Finally, this will be the last post about our east cost trip. It only took me a month to write about a 12-days journey. Maybe I should already write my diaries during my trips and not afterwards ;-).
After we left Philadelphia, we headed down to Newark. I showed Mila and Alex how our lab looks like, and Mila immediately tried one of our experiments for disabled children: a baby wheelchair. I really wonder how she fitted into the child’s safety seat which was mounted on top of it:
EDIT: I figured out why she fitted into the child’s seat: Obviously, it was made for American children!
When we were in Newark, we also went shopping. This time my timing was quite good, so I managed to take a picture which I wanted to show you ever since I’m in Newark: They have water pipes in the veggies section and spray it ever few minutes! Have you ever seen this before? I haven’t. The computers in the shop however did not work so well:
The next morning was a Sunday, so we had to find a church for Mila. Since Mila speaks Spanish and likes the Hispanic service, we decided to join my room mate Alvaro who took us to the church in Wilmington. The service was quite different this time. They were using all the instruments this time, including the drums. It was very much like on a rock concert (which made it hard for me to take the whole thing serious). The pastor gave his speech only in Spanish this time, but there was a translator for those who only speak English. During the Spanish phases I tried to translate the previous English sentence to German, which turned out to be really a tough job! I was already happy if I managed to find the right words, but putting them into an grammatically correct order was virtually impossible.
After we had quick lunch, Alex and Mila left Newark again and drove to Atlanta. If have no idea what they did on that trip, so wel’ll have to look at Pingu’s blog.
On January 3rd we left NYC and went south again. Our destination: Philadelphia! There is also a Philadelphia in Germany, but we went to the real one. Although Philly is just about 40 miles away from Newark, I’ve never really visited this city before. I only knew the airport and the railway station of the 4th, 5th or 6th largest city of the United States (this depends on what indicator one uses). My first impression was: There are not as many skyscrapers in Philly as we’ve seen in NYC, but the Philly skyscrapers look better! Osama, if you ever hijack planes again, do not send them to Philly! I warned you!
The first tourist attraction we saw was the Philadelphia city hall. Wikipedia claims it is the world’s tallest masonry (German: gemauert) building. Does anyone find a larger one? (St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is just about 130m, so that one won’t beat the Philly city hall’s 167m). On top of the the city hall, there is a statue of William Penn.
There is an interesting story about the Penn Statue on top of the city hall. As long as this was the highest place in Philadelphia, everything was fine. But when they built the skyscrapers (which I mentioned earlier) in the 1980s, the “Curse of William Penn” came up: No Philadelphia team won any major sports event since the early 1980s.
However, two days before I came here, on October 29th 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series. That’s baseball. So, how could they win it if there is this curse? Well, they just put a small William Penn statue on top of the Comcast Center which is the largest building in Philadelphia today ;-). Go Phillies!!!
Besides beautiful skyscrapers, Philly also has a giant clothespin:
On our way through Philly we saw a really long queue next to a theater. Do you see the red building in picture? That’s where the queue starts. They all wanted to see the best musical ever. Instead of going there too, we went by Steven Singer, a Philadelphia jeweler. They have a funny advertising slogan, “I hate Steven Singer” :-).
So much about current Philadelphia. I promised you some really historic places. The first one is Washington Square. Since many wounded soldiers were brought to Philadelphia in the Revolutionary War, many soldiers also died in Philadelphia. This is why they created a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a statue of George Washington:
The next statue of George Washington is not far away: Just across the road, there is the Congress Hall, the Independence Hall and the Old City Hall. Latter one was the home of the Supreme Court in its early days, while the Congress Hall was obviously used by the Representatives (lower floor) and Senators (upper floor). In Independence Hall, which you see on the next picture, they decided about the Declaration of Independence and, a few years later, about the constitution:
The first floor of the Independence Hall had two rooms: The first one was for the Philadelphia Supreme Court (not the national one I mentioned earlier). The second one is the important one. They call it the “assembly room”. This is where the Continental Congress has held all its historic meetings. You’ll recognize the assembly room on paintings from 1776 and 1787.
