As promised, here it is … The Great Review of New York City! Because I am on the trip of a lifetime and I’ve got to make you drool at least a little. 🙂
So if you read the previous post (TGR: Airport drama), you’ll know that I suffered a little to get here, but get here I did, and thank the Lord! I got in at JFK Airport around 9pm, and by the time I’d taken an airport shuttle, the airtrain and 2 subways to get to my airbnb place, it was midnight and I was dead beat. It was pretty easy to get in on public transport: the Airtrain from JFK links you to Jamaica and Howard Beach stations, from which you can take the subway wherever you’re headed. You can get a metrocard (for use on subways) at any subway station, either at the ticket stations if they are open, or at the ticket machines, which are simple to navigate. My advice is that if you’re here for at least a week, buy the $30 7-Day Pass, because, unlike London, you cannot walk everywhere! The subway runs not very differently from the tube and other underground systems I’ve seen, and everything was well signposted, so I wasn’t left tearing my hair out in confusion. One thing to note, though, is that the same platform can host more than one train, so that’s something to take note of. Check the train number/alphabet on the first car as it pulls in, and, while some lines have screens in the carriages indicating which station comes next, the line we used most often (D) didn’t, and you have to rely on either announcements, which are rather fuzzy and unclear, or just simply checking station names as the train arrives on the platform. I’ve heard wild and terrible accounts of the New York subway – cleanliness, safety, the state of the passengers – but I had no such bad experiences. Except for the odd stench of pee in random corners of the stations (have you been on the Parisian metro though? THAT is pee-everywhere.), the amenities aren’t swanky, but are by no means deplorable. I was travelling close to midnight and still felt perfectly safe; no trouble, and a fair number of people still commuting. I’ve seen some colourful folks on the trains since – buskers, beggers, a couple of daytime-drunkards – but they were all harmless, and added to the plethora of colourful personalities that fill the city anyway.
So here’s going into Day 1!
So a good friend showed me the New York episode of Man vs. Food in preparation for this trip, and I couldn’t get very far at all because it made me too hungry and food was not readily available, so I had to curb my exposure to temptation. What I did catch, though, was the feature on this place, Katz’s Deli. Adam waxed lyrical about the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches respectively, about how huge and heavenly they were. Do catch at least the first few minutes of the episode. Anyway, we decided to make it our first stop of the day!
We be FEASTING!
So it was mentioned on the episode that many thought it impossible to finish a full sandwich on their own, which, of course, meant to me that it was a challenge I dutifully accepted. Which meant Jasmine (my pal who’s here with me) was forced to take on the challenge too. What are friends for, if not to weather the storms of life together?
More corned beef than you will ever need, or possibly encounter, in one sitting.
Layer upon layer upon LAYER of pastrami.
My first impression was that, hmm, these things aren’t actually that big. They look like normal sandwiches, just with lots of meat in them. Can’t be that bad, right? The deli is run in a supremely orderly manner, which means that even though the place is bustling with eager tourists (a local was as hard to find as a needle in a haystack), you never had to wait too long for your food. Service was prompt and the waiters and staff friendly and warm.
Look at this nice man making our food. He was cute, too. Double TROUBLE!
They even gave you little strips of pastrami and corned beef while you wait, as if to ease the torture of a wait that, honestly, was nowhere near long enough to be torturous.
My first bite left me mildly shocked: I’d expected the pastrami to be salty. I’ve never had pastrami before (I forgive you if you’re gasping at this atrocity) and I’ve somehow come to expect cured meats to always involve a hefty amount of salt. Well, this was nothing salty, but was nonetheless fragrant and oh so succulent. This truly satisfies the description of ‘melt in your mouth‘. The texture was reminiscent of pulled pork, but even smoother. The corned beef I enjoyed less, because I don’t like those strips of stubborn, chewy fat that runs through the meat, but I get how some people would love that (Jasmine did!). Taste wise they were pretty similar, a mild fragrance paired with the zing of mustard on bread, which I loved. The mustard was really quite outstanding; not too spicy as to overpower the subtle taste of the beef, but tasty enough to complete it. The bread was nothing special, but certainly not bad. After half a sandwich, I wasn’t full yet, but certainly more than half done. By the last few mouthfuls I found myself struggling slightly, but that was all. I wouldn’t call this portion a challenge exactly. One downer was that the meat was really oily. It wasn’t off-putting or particularly obvious at first, but by the time we’d embarked on our second halves, the overwhelming amount of oil was pretty obvious. It stained the experience considerably, especially since I spent the next hour or so with the sensation of my gut having been given a good oiling.
Me Thinks: Certainly worth a try; the texture of the meats are perfectly accomplished, the atmosphere relaxed and the portions more than filling. Terribly oily though. I probably wouldn’t go back – this is a one-off experience for me.
205 East Houston Street, New York, NY 10002, United States
MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)
It seems the world is divided into the people who love museums and the people who hate them with a vengeance, and I happen to fall into the former category. There’s something so captivating and enthralling in the experience of viewing art, and the liminal space within the white walls of the art institution. But lets not go into all that. We’re here to talk about an institution that is less a museum than it is an icon of a city: the MoMA.
Some nice lady getting all contemplative with a Warhol.
‘Is this not just very colourful million-dollar porn?’
