Warning: This is a long post because New York City was full of experiences. I have grouped them by day. Enjoy.
Unlike Hong Kong, there were no sweeping views of the city skyline coming into New York City by MTA (rapid transport). After the MTA departs from JFK airport, it goes underground and the next time I was above was at Penn station lugging my bag. Once on the street level, I was immersed in the thick hustle and bustle of Thursday afternoon. It was teeming with people. I stood momentarily to get my bearings, and to soak it all in. I couldn’t help but think to myself: I’m going to love this city.
I stayed in Korea Town or KTown as it is commonly referred to in Midtown, Manhattan. The Avalon, a boutique hotel oozed character and the classic decor added to the charm. It was perfectly positioned for exploring, within minutes of the manic Times Square and other tourist attractions, yet set in a quiet one way street. An abundance of eateries surrounded me and many of the hubs I wanted to get acquainted with were a short stroll or taxi ride away.
I’m sure that I’m not the first to fall in love with New York City and probably won’t be the last. So what was it that seduced me about this city? Well, I’m a big fan of metropolises, which within one square kilometre can offer more diversity than any urban sprawl. It’s the kind of city where you are unlikely to see the same person you were flirting with on the train twice, where you could go for weeks without needing to use a car, where there is always something happening on any given street corner at almost any time of day, any time of the week. New York City has all that and more. It is a trendsetter in art, fashion, food and technology among others.
I enjoy exploring on foot and in New York it was no different. Within hours of my arrival, I set out in search of a quick meal. On my flight from London, I discovered that food was not British Airways forte and on par with their poor service. I was hungry, so I focused on KTown due to its close proximity. Unlike Chinatown, KTown is aloof from the main tourist trail. There aren’t many souvenir shops just eateries, food-courts, restaurants and karaoke bars.
After a brief peruse of the window menus, I settled for BCD Tofu House and ordered a Soondubu jjigae, a hot and spicy stew made with tofu, mushroom, and seaweed. It is served in a porcelain pot with several side dishes (kim chee, rice, fried whole fish, pickles etc.) and a raw egg which is there to thicken the stock. It was filling, flavorsome and a much needed fortifier before the night ahead. Later that evening I went on to see The Boxer Rebellion at Webster Hall where I met with friendly New Yorkers and discovered a few more bars and was introduced to the art of folding pizza at 4am. The local hospitality was unmatched in my travel experience, especially those in populous cities. It was a great start to “YC”.
My first night was over and I was already starting to think that my four night stay will only serve as a teaser and that I would need to return to this great city. I couldn’t help but feel anxious about time and the need to squeeze in more set in. The next morning, after a coffee fix and croissant at Piccolo Cafe, I embarked on a day of sightseeing. In my five hour walk, I took in amazing views from the Rockefeller observation deck, visited the Grand Central Railway, whizzed through the exhibition Punk: Chaos to Couture at the MMOA, Theatre District and Garment District.
After my dose of sightseeing, I finished up at a Kajitsu for a late lunch. Its an establishment that serves Shojin Cuisine, an ancient Zen Buddhism type of vegetarian cooking. The meal was served over several courses using seasonal ingredients, preparing them using simple techniques to enhance their flavour and presented beautifully using Japanese earthenware and cutlery. The entire experience for me could only be likened to a cross between meditation, eating and art. It’s an experience worth having at least once. I returned to my hotel for a quick change into my running gear, then went on to complete the 10km Central Park loop in 50 minutes plus a 6 km power walk through the crowds from and back to the hotel.
Shortly after, I returned to the streets to meet up with a friend for dinner. In the mood for Chinese but wanting something nearby, we settled for Cafe China. I had done my research and it paid off. We sat at the bar as all tables were taken in this loud, hip and nicely decorated restaurant. The Szechuan menu was as exotic as the clientele which was dominated by well-heeled and enchanting Asian American women. We sampled a few dishes as we gazed around the room including Bang Bang Chicken a cold salad with sesame dressing, Whole Baby fish which is eaten from head to tail, Chungking Spicy Chicken with dried chillies and szechuan pepper, and Dan Dan Noodles. All the dishes were excellent except the Chungking which was a little too oily for my taste. The meal was substantial enough to get us through yet another night out of bars and clubs without the need to gorge on a pizza slice at 3 am.
