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Manhattan in a day

“Movement was the essence of Manhattan. It had always been so, and now its sense of flow, energy, openness, elasticity as Charles Dickens had called it, was headier than ever. Half the city’s skill and aspirations seemed to go into the propagation of motion.” ― Jan Morris, Manhattan '45

I only had a day to see Manhattan

Each of New York City’s five boroughs—Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn—has made its mark on earth’s collective consciousness. Manhattan, in particular signifies New York City’s ‘Big Apple’ flair. The jam-packed overflow of its streets, the berserk and yet highly regimented flow of its environment, from certain angles, resembles a plush, slick fashion magazine. Manhattan is an exploration project for any traveller, the pursuit of which is as incandescent and illuminating as are the neon lights of the borough at night.

On a recent trip to Manhattan in August 2014, my second in years—and as circumstances permitted, I only had a day to really tour Manhattan as a tourist would. I was caught in an almost fictional fast-moving time loop—everything was rushing past, tremulously and business-like—but some hours bundled into a day were at hand—to see and discover the borough and I was not going to let the opportunity go. An enthusiastic traveller’s route becomes an adventurous archipelago to maneuver when constraints of time and finances too, become mere impediments to overlook, because thoughts of discoveries and wonderment overpower such restraints.

Following up on an unpredictable itinerary

Following the previously mentioned theory, my variable one-day itinerary that I was to set upon included scores of options—that I could mainly see to fruition through bus rides, walks or cabs. In this multidimensional swirl, the people that one meets, the vibe that the borough shares so generously, the food from hundreds of nationalities that is available there, Times Square’s marvels at the center of everything, the window shopping one can do at every turn and pause, the vistas and other constructed facets of Manhattan, commercial and entertainment venues without number, all of these and innumerable more besides were worth experiencing—and I knew about these from a prior visit. “What was the best way to see and explore much in a day at present?” was a question that perplexed me though.

Unravelling Panorama

Upon further inquiry, it was revealed to me that an uptown, midtown, and downtown Manhattan bus tour might be the most efficient way to maximize my travel experience, other than the walks I was going to take later on in the day. Even on a bus, I knew I would still need a lot of time to see significant portions of Manhattan—but it was by far the most convenient and economical way to travel there and therefore became a first choice.

The entire kaleidoscope, of journeying through this borough or “the city” as it is called, can take the breath away, and a Manhattan double decker bus tour enabled just that. It was only favourable to start early in the day, and I did, as I would also have to change buses somewhere in between. Other travellers hopped on and off the bus according to the stops they wanted to see more of or board from. My elucidations of the locations I saw, however are tethered to recollections instead of pure factual sequence. In an attempt to get the most out of the whirlwind ride, I listened carefully to the local guides on these buses, who shared information on the history of all that was flowing.

Moreover, these interpreters also passed on information about celebrities living in Manhattan, their lives in New York, and their exotic domiciles. They shared stories about legends like John Lennon, Denzel Washington, Kahlil Gibran and Judy Garland, who have all had some association with the city. And, of course, the shopping centers, museums, libraries, and the vast panoply of travellers’ sights-to-see-opportunities that are practically limitless, were pointed out too.

From the vantage point of a passenger on the upper deck of a bus in motion, scenes above and below me changed shape and structure quickly, but there was time enough to absorb and admire. If Mumbai’s dense juxtapositions can shock any gentle urban sojourner, Manhattan’s glories can put a quiet traveller on some other plane of existence. Classy, posh high-rises, both old buildings and hyper-modern sites, seemed to burst with historical and architectural significance. Parks, museums, and countless other crucial cultural outposts enticed and instructed either the casual visitor or the serious aficionado of the Empire City. I was entranced and did not wish to miss any scenery from the unravelling panorama.

