“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”
—Simone de Beauvoir
I love New York.
It is a city unlike any other I know. I love the round-the-clock, go-go energy of the city. Where else can you go out at midnight and find the sidewalks teeming with people, or find businesses still open, or see streets still humming with the movement of cars as if it were mid-day? I love all the brownstones and their elegant and unique architectural flourishes, their stately façades, the pleasing rhythm and solidity they add to each city block — especially when viewed along with the old trees along the sidewalks, the overflowing flower boxes, and the heavy cast iron railings. I love the vertical orientation of development that creates a maze of man-made, concrete canyons across the island. I love how a walk along any of the streets in Midtown or in Lower Manhattan draws your eyes upward to gaze in wonderment at the engineering achievements enshrined in those towering skyscrapers. I love Central Park -- I love the variety of things to see and do there with all of the public artwork and fountains and pathways and bridges and benches and ponds and leas and ancient stone outcroppings. I love the feeling it bestows upon you of being completely absorbed in nature, all the while walking in the midst of one of the most densely populated and vibrant cities in the world.
This was officially my third visit to New York City. The first time was in 1993 as a four-day stop-over on my way to visit a friend in Luxembourg. That's another story. The second time was in 2002 when I had to be in Boston for work -- I took the train down for the weekend and spent a very brief but fun-filled 48 hours in this wonderful city before having to say good-bye. Each time I visit, it feels like one of my happiest dreams, and I want it to last forever.
June 10, 2013
After breakfast in the hotel that morning, Lola and I headed out onto the city streets to start checking off our laundry list of must-sees and must-dos. Actually, it was more like my own personally curated list and Lola was happy to let me play tour director. The closest subway station entrance was less than a block from our hotel at W. 79th and Broadway. We hopped on the 1 (Broadway-Seventh Avenue Local) because its route would take us to most of the places on our list -- Times Square, Greenwich Village and the Financial District.
Unlike the day before, that particular Monday was a wash-out weather-wise, literally. It started off with sprinkles and got progressively worse. Because of the nasty weather, we ducked into Duane Reade across the street and bought an umbrella. The weather absolutely demanded it if we had any chance of enjoying the sights of Manhattan. So, back to the subway. In 2013, it was $2.75 for a two-hour ticket. We went to Times Square and emerged at 40th Street. We snapped several pictures of the neon-clotted, bustling intersections along 7th Avenue and Broadway. For nostalgia purposes, I snapped a picture at 42nd Street and Broadway of the Lincoln Highway sign. It was the first trans-continental highway in the United States, and coincidentally was dedicated exactly 100 years ago in 1913. It officially started at 42nd Street and Broadway in Times Square and ended at Lincoln Park in San Francisco more than 3,000 miles away. (See my post on The Lincoln Highway for more information.)
We walked down to 34th Street, still braving the rain and huddling under Lola’s umbrella, wending our way along the sidewalks choked with pedestrians, until we reached the Empire State Building at the corner of W. 34th and Fifth Avenue. Even though the weather was lousy, and even though the employee at the ticket sales window warned us about the poor visibility at the top, and even though it was $25 apiece for us to go up to the Observation Deck, we did it.
After going through a security screening, we got on an elevator that whisked us up to the 80th floor where we transferred to another elevator that lifted us the remaining six floors up to the 86th floor and the highest point of ascension for the public. There we found a wrap-around observation area and outside deck. Out on the deck, the wind was strong and the rain piercing, but we did get a few snapshots of the surrounding cityscape. It truly is remarkable being up there aloft looking down at the city from such a high vantage point. After returning to ground level, we popped into the Walgreen’s and purchased a second umbrella. It made getting around a lot easier with each of us carrying one of our own.
After a quick visit to Macy’s for some new cargo pants, we headed east in search of Grand Central Station. We stumbled first upon the beautifully baroque New York Public Library Main Branch located at 41st Street and Fifth Avenue.
And then, we found the entrance to Grand Central Station located at E. 42nd and Park Avenue.
