Day 4 – Arts and Sunset

After a weekend of socialising and decadently indulging in some of the finer things the city has to offer, it was time to go and do touristing. I don’t enjoy classical art, and tend to find art galleries a little hard to comprehend/enjoy – but, I do love street art. A friend used to live here in NYC (but has since returned to London), and he would frequently post images of the street art in Bushwick. So, I made it a priority to go walk the streets of Bushwick to see it for myself.

Something that I’d noticed, albeit slowly, was the difference in effort that people here put into their appearance. While San Francisco (or London) wasn’t filled with scrubs, it didn’t feel like the effort/expense that people here must have put into the way they look.

Oh hey, Bey.

From the moment I arrived at the Jefferson Street Subway Station, I was in another world that no longer felt like NYC. Gone were the giant apartment buildings of Manhattan, and in its place was a far more modest brick warehouses and small apartment/townhouses. But, the best thing is there was an abundance of large, high quality artwork on display. Actually, now that I think about it, I was surprised at the number of enormous pieces of artwork that appeared to be advertising, like for the new Terminator movie.

I was engrossed, but unlike a traditional gallery, there was no real indication of where to walk to see the artwork, so it became a bit of a challenge to guess which streets to try walking down, and to know when to give up and head in another direction.

But, the effort was worth it, as even down some quiet side streets, there were some true gems that made me just stand back and take a few moments to enjoy and appreciate. I’ve said it before, but there is something here that resonates far louder than any of the classics I’ve seen in fancy art galleries around the world.

It’d been a few hours since the last coffee, so with the abundance of hipster cafes (it’s a compliment), it seemed like a good time to just sit and look out on the area. It was a double bonus that there was an artist busy at work on a new creation just across the street, with an abundance of amazing elements incorporated into his work.

There was a pizza restaurant nearby that I wanted to go check out, so it was a good excuse to go for a bit of a longer walk down the back streets of the area. It didn’t have the density of murals that were closer to the subway, but there was still plenty to be seen and enjoyed along the walk. It was also just interesting to walk through some very different neighbourhoods.

I found one interesting looking wall, and thought I’d use it as a prop for a nice jump photo. And, with that, I tore the arse out of my lovely new jeans – that look is a look of realisation that I’d just ripped them… Thankfully I had dark underwear, and the tear wasn’t too obvious, so I could continue wearing them for the rest of the day.

Roberta’s pizza was near the next Subway station, Morgan Avenue, and after walking down mostly residential streets, there was once again a clump of restaurants, shops and bars. Oh, and the pizza. I might have been in New York, trying to sample New York-style pizza, but I definitely still prefer Napoli style pizza (which this was). It was good, and even though I initially only wanted a slice, I was more than happy to have ordered an entire pizza.

I could have spent longer wandering around the area, but there was an art exhibition that I wanted to go visit – Machine Hallucinations. I wouldn’t have guessed that we’d come across more building sized murals near Chelsea Market.

This wasn’t your standard exhibition, but rather something a fair bit more experimental. The artist fed thousands and thousands (actually 300,000,000) of photos of New York into a machine learning algorithm. The output is then projected onto the walls and floors of the large open area of the gallery, as images are processed, analysed, and vivid shapes take form.

It was a short loop, about 20minutes, but I must have watched it four or even five times. The patterns, the movement and the vivid colour was ethereal – no wonder there were so many people in here using it as a prop for photos. OK, I couldn’t resist a photo, but there were groups that entered, took photos of each other, and then promptly left.

After a few loops, it was amazing to just lay back and absorb everything that was going in the room, trying (and failing) to make sense of the logic of the machine learning.

This was my final evening in NYC, and one thing that I really wanted to do was catch a sunset of the city. My first choice had been to catch a ferry across to the other side of the Hudson River, but it was a little too much effort, and settled with watching it from the Brooklyn Skyline. Walking through the leafy streets in the area once again felt like I was in a whole different city. The concrete apartment towers felt like the council housing in London, and the large terrace houses in their tree-lined streets also had a feel of London about it – but the two in the same location didn’t really feel right. I need to find a better way to think of places, other than comparing them back to other cities I’ve spent time.

The timing was nearly spot on, with the sun hanging low in the sky by the time we’d made it to the waterfront. I wasn’t quite expecting the views that I was seeing, with the Statue of Liberty surrounded by views of enormous cranes in their docks. It was also far smaller than I had been expecting. All these complaints aside, it was certainly cool to see something so iconic with your own eyes, even if I had to squint.

