I don’t remember exactly how it happens. Someone must have mentioned the eclipse. He says we should all come, that he has a hotel room with enough room for all of us. But surely it’s just another drunken plan, soon to be forgotten.
But the next day he mentions it again. Toby and Amy can’t, their flights back to the UK too expensive to reschedule, but I have nothing to stop me, nothing but myself. And so here I am, on the night bus to New York after three days in Niagara with Toby and Amy. I hate these buses, exhausting, but excited. I really do love being on the move.
I fell asleep on the woman next to me, she practically runs off the bus when we arrive in New York. Oops. Driving in to New York it’s stupid to say, but fuck, it’s impressive. The Manhattan skyline, known worldwide and no less spectacular for it.
I have to stop in the station to organise my bags, I don’t know how I’ve ended up with so much stuff. I’ll pass another milestone as a backpacker and send a box of clothes home while I’m here. Ridiculously expensive, the $60 only worth it because of the lovely coat I stupidly packed but am unlikely to ever wear.
As I always do I end up walking to the hostel, it’s only 17 minutes away apparently, but in reality with a heavy bag and rucksack it easily takes me half an hour. It’s 6AM but the city is already waking up, people in suits making their way to work, the buildings reaching high into the heavens. I’ve been in many cities but this is different. Breakfast bars, food carts, coffee shops, people walking everywhere, the morning shifting in to gear, busy.
Central Park first thing in the morning
I’ve barely slept but I make it to the hostel, drop my bag and walk to central park. I stop for coffee and pick up some Banana bread, I haven’t realised how hungry I am. Eating it as I walk, the dogs on their morning walk gaze longingly. The smell must be pretty powerful permeating the morning air. The park is busy with joggers and dog walkers out in force. It’s rained all night the air already hot and humid. It feels strange to walk these paths. I feel like I know them without knowing, the backdrop of so many films.
New York, NY
Statue of Liberty from the free Staten Island Ferry
It’s so early but I have another 6 hours before I can check in. Surviving on less than an hours sleep I get another coffee and take the subway downtown to the shore. I hadn’t realised how far out the Statue of Liberty was, but the Staten Island ferry is free and with so much time I take the opportunity to get a closer look and enjoy the view back across the city. The sky is dark, the heat no less oppressive. I had planned to go to the Brooklyn Bridge, but instead I head to the New York City Library. A beautiful building, I hadn’t expected so many beautiful rooms and books, stupid really but I don’t tend to do much research before I arrive somewhere.
Entrance to the New York Public Library
I’m drawn in to the map rooms, and the historic records detailing every immigrant, birth, death, for the past however many years. I love this place, so calming. I feel sorry for anyone actually using the library, all of us tourists coming and going, taking pictures and leaving just as quickly.
By now it’s pouring outside and past time for me to check in. I’m surprised I’ve made it this long. I grab some food and walk along Broadway, and through Times Square. Bright lights big city sure enough, making a stop at Grand Central Station on the walk back.
Back in the hostel I lay low, all of my roommates are from camp America and have been working here over the summer. They give me some chocolate and it’s nice to talk and hear them excitedly discuss home. Stupid how we travel so far and then stick together.
I pass out, an early alarm too optimistic. I haven’t slept in almost two days and I cancel it as soon as it goes off. Sleeping through most of the morning. Awake, I go to the theatre and manage to buy a ticket for the Book of Mormon that night. The seats are limited legroom, practically in the heavens, but they’re cheap and I’ll take what I can get.
Setting off in the direction of Greenwich Village, this part of the city is really lovely. Trees line the streets, the park with its chessboard circle. I watch as two apparent strangers take their seats and pull out a set of chess pieces. Deep in concentration.
The architecture here is beautiful, with a distinct New York feel. I stumble across a fountain with stone seats and shaded by trees. I stop for a while enjoying the cool of the shade and the sounds of the water. Who says New York is all hustle and bustle.
Walking along the High Line, this elevated garden is filled with plants and grasses, with views across Manhattan. I really do like this city, as much as I couldn’t stay here for more than a day or two, I’m glad I’ve made the trip.
Pictures from the High Line, New York
With just over three hours left I manage to squeeze in a brief visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Egyptian section drawing me in. I’m never entirely sure how I feel about these exhibits, awe mixed with a little disgust that these were once part of a grave. What makes it any better than modern day grave robbing? The artefacts are incredibly well preserved and intricate, beautifully rich colours.
It’s getting late and with so much walking I’m hot, sweaty and in desperate need of a shower before I brave the theatre. I get a pizza slice from round the corner. It’s so good I get a second, suddenly realising how hungry I am. Back at the hostel, showered and made up it’s time to go to the theatre.
I’m not a musical fan, at all, but The Book of Mormon is fantastic. Ridiculous and brilliant comedy. Other than the $38 I pay for a gin and tonic, it’s a really good one but jeez. I end the evening eating cheesecake, the best way to end my short trip to New York.
I say goodbye to the girls I’ve met. The girl from Edinburgh has had to cut her trip short for medical reasons, the cost of a CT scan here outweighing the cost of a last minute trip home. This whole trip has reaffirmed my love for the NHS back home, and how proud I am to work for them, even if all I can do is analyse data. No-one should have to worry about being able to afford healthcare. I’m forever grateful the only thing I have to worry about is the scars I’ll have if/when it inevitably comes time to have surgery on my back. A small price to pay.
The next day I get the bus to Washington, DC. Arriving late I only have time to wash, buy some beer, and spend the evening failing to understand American football. I meet what must be the fourth Wisconsinite in a fortnight, I’m drinking PBR and he starts talking about ‘home’. He lives in Illinois, grudgingly, with his wife. The slow pace, the friendly faces, good beer, good cheese, I guess it’s quite sweet. They’re almost as homesick as the Irish.
In the other room the standard American frat boys argue over who has more money in the bank, they’ve patronised me trying to ‘educate’ me about how to make money. They leave me alone as soon as I mention I’m an analyst and studied maths, clearly not easily enough impressed by their trust funds. Surely this doesn’t really work on anyone.
The next morning I do the usual Washington things, National Mall, the white house, the monuments. I make a brief stop in the museum of space and flight. It’s so hot, too hot. Having run out of water I happen across a market selling fresh slices of watermelon and cantaloupe. The juices sweet and cool. I fill up my water bottle twice with free ice cold water taking a much needed rest in the shade of the trees.
The Lincoln Memorial
Free water and fresh watermelon slices, with trees behind giving some relief from the heat
Inside the Museum of space and flight
As soon as I get back to the hostel the clouds break, an intense rainstorm and the crack of thunder. Safe inside the hostel, I talk to more Brits on their way back from camp. A guy from Puerto Rico forces a freshly cooked steak on me, pitying my bowl of noodles. I’d complain but it’s good, covered in fresh herbs and mild spices.
I have to leave early the next morning, already hot at only 4AM. I can only imagine what South Carolina is going to be like. Off to see the eclipse, and meet a boy I hardly know. My mum hearing he’s a lawyer, trusting me, or maybe she’s just resigned to not telling me what to do miles away from home, doesn’t seem overly bothered. I need to call them soon, it’s been a while.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” – Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial