After changing planes and going through customs in Miami, we all touched down in Newark Airport, New Jersey. Lets just pretend we flew straight into New York because that sounds cooler and New Jersey is icky.
It might sound silly to anyone who lives in a climate where you actually get a winter but I was traveling with three guys who had never been anywhere where simply being outside required you to actually dress warmly. By this, I mean they were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Anyone reading this been to New York in winter? Good, you should be laughing. I was.
Oh, and they'd just had a snow storm before we arrived.
Anyway, between four people it was cheap enough that we could catch a taxi directly to our hostel in Brooklyn. 'Hostel', however, might be a bit of an over-exaggeration. Accommodation in New York is stupid expensive (especially when you try to book last minute over Christmas time) so we were just over the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn, staying in 'Pacific Loft Apartments'. Looking back, the inclusion of 'Pacific' in the title in a city solely on the Atlantic Ocean should have been my first clue. This 'hostel' was literally just a room in the back of some guys house with a few poorly constructed bunk beds placed haphazardly around the room. It was always sweltering hot because the furnace was constantly on and was literally being held together with a T-shirt wrapped around it. I'm not even going to start on the cleanliness. All in all, it wasn't the best place I've stayed. In fact, it was probably the worst place on the trip I've stayed and I once stayed in a place where the security dogs would attack and injure guests on a regular basis.
And we had to put up with this all night
Accommodation aside, it's hard to keep a good city down and New York is one helluva city. It's true that New York really isn't a city, it's THE city. I'd seen New York in the summer (actually, New York was in the middle of a massive heat wave when I was here last) before but it is completely different covered in snow. Since I'd been before, I had a much better idea of my surroundings and attempted to lead everyone into Manhattan the first night. We walked over the Brooklyn bridge but the cold and our lack of warm clothing forced us to head back fairly quickly. Very cleverly, I had left my warm, Swedish jacket hanging in the closet in the hotel room in Cancun which I am still really bummed about two months later as I write this.
The next day we explored around Brooklyn and Manhattan. The first step was to acquire warm clothes which we did although, again, I still miss my Swedish jacket. That night I took the others to Rockefeller Plaza, Times Square and, completely by accident, we found McGee's, the bar that 'McLarens' in How I Met Your Mother is based on. As always, Times Square left me completely amazed. Or possibly just blinded like a deer in headlights.
Day three was Central Park. I'm glad we went while it was still covered in snow. We wandered around for the better part of a day, mostly just wandering aimlessly and getting into surprisingly vicious snowball fights. Chuck was arriving in New York that night, so we resolved to come back and ice skate with him another day.
The majority of the day was one big snowball fight/kidney punching session
If there's an Australian who is not obsessed with squirrels when they see one, I'm yet to find them.
Day four was our first day with Chuck and we set out to make the most of it. Having travelled with Chuck at the start of my trip, I was excited because I knew he would breathe fresh life into our group. With great difficulty, I managed to talk the others into going on yet another of the free-walking tours that I was so partial to in Europe, this time around downtown Manhattan. I should elaborate on the 'great difficulty' part but basically (apart from our 'Canada day' in Vancouver a week later) this was probably the most educational or culturally significant thing we did for the rest of the trip.
The tour led us around the bottom of Manhattan Island, through the financial districts and towards Ground Zero. I don't know how much history the others absorbed but I for one enjoyed it. It helped the guide was a little bit loopy.
Unlike these pillars of mental health
It's also around this time we began to notice a pattern. See if you can spot it.
Yes, he is sleeping standing up.
Look, he didn't wear the pleather jacket the whole time!
Most (every) night we were out exploring the night life of New York. Apart from one night when we went out in Brooklyn, we mostly hung around the different districts of Manhattan. I didn't get a photo but I met up with Jeffery again, who was Chuck's room mate in Budapest when I visited him six months earlier. Chuck stayed with us for two nights then stayed at Jeff's house until we met him later in San Francisco.
Day five was more exploring Manhattan. We went back to Central Park (now snow free) where Nick went ice skating and we all refused to pay to go into the zoo. We also got pie face pies because we were all craving a true-blue, oze battla, fair dinkum, ute on the barbie, ridgey-didge Aussie meat pie. They were pretty rubbish.
Our sixth and final day was Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty. If you are like Pearson and don't know what Ground Zero is, its where the World Trade Centre once stood. I saw Ground Zero when I was in New York seven years before but it had changed a lot. Back then, it was just a rubble-filled crater in the ground but today it is a pristine monument to those who were killed on September 11, 2001. It was hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity (the entire monument is two square holes in the ground where the towers once stood, with waterfalls flowing over the edges and the names of the dead inscribed on the walls) but it also felt like it was missing something. I'm trying to be as respectful here as possible but it didn't really feel as sad as I expected. It was sombre, yes, and there were some heart wrenching moments (see picture below and prepare to have something in your eye) but it was also lively and full of hustling and bustling people. The over the top security and overbearing American patriotism (both of which are reasonable and to be expected) did unfortunately detract from the emotionality of the monument, in my opinion.
The next stop was the Statue of Liberty. We caught a ferry to Liberty Island where, quite by accident, we happened to run into Chuck who was also on Liberty Island. Looking back, that was a fairly unlikely coincidence. They say the statue of Liberty isn't actually that big, compared to how big you imagine it. Looking objectively, that is definitely true but its hard to remember that when you get up close to her. Lady Liberty really is a giant.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Thats a poem called “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus and it really encapsulates what the Statue of Liberty symbolises, not just to Americans but to immigrants who passed through the nearby Ellis Island immigration centre and associated the Statue of Liberty with the liberty they sought from their new homeland.
Liberty Island and the ferry trip to and fro was also a good photo opportunity for taking pictures of Manhattan. And birds.
We went to Central Station to round out our day of being busy tourists. We said goodbye to Chuck again and headed home.
We planned for an early night since we would have to leave by 4am to make our plane to Vancouver. Unfortunately that plan kind of fell through but we managed to make things work nonetheless. Pearson especially had things well in hand, although we were all a little tired and cranky the next morning.