognisable name.. However. None the less, we chose to go to one of the off-Browadway shows. It was one called This is our youth and it featured Micheal Cera. Which was pretty cool.
The theater itself was pretty quaint and cute, and the whole show was set within one room – so featured only one stage setting. There was a grand total of only three actors.. And the show was alright. Definately nothing to rave about. But I guess it was another experience that had to be had (and any way, after seeing The Book of Mormon in Toronto, I wasn’t expecting to see aything as well done as that show was for quite some time – That one was brilliant, and hillarious the whole way through). Any way seeing a show is undoubtedly a good way to waste some time if nothing else, and I find that the atmosphere involved in going out to see a live theater piece pretty much always enjoyable, regardless of what it is you are actually watching… Then again. I don’t doubt that there are some really truley aweful pieces out there.. This wasn’t one of those ones. It was just a standard piece.

20. Brooklyn Bridge. On Christmas day we decided to get out and walk across the Brooklyn bridge. And it was pretty cool. If anything it was weird to be outside and actually doing a walk on Chirstmas day, as oposed to just sitting around and eating, as most Christmases go.. But it was a nice change! And from the Brooklyn bridge you can look over to the Manhatten bridge, so you can view both beautiful items of architechture at the same time..
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I think we all agreed that the Manhatten bridge was the prettier of the two, but I am not sure if you could actually walk across that one.. And you got the better view of it from the distance of the Brooklym bridge any way. It was not at all a long walk either, and we managed to get a clear day to do it, so it was nice to breathe some fresh air and get out of the busy time square and central city area for a day. However, this is not to say that the bridge was not packed with tourists.. Because it absolutely was. Actually a side rant is in order here..

– Everywhere we went in New York was absolutely packed with tourists. People crowded at every generic spot, taking photos and taking selfies (I swear… The “Selfie-stick” is one of my least favourite inventions, in the world, to date). And this meant that movement any where within the city on foot.. was excrutiatingly slow.. there were just too many people competeing to take photos of their own faces in front of each and every one of the cities generic icons.. AND add to this self-love, the fact that there was inevitably a group of tourists who couldn’t speak english, who were lost or who needed to stop to pull out a map or just generally talk to one another in the middle of a high traffic footpath.. And walking through New York city became a congested and stressful ordeal..
By the end of 1 week here (over the Christmas period) the whole family had had enough. And for the sake of seeing sights that we all have seen overdone in the public media anyway.. I know that I wouldn’t choose to do it again. Expecially because the media has a tendency to raise your expectations.. So seeing things like The Statue of Liberty in real life.. for me.. was not as impressive as I had been lead to believe it would be or as I had hoped it would be.. Which is not to say that I regret seeing these things, undoubtably there is a difference between seeing a picture of a thing and actually going and seeing that thing for yourself.. I just.. I guess I do think the whole ‘New York’ deal is extremely over-rated..
ALSO – Another side rant – The serivce staff throughout the whole city were MISERABLE! And I know how hard the industry is to work in.. I know how challenging it can be to resist punching some customers in the face.. I’ve been in that industry for the last eight years, and intend to continue within it as I travel and build a career in management.. BUT! I expect polite service when I go out.. And if you cannot pretend to be happy, and smile for the next customer – ESPECIALLY when you are expecting TIPS for your service – Then you are in the WRONG industry, and I hope you are looking for your next job..
I would not have tipped any one in New York above the minimum requirements (and I didn’t..). And most of the staff I encountered were lucky, and cheeky enough to have their tips automatically included in the bills we were given.. Which actually, for obvious reasons very much frustrated me.. I know very many hard working, happy service staff in New Zealand who deserve those tips a hell of a lot more than these miserable and extremely unhelpful individuals did..
OH! and vegetarians (like myself).. Were really not catered for in what I experienced of this hot dog and burger loving city..
Additionally.. Although I believe my personal non-love of this city is really a result of the above rants and of the fact that it is just not at all my type of place.. I did have to do it all with my family. And where friends would probably have lightened the mood.. My family.. Just stress me out more.. In fact I have concluded (finally, after nearly 22 years..) that we are not a group who should travel together for extended periods of time. My family, when forced into a single hotel room together for more than one week, don’t work out.

Phew. SO the final number in the countdown! ..

21. Little Italy. We had actually quite a commical meal here. The small restaurant was run by a full family of genuine Itallians who gave us the ‘real’ Itallian experience in everything that they did. From having 3 waiters at the table at once putting down and lifting various items, to the quick manner in which they fired questions at us to the dry jokes – The whole experience was a good laugh as well as a good meal. And it was facinating to see the large family working so briskly and efficiently around one another. They were quite simply, getting the job done. Unfortunately we did arrive for our meal too near to closing time and so it was some-what rushed, with plates being pulled out from under as as the last bite was still being chewed.. BUT only Itallians such as these could pull that kind of service off as a part of the total experience, and we really had no complaints.

SO! New York down!
And now we have already arrived in Las Vegas! (actually we arrive in Las Vegas a few days ago now..).. So I have yet more writing to catch up with!

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