Chapter Two: History Comes Alive In NYC
Day Two – Breakfast Buffet, Take The ‘A’ Train, A Gorgeous Walk, Cloistered, Hunting For Unicorns, Autumn Leaves Will Fall, Turning Over A New Leaf, Finding A Little Known Saint, A Museum In Need Of Restoration, Aaron Burr Slept Here, One Way Or Another, Dem Bones, “No Dum-Dum Here,” Best Museum Gift Shop, Stayin’ Alive At Dinner & Learning A Valuable Subway Lesson
There is nothing like autumn in New York City. It was a sunny, crisp morning (photo below is from our hotel’s back patio), and after downing some sweet rolls and coffee at the Chelsea Pines Inn (while watching the raid at St. Denis in Paris on TV), we were off on our first adventure…the Cloisters.
Our subway station was about a 30-second walk from the hotel (another great advantage of staying here) and although we really only had about 76 hours until we departed the city, we decided the Weekly Subway pass would pay for itself with our usual hectic schedule…and it did! Since I am machine-impaired, the very friendly and helpful (which describes most New Yorkers I’ve met on our trips here) gentleman at the window got us our passes (I think it was two bucks more because we were getting new cards and not refilling old ones, or perhaps because we didn’t use the machine…either way, the total was $31).
We were also armed with a terrific subway app that Fodorite Lori had emailed me about (New York Subway MTA Map and Route Planner by mxData Limited). What could possibly go wrong (foreshadowing alert)?
Hopping on the A-Train, we started humming a little Duke Ellington and within a half hour got off at the station near Fort Tryon Park. Then it was a brisk and beautiful walk to the Cloisters.
Some people had mentioned that Fort Tryon Park would not be very lovely in November…how wrong they were.
The park, gifted to the city in 1917 by John D. Rockefeller, was nothing less than gorgeous.
On the way to the Cloisters, we wandered through the Heather Garden, taking a slight detour to take in the views of the Hudson River and George Washington Bridge, and over to the Linden Terrace.
We met some volunteers weeding the gardens who told us there were more than 500 varieties of perennials and shrubs in this park (“Bring me a Shrubbery!”).
This was a picture-perfect blue-sky morning.
The leaves on the trees were aflame with color. “So this is what autumn looks like,” these two Southern Californians thought.
In about 15 minutes we were at the Cloisters, a place that it seems even many New Yorkers (in our conversations with locals over the next few days) haven’t ever visited.
Well, they don’t know what they’re missing.
The Cloisters is a jewel of a museum. The “suggested” entry price is $25, and although we knew we didn’t have to pay that, I don’t mind throwing a bone to a place like this (it also gets you same day admission to the Met if you’d like).
The Cloisters opened its doors in 1938. The building incorporates pieces from five medieval French cloisters and other monastic sites located throughout southern France (including the Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville). It contains approximately 5,000 works of art from Medieval Europe (we didn’t see them all), particularly from the 12th through the 15th centuries. Rockefeller was also instrumental in this endeavor (he purchased the land) and even donated works of art from his own collection…including the Unicorn Tapestries. We were told to go there first, because that room would be closing early that day.
The Hunt Of The Unicorn, as these Flemish tapestries are also known, are a series of seven tapestries. They date from the late 1400s and early 1500s, and show a bunch of hunters pursuing a unicorn. They were restored late in the 20th century.
Sadly at the end, they kill the poor guy, which is why today you’ll see:
“green alligators and long-necked geese; some humpty-backed camels and some chimpanzees… some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born, You’re never gonna see no unicorns.” At least the squirrel lived!
The entire museum is laid out brilliantly.
The Fuentidueña Chapel Gallery (above), a 12th-century apse from San Martin Fuentidueña in Spain, was our first stop. In one of the rooms we saw a Palmesel (a palm donkey with Jesus riding on it). In ancient times, bishops or priests would haul this out every Palm Sunday in a parade. It dates from the 15th century.
This Merode Room also contained other religious artifacts…
…including the Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by Robert Campin of the Netherlands (circa 1430).
Other stops along the way (not necessarily in order) included The Gothic Chapel with some magnificent stained glass windows from the 15th-century Carmelite foundation at Boppard am Rhein.
In the chapel, we paid a visit to the Double Tomb of Don Àlvar Rodrigo de Cabrera, Count of Urgell and His Wife Cecília of Foix, along with some other dead people in medieval tombs.
The lady below (on the left) is presumed by many to be Margaret of Gloucester (I think), wife of Robert II who was Baron of Neubourg. And then there’s Crusader Jean d’Alluye (right), lying with a lion guarding his feet. Next to him are his sword in its scabbard.