Most of what you see in these rooms are replicas. One of the few original pieces, however, is George Washington’s “Rising Sun” chair. Benjamin Franklin said:
“I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I know that it is a rising sun.”
We took a tour through this building, and our guide was great! I have to say “Thank you!” at this point. When I took this picture of her, she was just giving us some details on the declaration of independence. Congress declared independence on July 2, 1776. That was a Tuesday. The Lee resolution however did not look formal enough. So they explained their reasons in the longer declaration paper which was adopted two days later, on Thursday. Only god knows why the Americans chose July 4 as their Independence Day.
By the way: They do also have a picture of William Penn in the Independence Hall, although Penn had very little to do with the formation of the USA since Penn died in 1718. He looks much thinner on this picture compared to the one on Wikipedia.
After leaving the Independence Hall, we went to the building where they store the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell is something the Americans are really proud of. It’s on every second stamp, and models of the Liberty Bell can be found everywhere in the country (the last one I saw was in front of the Union Station in DC). In its early days the Liberty Bell (or … “Old State House bell”) was used to announce the Continental Congress, and perhaps it was rung to announce the public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Who knows? After all, America’s Liberty Bell was built in England, just where they created Big Ben.
While I tried to get a good shot of the Liberty Bell, an American family also took their picture. Well, at least they tried to, because they just could not make their son smile (on the picture below, the boy in the blue anorak). Mila and I therefore started making some jokes about him ;-).
Every NYC visitor has to:
- Go shopping.
- Visit all five neighborhoods of New York.
- Walk over Brooklyn Bridge.
Well, we obviously made these up, but anyway we decided that this is what we wanted to do on January 2nd, 2009.
We started at Macy’s. They have their headquarters in NYC, so we went to the “real” Macy’s. It might be the largest store of the world.
However, Mila lead us directly into the maternity fashion section. They called it “a pea in the pod”. Nice euphemism, but still this was not the right place for me ;-).
Therefore I decided to go over to the next thing on my list: Seeing all neighborhoods. We had already been in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx. We were almost done, but the largest one was still missing! So I took a subway to Queens. Although Queens is the largest neighborhood, they don’t have the largest dump of the world. That one is in Staten Island. Anyway, the subway was not going underground, so I could see Queens while driving through it! Great!
The little notice in the window however should have prepared me for how it looked like near the final station: I ended up in another China town ;-).
Having seen this, I decided to go to another place which I had seen during the subway ride. There was a Titan II rocket at the horizon, and a metal sphere close to it. Do you also find the Titan II on the left-hand side picture?
When I walked there, I realized that a smaller rocket was standing next to the Titan II, which was an Atlas: I arrived at the NY Hall of Science. And right next to it was the place where they have the US Open, but I was more interested in the Unisphere in front of it (you’ll find it in the 3rd picture above).
On my way back I focused on the cars they had in Queens: One parked in the wrong place when they wanted to clean the road, another one had fancy alloys on a rear axis with tiny and ugly drum brakes, and a third one had a funny number plate :-). And there was a very space-saving parking slot. Not very convenient for the people in the back, though.
When I returned, I arrived in lower Manhattan. Therefore I took three photos which we forgot to take a few days before: In Battery Park they have “The Sphere” which was found among the debris of the WTC. And along the way to the Wall Street, there are two animals. A large Panda bear, and a golden bull. The Panda bear is always there, but some say that the bull will disappear once the Dow Jones Index drops below 7000 points. We were lucky, the bull was still there in early January.
When I joined Alex and Mila again, they were in an “Old Navy” shop in Soho. You can compare this one to an H&M, but the prices were ridiculously cheap: I spent about $30, and I got a pair of trousers, a pullover, one or two polo shirts and some flip-flops. I hope that this were only their post-christmas discounts. If their normal prices would be in that area, well, then I should feel sorry for the Asian children who were sewing those clothes together…
After our shopping tour, we went to an Wendy’s restaurant an got us something to eat. I still haven’t tried their tripple-burger yet, but the Baconater is also great!