After touring the yawning interior of this historic building swarming with people, we made our way north up to W. 49th Street and Rockefeller Plaza to see Rockefeller Center. At the moment we arrived, the skies opened up and the rain came down in cascading sheets. It was downright miserable. I snapped a few quick pictures of the plaza and then we ducked for shelter under the NBC Rainbow Room entrance overhang. When the rain quieted down, we headed back to Times Square and the subway entrance to return to our hotel on the Upper West Side.
We settled on slices of pizza at a place on the corner of W. 78th and Broadway for dinner. We picked up two pieces of cheesecake from the same shop to go. We also decided to have cocktails in our room, so we picked up a fifth of gin, and a liter of tonic from a store just around the corner. Back in the hotel room, after a long, satisfying nap, we started in with the cocktails and card games. Before long, our booze-fueled wisecracking sent us into paroxysms of wild and uncontrollable laughter -- all over the silliest of puns and crude jokes made at our own expense. We even drunk-dialed family members so they could share in our private jokes and unbridled mirth, ... and they never let us forget it. It is one of the happiest memories of that trip that I cherish to this day.
June 11, 2013
Our drunken bacchanalia from the night before left us with a mild hangover that morning. Consequently, our day started out slow, with coffee and Good Morning America. At around 10 a.m., we left the hotel with camera and umbrellas to check off more items from our list of things to see and do. The weather report promised a sunny, 80°F day -- with the possibility of showers in the late afternoon. That weather forecast turned out to be spot on accurate.
Our first stop was Ground Zero in the Financial District. We both really wanted to see the 9/11 Memorial. Fortunately, the No. 1 train took us directly to the stop from where we could easily walk to the site. We waited in line for tickets that were given after we made a small donation of $10. We then waited in another line to be herded in as a group, then another line formed in front of the security station where we emptied our possessions into trays that went through a scanner while we went through metal detectors. Finally we emerged onto the World Trade Center grounds.
Where both of the towers once stood, there is now a memorial. It was a solemn and somber place. At each of the two sites, where the north and south towers once stood, there is an enormous inward-cascading waterfall. Water pours down into a perfect square along the sides of the walls, plunging about 50 feet to the tower’s footprint. In the center of the waterfall, there is another drop -- a square abyss that drops into what looks like a bottomless pit. The water flows from the sides of the tower’s footprint toward the unfillable hole in the center. It was a powerful and symbolic memorial. Along the four sides of each tower’s footprint are the names of the nearly 3,000 victims inscribed in bronze. Lola and I stood at the edge looking down into the memorial of each tower, quietly contemplating the enormity of the loss. Snapshots cannot capture the moving water or the sound it makes or the stillness you feel when you are there. On the north side of the plaza rises the new Freedom Tower. It looked as if it was nearly completed.
After viewing the memorial, we found our way to the Blue Planet Grill (now permanently closed) on Greenwich Street, just a short walk away. We left the restaurant and headed over to Broadway and then onto Wall Street, and eventually to the Brooklyn Bridge. Lola and I passed by Trinity Church on our way to the Brooklyn Bridge. You can just make out the top spire of the church in this photo illustrating the dense arrangement of high-rises in the Financial District.
I had wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for years. I finally got to fulfill my dream that day. The weather was perfect, almost a little too warm to be out on the bridge with no protection from the sun, but once we were standing directly over the East River, the breezes whipped up and cooled us down.
We caught a subway there at the foot of the bridge on the Manhattan side and rode all the way up to E. 59th Street. We emerged at Lexington and 59th, then walked west, crossing Park Avenue and Madison Avenue. I really wanted to see the Plaza Hotel.
From there, we wandered down 59th to Columbus Circle.
Then we turned left and headed south on Broadway to Times Square, hoping to find a place where we could purchase discount Broadway show tickets. The line to purchase tickets was ridiculously long, and as fate would have it, the weather report's prediction of afternoon rain came to pass at that very moment. We pulled out the umbrellas and exited the queue, preferring to find our tickets online in the warm, dry space of our hotel room. We headed straight for the subway.
It was on the way there that Lola was assaulted by the furry and adorable Sesame Street character, Elmo. Well, not so much assaulted as "bumped into" by a guy in an Elmo costume, but that became the running joke that afternoon.
