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Different faces of New York City (about the city of diversity)

May 17, 2011

Manhattan as seen from Brooklyn

This is Manhattan, from the ‘outside’: a massive block of skyscrapers.

Within that massive block there is one man playing his saxophone. Sound waves echoing between the skyscrapers. Some people pass by, throwing him some money. He smiles.

Man playing saxophone in New York City

When you have never visited New York before, you dream of a different world by just mentioning its name. A world that never sleeps. A world so vibrant it might catch you like a whirlpool. And you know, New York is all that.

The city lives, but in a friendly way. There is more personality within these massive blocks of concretes than you might think. A man playing his old saxophone, people actively engaging in a conversation with you because they are really interested, a smile from that lady lying on the grass in Central Park, others always welcoming you wherever you enter.

Bury your head

You can spend the whole day with your head buried in the travel guide book and looking up towards those monolithic skyscrapers. But that way you would miss a lot in New York. New York is home to millions of different people. Walking around, you are one of them: a truly gigantic mix of cultures, backgrounds and futures. You feel you are part of the universe.

New York is a city where you can sense people’s lives out on the street. I caught many personal conversations by just walking the streets (I now know all about Julies divorce, Stan moving to the West coast and Melissa’s relationship with her parents…sorry guys). We experienced New York in May 2011 when the weather was great and people used every park and lawn to enjoy the outdoors. They don’t mind others eavesdropping. I believe because all New Yorkers live in the same world, their world.

You have a serious problem if you want to grasp and understand what the city is all about. You alone cannot (or it might take longer than your short visit). New York is not from you, it’s from everybody. The collective makes New York the place that so many have been and are dreaming about.

Times Square by night

Next stop: the hidden perspective

Different cultures, backgrounds and futures. Uptown or downtown, underground is where they all meet. I love the subway. Did I mention I love the subway? To me the subway is not just an underground, it’s the life underneath. The hidden perspective. Here you can watch people thinking about where they came from and where they are heading. The subway are the veins of the body called NYC, life depends on it.

Subway station in New York City

In a certain way the subway is like time travel: every subway station you come out of in New York will throw you in a different world. You walk up the steps and look up. Sometimes the sun blinds you and you have to wait a couple of seconds before the world around you becomes clear.

Soho, Hell’s Kitchen, Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Greenwich village and I can go on and on. Names carrying a special culture, different backgrounds and expectations of the future.

Enjoy my New York blog post series!

This is the start of a series about New York City. My second article will show you how your kids can enjoy New York to the fullest! That part will be full of practical tips and sights you should not miss out on. We talked to our kids about diversity where New York City is a crossroad of our multicultural world. That story is about Ellis Island, Ground Zero, Brooklyn, giant toy stores and the lights of Times Square.

My third post will be a photography post about New York City in 3D. Call it 3 Dimensions or Diversities. It will be fun where I will summarize the different angles through which you can view the Big Apple.

Disclaimer: these views on New York City are from an European perspective where Kings and Queens rule and soccer is a way of life. LOL. Have fun!

Naked cowboys in the rain (Times Square)

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34 Comments
  1. A truly wonderful post. Makes me want to hop on the next flight to JFK! Looking forwards to seeing your next post about how to do NY with kids in tow. Thanks for let the rest of us enjoy your surplus Big Apple energy!

    • Thank you Vibeke! Kids in tow was great. People over here look at me very strange if I tell them we rented bikes and cycled right through Manhattan :) More to come..

  2. You really did get what N.Y. is all about from your short visit. I’m excitingly looking forward to what else you have to say about N.Y. I told you New Yorkers are friendly. Hope you liked it.

    • Yes Gladys, New Yorkers are friendly. I am glad to learn that I got to know New York within that short of a time frame. And indeed, there was a lot of music and dance on the streets!

  3. That guy with the saxophone is probably an unemployed musician. You’ll find musicians all over New York and New Yokers will always throw money in their little basket. It’s a New York tradition. The basket that’s near his foot is for the money.

  4. It’s exciting to read that a foreigner can understand the city so well in a short visit. And yes, people there are friendly. :)

    • Maryse, I am really thrilled that some New Yorkers like you (although a Belgian sprout) commented that I got such a good understanding of the city (especially after just one week). Thank you!

  5. Can’t wait! NYC is one of the most fun cities in the world- different every time you go. Some of the best food in the world. I’ll be sitting here waiting with my coffee- every morning!

    • Great Emily, your offspring will have a blast! Make sure to visit the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant (you like Forest Gump don’t you?)

  6. I would love to see New York one day! We almost had a chance to go a few years ago but it fell through, but it is still on the list!

