Beyond Touristy New York

The dazzling Times Square, also known as the “Crossroads of the World”, is the most popular place on earth during New Year’s Eve. (Photo courtesy of NYC and Company/ Julienne Schaer)

WANDERLUST

A former New Yorker, Dr. Jun Ruiz goes beyond the usual tourist attractions in the Big Apple and recommends educational tours, entertainment hotspots, and an emotional visit to 9/11 Memorial to make your journey more meaningful


The United States of America is called the Land of Opportunity as it is thought that the country provides the opportunity for success to any individual from any background. Over the centuries, people from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe have migrated to America for a new life, especially to New York City. This ease of migration may no longer be true in this present day, but New York City has always been proud of its immigrant’s heritage.

The Rockefeller Center is a popular New York City attraction, especially during Christmas. with its gardens, fountains, a skating rink during winter, and the famous Christmas tree. (Photo courtesy of NYC and Company/Julienne)

New York City has become the icon of this great nation to almost anybody desiring to visit America, through the influence of movies, music, social media, and popular culture. Its popular nickname of the “Big Apple” has its origins in the horse racing world in the 1920s. The jockeys and trainers of smaller horses would call the top prize at the larger races in New York City as the “big apple”. This expression was then picked up in the media, and was strengthened further in the 1970s when the city tourism used it in its slogan. Now, everyone calls New York City as such.

New York City is home to more than eight million people. It comprises the central island of Manhattan along with four outer boroughs: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. Though inaccurate, many people refer to Manhattan as New York City, as that is the place associated with the magic, excitement and fanfare.

It’s well known that New York City has among the world’s most famous tourist attractions. It is no wonder that first-time tourists arrive with high expectations, and their eyes wide open – but are then overwhelmed and amazingly starstruck with the city. The flashing neon signs and bright lights at Times Square, the mighty skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the vision of Lady Liberty provide a mesmerizing magical and dreamy environment. The energy, dynamism, and the availability of services 24 hours a day earned New York another nickname as “the city that never sleeps.”

More than 60 million tourists visited the Big Apple in 2017. Since travel to America and to the rest of the world has become affordable for both business and pleasure trips, a big percentage of our readers have already visited New York City. The city is the most expensive place to visit in America, thus a hotel room can be very costly. If you are lucky to have family or friends where you can have free accommodation, you can explore the city for a longer period of time to enjoy the multitude of attractions the city can offer.

Primary tourist attractions

For first-time tourists to New York, their must-see list of attractions is likely to be influenced by the movies, popular culture, and their friends’ recommendations. Almost everyone of them will head on their first night to the dazzling Times Square, also known as the “Crossroads of the World”, to witness the spectacle and flamboyant display of towering neon signs and flashing images on giant LED screens.

Broadway is tantamount to glitz, glamour, and splashy musicals. My mom Ely and I are seen outside the Winter Garden showcasing Mamma Mia. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Visitors also flock to the most famous building in the city, the Empire State Building – once the tallest building in the city and the whole world. It was featured in popular movies like An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle and King Kong – to get panoramic sights of the city from the viewing platforms. The other skyscrapers, like Chrysler and Flat Iron buildings, are architectural attractions in themselves.

The heart of Midtown, the Rockefeller Center, is also a popular urban attraction that has shops, restaurants, gardens, fountains, a skating rink during winter, and the famous Christmas tree. Tourists also frequently visit the equally famous Central Park to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and cross the historical Brooklyn Bridge, the first bridge to connect Manhattan with Brooklyn.

No visit to New York is complete without a boat trip to Liberty Island to see the Lady Liberty. She stands tall and proud in the middle of the New York Harbor. Since 1886, she has become a symbol of the American Dream for millions of immigrants who sought a new life in this country.

Broadway

Beyond these top primary tourist attractions, New York City has other offerings for visitors, that are unique to the city. Just adjacent to Times Square is the Theater District known as Broadway. The name Broadway is tantamount to glitz, glamour, and splashy musicals. The theater marquees help lit up the pageantry at Times Square.

The term Broadway refers to theatrical performances in the 41 professional theaters that have individually at least 500 seats. Broadway productions are large-scale with a huge cast, spectacular sets, and big-name stars. Off Broadway theaters house between 99 to 499 seats. Both Broadway and London’s West End are considered the Mecca of the theater world.

The American Museum of Natural History is most famous for its must-see ensemble of dinosaur fossils. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

The Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running show on Broadway, and The Lion King is the highest-grossing Broadway musical. My all-time favorite is Les Misérables, also considered by most critics as the best musical ever.

Less than a quarter of the tourists see Broadway shows during their visit. The audience is usually older, more sophisticated, and more moneyed, compared to the demographic who typically see blockbuster movies in the cinemas. Not surprisingly, the average single ticket price is over $100, and the most expensive seats can reach $400.

If you are theater buff visiting New York City, it is best to buy your tickets online at Broadway.com several months before your arrival as the most popular musicals can be sold out for months. However, there is an opportunity to watch the less popular Broadway shows for almost half the price. The TKTS booths located at Times Square sell same-day tickets for many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows at a discount of 20-50 percent. For those of you who had previously visited New York but had not seen any Broadway show, take note of this advice as you can only experience this magic of Broadway in the Big Apple.

Museums

A trip to the museum is generally not a priority for most Filipino tourists. To have a good balance between imbibing knowledge acquired from the collections in the bigger museums and time management, you may need to allot at least four hours. It is not surprising that many visitors will skip the museums if they are only in town for two or three days.

