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New York, USA

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Trip in Feb 1995. All "facts" are how things seemed to me at the time.

The flight from Los Angeles to Newark had the best views: I got to see the Colorado Rockies from 27,000 ft, and Chicago at night, which was a massive orange rectangle with an even brighter orange grid on top of it. At one point during the flight, you could look forward to see the approaching night, and look back and still see where it was daytime and light.

While walking around Manhattan Island, I managed to walk 100 blocks a day on two consecutive days. During that time I reckon I managed to see most of the main tourist things, as well as plenty of shops!. Wall St. - Narrow, Dark, Not really what I thought. The stock exchange was nice. Statue of Liberty - From Battery park, at the bottom of Manhattan, Lady Liberty looks small. Only once I took the ferry to liberty island did it look impressive, a huge copper sculpture. The ferry also gave me some excellent views (and photos) of the Manhattan skyline. World Trade Centre - Highest buildings in the city, they were the first thing I saw from the coach on the way into the city. (note:- This was 1995, long before the tragic Sept 11 events) You can see then from miles away.

Chinatown - Dirty, a complete contrast to Sydney's Chinatown. The amount of rubbish, slush and fruit and vegetable matter lying in the gutter was at it's highest concentration here. Park Ave. - One of the few two way streets in the city, I could tell a lot of rich people lived here. It just had this feel to it. Times Sq./Broadway - Total saturation advertising, probably one of the most active parts of the city. Seems to look as if it is open 24 hours. Empire State building - The second thing I saw that I recognised from the coach. Tall, but not as attractive as the Chrysler Building.

The Chrysler Building - Not one of the tallest, but for me, the most attractive building in the city. It was built in 1931 and because it was for the Car company, it has these neat chrome gargoyles which look like hood ornaments. Bits of the sides have a Hub cap motif too. The Chrysler building is the one with the semi circles and the pointed bits on the tapering part near the top. New York Public Library - as used at the start of the film "Ghostbusters". Massive. Grand Central Railway Station - more massive than the library, with lots of shifty, suspicious looking people inside. They seemed to hand around the main bus station too. In fact, a lot of the population looked like they had criminal potential. United Nations Building - this had a long thin bit, and I noticed further down the avenue, there was a big power station with chimneys and smoke and the like. This and the United nations in the same view looked like something out of Gotham city from the Batman film a few years ago. Bloomingdales and Macys - these are the two biggest stores in NY, and Macys is the biggest in the world. They had loads of stuff, but not the colour Levi's that I wanted. Central park - not very attractive in the winter, there were some strange looking black people hanging around inside, so I decided to keep out. I don't think New York is quite as bad as they say (Though I still think it felt less safe than anywhere else I've been), though I wasn't going to take stupid risks, like going on the subway - which I had been warned about. How valid these warnings were I did not decide to investigate.

The first day I felt a bit nervous, (Because of the reputation) but after a while it was no problem. In fact, people were asking me for directions, so I must have looked the part. It's far more easy to be anonymous in NY than anywhere else I've ever been, and I liked that. It would be nice to live there for a little while. Not too long though. The pollution is pretty bad, if nothing else. (Like the crime, rubbish, danger, traffic etc).Because they drive on the other side of the road, it takes a while to get used to looking the other way when crossing the road, and to stop going to the drivers side when getting a lift with someone. In America, the lack of decent shock absorbers in cars is legendary (to us Europeans anyway), and I saw many examples of this from the bus, laughing at the cars bouncing along the turnpike (motorway). The New Jersey turnpike was 12 lanes wide for one stretch, filled with all these massive gas guzzling style-free cars bouncing along. The food in the US is very cheap, and so are Jeans, Nikes, petrol, everything really, However, education, medical and dental care are really expensive, so in the long run we're probably not that bad off. The cheap food would make it easy to over indulge anyway, especially as crisps only come in family size packets.

I tried one of those hot dogs from the stands, they weren't really very good. The one I had in Canada later was a lot better, onions, relish, mustard, the lot. Also in America I had this great piece of student junk food called a "Hoagie", which is a cross between a hot dog, Kebab and a burger. It was good (aren't all bad things?), though it took a lot of eating.

The small town of Cranbury, NJ where Marjorie and Rusty's house (The people I stayed with - friends of relatives) was just like small American towns you see on the TV, with its snow and these big houses made of white weatherboard. It was quite pretty, though too quiet for someone like me ,though it's like the small towns you get in Stephen King books. If you've read a lot of them and have an over-active imagination, it could be quite interesting. I went into a bank whilst I was there, and it was just one big open room, thickly carpeted and with leather sofas and a big open fireplace with a large fire in it. A total contrast to the cold and unfriendly places you get in the UK.

Everyone wants a tip, for doing anything at all. I'm not from a tipping culture, so it's not an easy thing to get used to.

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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 1995

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