Seated as we were, we had to mind our heads, whenever traffic lights approached. I was often craning my neck up to soak in the colours and silhouettes of Manhattan because the mammoth structures around me were large and overwhelming. Against a sky of rain-washed blue, the ubiquitous towering high-rises—black, white, grey, black, cream, beige; in vintage and new tones and styles—represented perhaps the most impressive expression of Manhattan’s man-made structures. Here, modernity stood adjacent to history—in terms of architecture and other cultural remnants, in the form of both new commercial developments and posh settlements from every period of New York’s rise to urban ascendancy.

Several places of repute in Manhattan enthrall and tempt travellers from the world over and the bus ride was complete in many ways. It zipped past so many important places and passengers got off to explore further. The bus crossed Wall Street, which was in lower Manhattan—the statue of the bronze charging bull was there and I gaped at it—tourists flocked around it, clicking pictures—touching the bull here is meant to bring sound financial luck and they were also doing that.

Part of the ride, also covered the site of the original World Trade Centre, Ground Zero, in lower Manhattan. Although I saw it from a distance, the site sparked a sense of anguish and sadness in me at first; however, ongoing construction here was inspirational and portrayed the ability and the strength of the city to rise from the ashes, crushing the terrible violence it had once experienced—only to emerge stronger.

The journey on the bus would have been incomplete without a view of the Central Park, appealing for its spaciousness and the exhibition of nature in all its glory here—an almost contrast to the material facades one could see universally in Manhattan. En-route we were also informed about popular areas like Soho, Chinatown, Little Italy, two of which were also in lower Manhattan. The travel plan of hours untangling on the road came to an end with the Times Square, an intersection, known to most tourers, and most famed for the large digital signboards and other significant establishments palisading much of the area.

Traversing on foot

With a few hours in hand, after a bumpy bus tour, I decided to briskly walk the streets of Manhattan. It was best to finish the walk before sunset or sometime close because a local friend had advised me not to venture out alone too late after dark. Having said this, it is important to remember that Manhattan at night is gripping and has a multitude of urban hotspots to experience. In a group, however, or if you are a particularly adventurous tourist, travelling could go on quite late into the night.

Regardless of how exciting travelling to Manhattan can be and was for me, I would recommend every traveller to practice caution, from the point of view of safety, irrespective of the place they are visiting and exploring even if it was for a short while, and Manhattan is no exception to this. However, I partially forgot all about this for a few hours as I followed the wondrous sights of Manhattan on foot. Food stores, cafes, restaurants, and shops-of-variety, enliven the Manhattan experience for any traveller—it is beneficial to look around and feel the environs—and I followed this beat.

I walked to places I knew of, one of which was Madison Avenue, an advertisement center and a shopping paradise for the elite. I was earlier, however, also offered advice from a local on how shopping on Madison Avenue was out of the question for most people because everything here was ultra expensive. Anyhow, struck by the smooth texture of my surroundings, it was only convenient to take in the rich atmosphere slowly instead of hurrying on, which I would eventually have to do anyway. Dappled with lineups of glossy stores and large glass windows protecting displays set inside—that included branded clothes, designer wear, accessories, jewelry and other expensive products—Madison Avenue projected a superior charm. The area was also marked by an array of private offices.

On foot, one must definitely also visit an ever-busy interconnecting transport network, called the Grand Central Terminal, on 42nd Street. Its creamish-gold-hued interiors, a quaint clock as ornamentation, something always reminiscent of the Grand Central, and copious and gorgeous decor including those incredible high ceilings, transports one back to the times of antiquated and magnificent building architecture. This is an interesting place not only for commuters but also for tourists. Within its boundaries are varied shops, eateries and food joints. If a traveller has trouble finding a good place to eat and groceries to buy anywhere else in Manhattan, this should be a place to go to. Grand Central would have to be one of my favourite spots in Manhattan.

It was dark by the time I returned, but it was not too late in the night. Manhattan takes on another guise after sundown—one of sparkle and sheen, colliding with the dark navy of the night. Fortunately, the day ended on a great note, I had completed my tour and my day’s plan had, beautifully unveiled Manhattan to me, in parts.