We caught the subway at W. 50th Street and returned to our hotel where we dropped off all our things and headed to Central Park to go for a walk. The weather's capricious mood had once again turned fair by then. We started south along Central Park West until we got to The Dakota at W. 72nd Street, then went into the park and wandered around for about an hour.
After a relaxing, late-afternoon stroll through the park, we returned to the hotel passing through residential neighborhoods where we got photos of some of those grand brownstones.
Back at the hotel, we made a decision about dinner -- a well-known and highly rated burrito place a few blocks away on the corner of W. 85th and Columbus Avenue. It’s called The Great Burrito. We had dinner there and, as we expected, it was indescribably delicious. On the way back to the hotel, we picked up a couple of cookies from a place directly across the street from the hotel called Insomnia Cookies -- as the name suggests, they stay open pretty late -- until 3 a.m.
June 12, 2013
This was our last full day in New York City and I was already starting to miss it. Four days was not nearly enough time. It’s nothing more than a nibble of the city, tantalizing by itself but not even remotely satisfying. I craved more of the city. I wanted to stay there for months at a time. I told Lola that my ideal life would be retirement in the Upper West Side with all the time in the world to wander and explore, people watch, eat at great restaurants and continue sampling all that New York has to offer.
Lola and I started our tour by walking west along 79th Street down toward the Hudson River and Riverside Park. It was the perfect day to spend time lazily walking along the river's edge, stopping here and there to take a break under a shady tree on a bench looking out toward New Jersey.
We walked up as far as W. 88th Street and Riverside Drive where the apartment building that is featured in the show "Will & Grace" is located.
A block north of that building, just west of Riverside Drive, is the elegant Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.
Once again, Central Park was calling us. We decided to walk back into the park and spend the better part of the day there having lunch and leisurely taking in the sights. We re-visited Belvedere Castle on our way in.
We returned to Bethesda Fountain and then wandered south up the terrace steps and directly into The Mall -- which is one of my favorite spaces in the park.
Time passed pretty quickly. Before we knew it, we were approaching the southern edge of the park where the high-rises of Midtown vault skyward above the tree line.
We hiked back up Central Park West and stopped for lunch at a food cart parked along the side of the road. It turned out to be one of the best meals we had during our stay.
After lunch, we went back to the hotel and took a short catnap. We wanted to be fully rested for our night on Broadway. The night before, we managed to find tickets online to see Mamma Mia! The tickets weren't very expensive at all, but what truly surprised us was that, with the steep discount, we were able to get seats in the middle of the fourth row!
Before the show, we needed to find a place to have dinner. I was in the mood for chicken shawarma. Through a Google search, we found a place called Ali Baba of West Side a few blocks away at the corner of W. 85th and Amsterdam. The restaurant turned out to be a very small storefront with a counter and two tiny tables on the inside. The owner was very kind and made recommendations with our meal, including dining outside on a bench in front of the restaurant where it was cooler. The food was simply one of the best meals I've had in my life. Sadly, the business did not survive the pandemic and is now closed permanently.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel and dressed up in the best show-going clothes we packed for the road trip. We took the subway to Times Square and then walked to the Broadhurst Theater on W. 44th Street. The show was amazing and fun and energizing, and we couldn't believe our good fortune. When we came out of the theater at 11 p.m., we were in such high spirits. We made our way back to Times Square where people were packed cheek-by-jowl. At night, the square takes on a different personality altogether. It is like a pocket of roaring energy in the center of a city that is illuminated by its own personal star. Brightly lit by neon signs, flashy five-story billboards and ribbons of LED with moving displays, you almost need sunglasses to take it in. It is a chaotic and bustling crossroads with hordes of people coming and going, many of them tourists like us taking pictures and squealing with delight at the spectacle around them. The noise of traffic pushing through the square, along with the smells of the humid city at the end of a summer day combine with this multisensory experience to give you the impression that you are standing in the center of the known universe.
That was our last night in New York.
Next Time on "Road Trip 2013" ... With our visit to New York City coming to an end, we pivot to the journey westward on our return back across the continent to our starting point -- over an entirely different route. Until then, dear travelers, may all your journeys be safe and rich in experience!