Impressions of New York City

We spend just two days wandering the streets of New York City as tourists. See what we discovered.

squaretimes M&M Building,
Three stories of M&Ms. Photo by Bonnie FInk.

It’s not going to be possible to see this city in two days. Probably wouldn’t be possible to see it in a lifetime. Two days won’t even provide a good overview, but it’ll have to do this time. That’s all we have. So far, from what we’ve seen, we’ve been impressed enough that we plan to come back. We’re staying in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in a room that overlooks Times Square, so there’s quite a bit of vibrance and color right outside the door. We didn’t come here for peace and quiet, and we’re not getting it. After all, it’s New York City. The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps.

Our first day was spent walking around Times Square, through the Theater District, and a few blocks either direction.

Traffic

Traffic In New York
Traffic in New York City is about what you would expect from any major city in the world. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Traffic—in terms of motor vehicles moving about the street—is what we thought it would be. We’re not driving in it, so it’s hard to care too much. It wasn’t any worse or any better than, say, London, or downtown San Francisco. It’s hard to imagine living here and using a car as our primary transportation. Driving would be pretty slow, but parking would be nearly impossible. If we lived here, the best strategy would probably be to sell the car, or park it somewhere in storage outside the city. Maybe New Jersey. And use it only when we have to go outside the city. In town, we would be best served to use public transportation; the Subway or a taxi comes to mind. Indeed, to get here from La Guardia, we used a town car service, and have the same service booked to get us to the ship on Saturday morning. Driving in from La Guardia was about eight miles, and took a little over an hour. Getting to the ship is again about eight miles over to Brooklyn, and should take about an hour to get there. Like we said, driving is easy. Just let a professionals do it.

There’s a real estate show on TV featuring some of New York City’s high end real estate brokers. We found it interesting that they all have drivers to take them around town. We now see why.

Walking About

Times Square
View of Times Square on a Thursday afternoon. Photo by Bonnie FInk.

Walking around Manhattan—in Times Square and the immediate area—was about what we expected, except that the vendors trying to sell things we didn’t want were as bad as anywhere we’ve ever been. Worse even than Caribbean towns on days when a cruise ship is in. The worst of the bunch were the guys and girls selling tickets to Hop On Hop Off buses. Truthfully, only a couple of the vendors were truly bad, and years of dealing with it on our part made it relatively easy to dismiss.

We made a venture outside on a Friday evening, when things in Times Square were just starting to get busy, and busy they were. The crowds were quite large and for the most part, moved about in an orderly fashion. Once in a while there would be a tourist that stops in the middle of the pedestrian flow to take a picture, and muck up the works, and some folks would just stop for no particular reason, and fowl up the flow then too. But for the most part things moved along reasonably well.

Pedestrians and traffic signals work a little differently here too. It seems that most folks would watch the yellow light opposite their flow of traffic and start across the street when the yellow illuminated. This worked much of time. And of course, sometimes it didn’t work very well at all. We know that most people have grown up ignoring traffic signals, but doing so here can have consequences. If you come to New York, pay attention to what the locals are doing, and learn quickly.

Shopping

Coffee Cups in New York City
Lots of “I love NY” coffee cups. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

There is (of course) lots of shopping in the area, from clothing stores to New York souvenir shops. Again, this is what we expected for an area inhabited mostly by tourists. Our shopping consisted of a quick walk down to Best Buy to pick up a cable we forgot to bring on the trip, a stop in at Walgreens for some things that didn’t fit in the luggage aboard the airplane, a stop at Starbucks, and lunch at Bubba Gump’s.

Central Park

Thursday we walked south to Central Park. We made it through North Woods and as far south as The Lake before heading back. Again, there’s too much to see in the little time we have, so we’ll make it an overview of some of the very limited things we have time to visit.

Bow Bridge, Central Park, New York City
Looking toward the Bow Bridge on The Lake. An algae bloom was occurring so the lake was a little green. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

If you do anything at all in New York City, go to Central Park. This place is such a contrast to the city surrounding it that it’s almost hard to believe. If we lived here, in the city, we would certainly spend time in Central Park as often as we could. It’s a place where city dwellers can go that gives them a sense of the outdoors, a place to roam, a haven with room.

Construction for Central Park began during the American Civil War. It was originally 778 acres of city owned land, but ended up at its present size of 843 acres. It is generally considered to be the most visited urban park in the world, with 40 million visitors in 2013.

Central Park is free to enter and use, by the way. It’s paid for mostly with privately donated funds managed by a private organization called the Central Park Conservancy. They contribute about 75% of the park’s 63 million dollar annual budget. The rest, presumably comes from the City, with no doubt a state or federal grant thrown in here and there.

There was a time in the 1970s’ when Central park was considered a dustbowl by day and a crime scene by night. City budget cuts to the Parks Department left them with virtually no way to effectively manage and maintain the park system in New York City. That’s when the Central Park Conservancy came into being and, through the influx of private money and private sector management, the park system, including Central Park, has made a dramatic restoration. We never saw it in its declining years, but we had heard of its reputation of being less than a stellar place to visit; the reputation is no doubt left over from the declining years of the 60s’ and 70s’.

Gondola in Central Park.
You can take a Gondola ride on The Lake in Central Park. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Central Park is clean, well maintained, safe, representative of the outdoors, and seems to have an activity to match just about any mood. We saw walking trails, horse drawn carriages, pedicabs, meadows for sun bathing, café and restaurant choices, and more. There were row boats to rent, volleyball courts, baseball diamonds, you name it. We saw people enjoying the sun, several dozen people rowing boats around the lakes, plein air painting, and a few just curled up under a tree, reading or taking a quick nap. In our short half day hike around the park, we encountered several different kinds of small wildlife, from squirrels, to a racoon. Several species of birds were about, including a flock of Canada Geese. After all, what park doesn’t have a flock of Canada Geese these days, usually with attitudes?

Horse drawn carriage in Central Park, New York City
This horse was all decked out with a feather. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

What we did not see was a large homeless population, or a large population of people in our faces trying to sell things. There were venders in one area, but the atmosphere was more like a farmer’s market, where we were welcome to approach and engage the vendors, but they weren’t chasing us down the street. Our experiences with other urban parks in the last few years had really prepared us for the inevitable homeless population camped out in the underbrush and panhandling from everyone who walked by. No such thing here in Central Park. And we covered a large part of the park, walking a loop from 7th Avenue down around The Lake and back up to 7th Avenue. What we saw in terms of people was New Yorkers, using their park in the way it was intended. We’ll no doubt return to New York in the future, and a trip to Central Park will certainly be on the list.

We came to New York primarily because it’s where we need to be to catch a Cunard Lines ship across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom. We threw in a couple of days in the city just to get an overview, and see if we wanted to bother to come back as tourists. What we learned was that we should have scheduled a week at the very minimum to see this incredible city. No doubt we’ll return at some point in the not-too-distant future with more time and a better, more thoroughly researched agenda. There is so much to see and do that two days was only enough to make us want more.

Here are more pictures of our two days in New York City:

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