Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 1: New York

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Amtrak to San Francisco

My 20-day trip from East to West Coast began by stumbling across one simple blog. It was the blog of a man called Derek Low who travelled the length of the United States, using only Amtrak trains for a relatively reasonable price. Having failed to gather enough people for a road trip in a car (maybe this says something about me) this was the chance I was looking for to explore outside of the West Coast. Combining this coast-to-coast train journey inspiration with a previous invitation from a friend who lived in New York, allowed me to decide on my final solo route:

New York to San Francisco

DAY 1-5: NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

After a slightly claustrophobic six-hour flight from my hometown of one year, San Francisco, to the Big Apple, we (myself and two friends) touched down at JFK Airport and, thanks to an enthusiastic Lyft driver, got a guided tour of Queens and Brooklyn by night. However, during the next four days we ended up spending the entirety of our time in Manhattan and even after that there was still plenty of the city left that I hadn’t seen. After ticking off the touristy things on day one, (Times Square is a lot smaller than you’d expect — I blame countless films; the Empire State Building, just from the outside — there was no way we were paying $34 to go up 86 floors; and Washington Square, basically just a nice park), we had only scraped the surface of the city so good they named it twice.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island very nearly didn’t happen, as I left booking until the day before. Luckily I managed to find a last-minute ticket which allowed access to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, offering an impressive view from underneath, and a chance to explore the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. While these were both ridiculously touristy — in every sense of the word from the jostling crowds to the Lady Liberty crowns on every second person, who was usually also slurping on a torch shaped milkshake — it would have felt wrong not to have embraced these New York landmarks with open arms. And for $25.50, it really wasn’t too pricey at all.

Also around this area was Lower Manhattan which, to my eyes, is the New York that the movies sell us. Towering skyscrapers, suited men walking briskly past tourists armed with their cameras, and a sense of awe mixed with a dawning realisation of just how small and insignificant you are. That’s the New York I expected. After a walk down Wall Street and a glance at the famous Charging Bull statue, the most breathtaking thing that struck me in Lower Manhattan was the 9/11 memorial site. As a non-American the impact of such a devastating event will never affect me the same way it does an American, but as a human being looking at the void where two buildings should have been, it is an important sight that I would recommend everyone experience. What I found hard to accept though, is that the 9/11 Memorial Museum charges people $24 to enter, consumerism at its worst — profiting from a horrific event to make some easy money.

Having a relaxed day at Central Park was a great way to break up the hectic pace of the previously crowded days visiting Manhattan attractions (not to say that Central Park isn’t an attraction, or busy either). This rest on day four was much needed, particularly after the previous night out in Midtown Manhattan which left us with slightly sore heads and very empty wallets. Likewise the final day was a more relaxed affair with a stroll across the High Line, a beautiful abandoned railway track that has been converted into a hybrid of a park and walkway above Manhattan. The High Line offered a great view of the city, even if the 30° heat which had plagued us for the week had made simple tasks like walking around in shorts and a T-Shirt a chore. As the temperature fell a little we made the most of the Standard Biergarten, a slightly pricey but very nice place to sip a pint in the shade. This was the perfect way to end my time in New York, not in the sweltering heat fighting through crowds of tourists all staring at one attraction, but having a drink with a few friends in a beautiful place.

The High Line © David Shankbone, Flickr

RATE CITY –

Sites: 5/5

Food: 4/5

History: 4/5

Accommodation: 5/5

People: 3/5

Overall Experience: 4.5/5

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