Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of...

But before I get onto that, I nearly didn't make it out of Europe. Due to some "Shengan Agreement" or something, you're only supposed to spend a maximum of three months in pretty much the whole of Western Europe. As if three months is enough for the whole of Western Europe! So anyway, because I was there for about six, I was actually an illegal alien, which the really cute guy at Amsterdam customs was quick to point out. What I don't get is that I have had my passport stamped several times travelling within Europe and nobody picked up on this fact until I'm about to leave the continent? So anyway, he was quite nice about it but I had to go to the cold, grey back room and fill out a form like a criminal and he said he was 99% sure they would let me off, but if they don't I can't go back to Europe for five years!

But another day, another continent and I couldn't mull over my illegal status for long as I was flying to New York, New Yoooooooooork. What a buzz. Even the fact that British Airways lost my luggage couldn't get me down, especially since the nice guy on the desk chuckled at my lame jokes and gave me a free toilet bag. I was so excited as we touched down on the tarmac of the city I had seen in so many movies and TV shows; seeing New York is like meeting a famous actor in real life that you have seen in heaps of movies. I was staying in a hostel in Brooklyn, but it was like the trendy part of Brooklyn and reminded me a lot of Fitzroy in Melbourne with lots of vintage stores and cute little cafes. I was pretty spent after my big flight, so I didn't see much on my first day, but I was asked to go in a photo shoot. Yeah, well you know, I always knew I would get discovered in New York. It was just a publicity shoot for the hostel, but I got $60 cash in hand and free red wine all night, easiest money ever!

The next day the sun was shining bright and everything was dandy, so I caught the subway into Times Square and walked around central Manhattan. I smashed all the big sites; Times Square, Central Park, Madison Avenue, 5th Avenue, Broadway, Central Station, Chrysler building, walking past addresses that I had heard muttered to cab drivers in a million movies... "45th and Broadway please". I ran around like a little kid in a huge Lego store full of massive dragons and things made out of Lego, then did... The Empire State Building. I got to the top just as dusk was approaching and despite the paparazzi spectacular, the view was amazing. On the way home I found... Pop Tarts World. Yes, they have a whole store devoted to Pop Tarts! I bought two tasty frosted varieties, then caught the subway home with a big smile on my face. At midnight I went with another Aussie guy to the only Australian pub in New York, and paid $10 for the privilege of watching two football teams end up back where they started, albeit a little more tired. I felt like I was in Australia again for the whole 3 hours. Then I hailed my first cab on the New York sidewalk, with what has to be a record of like 30 seconds. My fame must have been getting around after my photo shoot.

The next night I caught up with a guy Alex who I had met in Croatia previously in my trip. He was out with some friends after a wedding and generously offered to take me along for the ride. The whole night I felt like I was in Sex and the City. We started at a busy little bar near Central Park where they have those hostesses who decide whether or not you can come in and all the guys are wearing suits. Then we caught a cab to an exclusive nightclub where Alex had booked out a private table on the rooftop terrace which had the most AMAZING view of the New York skyline. Mind you, it cost $120 per person for the privelege! A lot of dancing, a lot of drinking followed by a scrumptious slice of New York pizza ended a fantastic night. And the next morning... bagels! Delivered straight to the door of your apartment!

I slept in too late to go to a Gospel church that morning, but it didn't matter, because this is New York and of course they have an afternoon service! Now that's my kinda church. So armed with a really crappy map I jumped aboard a random bus heading towards the part of Brooklyn the church was in. A guy who had lived in New York for 42 years chatted to me on the bus and told me how the place had changed. When I got off, he told me to be careful cos of the neighbourhood and all. It turns out I was the only white person in a black neighbourhood. I had heard there were "black" neighbourhoods in New York but nothing prepared me for how extremely segregated it really was. I was getting stared at like I had just stepped out into a remote village in Africa and there were some pretty mean looking guys walking around. I honestly felt so uncomfortable I hopped on another bus so I didn't have to walk. There were some lovely old ladies dressed in their Sunday best, and they directed me to the Brooklyn Tabernacle.

This place was pumping! They had a choir of at least 150 people, minimal instruments and some fantastic solo singers. In the church body alone there would have been about 1000 people and the music was so moving, I actually had a bit of a tear. I didn't realise how much I missed church until I was in the midst of such an energetic one. The preacher was really good too, wish I could remember his name, but he preached about God commanding us not to worry and to rejoice in him always, even if not in our own circumstances. It was a great experience and even though the place was so big they needed ushers, I felt at home straight away.

There is so much to see in New York it becomes a little overwhelming. The weather turned bad, but this would not stop me from sightseeing! I walked out of my hostel one morning to drizzle, only for it to turn into a veritable deluge just as I was stepping out of the subway to line up in an outdoor queue for Broadway tickets. My ineffective travel umbrella turned inside out, so I was soaked from head to toe, but I got my tickets to Westside Story. One night I was walking through Times Square and there was a Wagner opera showing on the big screens and people were sitting in the rain watching. It was actually really good, I might have to go see an opera one day. That was the idea of course, advertising. I went into Toys R Us, a toystore so big it had its own ferris wheel, life size dinosaur and giant Barbie dollhouse. I also got to saunter into Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue and spend a bit of cash on mum's behalf... I know what Holly Golightly meant when she said in Breakfast at Tiffany's, "It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits..." How could you be sad in Tiffany's with all those sparkly things and the Australian dollar as strong as it is?

On my last day I stupidly rocked up to the ferry port to go see the Statue of Liberty four hours before I had to be on my flight only to find the queue miles long. So I took the cheats way and caught the Staton Island ferry instead... free, no queue and a great view of the lady herself. The only thing was, it took longer than I expected. So I was rushing to the airport for my domestic flight to Miami, got there 45 minutes before the flight only to be told the flight was closed. About five minutes ago. To make matters worse, the staff were unnecessarily rude, and the next flight they put me on was delayed by one and a half hours. So yes, I will name the dodgy airline here for all to see: American Airlines. So that is flight number two I have missed. Well, two out of twelve ain't bad. Actually, that's shocking isn't it?

So I had about three days to spend in Miami. I was staying at a hostel that was party 24/7, house music thumping like a nightclub at all hours and the common room dimly lit like a strippers. But they provided three meals a day for free and one night we even had a free keg. I just spent my time lazing on the beach which was huge and really nice, although you have to ignore the constant hum of planes flying over your head advertising anything from Miami nightclubs to lyposuction clinics. One afternoon I went for a jog along South Beach only to jog past the one and only The Fonz. He was a little more old and grey than last time I saw him on Happy Days, but I am pretty sure it was him. I was sharing a room with two crazy Romanian girls and together we had a few big nights out in Miami, more girls in underwear dancing on poles (not us!), exhorbitant drink prices and thumping house music. All in all, a good time was had by all, but I was ready to move on to my next destination after three nights... Mexico!

xo Meg

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