Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…done with New York

As the famous song goes: New York, New York (so good they named it twice in the hope that the repeated marketing message would stick in your head and despite not really knowing much about it you’d think of the name next time you were booking a holiday).


If you’ve read any of my recent posts you’ll see that I’m starting to lean towards not liking big/huge cities much, so you’ll wonder why I bothered with New York. You can’t go to America and not go to New York, right? If I ever go back that’s what I’ll try to do.

If I’ve worked out the local language, and I’m normally pretty good at that sort of thing, ‘New York’ simply translates as ‘big’: the huge but totally plain-tasting New York style cheesecakes and pizzas being the giveaway. Apparently there’s some sort of debate as to whether Chicago or New York has the best pizza. Hint: New York only wins if you don’t care about things tasting nice.

New York, like London (horrible) and Paris (can’t remember), is a city with a huge reputation (throw horrible Los Angeles in those commas too) that to me isn’t justified. Again, this might just be because I hate huge cities. (Although, and I hate to say this post is going to have a lot of thinking as I type in it, going by population of cities this isn’t a thing. I really enjoyed Mumbai (somewhere between 12.5m and 21.5m people), and quite liked Bangkok (8.3m), so that’s not why NY (8.3m) and London (8.3m) fail to impress me.)

For some reason the people in New York, perhaps supported by a huge tourist industry, are just everywhere, making it impossible to relax or enjoy something in peace. The most obvious example from my time there is that there was a free concert in Central Park performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which I thought would be a pretty cool thing to attend. So did around 15,000 other people (a few weeks before there’d been 17,000). As I struggled to find some free space a very good distance away from the stage, I was submerged in the chatter of friends catching up to enjoy this spectacle. Strangely, that chatter didn’t die away at all when the music started. There are always going to be a few people who turn up to an event and don’t pay attention or really want to be there, but it seemed everyone in my vicinity was like that. Why go to that part of the park, hemmed in by thousands of other people, for your evening picnic? I don’t understand people.


While I was there they celebrated Bastille Day (some French celebration) and had what should’ve been a nice street market, but that was impossible to walk down and really enjoy because it was so crowded. To leave I had to go down the very busy Fifth Avenue and try to find a crossroad that wasn’t mobbed.


Although I didn’t like lots of it, mainly the crowds apparently, there were some parts of New York that I liked. Central Park is one of those. Although completely rammed on that one occasion, during the week it was a great place to walk and explore, being much huger than I expected. Sure there are other people there, but they’re generally spread out leaving you to enjoy nature, laugh at squirrels and try to avoid the high rises penning you in. Some bloke thought it was a good place to take his turtles for a walk on a lead.


As well as Central Park, the Highline was really cool, although a lot more crowded because of its narrow confines. It’s basically an unused railroad that’s a storey above street level which has been converted into a park/walkway. There was chatter in Sydney about them doing this once the monorail’s gone and I hope they do, because it’s really nice.


Governor’s Island (free ferry at the weekend) was also really cool, especially with the old fairground stuff they’d brought in for some reason. The huge bell that kids dong all day is really annoying though, as was the rave party they had on the island that day.


I spent most my time in Manhattan, my airbnb apartment (apparently illegal in NY) being on the cusp of Harlem, but a trip out to Brooklyn/Williamsburg showed a nicer side to New York. Places like Amsterdam Avenue, especially the amazing Levain Bakery, were nice and some of the bars were a bit crazy — one I went to offered a free (meal-sized) pizza with every drink. Why are so many Americans obese again?

Harlem itself was a weird place. The majority of people who live there are black, and although I’ve never felt worried staying in areas that are highly Aborigine, Indian, Mexican or Thai, there was something intimidating about certain areas here. I think it’s more to do with their athletic stature and sometimes pensive or aggressive face sets, rather than inherent racism. Saying that, the only time I was beaten was when a small kid raced me on his tricycle (proudly declaring ‘I’m beating you!’ before ‘We’re going into a tunnel!’) and the only time someone tried to get my money was someone fundraising so he could send his basketball team to some competition.

The only time we were made to feel unwelcome was when we went to a fried chicken place one night, the only non-blacks in there, and heard someone say ‘this is a nigger joint – it’s fried chicken!’. Directed at us? Telling/warning us to leave/not come back? Nothing to do with me?

Of course, there are the truly horrible parts too. Times Square is probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Mix in the worst parts of Hollywood Boulevard, the Las Vegas strip and Khaosan Road and you’ve pretty much got it. As soon as I walked in I was desperate to leave, I don’t understand the appeal of having so many adverts flashing in your face while people harass you to go to their show, buy their whatever or pose for a photo with them in their bad costume. It was quite amusing to see two statues of liberty arguing about who had the right to stand there and fleece tourists, the loser presumably having to find a real job.

worst place in the world

The subway, although very convenient, was a sweltering pit (the outside temperature was up to 36 some days, I have no idea how high it reached down in the stations) and the constant clamouring for tips and donations, despite already having paid plenty for a meal/entry got annoying, especially at places like the 9/11 memorial site.

New York wasn’t the most disappointing part of America, Los Angeles definitely wins that, but it was definitely up there, although I know some people, like my favourite author, love the city. By this point of the trip, just under two months in the states, I was ready to leave and although I didn’t get to see places like Portland, Boston or Washington DC that I would’ve liked to, I’m kind of grateful for that power-hungry/bored border guard in Vancouver for making me go somewhere much nicer for the next few weeks.

Filed under: annoyances, north america, ,

2 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    Maybe it reflects on the dullness of New York that I was mostly grabbed by your astounding Mumbai population fact. I’ve been thinking about India again recently, and I’m equally intrigued and terrified by a city that could misplace nearly half its population and not even notice (presumably the ones that don’t matter sometimes don’t count?)

    • Oliver says:

      As I posted this I thought it was a bit rubbish, but I’m blaming it on the city. One other thing I didn’t like was that all the museums were technically pay by donation, but instead of just letting you walk in and put some money in a box, they make you queue up for about half an hour to get to a ticket booth. There they have ‘suggested’ prices posted but try to pass it off as if that’s the definite price you have to pay, rather than an optional donation fixed by someone else. I imagine that a lot of people pay something like $22 to get into something that they could enter for much, much less. Plus they get to wait in a long line and waste time they could be spending looking at exhibits. Hooray!

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