Article & Photographs by Nova Dien [Original version]
You would think that living in tropical Jakarta, Indonesia, it would make sense to visit the USA in summer when the weather is warm and balmy. But not me and my girlfriends, Tetty, Cherly, and Johanna. Oh, no. We decided to go during the coldest and darkest time of the year for a walk in the winter wonderland that is New York City. To put it in perspective, we left Jakarta in 28°C and eventually experienced well below freezing (that’s real cold, folks) in New York. But never mind the weather when there was shopping to be done and it was a great way to celebrate the New year with the girls!
Fortunately, the weather was pretty friendly, about 6°C, when we arrived, with bright sunshine, clear skies, and most importantly no wind chill. As planned, to make our life easier, we rented a car for a week. For $50 per day, we got ourselves a big enough car that could fit our four giant suitcases. Armed with a tom-tom GPS (Global Positioning System), that was both helpful and aggravating at times, we started out for our first destination, Maspeth, Queens, where we would be staying for several days.
Queens is King
Queens is the second largest in population (about 2.2 million people), the largest in area and the easternmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is the 5th largest borough in the entire USA. Located on the western portion of Long Island, Queens is home to two of the three major New York City area airports, JFK International and LaGuardia.
The Queensboro Bridge, connecting Manhattan and Queens over the East River, looks so beautiful at sunset. Until this trip, I had only seen it on the “Entourage” TV series. Once in Queens, we could see the original European touch of the buildings lined up neatly on the road. Snow covered the streets, trees and cars parked in front of every house when we arrived at our friend’s home. We were greeted by our host with a bottle of wine to warm our bodies from the cold night air.
Snowflakes falling in the cold morning did not stop us from going outside and to check out the sights of the city. We visited Flushing, one of Queens’ most interesting towns, which is home to the largest Asian community in the area. We stopped by Shea Stadium, former home of the New York Mets baseball team and where The Beatles played many years ago, and tried different foods along the way on Roosevelt Avenue and Queens Boulevard. We went to Astoria Park, the oldest park in Queens, with its beautiful scenery, outdoor sports facilities such as a jogging track, tennis and basketball courts and a playground for children. We took pictures with the Triborough Bridge and Hell’s Gate Bridge covered with snow in the background!
It’s time to celebrate
According to what www.weather.com forecasted, the last day of the year was to be close to freezing in the morning, but in the afternoon the temperature would fall to -9°C! We were worried about our plans to celebrate the year’s end in Times Square. Our friend, Laxter, who has lived in New York for five years, said that almost nobody who lives in the city was desperate enough to queue up for so long in very cold weather just to see the Times Square ball (a time ball made by Waterford Crystal) drop like we intended. Ah well, we were tourists, so we stuck to our plan!
On New Year’s eve, Times Square is closed for private vehicles starting at 4 pm, so we agreed to arrive there early by subway. Very well prepared, of course:, with multiple layers of clothing, including thick socks, Long Johns (sort of like oversize tights and especially cold-resistant), plus another set of stretch leggings on top, then wool leggings, and heavy jeans over that. On top we also wore Long Johns under shirts, lined shirts, turtle neck blouses, wind-proof vests and long wool coats. Not to mention accessories such as thick leather gloves, wool hats, ear-protection, woolen scarves around our neck and leather boots. We looked like Eskimos, for sure. Before leaving we ate enough meat (to keep us warm), and did not forget Antangin, anti-cold medicine,which Tetty brought from Jakarta. We were so ready!
At exactly five o’clock, we were at the intersections of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, Manhattan. Security was very tight, everywhere we could see policemen with sniffer dogs and police cars were parked near an iron border fence which led to the central location of the party. The super tight security was understandable considering the events of September 11, 2001. Every person who entered the location had to be screened one by one, we were not allowed to bring backpacks and bottled drinks, except a small handbag.
We walked hand-in-hand toward 42nd Street, shivering, and accompanied by a cold wind that blew in our faces. This made it hard to see and hurt our eyes. My nose even began to bleed. Well, we survived for only 15 minutes. We took a few pictures, just to prove that we were there, until finally we found refuge in a nearby coffee shop to warm ourselves.
It was half past seven when we returned to the streets, which by then were packed with people already. It was so difficult to walk in that crowd and it made me slightly disoriented. It was hard to walk a straight line without crashing into people. The temperature dropped to minus 6 degrees Celsius. At that point we tried to decide whether to continue or go home. I could not even speak as my jaw was stiff and my nose was runny. We walked just a few blocks, but were not able to move forward among the thousands of people. We finally agreed to go back to the restaurant. We warmed ourselves for a while and chuckled at our reckless plan and about missing our comfortably heated room where we could enjoy wine and nachos.
We then decided to watch the New Year countdown on TV and got back in plenty of time to do so. We set up a little party in front of the TV and we stuffed our faces with loads of munchies accompanied by wine. Wrapped up in blankets, because the heater was not enough to warm our bodies after the freezing cold of Time’s Square, we waited as the clock ticked. So comfortable and cozy… until we fell asleep on the couch half an hour before the countdown. Yes, we missed it! What ‘party animals’ we were (not). To come all the way to celebrate New Year’s eve only to snooze before the big event. We laugh about it now and at least we’ll never forget how we tried.
Where’s the Mall?
