The view from the upper “viewing” levels of New York’s Grand Central Station is remarkable. The scale of the place is enormous. The marble floors and walls are almost overwhelming in their beauty. Below you, you look down to see thousands of people going about their daily commute. And then you look around you, and you see lots of people who, just like you, are tourists taking photographs.
And then you realise you’re standing in the middle of an Apple store. “It’s a #$^!ing Apple Store”, Michaela said. Yes, indeed, one of the upper “viewing” levels of this most iconic of buildings has been made into a computer store. And amongst the many thousands of people who were there during peak hour, came a reply from a young bloke standing next to us, “Yeah, they’re #$%&in everywhere”.
I’m not sure if it was our use of the “f” word (Australians seem to swear far more than many other native English speakers) or if it’s just that when it comes to hearing the Australian accent in other parts of the world, we have developed what Michaela described as “hearing like dolphins”. Either way, it was a fun moment of shared recognition.
Visiting Grand Central was definitely one of the highlights of the day which, for me, started off with a morning walk around mid-town Manhattan.
As I walked around during the morning, I reflected on the difference between what I thought New York would be and my experiences so far. I think I was expecting somewhere “harder”, somewhere busier. Of course your experience as a tourist can never be that of someone who has grown up and lived all their lives here, but I’ve been thinking “I could really live here”.
As we enjoyed a late afternoon drink at the Wythe Hotel, we chatted a bit about this with a friend of Michaela’s who used to live in Sydney. He told us he probably took for granted some of the things about New York which we thought were amazing. This included the spectacular views you can enjoy from the rooftop bar of the hotel, looking back towards Manhattan. “I’ve never been to the Tenement Museum”, he told us, “because that was just the kind of thing I grew up with”.
I think The Tenement Museum has been, by the way, one of the highlights of visiting New York so far. The museum is a converted space on the Lower East Side, which tells the ongoing story of migration to New Work. The tour we undertook told the story of early German immigration in the 1840s-1870s, the evolution of the community as a Jewish neighbourhood, and the ongoing process of immigration in the area. “50% of all businesses in the area continue to be run by immigrations” our tour guide told us.
As well as being a fascinating building to “explore”, the tour we undertook (ninety minutes) was probably one of the best guided tours I’ve ever undertaken. Our guide was knowledgeable, friendly, and well-rehearsed. Importantly, there was plenty of time to sit down to really get to understand the people who had lived in the house and how they lived their daily lives, rather than simply being shuffled from room to room.