From the offset, you know its huge. The imposing building, with its darkened glass panels and its vivid orange banner (‘MoMA’, duh.) are identifiable from a street away, and as we briskly weaved our way through the crowd toward it like it was some sort of mecca, I remarked to Jas that, damn, this place is big. When you enter, the first sight that greeted us was a party of weary-looking visitors (tourists, by the looks of them) resting their tired selves on the sofas in the lobby, and a ton of others buzzing about the large foyer. Staff milling around come to rescue you from your evident bewilderment; we were directed to the customer information point to activate our NY City Passes (1 word: useful) and also to get tickets for the current exhibition of Matisse cut-outs. Overall, the museum was very very impressive, 6 storeys chocked full with some of the most priceless artworks the world has ever known. Among those that left me with big impressions were Salvador Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory‘ (it’s a lot smaller than I imagined, but the experience of peering at the details only enhanced it), Rene Magritte’s ‘The Empire of Light‘ (absolutely haunting and beautiful), and Mary Weatherford’s collages of paint and neon tubes on canvas. But let’s skip straight to the one room that left me so overwhelmed and emotional, I thought I might cry. Let me say straight up that this is officially my favourite gallery space in the world: the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis gallery, home to Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’.
I’m a big fan of Monet and the Impressionists, but these paintings were on such a monumental scale but they became less pictures than full, immersive experiences in themselves. The take pride of place in the room, and I sat on the couch in the middle and drank it all in. The colours are so perfectly in harmony and the sense of the fleeting ephemerality of the water’s surface is so well captured, it can probably calm even the most tormented of souls.
I loved that room. So much. I would give it all the time in the world if I had it.
The rest of MoMA was almost a blur of artworks, but they struck me as a tasteful collection, well curated so I never felt drained or like I was being fed a content overload. Unlike the Tate Modern, works are categorised more broadly by medium instead of themes; thematic, or subject-based grouping, can force works into being thought of in a certain, specific way that goes against the freedom of experience that one should have with art. The selection of art is refreshing, but not too confounding-ly abstract as to scare or intimidate.
Me Thinks: A must-visit. This is a world-class museum with the best selection of ‘modern art’ (if you can categorise it as such) that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen quite a bit. I never got tired or dragged my feet. Customer service is on point too, and a combination of kind staff and a welcoming collection makes for a comfortable experience, bereft of the stiffness and sterile environment other galleries or museums can sometimes have.
11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019, United States
The Halal Guys
So we left the MoMA as it was closing for the day, around 5:30pm, and what should we encounter but a loooooong queue for a food stand just down the street.
You didn’t need to be especially close to smell the aroma of the food these boys were cooking up.
In their eye-catching yellow hoodies and the perpetual line that fed their stand, these guys were literally a brand. Fussing over mountains of meat (lamb, which they call gyro, and chicken), pita bread and rice, they put these together into a massive platter, good for two small – moderate appetites, for only $6.
We got the chicken platter instead of the more popular mixed one (chicken + gyros) because Jasmine isn’t big on lamb. Portion wise, it was pretty huge, and we both weren’t starving so it was perfect for us. Let’s start with what I liked: the pita bread was great, so fresh, warm and doughy, unlike alot of the pita you get elsewhere that is all cold and hard. The rice, which was a nice orange colour (art students – aesthetics over functionality), was something like basmati and was really fragrant and cooked to perfection. The meat, however, which was of course supposed to be the whole point of it, was quite a let down. The chicken, though very nicely tender, was rather bland, and tasted more like something you eat to quickly fill you up rather than to savour. The whole thing reminded me of something you would get in a school canteen, which means to say it was very mediocre.
Me Thinks: Cheap for the quantity, but not something you should go for if you want quality fare and something to excite the tastebuds.
The Halal Guys
307 E 14 St. Manhattan, NY 10019 (this is the permanent store)
Oh my gosh. Times Square. What can I say? A global landmark, the site of countless movie scenes (the limo scene in 13 Going on 30, the ball drop in New Year’s Eve, Sex and the City, etc etc ETC!!!), and, for me, the centre of my NYC dreams.
When we first turned the corner on to Times Square, I gasped. It was the height of commercialism, billboards of a staggering scale and a sea of blinding lights and colours.
For the first 20 minutes or so, it was nothing but fun. We tried again and again to take a nice selfie (it’s virtually impossible, because you either get the lights right, in which case you’re way too dark, or you actually get your faces seen, but everything else is just a sea of light) and just twirled round and round, looking at things. After that point, though, it all became a bit of a headache. With the giddy excitement of the initial arrival gone, I began to see the square as what it really was – a mosh pit of tourists eager for pictures, a headache-inducing barrage of lights, show-touts, and generally alot of chaos. It reminded me of Hong Kong, where the shopping streets are lined with neon sign boards, but none as repelling as this. We popped into the Disney store, and, standing inside looking out at the street, it looked as bright as day. That’s how bright and glaring the lights were. My head began to pound a little after awhile, and the crowds didn’t help.
Me thinks: Definitely can’t miss it, simply because of it’s status as one of the most-featured sights in the world. It’s also a lot of fun to be in a place where so many movies and shows have been shot; it’s iconic. It looked a lot better and more inviting in the movies, though. No one mentions how overwhelming it can be, or how oppressive the sensory overload can be. I wouldn’t spend more than 15-20 minutes here. Get your picture and go!
Yupsy daisy, so that was our first day in New York. I’m actually typing this at the end of our second, but because it’s taken so long to do just one post up, I can’t really pace the writing with the actual passing of the days. I hope this helps, or at least entertains! Two days in I am deeply in love with New York and am positively drunk in the exhilaration of being in this enchanting, effervescent city.
Taster for the next post: We walked the Brooklyn bridge today. It was so beautiful I nearly got emotional.
Cheers (to the Big Apple!) x