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that big apple
singapore sunset
It's Wednesday afternoon and i've finally made it back from a rather random vacation in New York. The vacation itself was a complete surprise - it was a gift for J's birthday from her parents. We certainly didn't have the money to go anywhere ourselves and didn't have any plans, but once this gift came in we had a little financial influx - two sales tax refunds and some spending money from my mom. We ended up heading out with more cash to our names than we've had since leaving Australia.

The trip down deserves its own paragraph because it was hellish. We were at the airport early, but there was some kind of delay in the check-in line, and we ended up getting shuffled into three different check-in lines before getting checked in for real, at which point we still had to go through US customs (they have an office inside Toronto airport) and security. Once we were through we ran to the gate and got straight onto the plane. The plane flew fast to make up time, but it didn't matter. The half hour bus trip from LaGuardia to Grand Central took almost two and a half hours. We were in stop-start traffic all the way, first because arborists were trimming trees along the freeway, then because the Midtown Tunnel was closed and all traffic was diverting over the Queensboro bridge. This was extremely painful because it was noon by the time we arrived and we hadn't eaten anything since getting up at 4:30am. The bright side was i got a great view of the Manhattan skyline while we were sitting on the bridge, and i got to see the infamous Queensbridge projects on the other side. Also lots of warehouse spaces for rent. And a jail. And a really big cemetery.

The rest of Saturday we walked around north of our hotel - that meant going up 6th Ave (which was closed to traffic for a street fair), wandering around Central Park and then coming back down 5th Ave. This is where i realized that J and i had very, very different ideas about what to do on this vacation. I mean, i knew it up front, but it kinda drove the point home when she was all about looking at the tacky vendors on 6th and visiting the stores on 5th when my highlight was wandering around the park trying to find an isolated spot to chill. (By the way, there is no isolated spot in Central Park, not in the middle of summer anyway.) That evening we went to a baseball game, then when we got back downtown around 11ish we popped out in Times Square. The screens and billboards are just as spectacular as they look in the movies, but the vibe is less Blade Runner and more Niagara Falls. I've never felt like tourists ruined a place for me before, but it happened a lot in New York City. I usually love sitting around at airports and visiting places where everyone is traveling because there is a sense of excitement and constant motion, but by the end of Saturday i was ready to deck the next person i saw with a backpack, shorts and camera. I had a sense that i hadn't seen a single local all day, and it was driving me nuts.

I was pretty deflated. And sunburnt. And exhausted (we got to bed after 1am). For me the whole point of New York is those little delis and bars and restaurants and stores that have stuff you don't get anywhere else, and i hadn't seen any of those. Most every store and restaurant in Times Square and along 5th Ave is in Toronto as well, and probably in most other large North American cities to boot. I did love how much attention the city paid to tourists - free subway maps, lots of cops, really diverse street food, places to change $100 bills, cabs for any occasion... There's no way you could possibly get lost or feel remotely scared/overwhelmed. I wish the cities i've lived in over the years did the same thing to make tourists feel welcome, but i guess there's a price - the whole place just feels like a giant outdoor mall. Which to me was so surprising given i was in a city that takes such pride in resisting Walmart.

Sunday i took the subway to Brooklyn to meet theda_b. That was the best thing i did all vacation. Aside from brunch, which was wonderful, i also spent some time sitting in a park and randomly walking around a few blocks with no particular goal in mind. It was so nice to be in a residential area where normal people lived and shopped, see some quirky local businesses, make a little list of things to visit and try in the future. I met up with J again that afternoon and went across the river to South St Seaport, which looks like a cute old building, but is actually just a big mall in disguise. I was sunburnt and bored to tears, and J and i ended up fighting. I wanted her to do all the stuff she wanted to do this vacation because it was her birthday gift, but i also couldn't hide my urge to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge when we walked by this old brick building only to see another fucking Gap.