    • Amy,
      New York is one of those places that is on many, many people’s list (especially Europeans). We have all created our own image of the city, especially because we see so many of it on TV and in movies. We have to check it out ourselves…

  7. Emile, you have summed up NYC so well! To me the city almost feels to be its own living entity. Alive and separate from the people who live here. We conform to the city. The city doesn’t conform to us.

    I love that you got a picture of the Naked Cowboy. Your trip was complete! (It looks like he has a new business partner since the last time i saw him! LOL)

    I can’t wait to read more about your adventures.

    • Thank you Jackie for the compliment and very well said: “We conform to the city.” I am glad to hear that I got a good idea about the character of the city (especially from a New Yorker!). More to follow soon..

  8. Carol permalink

    I love this!! You captured my home so well : )). Thank you for sharing!

    • Pleasure Carol!! And I fully used up the NYC Explorer Pass that I won with the contest on your blog :)

  9. Ooh, I LOVE the subway too! Put me in any large city with an unlimited subway pass and I’m happy. Lovely to see the first glimpses of New York through your eyes in such a personal way (all the smaller stories) and beautiful photography, too.

    • Esther,
      The subway is magical. I am with you, my kingdom for a unlimited subway pass!

  10. New York, truly a melting pot for different cultures around the world. And by the way, I LOOVEE subway, metro, MRT or whatever it’s called! Riding on it is one of the most enjoyable experiences every time I travel to different cities.

    • I am with you Bama! Underground, metro, subway, tube, MRT, whatever, as long as it is below ground :)

  11. I am a New Yorker! Well, not anymore, but I was. Still the best.

    I have to say that the best part of NY, and maybe every city, is the neighborhoods. But NY’s neighborhoods are so diverse. They all have a beat of their own. You cross a street and you are in a different world.

    Let me know if you want any tips.

    And don’t forget. NY – settled first by the Dutch!

    Have a great time. Looking forward to the pictures.

    • Hello Justin, great to see you again! We surely know about the Dutch history, you just have to look at the names of streets, tunnels, neighborhoods and subway stations: Amsterdam avenue, Holland Tunnel, Brooklyn (from Breukelen), Harlem (from Haarlem), New Utrecht subway station in Brooklyn, etc etc. It is much fun (as a Dutch guy) to check the city for that heritage.

  12. What fun! I was visiting NYC just last year and I have family there, so this is definitely a joy to read. Beautiful pictures-

  13. wow you really sum up the city so well. It is all about diversity. New York city has many different culture, nationality and great food. I’m from Queens, and I love traveling back and forth between the city and back to Queens. I love that I get a feel of both the big city and cultural feel. And your photos are so beautiful too.

    • Thank you Sarah! I am honoured that you as a real New Yorker love my short description of the soul of this city. More to come soon, stay tuned!

  14. emiel,
    if you like historical fiction, you may want to read New York: The Novel – by Edward Rutherfurd. I loved reading about the city’s beginnings, when the american accent was still a thing to come, and learn more about the early dutch and american history. Makes me want to go back and see if I can find anything that has remained from that time. Look forward to your future NY posts!
    – Monique

    • Thanks for mentioning that book Monique. For a Dutchman it is still strange to see that clear evidence of Dutch history in New York, we loved it!

  15. Emiel,
    As a New Yorker, I can tell you that you’ve described it perfectly. And after 20 years of living there, I still see it that way.

    • Grazi Sabrina, great compliment from a true New Yorker (where waves of clouds cover the Empire State of Mind :)

  16. a wonderful post [again]. It made me smile as NYC sounds like an even better place to visit than I imagine. It is ‘on my list’ of things to do and I am looking forward to it even more now.
    I especially like your words ‘mix of cultures, backgrounds and futures’ as I have never really thought of it with the futures bit put in, in a conscious way. I like it as it opens up so many possibilities and I think it allows people to be more accepting of those they meet as the their future is untold, unknown and unforeseen. To accept others for all the possibilities that are ahead of them and not for their actions of the past :)

    • Thank you Beverly! I came across that word ‘futures’ while reading about NYC and it’s true, in all stories about eg Ellis Island, NYC was always the hub towards a bright future. And I am very glad you explained it the way you did: to accept others for all the possibilities that are ahead of them and not for their actions of the past. Very well said! Great comment, again thanks.

  17. A GREAT description of what New York feels like! I kept hearing Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” song in my head while I was reading this most wonderful post. :)

    • Michi, exactly that song was in our heads while walking the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. NYC in 3D: the multiple dimensions of New York « Act of Traveling
  2. New York City with kids in tow (and how to enjoy the diversity)

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