Day Two – Parks And Recreation, Perth Control, The Village Stompers, In The Garden Of Eden, The First Skyscraper, A Trip To Eataly, Good Morgan, Great Expectations, Where’s Cary Grant, Book ‘Em, Glad We Didn’t Stay Here, Deafening Dinner and Charlie Makes His Move
Unlike most of our previous trips, we had made a vow that we would sleep in a little later on this vacation. Thanks to the peaceful room, I didn’t meander down to the breakfast room until about 8:15, and by the time I arrived our early birds, Kim and Mary, were already engaged in a conversation with two couples from Australia. As I perused Kim’s spreadsheet for the day, I noted that it included a lot of walking and a lot of parks, I overheard one of the couples mention they were from Perth.
“I used to date a girl who lives in Perth now with her husband,” I said. Since Perth has slightly less than two million people, the odds were slim they would know them, but sure enough when I mentioned their names they said, “Oh yeah, we know Ray and Judy.” Fortunately Judy had not ever mentioned my name, so I was safe for the week. The more I travel, the more the world seems like a smaller place.
After conversing with the Aussies for a while, Tracy came down and the four of us were ready to embark on our first day exploring the Big Apple. Kim and Mary did a quick map check, and we were off. It would be the last time I had any feeling in my feet until the following Tuesday.
Within about 15 minutes I was humming a tune by The Village Stompers, which seemed normal since we were not only in Greenwich Village but entering Washington Square (a song made famous by a New York City group, The Village Stompers, in 1963).
Useless information dominates my life.
We stopped and said hello to a Corgi and its master, which reminded Tracy and me of our two Corgis who were manipulating their pet sitter for treats at about the same time. As you can see above, there were also other breeds of dogs in Washington Square, and as we would find out throughout the trip, New York City dogs seem quite refined and don’t bark much. Perhaps our “Barking Corgis” should come to NYC for some training.
There is a lovely fountain in Washington Square Park, and the Washington Square Arch on the north edge of the park reminded us a little of the Arch Of Constantine in Rome.
The park made for a great walk (a walk in the park to be exact) on this crisp autumn day.
Mary’s nephew who attends NYU met us there, so we chatted with him for a bit before it was time to depart.
However, taskmaster Kim had three-dozen other things for us to see (he is still getting back at me for the Prague Death March of 2008 that nearly killed the troops on Day 1 of that trip), so the conversation was brief. Near Washington Square was a tiny alcove, and we got a quick glimpse at a sculpture of the Spanish novelist, poet, artist and playwright Miguel Cervantes in Willy’s Garden on the campus of NYU.
We happened by the Forbes Galleries, and once we found it was free (yes, we are frugal at times), we ducked in. This wasn’t even on our list, and it doesn’t take very long to go through it. If you’re near there, you might want to stop by, but as for me, when someone asked me how I liked it, my response was, “I’m glad it was free.” (UPDATE: the Forbes Galleries permanently shut down on November 14, 2014)
With so many places to attempt to visit while in NYC, Kim asked where we wanted to go to next. I saw the Empire State Building in the distance, and since this was Tracy and Mary’s first visit to NYC, I said, “Let’s head in that direction,” pointing to the famed building that King Kong once climbed.
Walking along 14th Street, out of the corner of my eye a place that would be fit for Adam and Eve came into focus. Sure enough, it was The Garden of Eden Gourmet, a grocery store that overwhelms your senses as soon as you step in their produce department (now I know why they call NYC “The Big Apple”)
The next thing that caught our eye was standing at 175 Fifth Avenue. We actually walked right by it, but as she turned around after crossing the street, Tracy said, “Look, it’s the Flatiron Building.”
This groundbreaking, triangular skyscraper, finished in 1902, reminded me of my high school geometry class, but before I could say hypotenuse, as we stood in a nearby park eating area, I thought I heard Tracy exclaim, “Hey, let’s go to Italy.”