First day of a new year, we moved to Manhattan and stayed at a three-star hotel in downtown for $110, per night. The hotel is situated right between Broadway and the 5th Avenue fashion center, making it easier for us to go anywhere, including the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Broadway Theater district and many more attractions. Central Park was our first destination. To explore the whole of the park would take at least a full day, it is, after all, 6% of Manhattan. The park is approximately 770 acres (3.1 km2) stretching from the south end of 59th Street to 110th Street and north of the east end of 5th Avenue to 8th Avenue west. Entering the park from the south gate, we seemed to ‘disappear’ from the bustle of the city in a flash. Replaced by an expanse of beautiful landscapes, ponds covered with snow and Gapstow Bridge. Along the park to the west, we stumbled upon an ice skating rink, Wollman Rink, with a background of skyscraper buildings. Apparently, this rink was purchased and financed by the boss of The Apprentice, Donald Trump, in the 1990s, and it accommodates 4,000 skaters daily. From Wollman Rink, across the street there is the Dairy Visitor Center, as well as souvenir shops. Once there, we also enjoyed the work of local Central Park photographers.
We then proceeded further into the park towards The Mall, where a lady approached us with a puzzled face. She asked me directions to the mall. She said she had not seen any buildings at all in 30 minutes of walking and trying to find a mall, as in a shopping center mall.
I then explained to her that “The Mall” is actually a long straight road (as wide as 12 meters and a length of about 6 blocks or about 15 minutes walk) surrounded by trees on both sides. On the west end there is the Cathedral Church and Bethesda Terrace, while at the south end, there are famous sculptures of legendary historical figures such as Christopher Columbus, Victor Herbert, and Ludwig van Beethoven instead of a shopping center. The woman was so upset she walked away without saying thank you for my long explanation. Oh well…
Another interesting place we visited in the park was Strawberry Fields, named after the song, Strawberry Fields Forever, by the world famous singer, songwriter and social activist, John Lennon (The Beatles). John Lennon was shot and killed not far from Strawberry Fields. A landmark of Imagine Strawberry Fields was built to commemorate Lennon’s memory in 1985. There are many other interesting places in Central Park we could have visited such as the statue of Alice in Wonderland, the Balto stone statue at the zoo, Castle Belvedere, Sheap Meadow, the Great Lawn and many more, if we had the time.
A holiday with girlfriends and no shopping is impossible. It is a mustdo thing. So we drove 30 minutes to the Woodbury-Harriman premium outlet, which operates from 10 am to 6 pm, except on weekends, when it closes at 9 pm. This is a specialized outlet for branded products at discounted prices from 25% to 65%. Good deals!
Consisting of 220 outlets with brands such as Burberry, Coach, Chloe, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gap, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, J. Crew, Jimmy Choo, Lacoste, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Tod’s, Tory Burch, Ugg, Zegna to Chanel! Whoa!
Although it was freezing outside we were very enthusiastic, panicked and confused about where to start. I could see dozens of Aldo boots, piles of Nine West shoes, Old Navy coats and Prada handbags. Unfortunately, the existing stock of discounted bags did not match my taste. (Excuses!)
Johanna bought a Anne Klein wristwatch for $110, Cheryl bought a Jimmy Choo bag for $1100 (half the price) and two pairs of True Religion jeans for $200, Tetty bought a beautiful Tory Burch clutch for $128 and I bought five Coach handbags for next to nothing compared to the usual price. We definitely had successful retail therapy!
Rock the night
One of the icons of New York is Rockefeller Center. Located between 48th and 49th streets, Rockefeller Center is known for many reasons, including being one of the centers of Network and Cable TV productions and headquarters. But it is especially beautiful at Christmas when a giant tree is decorated with flickering fairy lights that are magical. The tree is part of a tradition that is over 75 years old! In the winter time, a lot of people go skating at “The Rock.” Those who can not skate can sign up for private courses on the spot.
Under Rockefeller Plaza there is an underground walkway that connects every building in the Center, with shops, restaurants and a subway stop. Visitors can enjoy the experience comfortably and with easy access.
In the vicinity of Rockefeller Center, there are food stalls with a variety of very tempting options available from shish kebab, gyros, burritos, tacos and a wide selection of meats with salsa on top. And, of course, hot dogs and burgers. Yummy!
To end the day, we spent the night in downtown Soho (derived from a mixture of South and Houston streets, the original meaning is “South of Houston Street”), a famous place for artists, musicians, designers and nightspots. We chose a bar named Toad Hall, owned by a friend, located at 57th and Grand Street, and treated ourselves to a special mixed Cosmopolitan to toast the first night of the New Year. Cheers!
•For hotels near Time Square you should make your reservations a month earlier if you want to celebrate New Year’s Eve there.
•No need to rent a car during your stay in Manhattan as parking is limited and expensive. The subway is the easiest way to get around. (the most complete underground railway system in the world).
•Buy subway tickets from machines that use credit cards when the queues are long.
•A tip for service in New York is at least 15% of the price of food and beverages. Less than than that and your waiter will be upset!
•Most domestic flights in the USA impose a baggage fee of US$ 15-25 per suitcase.
•Remember, the large portions of food served in the US can be divided into two rather than being wasted, and you can save money.
•Many nightclubs during New Year’s Eve have an entrance fee of $80-$100 per person.
•Buy a local number with pulsa of $20 to use the phone for 1 cent per minute.
•Do not forget to bring lip gloss and moisturizer as the air is very cold.
•For tourists who are not so well spoken in English, one word that could get them through their visit is “Yo!”. This word is applicable in any situations encountered from ordering food, to commenting on just about anything. For example, when ordering hotdogs, say “Yo!” with your index finger pointing up, meaning you are ordering one hotdog. 🙂
[Published in Venture Magazine, Jan, 2011: New Year in New York]