This is the final part of a three-part series. Parts 1 & 2 can be found here and here.

Day 4

 

Second stop: Grand Central Terminal

We booked a cab which took us straight to the super iconic Grand Central Terminal Train Station.

It is equal parts beautiful and imposing, have a look:

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Grand Central Terminal Train Station

There are a lot of small cafés and shops inside the station. And then there’s the famous Apple Store which once was Apple’s largest ever retail outlet (spread over 23,000 square feet). It’s blended so well that you never actually enter the store or leave the station.

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Apple Store, Grand Central Terminal

We then had lunch at a restaurant called Café Spice (There was no cake cutting because that’s for kids) and proceeded towards South Manhattan.

 

Third stop: National September 11 Memorial (9/11 Memorial) & Museum

The 9/11 Memorial commemorates the horrific September 11, 2001 attacks and consists of two pools constructed at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. Each pool has a waterfall at the centre and the names of all those who lost their lives in the attack are inscribed on a panel surrounding the pool. The waterfalls are the largest man-made ones in North America.

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National September 11 Memorial

We went there on a Tuesday which proved to be lucky as the 9/11 Museum offers free admission after 5 PM on Tuesdays. Entry costs $24 (₹1,600/-) at all other times. Though we had a ticket to the neighbouring 9/11 Tribute Centre (by virtue of the NYC Explorer Pass), we decided against going there because we wanted to check out the museum first.

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Inside National September 11 Museum

The Museum re-creates the entire 9/11 scene with such impeccable detail that it’s almost disturbing. Every minute detail and artefact from September 11, 2001 has been preserved.

We hardly talked to each other during the three hours we spent inside the museum. It was a mentally exhausting visit.

We took a train to our hotel, chatted for a while and then decided to head out for what was going to be the fanciest dinner of the trip.

 

Final stop: Uva

We searched on Zomato for good dining places around Central Park and eventually narrowed down upon a restaurant named Uva. It was once again on the east of Central Park, so taking a train wasn’t an option. 15 minutes later, we were being led to our table by an extremely attractive young girl.

This happiness was however, short-lived as ordering food there was, to put it mildly, impossible. We scanned the menu for any English term. There was none.

I gave it the same blank stare that I had given my CA Final Corporate Law question book around 10 months ago.

See for yourself. Here’s an extract, courtesy Zomato:

 

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Uva Menu (How can they expect anybody to order out of that?!)

In the end, I ordered something whose description contained the word pasta and Hrishikesh ordered something with chicken in it. Classic Indian Jugaad mode: Activated.

Another thing to note is that Valentine’s Day coincides with Hrishikesh’s Birthday (or is it the other way round?). Barring a couple of tables, the place was filled with couples (Pun unintentional). Hmm.

Though I’m unable to remember the exact name of the dish that we had ordered or the amount of bill (that we had not ordered), I can say that the food was top-notch. This disclaimer is necessary since my review could have been different had I remembered the bill amount. After all, I’m an Indian guy.

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Food at Uva

 


Subway

New York City boasts of the largest subway system in the world by number of stations. It operates 24 hours a day and I found it to be quite reliable and efficient (though admittedly, my sample size was quite limited). The stations are spread throughout the five boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island.
It’s a good idea to buy a prepaid Metro Card since it eliminates any need to carry change and costs just $1 (₹ 67). The regular subway fare is $2.75 (₹ 184) which is deducted from your Metro Card balance every time you board a train. There’s a screen on every platform which tells you when the next train is going to arrive and also if there are any delays along the route. The route map inside the train also tells you which stations are accessible by wheelchair, something I felt was quite thoughtful. It also tells you all the transfer options available at a station.

 

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New York City Subway (Train 1)

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Day 5

 

Sightseeing

First stop: Statue of Liberty National Monument

I’ll let the following picture speak for itself,

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Statue of Liberty National Monument

Ah! I know.

The Statue of Liberty is situated on Liberty Island, to the south of Manhattan. For getting there, you need to take the 1 train all the way to its last stop, called ‘South Ferry’. A thing to note here is that you need to be in one of the first five cars of the train to be able to get down at the South Ferry Station. From there, Liberty Island is a short 20 minute ferry-ride away. You can purchase one of the three available types of tickets – Reserve access (i.e. access to the grounds of Liberty Island), Pedestal access (i.e. access to the pedestal of the Statue), and Crown access (i.e. access to the crown of the Statue). Though all of them are reasonably priced, the Crown tickets sell out weeks in advance, so it’s best to book early. We could only manage a pedestal access ticket.

The 160 year old statue, a gift from the people of France to the people of US, “honours the alliance of the two Nations in achieving the independence of the United States of America and attests their abiding friendship”.

Made of copper, the statue was originally bronze but is now bluish-green due to effects of oxidation. We must have clicked a million photos here, given that it is such a spectacle.

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Perhaps the most photographed statue in the world

Liberty Island also offers breathtaking views of Manhattan’s famous skyline,

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Manhattan skyline, as seen from Liberty Island (tallest building you see is the One World Trade Centre)

Also, did I tell you that the Statue looks spectacular at the time of sunset?

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Statue of Liberty at sunset

To sweeten things up further, the ferry had a double-deck,

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It was evening by the time we returned to Manhattan. Since this was the last day, we quickly ran through our checklist and realised that we hadn’t covered two major attractions – Wall Street and Brooklyn Bridge.

 

Second stop: Wall Street

So we quickly hopped on a train that took us straight to Wall Street. We climbed up the stairs on to ground level and found ourselves face to face with this:

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New York Stock Exchange
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Wall Street Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wall Street has another famous attraction – the site where George Washington took oath as the first president of the United States of America (April 30, 1789).

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Federal Hall

We then crossed the East River and entered Brooklyn. By this time, we were extremely thirsty so we decided to stop for a shake at a place called Brooklyn Bridge Diner. The shakes were incredible, though punched a $ 23 (₹ 1,600/-) hole in our pocket. But then, things aren’t always great value in this part of the world.

We did go to Brooklyn Bridge, even rode on it to Manhattan, but couldn’t click any pictures owing to my camera’s not-so-good low light skills. Once back in Manhattan, we took a train to the hotel.

Hrishikesh’s flight to Seattle was scheduled to depart from LaGuardia Airport early next morning, so we asked the guys at the reception to arrange for a cab, which they did. My bus to Boston was scheduled to depart at 11:10 AM the next day, so I was going to have the luxury of sleeping for a bit longer. We chatted for a lot of time that day, since it was our last. Hrishikesh’s mom had sent an entire bag full of ‘Indian’ goodies for him – by bag, I don’t mean a sack, but a suitcase. But then, I guess that’s just how Indian moms are – sweet. So we packed our things, had a look at the photos, watched a few funny videos (that’s what friends are for), discussed life, set alarms – and slept off.

 


Final word about New York City

As mentioned earlier, our original plan was to rendezvous at Boston. Thank god I had the wisdom of moving it 300 kms to the south-west.
New York City. I can imagine it being a difficult place to live in. I know there are a lot of people who live on the streets, and who barely manage to eke out a living. It must take a lot to make ends meet in this city, given that it is such an expensive place. I know it takes a lot more than a few selfies in front of Manhattan’s skyline, to sustain in a city as competitive, dynamic, and ruthless as this one.
I also acknowledge that my opinion could carry a substantial bias. After all, I was there only for a few days.
But, there’s also something too-good-to-miss about this city, and that makes it the world’s favourite metropolis. I have visited Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur – none of them have the magic of New York. It has that elusive ‘wow’ factor.
New York City has everything you’d expect in a big city – efficient (for the most part) public transport, top-notch connectivity, a large stock exchange (NYSE is the largest in the world, with a market cap of over $ 16 trillion), great level of business, a top university, and so forth. And that’s okay. Those things ought to be there.
But what it also has is a life of its own, and that’s what makes it so popular. It’s alive, and very much so. It does not function mechanically. It functions, because the people of New York make it function. People mind their businesses, but at the same time are always willing to hold open that door for you. You’d get New York if you put the people of Mumbai into say, an English speaking Hong Kong. It has that all-important feel-good factor. And that puts it in a league of its own. And I haven’t even mentioned Times Square yet!
There are a lot of other cities – London, Sydney, Paris, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Tokyo – that could potentially give New York a run for its money. But I haven’t visited any of them yet, and until such time, New York City will rank, hands down, as the best city in the world!


Why this trip means a lot

Till about half an hour before I actually met Hrishikesh on my second day, all of this seemed too far away. I knew he had landed in New York, I knew he had checked in to Belnord, I knew I’d see him in some time. But somehow, all of it seemed too good to be true. I still sometimes wonder how it all worked out so seamlessly.
It’s always fun when you meet an old friend in a different city. But the feeling when you meet an old friend in a different country is at a whole new level. Four months have passed and I still have to look at the pictures to believe it happened. I don’t know how we managed to pull it off, but we certainly did. At a time when people struggle to pull off trips to Goa, we bloody pulled off a trip to New York City!
In retrospect, a lot of things could have gone wrong. A lot of things. He could have had college commitments, exams, projects; He could have received a last minute internship confirmation, resulting in cancellation of this trip; I could have been rejected a visa – once, twice, thrice; I could have found the cost of this trip too high; My boss could have shamelessly refused to grant leave; They could have cancelled the Nagpur-Doha flight due to less number of bookings (I know such things don’t happen ever, just assume); I could have been detained at US immigration and sent back to India; The Qatar-Gulf crisis, which is happening as I write this, could have happened earlier – that would have put this entire trip into jeopardy; Trump could have blocked Indian tourists; Modi could have come up with a ‘Stay in India’ initiative; There could have been a political emergency, or a war – the possibilities were endless. Fortunately, none of it happened. We executed the plan to the T.
That’s part of the reason why goodbyes were not painful; they were normal – composed and calm. We knew that all of this could never have happened in the first place. We just respected the fact that it did.
Also, it took me a lot of time to finish this write-up, but I’m glad I did. This will serve as a timeless reminder of the fun we had. Also, I’m confident that this will put a grin on Hrishikesh’s and my face, 30 years hence. This is not a travelogue, I know I have put in a lot of unnecessary details, and also that it might be boring or too lengthy for some. Honestly, it needn’t be concise and crisp, if you ask me. The intent of this write-up, after all, is not to review a place or a tourist attraction, but to preserve a fond memory that was New York City.
—What a wonderful company, what a glorious time, what a mesmerising city!—
Here’s a pic to sign off (told you it was freezing!)-
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