We arranged it so that we had a really long layover in London. After we landed we had almost 10 hours to spend in the city. Despite being dead tired from the flight we jumped on the tube and went on sightseeing.
First stop was Buckingham palace. I’m not sure what was happening but there was some procession with horses and thousands of tourists around watching. Sadly we did not see the queen or any other member of the royal family.
We continued our tour toward Big Ban and the Parliament which was close by. Just as with New York the city was flooded with tourists. Despite our short visit, we did had a chance to visit most of the “must” see attractions in the city, including with the red phone box, Dalek from Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes bar.
And of course, we did try the famous fish and chips – spoiler alert Cordon blue (aka Ljubljana’s stake) is much better. 🙂
What is the most American food? I’m sure everyone answers to this with burgers and fries.
What did we eat? Almost everything I’ve even tried a jellyfish. But you quickly learn the rules, junk food is the cheapest one, still more expensive than in Slovenia though, but if you want a stake, you are going to pay more than whole meal in a fancy restaurant in Slovenia.
We got most of our food from the food trucks on the street. It’s relatively cheap, you get it fast. In most cases it actually tastes good. We were lucky enough to be present during food festival, where they closed whole avenue and had food market there. The variety of food was vast even though almost every other stand had some variant of Mexican food. I do like Mexican food here in Slovenia, but there it was in another league. I couldn’t believe how good it was despite its looks.
Remember how I said some girl asked us if we recommend something from the market? This was the best thing in the food festival. Gigantic turkey leg, for 9$. It was actually quite good, both Veronika and I managed to eat about half of it. I’m not sure what that poor girl did with it.
We did go to a restaurant two times. First time we had a stake and some pasta. The service was great, every 3 minutes there was waiter refilling our drinks and asking if we want anything else. In the end the tab was 100$ for a stake and some pasta. I would estimate that in Slovenia it would cost around 20-30€. The second time it was around 90$ for a salad and NY stake.
We did managed to go into some supermarkets few times. There the world is upside down. Everything is incredibly cheap, you can get around 5l of Arizona ice tea for 2.5$, in Slovenia you pay that much for one can. They also have some absurdly big packaging, we managed to buy a 1kg package of skittles.
The city itself is very interesting especially if you are not used to the American architectures. All the streets are straight and perpendicular to each other which makes navigation a breeze. The old buildings are nice and interesting and everything is big.
The down side of such a big city is that you can’t keep it clean, by the looks of it. There was this bad smell almost everywhere from all the thrash (bags) that are usually just left in the middle of sidewalks.
There are some neighbourhoods that look almost like scenes from a criminal movie. Dark, narrow with old abandoned buildings. From time to time you can see an empty loft with overgrown grass and vegetation – almost like some jungle between the buildings.
The metro system – the most efficient way to move around the city looks old. It’s incredibly large with multiple entries and exits to a station with poor directions so we got lost quite a lot. There are a lot of stairs and narrow passages which makes it incredibly hard to navigate with large suitcase. The trains are old bug generally kept clean and full of people all the time.
People on the other hand don’t quite fit the traditional American fat guy riding a scooter while eating a burger with one hand and shooting a gun with another. Most of the people in New York are fit and dressed well, the city is very very expensive, so the people who actually afford to live in it are in general very rich. If you earn less than 100k$ / year you will have very bad time living there.
There is this stereotype that the people in New York are rude, it’s hard to say if it is true or not, when you see them on the street they are always in a hurry running somewhere. If you ask them something they usually just ignore you. On the other hand there were two cases, where they just came up to us and asked us something, it’s even stranger because at the time me and Veronika were speaking in Slovene and I know they’ve heard us, but still they came to us and in one case asked us on some advice about size clothing and in the other hand a girl asked us if we would recommend some gigantic turkey leg from the grill, I’m still not sure how she ate all that thing.
Beside the businessman in the suits you can see all sorts of people doing all sorts of jobs, from jumping around half naked taking pictures with the tourists to the couriers who deliver fast mail during rush hour on bikes. I even encountered a hotel manager at the conference who came from Serbia and was in Maribor or Ptuj in the army.
If you ask a stranger to say 3 words associated with the New York most of them will say Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Central Park. We have visited statue of liberty many times already (Veronika actually went visit the statue again, this time actually landing on the island) so it was about time to see something else.
That something else was nothing else but Empire State Building. One of the most iconic skyscrapers in the New York, being features in countless films – King Kong, despite being built in the early 20th century it is still one of the tallest buildings in New York.
We took an elevator up to the 100th floor and then at the top took a couple of floors of stairs to get to the top. Needless to say the views were incredible. The central position of the building offers unobstructed view all over Manhattan.
Being so high up you could barely see cars let alone people down there. You could watch tiny building down there, not knowing they are much higher than what we have here in Slovenia.
The other grand landmark of New York is its central park. If you would put it in Ljubljana, it would take space from north to south highway – it’s enormous. Because our hotel was located quite close to it we often visited it. There were a lot of pathways and lakes you could walk around. The park was very well taken care of, everything was clean and you felt safe.
There were many squirrels running around the park also, being used to people feeding them you could actually pet them, if you brought it a walnut.
The conference started on Saturday and I was lucky enough to have my presentation on the first day. I was a bit nervous but luckily it was soon over. After that I had a chance to enjoy presentations from others – among who the Google was the best. They presented their system which won game of Go early that year.
It was not all work – if you can actually call it work. We had several social events in the evening like visiting the Modern art gallery where they had paintings from famous artists like Van Gogh, Picasso and many others I don’t recognise.
The conference was interesting, yet very intense. The lectures were happening in parallel in at least 5 different halls and you had to be careful you didn’t miss the one you wanted to hear. It was very intensive mentally, a lot of presenters had strong accents combined with in depth math theory behind their programs it was hard to follow. Luckily there were some easy, more fun oriented, topic covered also. For example there was a competition in Angry birds game where humans were pitted against computer.