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 travelling 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, LA 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 came back to Times Square again after dinner for a quick look and headed back to the hotel for a good night sleep.

Toll Bridge to NYC

First Glimpse of NYC’s Skyline From The Highway
First Glimpse of NYC’s Skyline From The Highway
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Times Square
Baseball Shop on Times Square
With Two NYPD Cops
Broadway Theater
Hot Dog Cart on Broadway
Camera Shop on Broadway
Working Outside a Starbucks on Columbus Circle
Columbus Circle

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  1. Cynthia July 4, 2012 at 8:32 am

    I love NYC, I sure hope you had a great time!

    1. Zhu July 5, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      We loved it!

  2. Katherina July 4, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I love the picture you tok of your “first glimpse of the skyline”. Which was your first impression? 🙂

    1. Zhu July 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm

      I was super excited! I guess I found the city more “down-to-earth” and walkable than I would have thought.

  3. Jeruen July 4, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Ah, you’ve finally visited NYC! I have a love-hate relationship with that city, there are parts that I like and there are parts that just rub me off the wrong way. Incidentally, I’ll be there early next week for a few days.

    1. Zhu July 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm

      I feel the same about Paris and most big cities I think. I like to visit, doesn’t mean I would settle there for many reasons, including the cost of living.

  4. barbara July 5, 2012 at 3:11 am

    Hi Zhu,

    Your photos are getting me in “sensory overload”!! I am feeling feel nostalgic,even if I didn’t grow up in NYC.
    I remember well the first time D & I took a Greyhound from Philly to NYC and saw the NYC skyline. It was very impressive.

    You are smart people to stay in Long Island and take the subway.
    And I am getting a little ballistic looking at the window of the camera shop. My kind of candy store!!

    1. Zhu July 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm

      I’m glad we made a good call picking that hotel, it was very good and saved us so much hassle! I understand your nostalgia… I feel the same reading posts about France!

  5. Isa July 5, 2012 at 6:40 am

    I didn’t think I’d love NYC. I don’t love major cities and it was never my dream. When I went there, though, I were quickly charmed, we walked in Little Italy and Chinatown, we walked all the way through South Manhattan and… my god, this city has got such a thick history, it’s got a soul like I’ve never felt in any other cities.
    When we took the free ferry to Staten Island and went back to Manhattan during the night, the view of Manhattan and its buildings all lighten up, it was something you’ve seen a billion times in movies, but to see it with my own eyes was a great moment. It was very emotional.
    I don’t feel the need to go back to NYC for now, but it’s the most special city I’ve ever been
    A little text I wrote back then :

    1. Zhu July 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      You got some good pictures that day! You should put them on Flickr: do you have an account there?

      NYC is a very special city. I wouldn’t live there and I didn’t think I was going to like it so much, but it was a great place to explore. I completely understand what you mean!

      1. Isa July 6, 2012 at 5:47 am

        Oh thanks! The US are my muse… Well, that’s a little pretentious to say that but I love the light there. It’s simply not the same!
        I don’t have a flickr account, mostly because I’m lazy, but I’m putting one up when we go back from the US this winter, that’s my resolution !

        1. Zhu July 7, 2012 at 11:14 pm

          Do share your pics! They are pretty good. I know it’s a chore to have another account for pictures, but I like to favourite them and see them bigger, and I’m sure other do too 😉

  6. senorita July 8, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I can’t believe your in my hometown!!! How exciting 🙂 Too bad I’m not in NYC to take you around some of my favorite places… Reading this post made me think of home and how much I miss it. Hope you keep enjoying your time there!!

    1. Zhu July 9, 2012 at 11:08 am

      We had a great time, thank you!

  7. shionge July 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Yo…the Big Apple!!!!! I love NYC and I met a lovely lady from NYC during my European trip. Have fun Zhu 😀

    1. Zhu July 10, 2012 at 9:29 pm

      I knew you liked the city, I remember you mentioning it 😉

  8. Sanjay July 16, 2012 at 4:56 am

    Reading your blogs after few months. Once again nice photos. I partially relived the experience of driving from Rochester to NYC last month, with stopover at Albany.

    In one of your photos, the person talking on mobile phone looks very familiar. Is he the guy guarding the Forever 21 shoo at Times Square??

    1. Zhu July 17, 2012 at 11:48 am

      For the guy… could be I guess! Come to think of it, he did look like a security guard. But I don’t know him, it’s just a candid I snapped.

  9. Sanjay July 16, 2012 at 4:57 am

    Sorry, its not “shoo” its “shop”


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