Arriving by bus in Manhattan at night, I had no idea where I was going to stay. A tourist leaflet near a payphone prompted me to book a room at a place called Malibu Hotel. It was only fifty dollars for a room because it was being renovated. Brown stains marked everything, and brown water poured out of the taps over the wash basins. The odd cockroach could be seen exploring the shared bathroom down the hall. The bed linen was clean, but psychosomatic itching plagued me until I fell asleep exhausted from travel. I rushed over to the HI New York hostel early the next morning to make sure I'd get a room there.
Manhattan reminded me of London. People buzz around with hardened looks, determined to fight their way through the crowds to get to where they're going. Shops and offices and housing cram into every available space, leaving little room for fresh air. The Metro subway train system offered train platforms that were stiflingly hot and humid (but air conditioned train carriages that were far too cold for sweaty commuters) and dirty station tunnels.
Despite there being as much of a love for cars as anywhere else in the United States, it is possible to explore Manhattan entirely on foot. The Metro is a cheap form of travel if you've got a specific destination in mind. But for a more exciting view of Manhattan, I took a speedboat tour. Bouncing over the wake of larger boats, the speedboat tour races around the harbour, pauses for a view of the Statue of Liberty, and passes under some of the famous bridges that connect Manhattan with the surrounding boroughs. It's a great way to get a feel for the shape of New York City.
If you'd rather a more sedate view of the Statue of Liberty, take the Staten Island Ferry which carries tourists and commuters between Manhattan and Staten Island. The journey is free of charge, but you do have to queue to get onto the ferry each way. If you're a fan of twilight, try to time the journey so that the sun is setting on the first leg. You get a rich sunset view of the Statue of Liberty on the way to Staten Island, and on the return journey a view of Manhattan's skyline as the lights start coming on.
At one point I found myself in Brooklyn. I'd been under the impression that Brooklyn was a poor, rundown slum, but in fact it seemed very clean and pleasant, much less hectic than Manhattan. A walk along the Brooklyn Bridge is a scenic way to get from Brooklyn back to Manhattan.
I wasn't able to book the final night in the hostel, so it was back to the cheap hotel. This time, I reached my floor to find water pouring down from the ceiling of the shared bathroom. The plumbing in the bathroom above had developed a leak. Still, it was somewhere to stay.