So, here I was, on the soil of US and A – a country where everything is so possible that even Donald Trump could become an actual candidate for the POTUS seat.
I had the opportunity to spend three days in this concrete jungle. Would I love it, like I love London or Rome – or would I utterly despise it? Here we go.
On my arrival, I find out that two of my friends from way back (Hi Andres, Veronika!) just won a dancing competition in the city that never sleeps. A quick message to them revealed that there was a two hour overlap before they had to go and after I arrived. So we filled the gap by having a quick snack and taking a walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan across the iconic Bridge.
And yes, I did lie completely down and was almost run over by a few angry cyclists.
The Two Towers
Since my friends had a flight to catch, I took the opportunity to visit the park that until September 2001 used to enrich the skyline with two grand towers.
Having seen the whole thing on TV, you kind of understand the seriousness of what was going on. However, it was not until I saw the massive hole in the ground, where one of the towers used to be, that caused the true gravity of the events to hit me. I hope we will never-ever experience anything even close to the nightmare that frankly still haunts this city.
Yes, on that day I wanted to be a tourist and see the French statue up close. But! I'm not any kind of tourist – I'm a stingy one! So, I have a problem: how can I see the madame with the torch up close without spending $XX on a ticket.
Turns out there is an elegant solution. The Staten Island ferry, sponsored by...well, Staten Island I guess...is a means of transportation meant to be free for everyone. Just 300m from the shiny Statue of Liberty tour there's a port where you can take a no-cost 25 min boat ride to Staten Island, that conveniently happens to go past the statue, wait there for a few, and take a ride back.
A quick bite, a quick walk among the looming towers and it was time to go to bed at 8pm as I was surrendering to the powers of the jet lag monster.
The Skyline and The Square
Even though the buildings were cool, I'm more of a tree and grass lover (no allegory intended). But before I was going to spend my whole day in the wonderful green patch, I wanted to get a nice view of the skyline. That means waking up at 4:30am, which actually is not too hard if you're jet lagged, and taking the train to Brooklyn again.
There was this one moment where I realised that I'm looking at a city of millions of people – and at the same time, I was all alone on the shore – just me and my camera. It was beautiful.
Time to go to the park.
On the surface, New York City looks like a cute, beautiful city with a few skyscrapers. But beneath the surface, there's a boiling kettle of something really weird – its people. As my Uber driver said, on his first day, he just sat down on a bench and watched people. What a creepy guy.
But then, once my neck got tired and I had to start looking where I was going, I understood what he meant. The people of this town are really something else.
Even the guy with the purple suitcase – he was walking around street, having turned his two-wheel carry-on to a (loud!) speaker, trying make people in the streets happy with his jokes.
Side note: I'm kind of happy that I got a photo of the suit case guy and not the dude five minutes later who literally left his digested breakfast on the pavement – through the backdoor.
My path to the park took me through the infamous Times Square.
I don't have a lot to say about the place. There are a lot of colours and vibrant people, and during day time it honestly felt like night club where during a party someone had turned on the lights.
Finally – Central Park! The one place featured by almost every Hollywood romantic comedy. I had wanted to come to this place ever since Kevin McCallister beat the Sticky Bandits together with the weird bird-lady.
Before I had arrived, I was ready to take photos of all the trees, boats, lakes and bridges that Central Park had to offer. However, when I was there, the fact that the park was in New York City, the most interesting bit of it were still the people – from Spider-Man to an Asian dude walking around with a bow, shooting marshmallow arrows at the cast of Lord of the Rings.
And a park in my dictionary is not a park unless it has squirrels in it. Win.
After a looong walk in the park (20km+), I was hungry. And it was time for a genuine New York Pizza. I found a place near Little Italy that was supposedly the first pizza joint in the country. Given that there was a massive queue in front of the door, my supply-demand driven brain concluded – it has to be a good place.
30 minutes and a buzzing vibrator later, I was seated to my table. While Frankie was singing through the speakers, I had to make a tough choice: which one of the four pizzas I should have. The age-old strategy of eeny-meeny-miny-moe selected a pepperoni covered dinner.
Long story short – I got ripped off.
The most-amazing-pizza-in-the-world would have had to surrender to Sainsbury's microwaved meals in a blind test. I normally would swallow such disappointment (pun intended), but this time I had to write it up since the place only accepted cash! which I obviously did not have since I'm living in the 21st century.
But no worries – the had their own ATM...
3% service fee + exchange rate markup (grr!!) + foreign ATM fee + tax + tip = €40 for a pizza.
Talk about hidden fees...
Life has a way of balancing things. My hope for an awesome pizza experience that turned into a massive disappointment was countered by an unexpected, pleasant surprise – street food! Hot dogs, pretzels, kebabs everywhere! And they're (almost) all good.
On top of that, the hipster-y places like Essen or Shake Shack made up for the crappy pizza. New York and I are friends again.
The 4th of July
I had a vision! What if I could get a photo that featured the New York City skyline and the 4th of July fireworks! Apparently Macy's fireworks, beautifully seen from the same point where I took the skyline photo earlier, was the thing to photograph. According the Mr. Internet, I had until sunset before the fireworks started – meaning I had a full day before that.
I decided that a quick train ride to New Jersey was the right thing to do. Why? Because my dearest darling wife Madli loves a TV show called Cake Boss, and apparently their bakery called Carlo's Bake Shop is in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Although my main goal was to get her something that would allow her to taste the TV stuff, I decided to grab a few cakes and cannolis myself as well. They certainly looked delicious, but I think they were not that good – I believe Madli could do a better job. She should open a bakery.
The time has come: New York City on the 4th of July – skyline and fireworks!
One problem – 200,000 other people had the same idea.
To get to the same spot where I had been a day earlier, the tickets cost $150! I was crushed since there was not way I could justify spending that on watching fireworks – although I did do it with pizza...
But then I heard a little Laur Läänemets in my head "When life gives you lemons..."
I then hunted for the best spot among the crowd and put my tripod up in the middle of a stampede where thousands of people were trying to get the best view. Luckily, I managed to put two of the legs on the other side of a fence where no-one could bump into them and one of them was protected by a 9-year with a mission to help me. I am forever grateful to you whoever you are, young and brave hero.
So I set up the composition. It was almost perfect – it had One World Trade Center and a few other towers there. All I had to do is wait...
...only to find out that the fireworks took place everywhere BUT in front of the WTC. I was sad.
But then little Laur in my head continued talking. I quickly switched lenses from a telephoto to a wide angle, and tried to capture what the moment actually felt like – with a large group of people doing everything they could to capture the fireworks on their iPads and phones.
All in all, New York City is absolutely awesome – I love the place.
Yes, it has its quirks if you don't watch out. Yes, it can be dirty and smelly, but hey – Manhattan still is just a small island with millions of people living on it – I would not expect anything else. I would almost like to say that the food is good, when you know which places to avoid.
But the true gem of this city is not its skyline – but its epic people.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. On the last photo, it was only after taking the shot that I noticed that the big scary black guy in the middle was flipping me off. I love New York City.