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15 June 2011

A Late Start to an Overwhelming Day in the City

Day 23: Monday, 13 June 2011 [Part 1]
We had to return the rental car at 9am at Newark Airport. The drive from where were staying to the airport included several toll roads, which I of course avoided, and thus it took about an hour to get there. We drove through several different New Jersey suburbs, and each seemed nicer than I had expected. The city of Newark was the most urban of these cities, with all the amenities (and presumably the problems) of a large city. It ended up being around 10:30 when we arrived at the car rental drop-off at the airport (Dollar Rent-A-Car was the last of the rental companies, and you have to drive a complete loop around the airport just to get there!). I pulled up and the greeter checked out the car. No problems, until I got my receipt - $320. This was more than the $280 I was charged in Miami. Apparently they charged me for an extra day because I was 1.5 hours late. This sucked. In my experience there has always been a 2-hour buffer for car rentals. Needless to say I was feeling negative about it.

Ueli and I took the peoplemover shuttle to the airport terminals, where we walked through to the local bus stop. There was a pretty nice woman also unsure of where the bus stopped, but it soon came within 1 minute and there was no problem. We took a New Jersey Transit bus to Newark's Penn Station, and then we transferred to the PATH train. There was an Asian couple in front of us at the ticket machine, and they took the longest time to buy their tickets! The other ticket machines kept moving, and we were held up maybe 15 minutes just because they didn't know how to swipe a credit card! They finished, Ueli and I got our tickets very quickly, and we hopped on the train about 10 seconds before it left. Good timing prevailed!

The train took us to the World Trade Center, where we got off and began our exploration of the city. First we walked through the World Financial Center, then to Battery Park, stopping at an ATM along the way to exchange cash. From Battery Park we looked out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the distance. It was already after 12:00 so it was too late to take a ferry to Liberty Island (and after losing an extra $40 on the rental, I was even less willing to part with my money in expensive New York). Later we would find out that there was a free ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island that we could have taken!

We walked into the Financial District, with all the workers rushing out on their lunch break. Wall Street was crowded, but largely with tourists. There weren't many people in suits, as I had imagined. I peeked into a Chipotle and saw that the burritos cost nearly $9. We continued walking north, through small streets and alleyways to the Brooklyn Bridge, where we stopped on the waterfront and snacked on bananas. Ueli scarfed down his banana really quickly, prompting me to observe that he simply likes to swallow :) I'm a slow eater anyway - I always like to enjoy every bite of my food, thoroughly chewing until I experience all of the flavor. We continued walking, through Chinatown, which was also very crowded and filled with people, like an even denser version of SF's Chinatown, if you can imagine it. We took a peek at some cheap sunglasses, but they just weren't the right fit for me. We continued walking, through Little Italy (which really is quite little), and over to Soho, full of lofts and small cafes. We soon began picking up NYC walking habits, crossing the street whenever we could and walking confidently. But I was still on vacation, so I'd say I walked "confidently leisurely." Also, the city is LOUD. There is construction everywhere, cars honking, sirens blaring, and trucks zooming by.

We walked into the West Village, where we stopped for pizza at a place that claimed to be ranked as Food Network's "best pizza in New York" - it was good; a slice cost $2.75-3.50 and was toasted until the crust became extra crunchy, in fact a little too dry for my tastes, but the toppings and cheese was right on. There was also a tour group of sorts occupying half the pizza place, and when they came outside, the tour guide asked everyone to vote on what pizza place had been their favorite that day. It seemed that another pizza place got more votes. Hmm. The Village is such a nice part of Manhattan - there are small restaurants and cafes and bars on every corner, and the buildings are only a few stories high instead of ultra-high-rises. It had a feeling that really made me feel like I was in London! We then walked over toward NYU, and Ueli reminded me that he needed to find a Verizon store to update his expired cell phone contract. We were going to find wifi and look up the nearest location, when I noticed that a Verizon installation van had pulled over on the curb right next to us! I got the driver's attention and asked him for the nearest store, and he told me that it was just around the corner, less than a block away! Wow - that was easy! And the guy was really friendly and helpful, not your stereotypical New Yorker. We took care of Ueli's phone quickly, but we still had to stop by the adjacent Duane Reade (it's like a Walgreens) to buy a phone card for his credit. Then we walked briefly "through" NYU (the buildings are all essentially on the city streets) and into Washington Square Park, which is an amazing little oasis of beauty in the city! There were small jazz musicians jamming in the warm afternoon, a mime performing, children jumping and playing in the fountain. It was summer in the city, and it was such a great place to rest our legs for a few minutes.

We then powered northward (on food) along Broadway. All the way into Midtown, about 30-40 blocks. I asked Ueli if he knew the Empire State Building, and he didn't know it! We passed the Flatiron district, and Ueli recognized the Flatiron building! It was on the south side of the square, but the building was actually on the south side, so I wasn't sure if it was actually the building, but it did look exactly like the building on postcards, so I conceded that they must have built an exact replica of the building :)

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