Not to be forgotten (below) is the Tomb Of Ermengol X (Count of Urgell).
The stained glass window above the Gothic Chapel is called called Theodosius Arrives at Ephesus.
In the Treasury, we found The Cloisters Cross (12th century) and the Reliquary Arm (from 1230) giving the peace sign (love those 13th century hippies).
The Pontaut Chapter House Gallery was a daily meeting spot for monks and/or nuns. The Cistercian abbey of Notre-Dame at Pontaut was a Benedictine monastery founded in 1115.
Romanesque Hall leads to the Langon Chapel; its architectural elements are from the 12th-century church of Notre-Dame-du-Bourg at Langon, near Bordeaux.
The Saint-Guilhem Cloister is from the monastery of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert near Montpellier, a place we plan to visit next autumn.
We walked to the inner Cuxa Cloister Garden, which re-creates fragments of the 12th-century Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in Southwest France.
For our final breath of fresh air we visited the West Terrace with its Hudson River views.
I read that the Cloisters’ is positioned at the highest elevation in Manhattan.
We started to feel the weather turn a bit. Autumn was coming on. Exiting the Cloisters, we headed down a stone staircase and went in search of lunch.
But first, we got lost as we hiked along a different part of Fort Tryon Park.
If you’re going to get lost, this was as beautiful a spot as any.
The sky had turned overcast, fall was in the air and beautiful leaves made for a terrific stroll.
It took a little extra time, but we finally found the restaurant where we wanted to grab a bite, the New Leaf, located in a cute stone house below the Heather Garden.
The window seat added to the ambiance.
I started with a bowl of chicken soup, and Tracy talked me into splitting a “New Leaf Burger” and fries (I could have downed it myself). Thankfully, the vat of pickles was put on the side. The burger paired well with a Kelso Pilsner.
We took our time walking through Fort Tryon Park, but after exiting we passed the subway station and walked down the street a block or so where I could catch a glimpse of a little known saint…The St. Frances Cabrini Shrine.
Frances Cabrini was born in a small Italian village in 1850. She had poor health as a child, and because of that she was not allowed to join a religious order until the age of 24. She came to New York City in 1889 and received permission from the Archbishop of New York to found an orphanage. Cabrini became an American citizen in 1909, and by the time of her death she had established 67 of these orphanages where she organized catechism and education classes for Italian immigrants.
She died in 1917, but her body was exhumed in 1931 so they could take her head to Rome. She also has an arm in Chicago (the woman gets around). The rest of her body is enshrined under glass in the altar of the shrine that we visited.
Cabrini was canonized in 1947, making her the first U.S. citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.
She is the Patron Saint Of Immigrants, meaning that Donald Trump will certainly not get her vote.
We walked around this modern church for about 20 minutes, but then it was back on the subway…
…(to 1663rd St-Amsterdam Ave) on our way to Manhattan’s oldest house and only remaining Colonial residence…a place where some of the most famous founding fathers hung out for a bit. We would wander its rooms and learn a little history lesson.
The construction of the Morris-Jumel Mansion began 250 years ago, and in 1776 George Washington utilized the home owned by Colonel Roger Morris (a British military officer and Executive Council of the Province of New York) as his temporary headquarters (while Morris was back in England) for a little more than a month. It’s from this house that General Washington planned the first victory of the Continental Army; The Battle of Harlem Heights. The home fell into British hands during the war.
After the war, in 1790, there was quite the dinner party. Had you been in attendance, you’d have been joined by President George Washington and his cabinet members including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, James Madison and Henry Knox.
Later the house was bought by Frenchman Stephen Jumel and his wife, Eliza. After Stephen died in a “mysterious” carriage accident, Eliza, who now was one of the richest women in NYC, married the ex-vice president, Aaron Burr, who, of course, had killed Hamilton in that famous duel many years before…perhaps miffed because he wasn’t invited to that dinner party.
In any event, the marriage of Eliza (read about this woman…she was a little shady and might have hastened her husband’s death) and Aaron turned south (it seems old Aaron was only after her money all along), and they divorced, but you can still come visit many of the rooms here, including Burr’s bedchamber.
It is a home in some desperate need of restoration, and the dour docent was such a mumbler that we had no idea what the hell he was talking about. However, the home’s storied history makes it a worthwhile stop ($10), especially since it was on our way back from the Cloisters.
To and from the subway station, we walked by a row of wooden carriage houses called Sylvan Terrace. There are 20 wooden row houses located on this historic street that leads to the mansion.
