The trip to New York was a present to me on my fiftieth birthday and a good enough excuse to be extravagant so I booked my stay at a popular expensive hotel in Times Square, the pulsating hub of Manhattan. Over weeks, I’d been jotting entries in my red notebook for my five- day itinerary in New York, including a “things to do” list sourced from oodles of information on the internet. Yet excitedly, making my way to the elevators, I grabbed maps and umpteen brochures at the reception desk just in case I’d missed something. Taking a shower, I quickly unpacked my suitcase, transferring my camera and other essentials into my carry bag and stepped out.
It was early evening and seemed a good time to look out for the popular landmarks of Times Square. I was surprised that, I already felt a sense of anonymity and independence in the midst of strangers either rushing to the subway station or shuffling to see the signs and the sights like myself. One could easily identify the tourists from the regulars who worked in the offices from their clothes, their demeanour and pace of walking. The billboards announcing the shows on Broadway seemed familiar and impulsively, I joined the line at the counter selling Broadway show tickets on the TKTS Island. It was my lucky day for I got the last ticket available for Mama Mia allowing me time for dinner and a dash to the hotel.
The show was spectacular and I eagerly joined the clapping and feet tapping around me and even stood up dancing during the final medley of ABBA hits. It was very special as it my first ever Broadway musical on Broadway and unexpectedly on my first day in New York. Walking back to my hotel, I gazed up at the blazing neon lights wondering if they were dimmed after midnight and whether they really visible from spacecraft.
At first, I was overwhelmed by the array of the scenes and sights that New York City offers. The variety and diversity is awesome, whether its museums, art, music, buildings and architecture, music, parks, food, shopping, fashion or whatever one’s interests are, so the visitor has the freedom to choose from several options. Almost every place is accessible by public transport, which is cheap and easily manageable independently by oneself on the MTA’s one-day pass.
Needless to say, I could have taken one of the ubiquitous daily sightseeing tour deals on the red double decked buses. But the excitement and freedom of getting around on my own was hard to resist. My first stop was the Cloisters Museum, a gem on the Hudson River. As advised by the hotel concierge, I boarded the uptown M4 bus and got a full window-side view of Central Park, the Museums, and Columbia University, Washington Heights beyond Harlem. The museum itself is beautiful yet humbling edifice with its astounding art collection and gardens and enjoyable on a bright summer day.
Enthused by the medieval European flavour of Cloisters, I chose going to Little Italy for dinner rather than China Town, in Lower Manhattan. Given the long distance, this time I preferred the subway and got the feel of rush hour crowds in the express trains. The dinner was pleasurable and waiting for my order, I pulled out the map to discover that I could easily go across to Brooklyn and catch the lights of Manhattan. Refreshed, I walked south to China Town and took a detour to City Hall, and proceeded by subway to Brooklyn. Coming out at the Municipal Building exit at Borough Hall, I found I was outside the beautiful Court House complex and within the proximity of the historic district which had several century old homes still standing. From there a quick walk to the promenade on the East River facing Lower Manhattan. The majestic Statue of Liberty in the distant left and closer to the right the Brooklyn Bridge were clearly visible. Stopping for coffee and cake at a quaint small cafe on Montague Street, I returned to Manhattan by subway.
Emboldened by my experience of getting around, at breakfast next morning, I finalised the detailed itinerary for the rest of my trip to include the United Nations, Battery Park, 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and mid-town landmarks of Rockefeller Plaza, Saks, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Empire State Building. One day was reserved for Central Park and the museums, with an evening at Lincoln Centre and if lucky again, maybe tickets for a concert or ballet performance or at least the tour. For me, this was a dream come true, the best birthday ever in New York, NY – A place where you can be independent and feel free.
About the Author: Sreelakshmi Gururaja worked for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for over twenty years. Upon retirement in 2005, she returned to her hometown, Bangalore, India and resumed her hobbies of reading, writing and knitting. She is currently compiling an anthology of stories from her childhood for her grandchildren and extended family.