Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Unexpected Adventures: A Day in the City

I think sometimes the best adventures are the ones I never planned for. Maybe it's because I don't have such high expectations for them - or any at all - but they can be surprisingly great. Yesterday, I spent the day in New York City by myself. I didn't actually really want to go to the city but I am applying for my French visa and they require you to apply in person at the consulate for your region. Since I'm from Connecticut, I had to go to New York and since I hadn't been in a while, I figured I'd make a day of it. 
Looking out at the city from Central Park

Since my appointment was at 10:30 and it takes two and a half to three hours by train to get there, I figured I'd leave myself plenty of time and take the 6:24 train from New London. Due to a combination of not leaving the house early enough, missing the turn for the station, and traffic, I got to the station just minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive. I hurried up to the counter, asked for a ticket and was filled with increasing horror as the attendant explained that the 6:24 was the high-speed, business-class train, which required reservations and didn't normally sell single-trip tickets and that if I wanted to buy a ticket it would cost about four times the amount of a regular ticket. He informed me that the next regular train would leave at 6:50 and would arrived in Grand Central Terminal at 10:13 which would give me 15 minutes to find a connecting train, go the thirty blocks down to the consulate, and find the office, and I knew that if I was late I would not only be late for my appointment but I wouldn't be let into the building until 11 (if at all) since they only open the doors every half hour "for security reasons". So I decided to suck it up and pay the ghastly sum. 

The train would have been quite nice with its deluxe seats and free wifi if I hadn't spent the entire trip in shock from what I had just spent on a two-hour train ride. I did get into the city in record time - 2 hours and 20 minutes to be exact - which meant that I had over an hour to get from Penn Station on W 31st Street to the consulate on E 74th Street. I started out in the direction of the consulate thinking I would find a subway station soon but between not seeing one nearby and not wanting to spend any more money, I decided to just walk. An hour and twenty minutes and a small detour later (I had to find my own way since the directions on my phone weren't working and I ended up walking up and down one street twice because I second guessed myself), I arrived, sweating and tired, at what looked like an apartment building flying a French flag. 

The appointment itself went quite smoothly and was over pretty quickly. Afterwards, I walked across the street to Central Park and wandered at a much slower pace. It is amazing the difference between the city outside and the park within. It was so quiet and peaceful in the park. People walked quietly and the loudest sounds were the sounds of the birds. It didn't even feel right to talk on the phone while walking through. I know from having been there that it is much busier in the summer but yesterday must have been a nearly perfect day in Central Park - not too hot or too cold and quiet enough that it feels like an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. 
Walking through Central Park

Once I felt sufficiently relaxed, I walked back into city center and admired the bright lights of the billboards in Times Square and on Broadway. As I walked, I people-watched and listened to all the different accents and languages being spoken and wondered about all the stories of the people in New York and what brought them there. To some it's a chance for a fresh start, to others it's the daily grind, and to others it's a spectacle and a wonder of the world. I feel like I'm pretty familiar with New York but I definitely saw it differently than I have before. It didn't feel as big or as foreign as it used to. Maybe it's because I've spent a lot more time in different cities and had to find my way around foreign cities but I didn't feel as out of place and overwhelmed as I remembered feeling there before. I've also found that I'm much better at navigating cities and unfamiliar places than I used to be and it's kind of a fun challenge figuring out how to get around in a new place!
Some of the older buildings past the consulate

Walking on Broadway

By mid afternoon I had had enough of walking and decided to make my way towards Grand Central Station. Grand Central is an attraction in itself with a plethora of shops, caf├ęs, a food court, and even a mini upscale market. I bought a coffee and sat for a while and then perused a few shops and eyed the delicious-looking produce, chocolates, and baked goods at the market longingly before taking the last train out before peak hour. Despite not especially wanting to go to New York, it turned out to be a pretty nice day!
The Main Lobby

Grand Central Terminal