A City that doesn't Sleep

The summer holidays are here again and it' s time to see the world. What better place to start than New York City?

Not so long ago, to young people in our part of the world, the very thought of visiting America seemed like an impossible dream. There was the huge cost and the problem of getting a passport. Since then much has changed. With the zloty now convertible, the relative price of a flight ticket has come down. And airlines often offer special rates for students.

If you are entertaining the idea of visiting America some day, remember that it is a huge country. Its more than 270 million people live in a territory measuring 3.8 million square miles. I have deliberately given the area in square miles. When you visit America, forget the metric system! Everything is given in inches, feet, yards, miles, acres, ounces, pints, quarts and gallons. And if the air temperature announced by your flight attendant is 100° when you land in New York, don' t expect your blood to boil. It is rather hot, but 100° Fahrenheit is about 38° Celsius.

The vastness of the United States also means you could waste your precious time seeing a lot of the same kind of little houses that line the residential areas of most American cities. Or you might get stranded in the prairie states of mid-America where there is nothing but miles and miles of fields of wheat and maize, with only an occasional farm or small town breaking the monotony. That is why to whet your appetite, we are briefly presenting a few 'musts' that every first-time visitor should see. And the greatest concentration of such 'musts' is found in a relatively compact area: New York City.

The hub of the world

There are so many things to do and see here that we could easily devoted an entire issue of The World of English to the Big Apple, the nickname by which the city is affectionately known. But our space is limited so we can only touch briefly on a few of its high points. The island of Manhattan, once sold by the Indians to the Dutch for a handful of beads, can truly be called the hub of the world. If you wait long enough, you will eventually spot almost everybody that is anybody driving along Park Avenue, shopping or having dinner in one of the city' s many fine eating places.

Certain streets are synonymous with entire industries such as Madison Avenue (advertising), Wall Street (finance) and Broadway (the theatre world). You can retrace the footsteps of the millions of immigrants who made America what it is today by visiting the Statue of Liberty, the first thing the newcomers saw as their ship entered New York Harbor. Their first stop on American soil was Ellis Island, which served as an immigrant-processing center from 1892 to 1954. In the shadow of Manhattan' s skyscrapers, numerous joggers, rowers, picnickers and people on lunch breaks absorb the sun or enjoy the shade of leafy Central Park. Visitors usually enjoy watching artists and various eccentrics in bohemian Greenwich Village.

The Empire State Building may no longer be the world' s tallest skyscraper, but it is said to be the most perfect - architecturally harmonious, built to last and incorporating engineering features that continue to function they way they were designed to. While the skyscrapers of Manhattan are certainly breath-taking to European visitors, also worth visiting are some of the world' s finest museums and art galleries. Many visitors make it a point to see the Metropolitan Opera, Madison Square Garden, the United Nations building, Columbia University and Coney Island, probably the world' s best-known fun fair and bathing beach. The famous Times Square is where many New Yorkers congregate to see in the New Year each December 31st. Since Manhattan is an island, it is connected to other parts of the city by bridges and underwater tunnels which are also attractions to some.

Cosmopolitan mix

Of course, this city is a diverse, cosmopolitan mix of different races, nationalities and creeds. It has neighborhoods known as Chinatown and Little Italy, and in Brooklyn' s Greenpoint area you can hear Polish spoken on the streets at any time of day or night. New York has a larger Jewish population than any other city on earth, and various groups of Jews (Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed as well as non-observant ones) all have their preferred neighborhoods. Koreans, Russians, Haitians, Greeks, Vietnamese, Arabs from different countries and other groups also tend to live together in their own sections. But be sure to check with the natives before setting out on a carefree stroll through the neighborhoods of ethnic New York. Places such as Black Harlem and Spanish Harlem as well as many
others should be approached with extreme caution.

But things are looking up. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has cleaned the city up. The crime rate has dropped dramatically, turning the city from a dangerous combat zone into a relatively safe place to visit. Many attribute the improvement to Giuliani' s 'zero tolerance' policy of law enforcement, under which the police have cracked down on even minor offences such as defacing property with graffiti or jaywalking. That has sent a signal out to real criminals that the authorities mean business, so they had better watch their step.

Out on the town

Naturally, New York has more than its share of discos, show bars, nightclubs and the like, not to mention gourmet restaurants to suit every taste. Unfortunately, they tend to be on the expensive side. But you can always rely on the familiar fast-food eateries or do as many New Yorkers do and order a hot dog with everything on it at one of the many street carts selling this typically American treat. In New York, 'everything on it' means mustard, ketchup, pickle relish, chili (beans in a spicy sauce) and, believe it or not, sauerkraut.

But before you polish off your hot dog and wash it down with a Coke, you may find that your time is running out. Soon it' ll be a mad rush to JFK to catch your plane home. While soaring among the clouds, you will have plenty to reminisce about. If, that is, you have spent your summer holidays in the Big Apple. If not, it' s something to think about and plan ahead for in summer 2001.

Rob Strybel