“Not Italy, you idiot,” Tracy said endearingly (I think). “Eataly, the Mario Batali place that’s right across the street.” Tracy had mentioned this place at 200 5th Avenue on the flight over, and I had remembered some mixed reviews on Fodor’s. However, my first thought when walking inside Eataly was, “Wow.” And then “Wow” again…about ten more times.
There were food items and food courts everywhere we turned.
It’s a store. It’s a restaurant. It’s a bar. It’s a deli. It’s a wine and olive oil store. It’s a produce paradise.
And, oh those pumpkin and apple displays.
Most of all, it’s an experience. We all agreed it was one of the best uses of space we had seen in an establishment.
The center region downstairs (La Piazza…sans Mike) has cool, rectangular, marble tables and bar counters where people can consume prosciutto di parma, prosciutto cotto, oysters, pasta, fresh soup, sandwiches and more. If it’s Italian, odds are you can find something here for lunch, or if you lived in New York, something to buy to take home to eat.
On a Tuesday at 11:30, the restaurant upstairs was nearly vacant.
Kim and Mary tried some of their unfiltered and naturally carbonated Cask Ales, while Tracy and I opted for glasses of Prosecco. The bartender was nice and kept plying us with samples of their different beers, just what we all needed at noon on a Tuesday. They also had a great 80s music mix going, so this was a terrific place to get a load off for a bit.
As we would discover, the later you arrive, the more crowded Eataly and Birreria would get, so we hurried downstairs after our early libation consumption and grabbed a couple of large Prime Rib paninis with roasted potatoes that we all shared that came out to about 20 bucks a couple.
We shared a standing table with Chris from Brooklyn who just started yapping with us with a machine-gun delivery on places to see in New York City. He was one of the many great characters we met throughout the week, and by the time our stay was over we all agreed that the people in New York City were among the nicest and friendliest we had met anywhere in the world on our travels.
It really started filling up about an hour later.
Back outside, we walked by the Empire State Building on the way to The Morgan Library. In hindsight, since there was no line to go up, I wish we had spent the $21 and gone to the top, but what the hell, I need some excuse to come back.
We also passed the Marble Collegiate Church, which had a ribbon tribute to service men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis killed in those wars and finally a prayer for the wounded…and peace.
I also realized at this point that my feet and legs had not experienced this much walking in quite some time. The puppies were beginning to bark, and we still had a few places left on the first day agenda. We thought about buying flowers at a nearby stand, but realized they’d be dead or destroyed by the time we got back to the hotel.
We (slowly) walked up the steps to The Morgan Library & Museum (225 Madison Ave. @ 36th Street). After paying our 15-dollar tickets, the four of us strolled over to pick up our free audio guides. Lisa at the desk then said the fateful words, “By the way there is a ‘Dickens at 200’ exhibit you can see, also.”
That’s all I needed. “It was the best of exhibits. It was the worst of exhibits,” I said. Much to Kim’s dismay, Lisa laughed, thus I quickly followed up with, “I have Great Expectations for this exhibit.” After a few more terrible puns, Kim, Mary and Tracy dragged me away. “At least I didn’t say he lived in a Bleak House,” I added. By then, the other three had their audio guides turned on and pretended I was part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
The collection of John Pierpont Morgan is truly amazing, and the audio guide provided some great tales to go along with the visuals. The first room is where Morgan gathered a group of bankers, locked the doors and persuaded them to save the banking system in 1907. It also looked like a cool room to sip a martini (all photos are from website as photography is not allowed inside).
In the middle foyer, there was a George Washington Life Mask (our first president definitely had a large head), a hand written poem by Abraham Lincoln and a document with signatures of some of the American Revolution’s most prominent figures.
After seeing those rooms, and checking out the Dicken’s exhibit (with a Charles Dickens’s manuscript of A Christmas Carol), we had a choice to make; go back to the hotel or keep on going. Being an idiot and ignoring my aching legs, I said let’s keep going.
