New York Day 4: United Nations and Empire State Building

My second day staying in 5th Avenue was spent waking up early and grabbing a cup of coffee from the lobby of the Andaz. With the warm cup of coffee, I took a walk around Bryant Park for a nice quiet moment in the morning before the crowds come in for the day. Bryant Park is a nice small park surrounded by really interesting skyscrapers, with the most outstanding being the Bryant Park Hotel with its brown facade and gold detailings. With the coffee finished, I took a walk along 42nd on the direction towards the United Nations Headquarters.

Grand Central Station and MetLife Building

Taking a walk along 42nd street is perhaps quintessential to experiencing midtown for all the landmark architecture in this area. First stop is obviously the Grand Central Station with the MetLife Building just behind it. While the facade of the Grand Central is dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, it is the interior of the station that makes it great. The airy central atrium is always a nice place to linger and just watch as people hurriedly pass by. When inside the Great Hall, don’t forget to admire the roof feature which has the constellations painted in gold. The best time to visit the interior of the Grand Central is when the sun is shining through the windows giving the station a feeling of warmth in this cold spring day.

Great Hall of the Grand Central

Just a short walk further down the Grand Central is the Chrysler building, famed for its art deco lobby and details. Home of the Chrysler Car Company when it was built, it remains to this day one of the landmark skyscrapers in New York along with the Empire State. While the Chrylser Building is a majestic sight from the outside, it was dark in the lobby. Save for the few art deco details and a short exhibit on the historical significance of the building, there wasn’t much else to see. Another interesting skyscraper along 42nd Street is the Ford Foundation Building with the glasshouse atrium housing a lush temperate landscape within the skyscraper. It is perhaps one of the first such skyscraper in the world to incorporate indoor gardens to balance the monotone of office buildings in a city.

Chrysler Building
Ford Foundation Building Atrium

From the Ford Foundation Building, it is just another half a block down towards the United Nations Plaza with the street name coming from the United Nations Headquarters sitting on a waterfront site bordered by 1st Ave, and the 42nd and 48th Street. Sadly the main tower which is the Secretariat Building was under renovations at the time of my visit. Nonetheless a visit to the UN Plaza also brings with it attentions of current issues facing the world and at that time happens to be protests against Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast who refused to step down after losing in the presidential elections. Visitor’s entrance to the UN Plaza is located close to the 45th Street and walking towards that direction, I passed by the Bhutan Representative Office to the UN, and it makes me realize at the amazing diversity of the world. It is also perhaps the closest I’ve been to Bhutan at any time in my life. Entering the main entrance, one is immediately greeted with the Knotted Gun Monument. I find this apt monument promoting the role of UN in peacekeeping and the use of non-violence.

Knotted Gun Monument at the UN Headquarters Entrance

Inside the main General Assembly Building, one side of the wall shows the potraits of the people who have served as the General Secretary of the United Nations, and exhbition panels line the other side of the foyer. Visitors can sign up for a guided tour of the UN headquarters which I did. The tour brings us to the General Assembly Hall, explaining the role and mission of the United Nations in the world, showing visitors some of the work they have done and closer to the end of the tour, the guide will show visitors some of the gifts received from nations like China and Thailand. Finally there was also a visit to the temporary site of the Security Council Chamber which was under renovation as well. I came away from the tour understanding that the work done by the United Nations is one of trial and error and one phrase stuck in my head at the end of the tour – “It is only by patient and persistent effort, by trial and error that peace can be won”. This was a quote by Ralph Bunche in the 1950s, and really depicts the difficult process of meeting, discussing and putting peacekeeping plans into action amongst the 192 member states of the UN. And this brings me back to the point that if the UN system is flawed, it is because we, humans, ourselves are flawed. This is because the UN is made of the people that inhabit this world and their differing cultures and methods of putting things into actions makes it unpredictable, and only through better understanding could one make the world a better place.

General Assembly Hall

After the end of the tour, I walked back towards the Grand Central Station, making a point of taking a detour through 40th Street as I checked out the Hertz Car Rental branch along the street where I am due to rent a car the next day from. The walk brought me back to Grand Central where I stopped for lunch, and as expected, it is a sight to behold in the Station during lunch hour as the crowds come and order from the small food court at the basement of the station. I bought myself some Fried Chicken served with Coleslaw and Biscuit to bring back to the hotel to enjoy. It was a delicious meal as I watched some episodes of Million Dollar Listings on the HGTV channel in the hotel room with the fast food.

Fried Chicken and Diet Coke for lunch

Watching TV in the comfort of the room extended my lunch time and also provided me with time to rest my weary legs after so much of exploring the cities during the day. Not wanting to spend too much time doing nothing in the room, I headed out once more towards the Empire State Building this time round and bought the New York City Pass which also includes tickets to the museums of the City, a Statue of Liberty Cruise and other sights. Since I was keen on visiting the museums as well, I thought it was a good deal. Though it has to be noted that the part for the Empire State Observatory only includes access to the lower deck and not to the uppermost rotunda. However as I had another day of access to the Top of the Rock, I did not find it necessary to get the uppermost access. The observatory deck in the Empire State, while situated higher up was smaller and had wired fencing which was difficult to take photos out from. However it compensates by providing a nice panorama over all of New York though views were less memorable compared to the one at the Top of the Rock. Some landmarks to spot from Empire State includes the better view of Chrysler Building, Flatiron Building, and of downtown Manhattan.

Flatiron Building
Village and the Downtown

I left the Empire State Building early and made my way over to the Rockefeller Centre again as I wanted to see the sunset from the Top of the Rock. The queues were longer for the Top of the Rock when i arrived on the second day, though I made it in time for the sunset shot of the Empire State and got to experience the views of New York from both observatory decks in a single afternoon. The Top of the Rock seems more crowded, though it could be more people vying to visit during sunset and dusk where views are the most spectacular.

Empire State in Sunset

Since it was my second visit to the Top of the Rock, I made it brief though I waited for nightfall once more by browsing through gifts at the store on top. Returning to the ground floor, I took a walk towards Times Square, which was all lit up magnificently. Times Square is perhaps the place to head to in the night time with the neon lights glaring at you and the traffic of yellow cabs at its peak. While it was all interesting for a while, the attraction of it was just left at that, and it certainly is better in the pictures than in real life. To me, the symbol of New York will always be Wall Street, 5th Avenue and Central Park. I had my dinner at Bubba Gump’s which is right smack in the middle of Times Square, and it allowed me to reminisce of a meal at the Peak in the same establishment a few years back. I ordered an individual shrimps platter which had shrimps fried in various methods and it was a delicious meal for one. For my drinks I got a cocktail which came with a free plastic trademark cocktail mixer. It was a nice souvenir and little wonder on the crowds of tourist that visit this restaurant.

Yellow Cabs along Times Square

After the dinner I walked around Times Square, capturing some night shots and as well as read some of the headlines on the Morgan Stanley Building including that of the Japanese earthquake which was a prelude to the much bigger disaster. I guess that is one reason how being in Times Square, one can feel like being in the centre of the universe. The flow of information, latest brands and movie advertisements makes this place to full of vitality and dynamism which definitely has an impact on every New Yorker’s life. Times Square will be my last segment for the day as I took a lonely walk back to the Andaz as I prepare to leave New York for Philadelphia tomorrow afternoon.

Morgan Stanley Building at Times Square
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