IF YOU WANNA GET TO KNOW NEW YORK LIKE A NATIVE WITH A STRICT BUDGET — WALK. Try to walk whenever you get the chance, that’s the best way to feel the neighborhood. I spent the whole day walking to lots of places, and got to see so many sights using virtually no money. With an unlimited metrocard at hand, and diligent feet, there is no place I can’t go.
DIFFERENT NEIGHBORHOODS ARE JUST BLOCKS AWAY, yet they exhibit such different colors. At the Upper East Side, buildings are all majestic and unique, all with an European feel build into it. The Upper West Side is mostly residential and community. While Morningside Heights is quiet and clean, Harlem on the other hand is bustling with sounds and sights all over.
SINCE THE LATE 19TH CENTURY, New York’s rich people has been living at the Upper East Side. There are so many beautiful dignified apartments to look at, you’ll feel a sense of awe whenever passing the homes of these lifestylers. Some of the most spectacular buildings, are the exclusive private social clubs. They are so exclusive it’s exclusively for looking at only, as they only allow the rich and famous members in. However, if you want to get a feeling of being wealthy, you can always go pretend shopping at the many designer boutiques here. The designer brands may range from way upscale high, to budget-wise bargains. I was lucky to spot the Michael Kors one (you’ll know him if you watched Project Runway), but his is just a small shop at the corner.
Another very interesting thing about the Upper East Side is they have a lot of museums and galleries, and art lovers should always regard this as heaven. The museum mile is a paradise to artsy people, and is said to have the most concentration of museums in the world! Wow! I visited some of them from the outside, but never went in any of them (due to the pricey admission fees, yikes!). The Metropolitian Museum of Art (they call it the Met), is one of the largest museum in the world. Its borders are nowhere to be seen, and the crowd is suffocates from inside its halls. Another interesting one would be the Frick Collection, which is actually transformed from a mansion. There is a beautiful garden and pond outside the museum, and it serves as a great relaxing view apart from the masterpieces inside. I personally liked the Whitney Museum of American Art (from the outside of course), because of its unique quirky building and the modern works in it. Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum on the other hand, is totally devoted to design. There is a public exhibition for free, and it does feature some unusual stuff.
MOVING ON FROM THE EAST TO THE WEST, I arrived at the Upper West Side, which is notably quieter and more residential. They have many big but beautiful residential apartments that serves mostly to young professionals who choose for a safer neighborhood.
I DID NOT STAY TOO LONG ON THAT AREA, and went north immediately to Morningside Heights, which is where Columbia University is situated. It is even more quieter here, and this is the first time I felt Un-New York because of the wide streets with few cars on it and the large parks with less people than trees. I visited the Cathedral of St John the Divine, which is the largest Gothic style church in the world. The building is under some sort of renovation, and I only get to see a small portion of it. In one of its halls, there is a wedding rehearsal. The tourists (me being one of them) took the chance to capture the ceremony in film.
Columbia University has a great campus, near to the city, yet still has a small town feel to it. They even have their own supermarkets. The residential fraternities are build along one side of the road, but has different colors and architecture, with the symbols printed on the front door. I realized that the entrance is the most crowded place in the campus, while the other locations are almost always deserted. Along the main university walk, there’s the big gigantic library, facing another big building with an old rusty man sitting on its chair for many many years. I was shocked to find some of the students sunbathing on the lawn, half naked! I guess the students are really desperate for a tan.
For lunch, I followed the recommendations of my Let’s Go book, and tried the Amir’s Falafel which is conveniently situated in front of the Columbia U’s entrance. I ordered veggie with hummus and pita bread, which totals up to $4.99, a good bargain I would say. The hummus is a bit too sour for my taste, but otherwise, it seemed very fresh and satisfying.
My highlight of the day was when I entered Harlem, and left the white, rich neighborhoods behind. Everyone’s definitely heard of Harlem, but being here in person truly took my breath away. Manhattan’s largest neighborhood, this area supports a large African American community. Since many of the black movement is centered here, streets are named after the legendary Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr and the sorts. When you think Flushing, think Asia; when you think Harlem, think Africa. Everyone here is black. It is so black, I feel like a naked white chicken. Being the fairest of them all, it certainly did not help me blend in much. I do feel a little afraid, but after seeing all those innocent happy African Americans having a great time, I guess my worries are not necessary.
Although just a few blocks away from the neighboring neighborhoods, this place has a totally unique feel to it. Once in the area, you can hear music, either soul, jazz or R&B everywhere on the streets. There is an Apollo Theater which showcases a lot of flavorful musical performances. Much of the buildings are old and dirty, and the streets are not as clean as the other areas I have visited. However, at the northern side – Sugar Hill, there are beautiful houses belonging to those African Americans with ‘sugar’ (money).
I walked many of the streets in Harlem, seeing elaborate families barbecuing and laughing in front of their houses. Everyone is singing, dancing or chatting aloud. It looks like they really know how to have a good time. After all that exercise, I found a restaurant serving soul food – Manna’s, which is a budget buffet. I took some of the vegan stuff and after weighing, sums up to $6, which is OK for New York standards. Here is what I ate – (clockwise from top right) potato salad, yellow rice with carrots, rice with black beans, tomatoes and okra, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, banana pudding and green vegetables. Soul food really gives you the home sweet home feel, liked every spoonful of it.
After the whole day of cultural immersion, I remembered the Bon Jovi concert at Central Park tonight. Once I arrived at 72nd Street, I heard Bon Jovi’s voice everywhere. Wow, he’s singing all the hits! There were so MANY people at that place, we weren’t allowed to enter the Great Lawn, where the concert is taking place. Thus I joined the other people who sat by the park, listening to Bon Jovi. (Listening to him is like OUT OF THIS WORLD!)
Even though we may have different skin colors, living in different neighbourhoods, at the end of the day, we can all unite — with the sounds of Rock & Roll!