The goal of our spontaneous early summer trip turned out to be New York City.
As strange as it seems considering how much we love traveling and how extensively we backpacked together, I had never been to NYC and Feng only visited it briefly before we knew each other. It was kind of a joke: we have been all over the world but to one of the closest major U.S. cities to Ottawa. But the long drive to NYC for a weekend isn’t worth it, and we kept on postponing the trip.
Indeed, contrary to popular European belief, NYC isn’t “right next door”. Okay: to the scale of the continent, it kind of is; but it’s still a good ten-hour-drive from Ottawa (hence the stopover in Albany the night before).
From Albany, the last 150 miles to New York City were a breeze. We entered the New York State Thruway ($5.55 to NYC’s closest exit) as soon as we exited Albany and just kept on driving straight. Seeing NYC’s skyline in the distance is quite an experience, and so is visiting a world-class city for the first time—I was beyond excited as we drove into the first borough and familiar names—the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Long Island—started showing on the green road signs.
We had booked a room in Long Island City (Queens) to avoid both driving into Manhattan and the island’s high hotel prices. The Queensboro Hotel turned out to be a very good pick: it was a ten-minute walk from the closest subway station (40th and Queens), and offered a nice free breakfast and free parking. All we had to do was to rely on NYC’s extensive public transportation system, so we bought an unlimited weekly pass and hopped on the train.
A few minutes later, we arrived in Times Square, the first place I wanted to see with my own eyes.
Like most people, I caught glimpses of NYC in movies. Over the years, books and songs from famous NYC artists helped me draw a mental picture of the place. But of course, seeing it turned out to be quite different. I felt like I did in Los Angeles a couple of years ago—the names of neighborhoods were familiar but they weren’t quite what I was expecting. For instance, L.A. turned out to be a much friendlier and “normal” place than I had imagined (probably because I read so many thrillers taking place there!).
Stepping out of the subway station into Times Square, I prepared myself to adjust the mental picture of NYC that I had. Indeed, if I immediately recognized Times Square’s famous billboards, I found the place much smaller than I had imagined. I have seen countless movies where New Yorkers wait for the ball to drop on New Year’s Eve, and I had pictured a large square, much like Tian An Men Square. In fact, Time Square is quite narrow, and the traffic is crazy.
We walked towards nearby Broadway—I didn’t know it was so close to Times Square!—and enjoyed the atmosphere. If Times Square was full of tourists taking pictures, locals seemed to be in a good mood and even the famous NYPD cops were friendly!
We walked all the way to Columbus Circle and I caught a glimpse of Central Park South. By then, we were both starving, and decided to skip the many franchised restaurants (remember the fatty breakfast we had the day before in Albany? Not again!).
We hopped on the subway and headed straight to Canal Street, at the edge of Chinatown. Too tired and hungry to walk around much, we stepped the first restaurant we saw (can’t go wrong with “Excellent Dumpling House”!) and hoped for the best after the noodles fiasco in Albany. We got lucky—the food was great and the place was obviously a good pick, it was busy with locals.
We returned to Times Square again after dinner for a quick look and headed back to the hotel for a good night sleep.
You can see the set of pictures taken in the U.S.A. on Flickr.