I spent the last few days before Christmas in New York and I had an awesome time. It started with mixed feelings with regards to the city but looking back I had a lot of fun. Maybe it just takes some time to appreciate this crazy city.
I took a plane from Detroit to the LaGuardia airport that got delayed for 3.5 hours before even starting. When I finally arrived, I was standing on a ugly and dirty airport without proper public transport connections. After talking to multiple people, I learned that there are bus lines connecting the airport to the subway network. I jumped on a bus that then got stopped after a few minutes and searched by the police for an elderly women with Alzheimer that got lost somewhere at the airport. When I arrived in Manhattan I got hit by the noise and busyness of the city. Finally at the hotel I was pretty exhausted and done for the day. I guess I could’ve known that beforehand because there are some clear hints in the Wikipedia article about the airport:
LaGuardia has also been criticized for some of its outdated facilities. Vice President Joe Biden compared LaGuardia to a "third world country" and the airport has been ranked in numerous customer surveys as the worst in the United States.
Most of the days I just spent walking through the city and looking for interesting people and places. One thing I noticed is that I indeed learned a lot about the city while playing GTA IV. I found the golf club at the piers and other places I remembered from the game. The streets are occupied by cabs to at least 50% and the driving behavior is pretty aggressive. I wouldn’t want to drive here and as a pedestrian you really have to fight for your right of way. Sometimes you can’t even cross a street (even though the traffic light says walk) because it is blocked by cabs standing there bumper to bumper.
Hot dog stands can be found in GTA at every corner and I thought this is some kind of joke but actually they just reproduced what it looks like in New York. Whenever it smells like burnt food there is (at least) one stand nearby. At one of these I bought the most expensive ($4) and worst tasting (bah!) hot dog of my life (don’t do this!).
This is what it looks like when they “clean” the grid of their barbecue:
While I was walking through the Chinatown / Lower East Side I noticed some guys playing soccer in one of the few parks and stopped to take some pictures of them through the fence. When they noticed that, they quickly lined up for a team photo. After that, I chatted a little bit with one of them who gave me some helpful tips where else to go in the city.
The city has a remarkable diversity. This is expressed in both the people you meet on the streets and the different neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy. Often it takes only one block and it feels like you are in a different part of the world.
By that time I was a bit familiar with the city and able to swim with the flow. I really appreciate the American grid layout and naming scheme for streets that helps you quickly navigate unknown cities even without maps and GPS. Speaking of GPS: the performance is horrible in the city. It often takes 30 seconds for a localization that is then off by at least one block. I’d really like to see a comparison of in-vecicle and phone based GPS systems here.
It also took me some time to ignore the honking of the vehicles and the traffic lights. This is very important for fast progression through the city. Cabs don’t (only) honk as a warning but also simply as a “here I am” information. Pedestrians cross the street after looking for a gap in the traffic regardless of the traffic light. A tourist who is in the city for the first time is easily recognizable because he keeps waiting at a red traffic light and is constantly looking where all that honking is coming from.
I finished my trip at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge where I took some pictures of the skyline after eating a pizza. Instead of going to Grimaldi’s Pizza I followed the yelp reviews and went to Juliana’s Pizza where I ate what was possibly the best pizza of my life. When I was about to leave, the server touched upon my camera in a conversation that went something like this:
“Nice camera! I’ve got a Fuji, too. They have great Fuji lens deals at B&H; right now.” - “Thanks, I’ve been there already today. They have an amazing store. Which camera do you have?” - “The X100. It’s an amazing camera. The poor-man’s Leica. Why spend more than $5k if you can get a similar build quality and feeling with a Fuji?” - “Yes, I completely agree. That’s the first camera I really fell in love with and I’ll definitely keep it.” - “Merry Christmas to you!” - “Thanks. To you, too!”
This conversation (and the pizza) is why I’ll go there again the next time I’m in the city.