After dinner we did the last thing on our “To do” list: We walked over Brooklyn bridge. It offers an amazing view! Absolutely astonishing! I even thought that this could be a great place if I spend another New Year’s Eve in NYC :-). (Although it was already very cold when we walked over the bridge, and that was still at 7pm…)
In the subway train which took us back to our Hostel, we learned about the global warming:
- “Climate Change is organized by the American […], in collaboration with Abu Dhabi […].”
- “Climate Change is proudly presented by Bank of America.”
- “Major support has also been provided by The Rockefeller Foundation.” (the Rockefellers are the family behind the Standard Oil Corp.)
PS: Somewhere in this blog post, there is the Statue of Liberty. Do you find it?
Our first discovery in 2009 was a set of American Airlines banners. Many of them said “Mila” :-). Our second discovery were a bunch of strange houses. They reflected the high land costs in Manhattan. If you think the house on the left-hand side picture is small, just look at the house on the right-hand side picture! I guess they will manage to build a house with the ground area of a straight line or a dot — which is no area at all! Once they manage to construct such a house, they won’t have to care about the land prices anymore!
We did not really walk through NYC to see strange buildings, but instead we wanted to see Central Park. So here it is! And as I promised earlier on, there was snow in Central Park (although it was just a very thin layer). If you look at the following pictures very carefully, you’ll even find a little castle :-).
In German, there is a saying called “Etwas auf die lange Bank schieben”. A direct translation would be “push something onto the long bench”, and it means “putting something into cold storage”, like not doing something at this time. Mila took the German saying quite literally:
There were a few more interesting things in Central Park. I did not know that John Lennon and Yoko Ono live in a place called “Dakota” right next to Central Park. Well, today, only Yoko Ono lives there because John Lennon was shot at this place.
After we left Central Park and walked through Manhattan again, I figured out that I missed the trees. Therefore I was quite happy when I found one:
In the evening we went to the Bronx. This is how it looks:
Okay, way to boring. We’ve been in the Bronx for 5 or 6 minutes, and we did not see a single murder (neither first nor second degree). Therefore we tried Harlem. There they’ve at least had a “Malcom X Blvd” :-). But it was also a safe place, so we decided to go to a restaurant and get a nice dinner.
For the night from December 31st to January 1st we had a hotel instead of a hostel. This was roughly twice as expensive, but a hotel is also more comfortable than a hostel. Therefore it was no surprise that we had two TV sets, a Nintendo video game console and so on.
However, the hotel had some other surprises for us. Basically it all boils down to some very stupid plumbers.
The first impression I got when entering the room was that some gas was leaking out. No, not the smell, just the sound. It turned out that it was the venting of the heating. We’ve been in one of the hotel‘s top floors which might explain this. Okay, nothing to worry about too much (in fact, I could sleep very well, so it can’t have been too loud after all).
The next surprise was the toilet. When we used the flush for the first time (luckily only after urinating), it turned out to be clogged. Well, we called the front desk, and they sent someone over for solving it. He came within 10 minutes and freed the sink. Not a real problem no more.
But the toilet kept causing problems: After I used it, the flush wouldn’t stop rinsing water. It turned out that one has to move the flushing knob up a little bit after having pushed it down. This is something I usually don’t do. The toilets I normally use will only require pushing the knob down. But after all, this was no big deal.
Still, the toilet kept surprising me. I think Mila was the first one to use the toilet in the next morning. Nothing special. Alex was the second one, and still everything was normal. However, when I used the toilet, I had quite a strange feeling. There was hot air coming from below! Urrgh. This is really an very abnormal feeling. So, what happened? They used hot water for the toilet flush. What the heck? But obviously: Mila still used the cold water for flushing, and when Alex’ flushed, the warm water entered the bowl. Anyway. This was a stupid waste of energy, but it did not cause any problems to us.