Speaking of subways, I was due to make some mistakes, and they started here. First we took the subway one stop the wrong way. No big deal. We looked at a map and saw that we would pass right by the American Museum of Natural History…and pass it by we did. We were on the wrong line and passed the stop. Undaunted, we changed trains and made it back to the correct stop. We could tell by the welcoming gator (or crocodile…hey’ I’m a California boy…they’re both the same to me.
Stepping outside, we saw the giant statue of Teddy Roosevelt on a horse (he does sort of look like Robin Williams).
We got in line (with a few others) to purchase tickets, and we were all told to go to the other desk. None of us were happy. Then the other ticket desk didn’t want to sell tickets either, but finally relented (the guy in front of me with a disgruntled child led the way). The suggested price is $22, however for our inconvenience, we paid five bucks each and went in.
We entered this room just for the halibut. There was a docent fishing for compliments, but we moved on.
We very much enjoyed the museum…
…although I’m always a little sad that the stuffed animals there were hunted and killed for the displays, especially Bullwinkle’s cousins.
I also love giraffes.
Of course, we hung out with the dinosaurs for a while…
…and made no bones about it.
It was then I became the consummate, idiotic tourist. I asked a pleasant docent inside whether there was actually a place where we could see the Teddy Roosevelt exhibit that was in “Night At The Museum.” It was obviously not the first time he had been asked this question.
He explained that many of things in the movie aren’t really there. “No, Teddy is not at the museum, and before you ask, neither is Dum-Dum.” “Well, who’s the dumb-dumb now?” I thought. In any event, I did have my photo taken next to a statue of The Hero Of San Juan Hill.
Before exiting the museum, we wandered through the gift store, which is probably one of the nicest gift stores at any museum we have visited (by the way, they did sell Dum-Dum ornaments in the gift shop, so now I felt a little less dumb-dumb). Fortunately, Tracy was too tired to take out her wallet, walked by the subway shark and traveled back to the hotel for a short nap.
About 7:15, Tracy and I hopped on the “L” for our dinner at Cacio e Pepe, 182 2nd Ave. It is a cute restaurant that was fairly uncrowded when we entered around 7:45.
Instead of a selection of Italian music, this restaurant was heavy into Abba and that great Italian group…The Bee Gees. Fortunately, we like both of those groups so it worked for us.
I really enjoyed my dishes at this restaurant, while Tracy said it was good, “but nothing to write home about.” That’s why I’m writing about it here. They had a small bar, but the waitress admitted she didn’t really know how to make a cocktail, so we ordered Prosecco to start. Then I savored a Montepulciano Red while Tracy tried a glass of Pinot Grigio.
My appetizer was an arugula salad with pear and Pecorino cheese that was quite tasty.
Since I was sitting at a restaurant called Cacio e Pepe, the main dish choice was pretty much a no-brainer (my specialty). The Tonnarelli pasta cacio e pepe is actually served out of a large round of pecorino cheese. It was delicious!
I also loved my dessert: Gianduia panna cotta with grapes, figs, cinnamon and red wine. The bill was our smallest of any dinner in NYC (cash or AMEX only, however).
By now we were fairly exhausted (we had walked about 12 miles), but there was one more subway faux pas to overcome before we could sleep. After tapping our cards to catch the subway, I realized we were headed in the opposite direction. We exited, walked across the street, but when we tried to tap the card, it said, “Not so fast Mr. and Mrs. Stupid Tourist.” We couldn’t get in with the passes and would have to wait for 18 minutes before we could try to enter again. Time is money, so we bought two single tickets and headed home (this happened again with a better result two days later).
Our first full day in New York had garnered exactly what we had wanted; the chance to explore some places we had not seen on the last trip. Tomorrow would be the same. We’d start with a somber, yet fascinating, visit of the 9/11 Museum, then on to a surprisingly entertaining tour of what was once New York City’s tallest building, stop by another National Landmark Home and finish with a dinner straight out of Paris.
Of course, the day would also be fraught with subway adventures (and a near termination of our marriage) as WrongWayMaiTai took control.
Next: Day Three – 9/11 Revisited, Sobering Reminders, Washington Prayed Here, Five & Dime, Tallest Building In NYC (once upon a time), Bob The Tour Master, Cash Only, I Think You Go Uptown, Manhattan Borough’s First Landmark, Lafayette We Are Here, The 10-Minute Subway Ride That Took 90 Minutes, Soaked (and Nearly Divorced), Help I Need Somebody, Napoleon Complex and I Hope I’m That Energetic At 79