Infinite variety and points to remember

Manhattan’s almost infinite variety might engage any traveller, no matter the different experiences that even the most widely divergent day trippers might hope to find. Manhattan’s cornucopia can thus accommodate every traveller’s different way of perceiving situations, based on his or her inherently unique and individual tastes and interests. In the complex template and the system of its streets, both linear and crazy-quilt, even a frequent visitor could readily lose his or her way. However, most New Yorkers are solicitous and would definitely help a traveller figure out directions.

Manhattan and the city of New York aren’t locations, one can fully experience in a day—there is a lot more to see here, there is the must-see Statue of Liberty on Staten Island. If one is there longer than for a day, more from the neighbouring locations can be explored. Culture, art, history, modernity, innovation, commerce, enterprise and resilience are many of the features and strongholds of Manhattan and also that of New York City. Manhattan has an active energy and is home to many cultures, communities from around the world.

Further Manhattan inspired anecdotes

Encompassing much, it continues to proffer myriad experiences to other interested travellers too. During my time there, I also had the opportunity to meet a few fellow writers and travellers to Manhattan, whose reminiscences, fresh and old, are accommodated in the following passages:

“Manhattan is many things. As a traveller rather than knowing everything, an excellent idea would be to feel the borough, and for me the best way was crossing its outdoor spaces. There are a dozen examples of places, streets, squares, parks where travellers can feel Manhattan, but from my recent trip, I’ll have to say, the Grand Walk on The High Line, which runs from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, was great.

The reasons, stages and processes that transformed this old railway line into one of the most spectacular urban parks I have visited in my life are too many to state here. The whole experience was superb. Since my last trip to New York, I had wanted to visit this part of town, but the time and the weather did not allow me, but this time, I did go there. One sunny August afternoon, after visiting some of the most interesting galleries in Chelsea, I climbed the stairs to the 30th Street and began one of the most beautiful walks that could be taken.

Surrounded by people and among splendid buildings with its café and gift and book shops, the feeling was incredible. In short, a visit to the Urban Park -“The High Line” is one of a thousand reasons to visit Manhattan again. I hope to repeat this experience soon again.”—Juan Carlos Aldir, Traveller and Spanish Writer, Mexico

“I was there in 2007 during Christmas and New Years for a week. The following short anecdote is from that time: A few friends suggested that we go and see the “ball drop” for the New Year Party. They worked on Wall Street and suggested that we reach early.

Though they had been in the city for a few years, it was to be the first time for them. “Everyone talks about ball drop; let us see it this year,” they said. We reached Times Square around six in the evening, midnight was six hours away, but there was a long mass of humanity, perhaps all tourists like me, already parked on the road. The police had barricaded the masses in huge pens like they use to control cattle in stockyards. Theoretically, there were no lines, you were in a pen and didn’t really have a choice but to move closer to see the ball drop.

As time passed, it became colder and we needed to use a restroom. We left our spots in search of a place. A few establishments were empty, but they didn’t allow you to use their restrooms unless you bought something. We finally bought coffee at a Starbucks. We got back to a different spot, but by now it was ten and people had given up standing. There were impromptu dance parties, strangers talked, shared their beer, and people exchanged notes, numbers. It had become like an Indian railway compartment. You became friends with people standing next to you.

It became like a fair, the noise decibels increased, some passed out from drinking. By midnight, it was like a riot of colors on the huge advertisement panels, each pass of news helicopters in the sky adding to the dancing in the streets. At midnight, it was as if the mass had coalesced into one body, counting down to zero. Somewhere a ball dropped, we saw it on the screen I think.” —Maneesh Mahlawat, Transportation Planner, Dallas, Texas, USA


Most travellers like me who have been to Manhattan would have vivid and wide-ranging stories such as these to share. The city has a strong historical and cultural background, upon which are placed layers of modernness and advancement. It is progressive and moves fast. It has a labyrinthine setup and a traveller should definitely mind themselves here because of this and should expect to be on his or her toes.

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Picture Credit: Photo of Times Square, Manhattan, by Trisha Bhattacharya

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