Our next stop was Grand Central Station. I wanted to don some sunglasses and pretend I was Cary Grant trying to buy a ticket in North By Northwest, but by the time we reached Grand Central, I just settled on some photos and a place to lean (Mary and Tracy quickly brought out the Purell and said the words we lived by all week, “Don’t touch that!”
I didn’t know the Chrysler Building was so close, so before we entered Grand Central, we got photos of that famed structure, too. It was only three o’clock, and we had seen a lot, but not everything for the day. Not yet. This intrepid crew had more places to visit and more muscles to strain.
Gathering my fourth wind, I ducked in The Campbell Apartment to see if we wanted an afternoon cocktail. After seeing the prices of the cocktails, we said that we were part of the “99%” and departed for our next stop, the Reading Room at the New York Public Library.
Unfortunately, there were about 200 stairs to reach the Rose Main Reading Room, and my grunting as I climbed them came perilously close to breaking the Library “Quiet Rule.” I was sure they would throw the book at me.
The Rose Reading Room was worth the climb (well it is now upon further review). This beautiful room was restored in the late 1990s and has beautiful murals on the ceiling. It also had a cool display of the encyclopedia that got me through grade school.
Before heading back to the Chelsea Pines, our group had one last stop, Bryant Park. “Is there anything left on our list after today?” I asked Kim facetiously. Then I remembered that tomorrow we would climb the Statue of Liberty.
As we reached Bryant Park, I had hoped that I had not overdone my first day of real activity in more than a year. Another lovely space in the heart of NYC, Bryant Park looked like it would be a nice place to hang out and smell the flowers.
There were a number of people out on this graying afternoon (the last clouds we would see on our trip). It was a little after four that the words that saved the trip for me were uttered. I don’t remember who said them (it might even have been me). “Let’s take the subway back.” At this time (Kim told me later), Tracy and Mary were a little concerned about my well being, since I guess I looked beat. As I stated throughout the trip, being beat beats being dead any day!
To get to the subway, we walked through Times Square. Upon seeing the clutter and mass of people, Tracy said, “I’m sure glad we didn’t stay over here. It reminds me of Vegas.” I thought to myself, “The stock market is like Vegas.”
Fortunately, the subway let us out ½ block from the Chelsea Pines. When we told our friend at the front desk all we had seen on our first full day, he shook his head as if to say, “You guys are nuts.” Of course, he was right, but by the end of the trip, all the front desk guys wanted to know how many things we had knocked off during the day. It became kind of a running joke.
After a shower, we all shared a bottle of a wine in the breakfast room, and headed a few blocks to our 8 p.m. reservations at Piccolo Angolo, an Italian restaurant that had garnered some rave reviews on Zagat.
Piccolo Angolo was jam packed at 8 p.m., which is always a decent sign. I’ve been to rock concerts that weren’t as loud as this place. Through the noise, we selected our dishes, and although the food was good enough, there was nothing really special about what we ordered. The pasta dishes were good (I had a nice pesto gnocchi), and the house red was pretty cheap.
We saved our eardrums and turned down dessert (proportions of dinner were more than ample).
As we opened our door, Charlie ran in and jumped on our bed, ready to spend the night. Having not brought our litter box from home, we had to gently remove him after about 15 minutes of continuous petting and purring (oh, Charlie got some of that, too).
The reason for my apprehensiveness was due to the fact that the four of us had 9 a.m. tickets for the Statue of Liberty, and in an overly optimistic moment last summer, I purchased the tickets that would allow us to climb to the crown of Lady Liberty.
At this moment in time, I didn’t know whether my tired legs would be able to handle that stress. My concern over the predicament of the following morning was short-lived as I was asleep about six seconds after my head hit the pillow.
I wouldn’t have to worry about climbing 350 or so stairs for about seven hours.
Next: Assault On Battery, Statue Of Limitations, Crowning Achievement, The Agony Of Da Feet, They’re Coming To America, Hamilton’s Buried Here, Changing The Course Of History, Up Against The Wall Street, Living The High Line and Going Green