Afterwards, I was the first one who wanted to take a morning shower. Well, guess what happened. There was hot water coming from the cold water line. And there was hot water coming from the hot water line as well! It was much to hot for taking a shower, so I had to put some water into the tub and let it cool down (while opening the bathroom window and stirring the water). I decided to put just about 3 inches of water into the tub to make sure it could cool down quickly. Anyway, it was still very hot when I finally cleaned myself. Arghs. I did not like this! Luckily, we wanted to stay here only for this night, so Alex and Mila took their showers in the evening. Not in a hotel, but once again in a hostel.
But I must say that I really liked the breakfast in Wolcott Hotel!
EDIT: When I checked my Blog Stats today, I saw that I got quite some visitors from mail.wolcott.com. Seems like they send a link to this blog post around. It’s nice that they care about how their customers think about their hotel! I like that! Wolcott people, feel free to comment on our observations!
On December 31 at roughly 10pm we went north. We started at 31st street where our Hotel was. At that time we did not yet know where to go. We thought about going to Central Park, hoping that there might be some fireworks. The other option was to somehow make it onto the Time Square to see the famous NYC Ball Drop. As we walked along the avenues, the city seemed to be quite empty. Would that mean that we can make it to the Time Square? Or is everybody else already at that place? That would also explain why nobody is around in 31st street.
As we reached the crossing of 42nd street and the Avenue of the Americas, we suddenly saw the ball! It was directly in front of us! We could not believe it. We stopped immediately and threw away all plans to go to Central Park. (Well, we later figured out that the road in front of us was closed anyway, so we would not have gotten any further without taking a detour.)
The Ball changed its color continuously. He could also show some patterns, but it was impossible to catch them with our cameras at that distance. The ball is only 12 ft in diameter which is less than 4m. It’s at a total height of 475ft (145m) above ground.
If you think that dropping a ball is stupid, well, you’re probably right. But this is America! The background of the ball drop can be found in England. They installed their time balls in the early 19th century in harbors to synchronize the naval clocks. Accurate clocks were required to determine the longitudinal position of ships — obviously.
We however had better things to do than synchronizing our watches. We were freezing! The weather people said it would be around 18 °F cold, but due to the wind it would feel like 2 °F. And they were right! I don’t know about the real temperature, but it did feel very much like those 2 °F (-16 °C)! Especially if you can’t really move as there are other people in all directions.
I don’t know why we were still smiling in the pictures above. I guess we were smiling when our faces froze, so we couldn’t change that mimic anymore. Please notice that the Chrysler building was also visible. We could even see the Empire State building as one of the sky scrapers next to us reflected the green-and-red roof illumination.
This is how the actual Ball Drop looked like. The first picture was taken when the Ball just started moving (at 23:59 + a few seconds), the second one just before it completely came down (at 24:00 – a few seconds). The third picture was taken in 2009, finally :-).
Look at the next picture! Why do all people look in the same direction? Is there anything special? ;-)
I tried to capture that moment on video. Well, my hands were shaking too much. I just could not hold the camera in a steady position. And the clock of some guy behind me was a little late, so I did not have the camera focused at the ball when it was turned off. This is all I got:
After that show, we decided to return to the Hotel. It was just way too cold out there. On the way we went past a couple of cab drivers. I don’t know why they tried to get onto the street at all. Maybe the NY taxis just don’t have a depot, so they have to be kept on the road all the time?
PS/1: This is how it looks like if professional cameramen film the ball drop.
PS/2: If you’re curious about the ball, go to New York! Wikipedia says it will be up there above the Time Square all through the year.
When we left the United Nations, it was snowing outside. Can you believe this? We expected a white New Year’s Eve festival in New York! Here is the proof:
Unfortunately though, the snow did not stay very long as there was salt around everywhere. The only place where we still saw some white surface the next day was Central Park.
When the sky cleared up again, we were getting hungry. Although we had already seen Italian cars, we went to Little Italy in Lower Manhattan. Our guidebook told us about some nice restaurants in that neighborhood. As most places only sold pasta, it took us some time until we finally found a very nice (but still affordable) restaurant where we could get Italian pizza. Yammi :-).
Back in our hotel we prepared ourselves for the upcoming New Year party. Mila used my American cell phone to send some text messages to friends in Germany when it was 12 o’clock midnight in Europe. I could not do this as I did not copy my phone book to this temporary cell phone. Anyway, the reason to tell you about those text messages. Actually, there are two reasons.