It was also my first glimpse of the Brooklyn Bridge, and a completely new angle of the dense and boxy skyscrapers of the southern Manhattan skyline.

The sunset faded, the lights of the city started to glow, and eventually the darkness of night took over. I knew it wasn’t the ideal time, but I was so close to Brooklyn Bridge and couldn’t resist the opportunity to walk across it. I might have spent most of the day walking, but I was still up for more.

It was funny to have the roles reversed, as I’m frequently cycling across Golden Gate Bridge, dodging the pedestrian tourists that are walking with camera/phone in outstretched hands, paying no attention to anything other than their camera/phone. Today I was that tourist – but at least I was cognisant of there being cyclists, and avoided going into their lanes.

It was pretty dark by the time I finally got to the bridge, so I didn’t bother with dark/grainy photographs – well, I did, but since I came back the next day in the daylight, I won’t bother posting any of my dark/grainy photographs from tonight. Like many of the places that I’ve visited in New York, it was really cool to see these places I’d seen so much of in photos/TV/movies over the years. As a bonus, it lived up the the expectations, and was a super cool bridge to walk across – even if it was busy with cyclists commuting home, and tourists paying no attention to their surroundings.

It’d been a few hours since the last meal, and I was definitely ready for food. I saw that Chinatown wasn’t too far from the northern side of the bridge, so via several underpasses, and less than enjoyable footpaths, made it to that part of town. There was a yumcha restaurant, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, that seemed to stand out above the others in the area, so, like the tourist I am, I went and added my name to the list for a table – and the 20-minute expected wait turned out to only take less than 5, which would have been awesome, but I went for a walk and missed my name as I was busy checking out the quiet lane and all the other restaurants.

Anyway, logistics aside, it was a great little restaurant. The first few dishes that came out were amazing, and I was ready to praise it as the best yumcha I’d ever eaten. But, not all items on the menu were as phenomenal, and I ended up leaving with a really mixed feeling.

I somehow managed to resist the temptation for boba (what they call bubble tea in the U.S), and returned to meet the friend’s of friends whose apartment I was staying in. It ended up being delayed and a very late evening, but worth it to get a chance to thank them for their hospitality with some Royce Chocolate – they have this famous Hokkaido chocolate shop here in NYC, and I regret not buying extra for myself!

Day 5 – Bridge Crossings

The long days of sightseeing were starting to take a toll on my body, but that didn’t stop me from getting up early and making the most of my final day in NYC. It’s dumb, but I really wanted to cycle around Central Park. So, I went and rented a Citibike, and did my best to race around the 10km circuit under the 30-minute time limit for the bike rental – I did, and with a few minutes to spare. The Citibikes are as rubbish as any of the other municipal rental bikes, which would have been fine if the park was flat. Harlem Hill might have only been 30m of ascent, but that didn’t stop the ride from being quite a challenge – and from me feeling like an idiot trying to get into an aero position on some of the descents when I’d run out of gears.

I was feeling somewhat pleased with myself at racing around the park, but also slightly sombre that I didn’t really get a chance to stop to enjoy the sights. Once I caught my breath, and stopped sweating, I went for a short walk around the southern edge of the park. There were still hints of autumn, but unfortunately it was still some time away from peak colour.

The clear skies of Saturday were gone, an in its place were low clouds that masked the tops of the skyscrapers. It was kinda cool to see, making them seem even taller  – even though Karl the Fog eating buildings is a staple view from my bedroom window here in SF.

It was also a chance to just wander through downtown, passing by countless other landmarks and other unrecognised towers, struggling to crane my neck to look up to recognise them while still watching where I’m walking and not being that idiot tourist running into people on the footpaths.

I even decided to take a quick detour out to see Central Station (and the Chrysler Building, which is one of my favourites).

I remember reading about how it was such a big deal with the Apple store, and it actually took me quite some time to even notice it without the signature giant glass windows. So, I guess they did a good job at keeping it low key.

But, I was more interested in seeing a dirtier side of town, rather than the gloss, excess and money in this area. I caught the subway south, towards Chinatown (I’d been recommended a good café – which turned out to be a bar, but also serving some good coffee). I thought I’d visited Chinatown last night, and found it to be quite tame. I was clearly not in the real Chinatown, as it certainly get a lot more real closer to Manhattan Bridge.