General Sightseeing Photos
The Kajitsu Experience
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of venturing out of Manhattan to meet with a friend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a treat to bask in the sun and soak in the atmosphere at the local flea market. Locals close off the main street, roll out real turf across the road pavement and play scrabble on the asphalt. It was nice to be there with a local, but even more special because I was accompanied by my dear friend, fellow blogger who I had not seen since I departed Mumbai.
After perusing the streets of Williamsburg, she led me to Spriztenhaus 33, a bar where the beer menu was exceedingly larger than the food menu. We both love beer and being a regular, I followed her lead. To accompany my Ithaca Flower Power IPA, I ordered the Biala Kielbasa sausage with sauerkraut and a pretzel with chipotle aioli. The combination, a perfect marriage. As the place started to fill up, we moved on to more walking and iced coffee. There’s was only one word to describe that afternoon: perfect.
I returned from Williamsburg but instead of resting, I decided to head to see the sunset. I roamed around in search of the perfect shot. All rooftop bars had a waiting list so I decided to head west on foot. Whilst I was not able to get to the Hudson for a clear shot, I did manage some interesting shots. In between red traffic light changes, I laid my G12 on the asphalt. Here are the results.
Later that same evening, I headed out content with the idea of dinner, people watching and an early night. I walked a small loop covering the streets of Chelsea and Noho terminating at Saint Marks Place. It was midnight and the strip of mainly asian restaurants was buzzing. I slipped into Oh Taisho, a below-street-level Japanese eatery and was soon escorted to my bar seat. I was hungry and the visual onslaught of the sight of frying, grilling, chopping and stir-frying didn’t help. I ordered far more than my ever shrinking stomach could cope with including Tuna Tataki, Agadashi Tofu, Squid Yakitori, Shitake Yakitori and a pint of Kirin. The food was very good and ambience well suited for groups or a quick meal. Halfway through my meal, I got the call that we would be heading out, much for having an early night! Several bars and hours later, daybreak arrived.
The final day was looming and after only a couple of hours of sleep, I was eager to head out and discover some more. By 11am, my running shoes were on and camera was strapped across my body. Two litres of water, an apple and one hour later I was out the door walking westward where the Hudson River run awaited. What I enjoyed about running in New York in summer was the amount of people that flock to fill every grassy patch. Beautiful sculptured bodies of all complexions were strewn randomly and vying for a dose of melatonin. You could sense that they were appreciating the sunshine. I sensed a similar vibe in Hyde Park in London and Central Park. This was people watching at it’s best.
My run terminated near the Brooklyn Bridge where the quaint New Amsterdam market was in full swing. Armed with only 11 dollars, I went for homemade lemonade; a rye bread flat sandwich with mozzarella and cucumber; and, juicy pesticide and preservative-free raisins. Little did I realise that I had left my MTA ticket at the hotel. It was a long but rewarding walk back through lower Manhattan and then along the Highline.
It was almost four in the afternoon when I arrived at my hotel. A quick shower and change and I was out the door. This time it would be a quick farewell drink at Mission Dolores in Brooklyn with the same friend I’d seen in Williamsburg. The bar was quirky, the company a delight and people watching a treat. We later picked up a pizza enroute to her home to tide me over to dinner. It was a pleasure to see her again but equally sad not knowing where and when we would meet again. Departing New York also weighed on my mind and my heart felt heavy, emotions took over in the backseat of the taxi. It felt like a long drive back to Midtown where I would wrap up the night with my other friend by midnight. A 6 am start beckoned along with an unpacked bag.
I departed New York knowing that I would return. The was so much more I wanted to discover, so many more foods to taste and people to meet. Thank you New York City. You have my vote for “capital city of the world” title.