Shortly after returning from my travels around Asia I was ready to get back on an airplane. Thankfully I get e-mail notifications from various airlines and Southwest just happened to have a sale going as my feet started itching. I began browsing possible destinations trying to come up with the most exciting (and affordable) plan. It just so happens that I have awesome friends scattered all over the country which makes traveling more affordable, but also harder to choose a destination - who should I visit first!? Having never been, and hearing plenty of grief about it from my students and friends in Korea I finally decided upon New York.
To maximize my trip out east I decided to fly to Washington DC, visit three friends living there, eat tons of food and drop into a few museums before taking a bus up to New York. It was kind of weird preparing for a solo trip in the US compared to abroad, I felt like things should be easier but then again maybe not. When you're a small white girl traveling in SE Asia people know you're the tourist, and more often than not they're there to help you out, I had a feeling New York wouldn't be quite the same.
I almost felt like I won the lottery when I scored the $1 fare on the Bolt Bus from DC to New York, seriously I thought those things were just a marketing ploy to get you on their website. My transition from one city to the next couldn't have been easier, all transportation was on time and easy to navigate; even arriving in New York at 10:30 at night and finding my way to Brooklyn was a breeze! I couldn't have been happier to see my friend Brittany, settle myself into her adorable apartment, meet her roommates (and their dogs) and start planning my next few days.
Brittany had to work Thursday and Friday (as expected) so I was left on my own to explore the city and play tourist, something I suppose I've become quite good at. For the amount of complainants I've heard regarding the New York metro system, I was pleasantly surprised first, they offer a 7-day unlimited pass for only $30 which makes travel super cheap, the trains were generally on time and although not clean like Korea, they weren't disgusting.
Before jumping right into the obligatory tourist sites I started my first day with a walk across the Brooklyn bridge, I had to go into the city anyway so why not build in some exercise and amazing views? I accidentally landed myself in Chinatown and couldn't pass up a taro bubble tea, but decided to take a pass on the rest of the treats. Next was the 9/11 memorial and museum one of the newest 'must see's' along the tourist route. The memorial is beautifully designed and provides a great sitting area for the many visitors.There's no need to reserve tickets ahead of time as the lines move swiftly along, just be prepared to be surrounded by lots of tourists.
In total it took just over two hours to tour the entire museum, this time could be increased or decreased depending on how in depth you read everything - personally having lived through it all once I didn't need to read every little detail. It was interesting to observe tourists from other countries as the read about the days events, sure they heard about it all on the news but not to the extent we did here in America, some tourist were seeing images or reports for the first time and you could see how blown away they were by it all. Although it wasn't the brightest start to the day I'm happy to have visited the museum, it was very well done provides tons of information and acts as a memorial to all those that lost their lives that day.
I spent the rest of the day walking around the city: Trinity Church, Battery park, Wall street and the financial district, Washington square park/NYU area, and eventually ending at the set of the Daily Show. After interning there for a semester Brittany landed a job as a production assistant and absolutely loves it, as a perk (for her friends) she's able to request tickets for any visitors wishing to attend a live taping. I invited my friend Rachel (who I interned with over 4 years ago) and thankfully she was able to get off work early enough to meet me. The show was hilarious, the guest was gorgeous (hello Adam Levine) and most importantly it was great to see my friends. The day ended with pizza, beer and a packer game (almost thought I was back in Wisconsin) before calling it a night and realizing my feet were about to fall off, so.much.walking.
Since I had the weekend to spend with Brittany I told myself I'd get all of the touristy stuff done without her. Friday was a later start (I guess I was tired) which began with a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. I wanted to get a closer look at the statue of liberty but was not about to spend $20 to do so, plus I wasn't that interested in the tour aspect. Instead, I boarded the free ferry along with hoards of other tourists and many locals, making their daily commute. The ride takes about a half hour and although it doesn't get extremely close to the statue provides great views each way. I had nothing to do on the island so boarded the next return ferry and was back in New York within the hour.
I had a few more places I wanted to visit so I jumped back aboard the metro and made my way uptown. I decided to head all the way north to Central Park to enjoy the early afternoon sun. I easily could have spent the whole day there as the park is enormous but it's not quite as fun wandering alone (without a book) so after a short stroll made my way back towards Times Square.
For all the hype it gets this is probably the most overrated 'attraction' in New York, it's crowded with tourists, noisy, busy and there's not actually anything to do, unless waiting in lines sounds fun to you. The entire area (5th ave, Rockefeller center, etc) is neat to see but doesn't require much more than a walk by, instead I made my way to Bryant Park and the NYC Public Library, much more peaceful and relaxing.
My last attempt at being a tourist brought me back to my budget backpacking ways as I attempted to enter the MoMa during their free hours. I'd used this approach to save money before, most notably in Hong Kong where I saw three different museums for free, but it was different in New York. For one the museum is only free for a designated period of time (5-8 Friday afternoon) and secondly it's Chaos. First, you must get in line to receive your free ticket voucher (why I have no idea). I completely underestimated how many people would show up for this, the line wrapped down and around the block and that wasn't the end of it. Once inside the museum there were people everywhere, talk about unenjoyable, I didn't last more than 45 minutes before calling it quits and instead, going to find something to eat.
Friday afternoon brought my days [as a tourist] in New York to an end, by 6 pm I was on my way to meet Brittany and some of her co-workers for a post work drink. The next few days proved to me the real perks of traveling to places your friends already live, I was able to leave the camera at home and blend in with the locals. We spent our time relaxing in parks, eating delicious foods (not listed in Lonely Planet) and navigating the streets like a local, even if we did still visit some touristy sights.
Recommended things to do in New York:
1. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge - free, good views and built in exercise
2. 9/11 Museum - just do it
3. Relax in a park - read a book, people watch, eat lunch, nap....
5. Take the local transport: 7-day pass!