It’s a hell of a town

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Manhattan, New York City, USA

19-22 January 2013

Midtown Manhattan at dusk

Midtown Manhattan at dusk

So much to do, so little time. This is very much becoming a theme of this trip.

Arriving off the Acela Express mid-afternoon, I made sure my first stop was the Empire State Building, just three blocks away from where I was staying. Ponying up a little more to skip the lift queues payed off, as I arrived just in time for an absolutely gorgeous sunset shining over the financial district. This was a fantastic opportunity to orientate myself with the city, and to listen to an audio guide from Tony, with an extremely thick New York accent, who told me that Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas towers are the tallest buildings in the world. They haven’t been since 2003.

Damage leftover from Hurricane Sandy was still evident a couple of months on. Places like the island that houses the Statue of Liberty are not open pending repairs following the storm surge, exhaust pipes running from manholes in the middle of city streets to keep the fumes from replacement electrical equipment underground from flooding the street cause obstructions to traffic, and sections of the New York City subway remain inaccessible.

Titanic: Alternate Endings - if only it made it's destination

Titanic: Alternate Endings – if only it made it’s destination

After a cruise to at least visit the lady with the enormous crown from afar, I went for a walk with a Lithuanian I met on the boat, and visited the World Trade Centre memorial site. After getting tickets and passing through a security checkpoint, we got to enter a fenced off plaza, complete with two water features that apparently take up the former building footprints of the twin towers, surrounded by names. It was a let down. Over 3,000 people die in a tragic event and the best they could do was recycle a bit of water?

Riding the High Line

Riding the High Line

Within ten minutes, much longer than the wait for security mind you, we were on our way again and visited a real attraction, the High Line. A section of a disused freight railway viaduct running over the streets in lower west Manhattan was converted into an elevated linear park, bringing much appreciated green space to a part of the city that does not have much, and is a few kilometres from Central Park. This was extremely popular with both locals and tourists alike, with the walkway tastefully decorated with an assortment of modern artwork along the viaduct and fixed to the sides of surrounding buildings. Due to it’s success, the High Line was extended last year, and now spreads for about two kilometres. Needless to say, the local realtors list it as a major selling point on most nearby listings.

After that, I felt I had to do the token walk that so many movies and television shows had taught me was a rite of passage – walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. So I hopped on the subway one stop across the river, got off, and immediately walked back the way I had come. The walkway over the bridge is in the centre of the two road carriage ways, but elevated above both. Because of this, the views were unobstructed, and were incredible, especially in the late afternoon as the setting sun afforded the skyscrapers of the richest city in the world a befitting golden gloss. The bridge was, to my engineering eyes, a work of art.

The beautifully symmetrical Brooklyn Bridge

The beautifully symmetrical Brooklyn Bridge

In the evening, I attended the Broadway musical adaption of my favourite childhood film, The Lion King. It stayed fairly true to the plot and dialogue of the original film, but manage to cram in a couple of more adult references on occasion. But it was the imaginative costumes and masks, which transformed the cast into the animals of Pride Rock that stole the show. For the most part more symbolic than realistic, I was amazed the way that the actors were somehow still able to convey emotion from relatively static masks simply by moving them around on their pivot hanging just over their heads. My personal favourite was the way they represented giraffes, by giving a couple of the cast stilts for arms and legs and had them practically crawling around the stage. There was even the blatant Disney cross-promotion we have known to grow and love, with the lyric “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts” that Zazu sings whilst imprisoned by the evil Scar substituted with Mary Poppins’ supercalifragilisticexpialidocious song, the musical adaption of which also happens to be playing on Broadway currently.

In guide books and magazines and online, there are very strongly worded warnings about the dangers of jaywalking in Manhattan, how much worse it is than any other place on the planet, and that you’re going die if you attempt it. Rubbish! Don’t believe it. Manhattan is a jaywalkers paradise. Almost every street is one way, traffic is slow, and right turn on red is not permitted – it is one of the most pleasant places to jaywalk.

Steps of The Met, no Blair Waldorf to be seen

Steps of The Met, no Blair Waldorf to be seen

One of the unexpected highlights of the visit was when I undertook the NBC Studio tour with a bunch of foreigners who also had little clue about many of the domestic shows and stars the pages namedropped. Watching the television show 30 Rock had prepared me well for this visit, as it turns out the page program was alive and well. Though they are much smarter and prettier than the character of Kenneth portrays on the show. Visiting television studios has always interested me, as the scale never seems to be the same as you expect from what you see on television. I got to sit behind my third television news desk, even if this is a fake one made up for the tour.

But sometimes, after experiences like this, I feel like I missed my calling as a weather presenter. I just don’t have the legs for it.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwHoTsxYKRo]
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