There are over 80 museums in the five boroughs of New York City. My favorite is the American Museum of Natural History, housed in an imposing stone building of eclectic mix of Neoclassical and Romanesque styles. The museum was founded in 1869, and is one of the world’s top science and research institutions. The museum boasts of 32 million items and artifacts in its collections – a repository for knowledge on our world’s natural history and spanning millions of years from the birth of our planet up to the present time.

This museum is most known for its must see ensemble of dinosaur fossils in the Dinosaur Halls, the largest in the world. The giant Barosaurus in the rotunda grabs your attention, and is the highest free-standing exhibit. Both children and adults alike will be excited with everything about dinosaurs on the top floor, especially since the Jurassic Park movies have been revived.

The habitat dioramas involving the North American mammals are very realistic. Be captivated by the 94-feet life-sized blue whale model that hangs over the Hall of Ocean Life. The portion of the museum that is currently attracting crowds is the Hayden Planetarium, the centerpiece of the new Rose Center for Earth and Space. Its movies give the audience a unique IMAX theatrical experience.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (or the Met) is one of the world’s greatest art museums, and is a treasury containing over two million items, spanning 5,000 years of arts and culture from all over the world.

The collections are very diverse. You will find ancient Egyptian mummies, statues, and the magnificent Temple of Dendur. More than 2,500 European paintings are on display. The American Wing features American and modern art. The Roman and Greek gallery is something you should not miss. The Costume Institute flaunts the fashionable ball gowns and menswear from the French court, with its latest exhibition of Heavenly Bodies a big hit. The Cloisters is part of the Met, located at Fort Tyron Park, devoted to Medieval arts and architecture.

The New York Yankees

New York City is also the home to some of the world’s most successful sport franchises. New York City has a total of eleven sports teams in five professional leagues, with a total of 53 league championships. Filipinos, who are mostly basketball fans, can watch the New York Knicks play against the other teams of the National Basketball Association at the Madison Square Garden between October to April. For tennis fans, August and September are the months to visit New York when the U.S. Open Tennis Championships (the last Grand Slam event) are held in Flushing.

Like most New Yorkers, head to Yankees Stadium in the Bronx to feel the spirit and atmosphere of the game. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

Of the 53 league championships of the city, 27 of these belong to one of the most successful teams in all of sports – the baseball powerhouse New York Yankees. I had lived in New York City in the mid-1990s when the Yankees were dominating baseball and a sports dynasty really existed. The 1998 Yankees team are widely acknowledged to be one of greatest teams in baseball history. The Yankees are the face of New York sports.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world’s greatest art museums. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

To feel the spirit and competitive atmosphere of the game, head to Yankees Stadium in the Bronx between April to September. Join the dedicated Yankee fans cheer for their team as they get too passionate. I remember taking some time off from my medical residency at the Montefiore Medical Center to be at the middle of the action. Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neil, and Tino Martinez were my sports heroes at that time. A brand-new stadium was later built in 2009 to replace the “House that Ruth built”. The past Yankee heroes are enshrined with plaques and monuments inside the park.

It was an emotional tour for my sister Cherry Pie and I as we visited the September 11 Memorial. The names of the victims are inscribed on its walls. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

National September 11 Memorial

The worst tragedy in modern history happened on September 11, 2001 in New York City when two terrorist-hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Three thousand lives were lost, and an additional 6,000 persons were injured from these terrorist attacks. This was a day of national mourning, and is commemorated annually. Every New Yorker can tell you where they were in the fateful morning. I was seeing patients in my previous clinic in Delaware (3 hours away) when this tragedy happened. Like our patients and staff, we were all caught in shock and disbelief. However, the city of New York has emerged from this tragedy stronger, but certainly more vulnerable. After all, New Yorkers are known for their toughness.

Construction of One World Trade Center at Ground Zero commenced in November 2006 and opened in November 2013. It is the centerpiece of the plaza’s development and stands to be the tallest building in the western Hemisphere. The museum contains collections of 14,000 artifacts, 40,000 memorabilia and photographs, personal anecdotal accounts of the day, and over 500 hours of video.

You will find ancient Egyptian mummies, statues, and the magnificent Temple of
Dendur at the MET. (Photo courtesy of NYC and Company/Christopher Postlewaite)

The poignant National September 11 Memorial is a tribute of remembrance and honor, and opened on the 10th anniversary in 2011. You will see the two voids now occupied by the reflecting pools are the footprints of the original towers. The pools feature the largest man-made waterfalls in America, and the names of the victims are inscribed in bronze panels edging on its walls. The design of surrounding areas resembles a forest of swamp white oak trees to convey a message of hope and renewal.

To visit, you must reserve a pass on the website, or visit the 9.11 Memorial Preview site. The experience was very emotional as a former New Yorker when I visited in 2013, as I tried to control my tears. For people visiting New York, I suggest taking this poignant journey as you pay respect to the fallen heroes, inspire patriotism, pause for reflection, and hope for world peace.

The One World Trade Center is the centerpiece of the National September 11 Memorial. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

New York City is most famous for Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. However, there are a multitude of varied tourist attractions beyond the basics for you to explore. Expand your knowledge by visiting the greatest museums, be entertained at Broadway, or go on a poignant journey of tragedy and hope. The next time you plan to visit NYC, plan ahead and stay longer. Only then, you will discover the city like New Yorkers do.

“Expand your knowledge by visiting the greatest museums, be entertained at Broadway, or go on a poignant journey of tragedy and hope”

Dec 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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