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Monday, September 11, 2006

A SMALL SLICE OF THE BIG APPLE: A Short Trip to NYC

It seems appropriate that I should be writing this blog about my visit to NYC on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11. The first time I visited New York, in 1968, was a life-changing experience for me. The second time, in the mid '70's, my life was also at a cross-roads. And this time, once again I am on the threshold of a new beginning.

I won this trip from the Travel Writer's Association and was thrilled about it. But a number of things happened that had made me a bit reluctant to go. First, I had a hard time putting together the money I needed and then I was given an eviction notice which meant I had to move. Fortunately, everything turned out just right. I've found a beautiful new apartment which I'll officially move into next weekend, thanks to good fortune and friends, enough money came together for me to enjoy my holiday, and from the moment I arrived back in NYC I knew it was 'right' for me to be there. The City has gone through some changes too, emerging after that terrible disaster, with a new sparkle and warmth. People there were friendly, kind and helpful, and most of all...patient. Even though by the weekend the place was filling up with visitors, including police and fire department contingents from all over coming there especially for the solemn occasion that will mark the commemoration of 9/11, there was still a beautiful spirit. New York is amazing, and our stay there, though brief, was filled with adventure and wonderful experiences.

I'll begin with our arrival, Tuesday night Sept 5, on a pleasant flight with Harmony Airlines from Vancouver to J.F.K. We came in through cloud cover and a misty rain. After my last experience in an U.S. airport (the nightmare that is LAX) I didn't know what we'd find at this world famous terminal, but we were relieved to discover what an impressive airport it is. Everything was controlled, well-run, non of the chaos and paranoia I experienced at LAX on my arrival from Malaysia. We cleared through customs with absolutely no hassles. The airport is modern and clean (L.A. take note!) and after realizing we'd be waiting in the taxi lineup for hours we found a shuttle bus that would take us into the City. Here we experienced some fo the NY frenzy that I seem to remember from the past. The guy who was herding us into the shuttle wasn't too helpful about indicating the best of the two stops we should be aiming for. We chose the Bus Terminal/Port Authority, but once on the bus it was announced that anyone going to a hotel should get off at Grand Central. We did so along with the other folks, but when the driver was taking luggage out, because ours was in a compartment for the Bus Terminal he refused to get it out. A few other people were in the same situation and the driver then threw a hissy fit, refused to get the luggage off and said "Get it yourself!". One of the passangers did so, had to climb right into the luggage compartment because the driver wouldn't offer him his pole to pull stuff out. In all that commotion we were then herded over to another small shuttle that would take us to our hotel. The African American guy who operated this vehicle was speaking in such a jargon that it was impossible to understand him. We wondered if we'd actually get to our hotel. In the end he turned out to be quite amusing and good natured after all the hustle, bustle and drama, and dropped us off right in front of the Park Central Hotel, located at 7th and Broadway.

Our hotel, one of the grand old established hotels dating back to the '20's, was elegant and beautifully restored. Our room was spacious, overlooking 7th avenue on the 8th floor but it was surprisingly quiet. We decided to have dinner in the hotel's New York Cafe, and afterwards went out to explore.

A RAINY NIGHT IN TIMES SQUARE
A misty rain was falling as we set off from the hotel after dinner. Our hotel was conveniently situation, right across from Carnegie Hall, and just minutes away from the hub of activity in Manhattan that is Times Square and the Theatre District. What a trhill it was to see all the neon lights advertising shows, the theatre marquees and famous restaurants like Ruby Foos and Lindy's Cheese Cake. We even saw the marquee for the David Letterman Show.

Broadway, the Theatre District and Times Square are New York! Times Square was once the New York Times newspaper's headquarters, from 1905 and it's the place where the famous ball drops every Newy Years as it has since that time. The area was once noted to be seedy but it has since seen sweeping changes and renovations. During Mayor Rudy Gulliani's term of office the City has been cleaned up and made safe. We didn't see any pan-handlers, street people, shady characters or trouble makers the whole time we were in mid-Manhatten. Times Square hosts about 20 million visitors a year and is a major tourist attraction. There's almost a carnival atmosphere with all the flashing lights and music and dozens of souvenier shops along with the famous NY delis where you can buy cheap snacks, featuring bagels and cream cheese, sandwiches and fruit of every description. Times Square is sometimes called "The Crossroads of the World" and is one of the major transportation crossroads in Manhattan. (We'd see a sample of a massive traffic grid-lock on our last day there!)

If you haven't been here for awhile, like me, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the "New Times Square" although perhaps it has become a bit over-done, a bit tacky. Besides the neon there's now the flashing high-tech screens and far too many billboards advertising everything under the sun including movies and shows.

New theatres have opened, old ones renovated. The oldest still remaining is the Lyceum, built in 1903. There's always been fashionable restaurants in this area, many of which still remain along with lots of trendy new ones. There are also numerous jazz, comedy and music clubs, clothing shops and megastores. Everything sparkles with neon and strobe lights and there's the famous Times running-lights headlines, a big feature in the Square though the N.Y. Times has moved to larger and more modern quarters along with other famous publishing houses including Random House, Conde Naste Magazine Group and MTV, Warner Bros, Virgin and Disney mega stores to name a few.

We had a long walk down and back (one of several we'd make during the week). By that time we felt damp and foot-sore so it was time to retire to our comfortable hotel room.
We thought we'd have a night-cap at the hotel bar before turning in, but even in NY some things close early so we went to our room, unpacked, relaxed and planned for the next day which would be New York Art and Architecture.

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