- at&t charges me only $0.20 for text messages to Europe. That is just the same as I pay for text messages within the US. I like that :-).
- I get a short billing message after every call and after every text message. It tells me how much the previous connection cost. Since the German telecommunication network obviously was overloaded again, some of the text messages were not delivered in time. This resulted in a bunch of funny billing messages on my cell phone: Just before every delivery attempt, $0.20 were deduced from my prepaid card. However, when some of the delivery attempts failed, those $0.20 were restored. In that case I got the message “The last transaction cost -0.20 USD.” ;-).
After some random time the delivery attempts were repeated, so I got many unexpected booking messages to my cell phone within the next hours. Regarding my account balance, it seems all messages have been delivered in the end.
Actually we haven’t been in the famous skyscraper which you see on the picture. That is only an office building (they call it “Secretariat Building“). We’ve been in the one next to it, the “Headquarters“. Nobody ever notices it since the office building is taller and better-looking, and because there are many well-known sculptures in front of it (No, they don’t have a sculpture of Mila, that’s the original one):
And they even had a full segment of the Berlin wall — it’s about 5m in length and full of graffiti :-). After we passed the security check we could go inside. As we wanted to go on a tour, we had to wait there for about 1,5 hours. All earlier tours were completely booked. This gave us some time to learn about the former Secretary-Generals (if you also have problems with their pronunciation: Wikipedia helps, e.g. here):
The UN has its own postal services which is cheaper than the USPS (Wikipedia disagrees). I think they charge $15 for 20 stamps while the USPS wants 94ct for each letter/postcard. And the best thing: You can also create your own stamps! They’ll for example put your picture on a stamp :-). Maybe I’ll try this once I’m in NYC again.
There was an alarming exhibition on child soldiers. Here are some of the impressions:
One of the labels said that it would take 45 minutes to teach a child how to use an AK-47. Another one mentions that a 14-years old girl was kidnapped when she was 8. That means that she has already been a soldier for almost half of her life! Another one mentions the misuse of drugs in those armies.
I remember some more stories which I apparently did not take any pictures of. One was by a young boy: He said that soldiers came to their house and asked them if they wanted to join the army. When his brother refused to do so, he was shot in the head.
With these stories in mind we started our tour. It began with an introduction of what the United Nations are and how they work. Our tour guide put a special focus on the international character of the UN (and not a supranational one). There would be no UN peacekeeping missions if there were no countries giving funding and soldiers. Btw.: the list of countries sending the most soldiers to UN missions is quite disjunct from the list of countries giving the most funding (Pakistan is on the first one while the US, Japan and Germany are on other one).
Some of exhibits they showed us: a few glass bottles which melted during the Hiroshima attack, and a Kalashnikov rifle which was converted to a guitar. I wonder how it sounds like without any hollow body.
Finally, we went to the General Assembly Hall. The main floor has enough space for 1164 persons, and there can be another 244+564 people on the 3rd and 4th floors. Luckily it was not that crowded, so we could go inside:
It seems that there have not been too many renovations since this building was created in the 1950s: Look at those headphones! They you can choose between translations to five or six languages, at most! This is stone age technology ;-).
In the General Assembly Hall we learned at lot of interesting things about the UN. The Holy See for example is a member, but they refused to have the right to vote. The PLO has a seat in the General Assembly, too, but only as an observer. That seems to be very important if you look at this graph. And China, although being a permanent member of the Security Council, is a story of its own. At least the People’s Republic of China made it to the General Assembly in 1971. This was still two years before Germany joined the UN.
After we left the General Assembly we saw many gifts that various nations had given to the United Nations. I’ve forgotten most of the stories behind them. I think one of them came from China while the mosaic came from the US. Well, the first picture does probably not belong to them ;-).
They also cited the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights“. It really says “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” I like that one ;-).
