By Joe Vis (Stony Brook, The State University of New York, USA)
The first weekend at Stony Brook arrived and me and a group of friends decided we were going to take the earliest opportunity we had to go in to New York City. So far, all I’d seen of the city was a brief view of the skyline from the runway at JFK before being taxied out to Stony Brook, so I was understandably very excited. There is a coach service that runs from the campus directly into the centre of the city so we turned up bright and early to wait for this. By the looks of it, almost all of the other 200 exchange students had had the same idea. I was expecting a Megabus style experience, but this wasn’t the case at all and 90 minutes of luxury later (leather seats, air-con and free snacks), we arrived in NYC.
Having seen a few of Europe’s major cities I wasn’t expecting to be as overwhelmed as I was by the size of everything. After a few minutes of standing around staring at everything, the plan we formulated on the bus came into action. First stop, Central Park. After a slightly longer than anticipated walk, we arrived and were greeted by various groups. Guided tours in different languages, a running team, a yoga session and a gaggle of old women on segways were all within a stone’s throw of the entrance. We managed to wander about halfway across the Park before hunger got the better of us and we decided to move on. Next stop, Times Square. During the walk between Central Park and Times Square, we came across a myriad of street vendors selling souvenirs, music, art and food. I’d seen this in other cities before, but never to the extent on show here. Eventually, we reached Times Square and immediately made the most of the photo opportunities. We had to be careful, though, to avoid the people dressed up as characters ranging from Minnie Mouse to Iron Man who are apparently known for jumping in to ruin your photo and then demanding a tip for doing so.
After a few more minutes of standing around staring at everything, we decided to head to the SkyLine. This a relatively new addition to NYC that consists of a boardwalk raised about 30ft in to the air on platforms so you can walk through the city with a view from above the roads. I was surprised by how much more we could see even with an elevation so tiny in comparison to the skyscrapers surrounding us. We could see down to the Freedom Tower at the south end of the city at one side and over to the river on the other. It was also strange to be in the middle of such a bustling, vibrant city without having to worry about being run over by a taxi. The final major landmark we managed to visit that day was Grand Central Station.
With over one-hundred tracks, this is by far the most impressive station I’ve ever seen. There seemed to be more tourists there just to view the station than people actually using it for travel. The marble floors and huge arches made it look more like a palace than a train station. I can certainly see why so many scenes for films are shot there. Evening came and we decided to head back to Times Square to eat in the Hard Rock Café. Here, we met a waiter who claimed to be able to remember the order for every table he had ever served and promised if we came back in the future he would know exactly what we all wanted (I am planning to test him on this at some point). This Hard Rock café, like most of the things I’d seen that day, was similar to ones I’d seen in other cities, only twice the size. Beers and burgers were consumed and eventually home time came. A two hour bus journey later and we were back on campus on Stony Brook. There were plenty of attractions we didn’t manage to fit in and so much more for us to see that we’ll no doubt be back in the city again very soon.