When you arrive in new York at Grand Central Station,* you arrive like a king, emerging from ornate marbled halls into the bustling heart of Manhattan's midtown. When you arrive at the subterranean rat maze of Penn Station, you do not even see the beautiful face of the island until you emerge from the subway, disoriented and flustered on the Upper West Side, two blocks from Hostelling International New York. The hostel is, by all reports with which I am familiar, the single largest youth hostel on earth. Its impressive red brick building takes up an entire city block, and it is full of activity 24 hours a day, not unlike the city around it. The location is not necessarily in the heart of the most heavily touristed neighborhoods of New York, but I would not let that deter you, as the fantastic thing about this twenty square mile gem of a city is that every inch of it is completely saturated with all manner of entertainment and diversion. Every type of food, drink, activity and necessity are available at all hours, which is something that I am quite unaccustomed to. Walking lively streets filled with people shopping, eating in alluring restaurants, and loitering in a very hip and nonchalant manner, I am always surprised to realize it is, in fact, 1am on a Tuesday and there is more public activity than most American cities experience on New Years Eve.
There is no point in denying that, in front of this city, I devolve into a quivering fool of a tourist, gaping open-mouthed and wide eyed at soaring buildings of every architectural style, pointing and shouting about sights I recognize from classic films, and smudging countless window displays as I press my face against walls of glass separating myself from fluffy puppies, fresh pastries, sparkly dresses, and terrifying child-sized mannequins that I know would be horrible spoiled brats were they real live children. New York City inspires in me a giddy, stream of consciousness mentality where I interrupt myself constantly and write run on sentences longer than any I have ever written, or even seen, before. Like the seven drooling, nonsensical lines you just skimmed earlier in this paragraph. If that is what I write and edit for public viewing, imagine what it is like inside of my brain.**
Moving on. So, what have my trusted traveling companions and I seen over the past few days? In the interest of avoiding a boring, boasting laundry list, I will highlight only the "creme de la creme"*** of my time here so far. For me, visiting Grand Central truly was like a devout Catholic going to the Vatican, though I do not know what the train equivalent of the Pope would be. Some old railroad tycoon? One of the Big Four? Abraham Lincoln himself? The Vanderbilt family had it constructed in 1913, and architecture and sheer vastness of the building is astounding. One of its most famous attributes is its ceiling, painted a vivid turquoise with a constellation motif. Apparently, the French artist commissioned to paint the ceiling did the design backwards, then after the mistake became apparent tried to claim that he had done so on purpose, representing the heavens as if from God's point of view. Oh, clever Frenchman. But it is nevertheless a testament to the fact that the train depot continues to be a cultural epicenter in our society, and and a credit to our people that we have not paved it over and covered it with some modern monstrosity.
Simply riding the extensive subway system is an adventure in itself, and I seem to have the singular ability to get stuck in closing subway doors at least once a day. Its doors have been nearly decapitating people since 1904, and it and has some of the most intricate mosaic art I have ever seen in a rat infested subterranean public transit system. I highly recommend buying an unlimited ride metro card, as it is a much better value than a certain monetary value for a number of rides, especially if you have the tendency to get off at the completely wrong station, as I do.
Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues are almost overwhelming in number, but some of my favorites so far have been:
- Sweet Revenge, a tiny cafe in the East Village that pairs inventive flavors of cupcakes with complimenting beer and wine and plays such good music,
- Brooklyn Bowl, which brings together a restaurant, bar, lounge, live music venue, and bowling alley, all in one huge converted warehouse with no cover charge,
- Mehanata, a ridiculous multi-floor Bulgarian dance club with live music of an indistinguishable genre in the Lower East Side,
- and Absolute Bagel, a no-frills joint mere blocks from the hostel that has the most exciting selection of bagel and cream cheese varieties that I have ever witnessed.
However, not every traveling experience is one worth repeating. As Charles Dickens said so well in American Notes, "Nor must it be forgotten that New York is a large town, and that in all large towns a vast amount of good and evil is intermixed and jumbled up together." If you take to heart just one unsolicited recommendation that I offer here, please let it be this one:
DO NOT EVER GIVE ANY OF YOUR HARD-EARNED MONEY TO JING FONG DIM SUM IN CHINATOWN.
It was, without a doubt, the worst dim sum experience of my life. I will not elaborate as the wounds are still fresh and it is difficult to speak of. Hopefully after some therapy I will continue to experience more of the good and less of the evil, evil Chinese dumpling restaurants.
*Apparently it has always been technically called Grand Central Terminal, but everyone ignores this fact.
**Provincial Supertramp Inc. accepts no responsibility for any potential self inflicted trauma that may result from envisioning the very dangerous activities that occur in my abnormally large head. Though spacious, it is remarkably cluttered, and no amount of feng shui will rectify the problem.
***Which of course means "cream of the cream" and makes absolutely no sense. Cream of the milk, maybe, but anyone who has ever tried to cream cream knows it just gets all weird and curdled like, which is not nice at all. This is why I speak Spanish.