There was only one day left until 2008 would be over. We would never be so young again — so we decided to continue our Manhattan discovery… Only a few yards next to the Empire State Building we found a little gift shop. Wait, “20 Postcards for $1”? Could we seriously refuse such an offer? I decided to give him $3-$4 for those 20 postcards, which was still way too cheap. And I bought some magnetic stickers at that place, so I finally gave him about eight or nine dollars.
If you’ve ever wondered why the “Empire State Building” is called like that: Well, the state of New York is nicknamed the “Empire State“. And if you’ve ever wondered why the state of “New York” is called like that: Well, I can’t tell you. The capital of New York is not New York City, but a place called “Albany“. And as every good capital, they have got a capitol.
Going back to NYC, we visited the Rockefeller Center. We did not know that they have those lovely roof gardens, else we might have gone up to the top. The bottom area of the Rockefeller however, was also quite attractive. They had some kitschy figures, many flags (which were not the stars-and-stripes!), an ice-skating area and a fountain. Wait, a fountain? This was really American! It was freezing outside, roughly 20°F in the daytime and way colder at night (I’ll come back to the temperatures in one of the next posts). Anyway, there water fountain was running…
Near some of the newer buildings in the Rockefeller district, we suddenly thought we were in Little Italy (well, we were not!): Have you ever seen a three wheeler serving as a police car? *g*. We also saw another place where our friend Ruth sells steaks. I start to believe that she is not doing it herself.
Talking about things to eat, we went into the local M&Ms store. I guess this is one of the places where you don’t want to go with your children. It was very good that I had some Swabians around — else I might have started to buy more chocolate then I could possibly carry :-).
I wonder if they make some M&Ms just for these shops. In those “My Color” dispensers at the walls they had sweets in colors which I have never seen before, and there were also some “Premium M&Ms” which aimed at more demanding (or more wealthy?) customers. If you look for some personalized sweets for your wedding, you only have to go to their website. They’ll create something for you ;-).
Next to the M&Ms store we found the Time Square. They were already in the preparations for the New Year’s Eve party, and some attendees were already waiting there ;-).
Well, not all of them. But after we left our hostel in the evening of December 30th, we wanted to see as many sights as possible. Therefore we took the subway back from Brooklyn to Manhattan and got off at a station called “Wall Street”. We were right across the New York Stock Exchange! As you can see, the building was brightly illuminated although we were just in a financial crisis…
Our next destination was the Statue de la Liberté. Wikipedia says that the real name would be “Liberty Enlightening the World“. I’ve never heard that one before. This sounds like a good question for “Who wants to be a millionaire?”. Anyway, we arrived at “The Battery” just in time not to see the sunset over New York Harbor ;-). Anyway, we still had a nice view!
Inspired by the water, we went on the free Staten Island ferry to go to … well, Staten Island, the smallest district of NYC if one looks at the population. Having done that, we immediately took another Staten Island Ferry to return to Manhattan ;-). Luckily, the return ferry was free, too.
Back in Manhattan we continued our sightseeing tour. While we were looking for an Subway restaurant, we ran into Ground Zero. The Freedom Tower (which shall replace the former WTC buildings) isn’t very tall yet:
Next to the site we found the 9/11 memorial. Well, “the memorial” does not exist yet. Instead we found a plate which documented the attacks and honors the firefighters who died on that Tuesday. And we saw St. Pauls chapel. That’s a church right next to the WTC complex which survived the WTC collapse. Another church (St Nicholas Greek Orthodox church), which was also close the towers, did not survive 9/11.
As we were a bit afraid of incoming planes, we decided to leave the WTC site and went to the NYC city hall. We thought that this might be the place where they decided to build bumpy roads, non-accessible wheelchair stairways and grossy subway stations.
As we had now seen allTM sights which Manhattan could offer, we went back to Brooklyn. I don’t remember which bridge we wanted to take. Somehow we ended up standing right between them both:
I think the left one is Manhattan Bridge while the right one is Brooklyn Bridge. The names however do not really matter as you can use both bridges in both directions. So why didn’t they call them “upstream bridge” and “downstream bridge”? Or “east bridge” and “west bridge”? ;-)