New York and Long Island

Trip Start Nov 17, 2006
Trip End May 2007

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Flag of United States  , New York
Sunday, November 26, 2006

Well, today marked the end of the "friends" section of my trip, following a great week in New York...

I arrived in Manhattan on Tuesday, and had a couple of hours to kill before taking the train to Long Island to meet Pete (from uni) at his house in Smithtown... It took me about an hour to find a place that made sandwiches that were a) not 3ft tall and accordingly expensive and b) didn't look like I was going to regret eating them.

I went to TImes' square, which is really quite an impressive place. It is so buzzing and alive, and electrifying (literally and figuratively). The lights, sirens, masses of people make Piccadily Circus look like a small suburban town.

I headed back to Penn Station to catch the train to Smithtown (on long island, about an hour from Manhattan), where Pete has lived since he started working in NY. It is a small, quite stereotypical small American town (although completely different to an equivalent in Texas). He lives in a house on the beach, which has steps leading down to a private beach (not that it's of much use in 2 degree weather and 30mph winds). Not quite as fancy as it sounds, as he actually lives on the bottom floor of his bosses' house)... THe next day I lazed around doing not very much at all, partly because it had been a long time since i have done that, partly because it will be a long time before i get to do that again, and partly because I didn't have much of a choice as it is miles from any kind of civilisation or public transport... But it was a nice change from the constant running around and moving I've been doing up til then...

On Thursday we headed into Manhattan, and it was actually Thanksgiving day. We got to Broadway early to try and catch some of Macy's day parade, but there were so many people, and the NYPD had closed off half the roads to pedestrians so that thousands of people spilled out onto the same streets, for reasons which i will never understand. However, we did catch the upper part of Big Bird's head. The rest of the parade we watched on TV from an Irish Pub next door to where it was happening... It was chucking it down with rain, and very windy, which meant that our umbrellas were taking us for walks rather than the other way round. We did the touristy parts of midtown Manhattan, the Rockefeller Center, Fifth Avenue, FAO Schwartz (where Tom Hanks jumps of the giant piano in "Big"), and unfortunately we couldn't resist the lure of McDonalds on TImes' Square (supposedly the busiest branch on the planet, and is actually a tourist attraction). Everything is bigger, even the straws are about twice the diameter...

Then the most random and insane thing I've ever seen, the "Charmin Ultra Experience". We were on TImes' Square and followed a few people up some escalators slap bang in the middle of the square, with a welcome sign saying "Welcome to Charmin Ultra's Holiday Gift to New York City". Still not knowing what it was, we went up and were greeted by a fairly long queue in a brightly decorated room, smelling very nice of vanilla, with plasma screens all over showing people dancing to the music that was playing all around (the Charmin Ultra song). Charmin Ultra is a brand of toilet paper for those of you that didn't know). After 20 mins, and with the people around us in queue looking just as confused as we were as to what it was and what possessed them to stand in this queue that they didn't know what was for), we saw the end of the line, and 14 toilet cubicles, with Charmin Ultra staff dancing while showing people in turn to one of the cubicles. On the side there was a stage with dancers showing people in the queue the moves to the Charmin dance. WHen we got to the front, a dancing woman showed me to my cubicle, which was just a toilet (although a clean one) with about 8 different types of toilet paper at my disposal. THen I got out, we took a picture with the CHarmin Ultra Bear, and left. That is the randomness of NYC.

We walked for miles in the rain to see the UN building, but as it turns out, the UN doesn't work on THanksgiving, and so headed to Harlem for our first night at the hostel...

Harlem is actually a perfectly decent area (more so in the day at least). The hostel was great, really good fun/atmosphere, met loads and loads of people from all over the world, and ate thanksgiving dinner with them. The bedrooms were less great, mostly because the top bunks were about 5.5 ft off the ground, making it difficult for even me to get on there! and they had no barriers of any sort on the side of the bed, meaning that a natural turn over in your sleep could result in a long way down to the floor! ANd we had no covers as they had run out. But it was actually quite good, and at 8pounds a night, can't complain.

Friday we went to Princeton university to visit a friend who's studying there. It's like Oxbridge, but more American and less old. Very campus based. Spent most of the day in the closest bar, as there's only so much fun that you can have visiting a university!

Yesterday (Saturday) was another touristy day in Manhattan, this time in the downtown bit. We started on the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, and worked our way up through the WOrld Trade Center site (which is just big hole in the ground and really isn't that interesting), Chinatown (which has no restaurants, only fake bag, watch, and scarf shops), Soho, Union Square, Greenwhich Village (the hippy/trendy/live music area of NY), Little Italy (why they call it that is very unclear as it has no Italian shops, restaurants, or people). Washington Square was great fun, with random people playing music and putting on street shows.

Finished off the day with a trip up to the 86th floor of the Empire State building (after an suicidal 2 hour queue), but was really incredible from the top and well worth the wait. Then we went to quite a famous deli called Katz. It is the ultimate in Jewish restaurants, where you get 5inch high Pastrami sandwiches and Ladkes. It is also the place where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in When Harry met Sally. Finished off the evening to some live Rythm & blues in Greenwhich Village, and got back to the hostel for the 4am check for my flight to Miami the next day...

Now my fingers hurt, but I think that sums up the last six days...
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