Monday was a bit of a compromise. I had some places i wanted to visit, but i didn't really have any of them planned out on a map so we just took the subway to Union Square and started a very haphazard wander in the direction of Alphabet City. It's an interesting neighborhood with some nifty stores dotted about. I had a great time, though i think J was bored. She still wanted to visit a clothes store in SoHo so we marched back that way when we realized the time. I must've blinked and missed the bohemian section because amongst a whole ton of chain stores there it was: Gap #4. I could've cried my bubble was so thoroughly burst. Nonetheless, J bought a pair of shoes and we got back to Midtown then took the bus to the airport and arrived on-time.

Shame our flight was canceled. Shame they only told us 10 minutes before it was scheduled to depart. Shame LaGaurdia airport doesn't have any fucking wi-fi, so i had to try find a hotel on my Kindle 3G, which has ultra-slow browsing in black-and-white. J suggested we stay at an airport hotel, but i drew the line there. There's nothing more depressing than an airport hotel, especially when you're in a city otherwise renowned for its culture and cuisine. Unfortunately the only hotels i could find in Queens on short notice were airport hotels or "cheap deals" right across the river from Manhattan, neither of which were cheap. I ended up finding a place off the freeway and took the plunge - we'd spent a few hours in the airport at this point and exhaustion had kicked in proper. Despite being off the freeway it was only 4-5 blocks to the subway and to a local shopping street with a few restaurants. We ended up at a Mexican joint eating what turned out to be a pretty good meal around 10pm. Ironically aside from brunch in Brooklyn that was probably the most "New York" experience we had while we were there.

In all i did actually have a good time. I mean, you really can't complain about a vacation that you didn't pay a cent for. I got the chance to visit a city i've never been to before, i got to visit the US again, i got to hang out with a friend i've known online for years but never met in person, i got to see some of the most recognized sights in the world. I also got sunburnt and i missed out on a lot of food i wanted to try and i didn't get to see some famous sights and i didn't really get to experience the local neighborhoods and blah blah. It's on the list for next time. And it's got me thinking about future vacations and ways that J and i can each do our own thing without having to holiday separately. Maybe there are some places we're better off doing alone. Maybe just having more time would've made it easier.

In other news, my references are being checked by one job, another has requested references and a third has scheduled another interview for next week. Things are getting really hectic and having to manage it from my Kindle and cellphone from LaGuardia yesterday didn't help. Catching up on everything today...

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Wow - what a very mixed few days you had. I hope you do get to go back, and for longer, so you can see all the things you want to see.

Who knows: maybe you'll get a great job that you love, with awesome pay, and you can go again and again!

It wasn't a bad trip at all, just not quite what i expected. I definitely think going for longer would be nice, just to be able to relax and enjoy each moment rather than feeling i need to run from place to place to fit it all in.

Sneak preview on next post: i think i have a job :-)

Er. Sorry you two ended up fighting. I haven't been to South Street Seaport since I was a child, but I guess I'm not missing much. Still, I understand the allure of heading back to a place that was so fun when you were 8.

Unfortunately, a lot of spots in NYC have turned into giant malls. The rents in Soho have shot up so much that the quirky little shops have been forced out and it's mostly the big chains and a few super high end labels (like Prada). Ditto for the Meatpacking District (the greatest double entendre ever). The price of gentrification.

I don't mind gentrification in the sense that at least you can walk around without getting mugged. I don't even mind being surrounded by yuppies and trendy boutiques - they usually have a lot of nifty stuff to look at, even if it's not affordable. It's just chain stores that seem so disheartening. There's nothing wrong with Gap when you just need to buy an everyday pair of jeans, but it's hardly a vacation destination. And i'd class Prada as a chain store too, just for people with more money. Still, i haven't lost faith and i will return to hunt for quirkiness, just in different neighborhoods.

More on South St in email. It is nice to visit places you have good memories of, even if they have changed. I wasn't really thinking about that at the time because i was in a the midst of some self-absorbed listlessness.

Gentrification has its upsides, but it tends to suck the character out of an area after not too long.

I'll probably get back to email Monday while trapped covering reception until we hire someone new.

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