04.05.2012 - 07.05.2012
On arrival, after dumping my stuff, having a coffee and setting myself up, I headed out. I had no real plan, but had pre-booked 4 nights to give me something to start from. I took the L train into Manhattan, and on a whim got off at Union Square. I saw I was on Broadway, so started walking. A couple of blocks up and I happened upon the Flatiron building. The discover that the building is not, in fact, flat, was an interesting one. I sat opposite it for about 20minutes, just gazing around, a grin slowly appearing on my face. Holy cow. I'm in New York! New York!!!!.
My first impressions of New York had been that it was foggier and more Swedish than I expected. But then when all you can see is fog and ikea, that kind of makes sense. That image quickly passed, leaving me with more genuine first impressions. New York is somewhere that everybody knows. Even if you have never visited, you have seen it so much in Films and TV, read about it in books, magazines, travel guides and in the news. You already know mostly what you will see, what to expect. And though I did know and expect things, they still surprised me. The city was dirty, grimey. Lots of things seemed very run down: the subway though efficient, looks surprisingly neglected and worn down – even the nicest bits that I have seen look significantly worse than any parts of any other subway I have seen anywhere in the world. But what surprised me most was the rights of way: road surfaces and pavements were almost having a competition between each other to determine which could be worst. For a world-class, world-reknowned city, which is a tourist magnet and known as somewhere that everybody walks, and in a country where everybody (at least, that is how it is often portrayed - whether real or not, I don't know) is constantly on the verge of suing pretty much everybody else, the pavements and roads are truly, astonishingly and consistently awful. I have been into some of the poorest slums in Africa where “roads” are made of dirt, covered in garbage and rocks and full of holes, but I would say that many of them are safer to walk along, at least in daylight, in terms of sureness of footing. Every single step in New York needs to be carefully placed if you are to avoid rolling an ankle or breaking a leg. In fact it amazed me how few people I saw limping/on crutches, although there were 3 in the hostel one evening alone.
The Empire State and Chrysler buildings peaking up in the distance, from Brooklyn Bridge
Once into the swing of things a bit, I found a wifi spot and sent a load of messages off to those in Europe who knew I was coming here to say I had arrived safely. To those I knew in New York, none of whom knew I was coming, to say that I was here. Otherwise, I did not allot. On the first day, I mostly just walked, and walked. Marvelling at, well, everything. By early afternoon, the sun had appeared and burnt away all of the fog. It was a glorious day. I gazed out from Battery Park finally seeing the Statue of Liberty clearly, and walked halfway across Brooklyn Bridge to a point so that I could see the QM2 at the quay in the distance, before she sailed again that evening.
The QM2 at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, taken from Brooklyn Bridge
And that was basically that. My first day was the most fulfilling and successful. Days 2-4 comprised more walking, mostly in assorted parts of Brooklyn. I managed to meet up with most of the people I knew in New York, happily catching up with old friends, some of whom I have not seen in some time and all I know from assorted random places. People from New York State I met in China; an Irishman I know from Kampala, Uganda; 3 people I had made in assorted places in Sweden for different reasons; A fantastic Bolivian who I once did a few surreal jobs with in unlikely places and haven't seen for 10 years – I had not expected to see him but it was incredible to catch up with, although I may well not see him for another 10 years: a day later he flew out en route to Sri Lanka via Chile, Hamburg and Jakarta. And, of course, lots of new people to meet: people in the hostel, on the street and friends of friends, and I dropped into our office to say hello. I even had a couple of beers, virtually my first alcohol of 2012, at a bar part owned by some friends. Plus, I discovered the wonders of Deli sandwiches, assorted varieties of which I essentially lived off for the first few days.
But I didn't really do anything. Yes, I saw some sights, and yes, I walked, but I didn't go into anything and didn't really “do” anything. I knew there will always be lots to do in New York, and in some ways I can't wait to explore properly, but perhaps unsurprisingly – and it was not unexpected to me at all – it was all just a bit too much. There was such a sensory overload of sights, sounds, noises; so many opportunities. So big; vast. So many people. So much, well, stuff. And I was just not up to it all yet. I had known that it was potentially the weak point in my plan to go and convalesce: turning up in New York for the first time is not conducive to convalescence. My head was beginning to swirl, I had gained an evil sore throat (probably from having stood in the cold fog for 3hours during arrival) and was again not sleeping well, partly because I appear to be in that state again and partly because the mattress was not great and both it and the pillow had plastic protective covers under the sheets - the bed both constantly, annoyingly squeaked slightly, and as it was warm, any sweat kind of made you stick to it. It was not comfortable.
By Monday, less than 72hours in and I could not wait to leave on Tuesday. I will come back in a few weeks, hopefully by then refreshed and back to something resembling humanity. I am really looking forward to it. But for now I am reverting to my only real plan, and heading out to find the middle of nowhere and a few days off nothing.
The view from our office in New York. I'm used to seeing a car park, a field, or a tube embankment from my office!