The drizzle picked up as I continued on my walk towards Manhattan Bridge. I was originally going to try and ride across both bridges on the Citibike, and I was really, really happy that I chose not to. For one thing, the cycling lane for Manhattan Bridge is on the wrong side, not giving views back towards Brooklyn Bridge.

It might have been more graffiti than street art, but I still loved the views of these buildings, especially with the city fading into the fog in the background.

The bridge technically had a chain mesh fence the entire length of the bridge, but a few folk have cut holes in it large enough to poke camera lenses through for unobstructed views of the city/bridge. New York friends had warned me that Manhattan Bridge is less enjoyable to walk across, due to the rumbling train that passes by right by the footpath. They weren’t wrong, and every few minutes the bridge would rumble and shake, and the screech of the wheels was over powering the music in my headphones.

By the time I’d made it over to Brooklyn, I was about ready to burst. I briefly contemplated urinating off the side of the bridge while no one was around, but thought it’d be just my luck to get caught for something like that – plus it seemed rather unbecoming and undignified behaviour. So, in a semi-frantic state, I was out searching for a bathroom. Google Maps showed one down by the shore, between the two bridges, so I vaguely headed in that direction. It was by pure chance that I came across that beautiful view from Dumbo of the Manhattan Bridge framed by the beautiful old red brick buildings.

It certainly wasn’t a hidden gem, as there were multiple wedding photo shoots, plus countless other tourists taking photos, too – I just didn’t know about it. Oh, and I made it to the bathroom.

With the pressure in my bladder removed, I was able to think clearly again, and take my time to enjoy the views. It was really amazing being down by the old carousel, with views out over two ornate bridges, and the large concrete and glass buildings hidden in the fog behind.

Getting back onto the Brooklyn Bridge was a slight challenge, taking a fair detour back into the opposite direction. I was glad to have had a second chance to walk across this bridge during the day. The crowds were lighter, the cyclists were less frequent, and there was light, so I could actually see the bridge/city. Much like the Golden Gate Bridge, walking across this is definitely a worthwhile activity. There was something about the age of the bridge (who makes a footpath out of timber), the intricate web of bracing, the old stone towers, the countless rivets and lattice of steel beams, plus the open views of the south of the city were just fantastic.

I won’t lie, it did bug me not getting a perfectly symmetrical/straight photo of the cabling on the bridge, but, I had better things to do than chase perfection – like a rapidly approaching flight.

There was one (actually, three) last thing(s) I wanted to do before leaving, and that was talk a walk down to Wall Street to see The Bull. Firstly, there wasn’t much to really see in Wall Street. I don’t know if Liverpool St/Bank is comparable in London, but they’re both quite interesting areas to walk around. Secondly, I couldn’t believe the crowds at the bull! There were concrete barriers protecting it from traffic, and queues of people standing patiently for photos with the bull – both with its semi butchered face (check out the axe marks on the horn!), as well as a smaller queue to pose with its testicles!

I won’t lie, it was actually one of the cooler statues, and for once, much larger than I’d expected.

I had a little more time before having to race to the airport, so took a minor detour to see the 9/11 memorial where the Twin Towers once stood. At the base of the old buildings, there is (for lack of better vocabulary) a reverse fountain. Instead of water spurting upwards in great jets, it falls away silently towards a giant square black abyss. Surrounding the cavity is a plaque with a list of names that never seems to end. It might not have been as sombre as visiting Hiroshima, but this was definitely a powerful and commanding monument, that was incredibly moving.

I had to make a mad dash back to Penn St. Station to catch another train out to Newark Airport for my flight home. Thankfully I’d already been to this station, and I knew that there was a Shake Shack! My New Yorker friends had suggested that I try the Shack Stack, which is basically the single cheeseburger, with the cheese stuffed deep fried Portobello mushroom added. Other than the cheese inside the mushroom being like tasty yellow lava, blistering the roof of my mouth, it was delicious. It added both richness from the flavour of the mushroom, as well as crispy mouthfeel from it being deep fried. Plus, there was all the regular Shake Shack goodness. I might have cut into my comfort time to catch my flight home, but at least I was going to be boarding with a full stomach, and not needing desperately purchase onboard United food.

It’d been a rush, barely touching the surface of this metropolis, but at least now I have a sense of what the city is like. Part of me thinks I’d enjoy living here, part of me thinks I’d find the same things that wore me down in London would wear me down here, too. At least the rent is cheaper than San Francisco!