My best piece of advice for survival in New York City would be a comfortable pair of shoes that offer support and have good traction. I would love to know how many miles we pounded out on the pavement each day during our visit. FD’s arches ached each evening when we returned to our hotel room. Sid’s feet hurt too. Jules was having lower back spasms by day four. It seemed we were all beginning to notice the wear and tear of picking up the pace with our sightseeing. And to boot, there was some kind of virus going around. It started out with a sore throat and cough. By Thursday, all but FD, our fearless leader, were feeling a bit under the weather. Thankfully, we had a Rite Aid Pharmacy just across the street and their staff was friendly and helpful. But despite feeling a bit punk, we forged forth with our daily plans. No bug was going to keep us from exploring Manhattan!
Thursday morning we slowed our pace a bit and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. Our first plan of the day was to visit the American Museum of Natural History which did not open until 10:00. Still, like many other tourists, we arrived a bit early. The subway we took actually stopped at a lower entrance to the museum, which seemed very convenient. But, since we were early, we walked up the stairs and outside into the sun, only to find the doors to the main entry already piling up with people. It was also quickly becoming another humid and sweltering day with little breeze, so we finally opted to go back to the train station entry to the museum, which was at least shaded and cooler. A handful of other tourists had the same idea but, all of a sudden, a security guard yelled at us to leave and announced the museum would not open for another ten minutes. When we did not move fast enough he yelled again, this time with arms moving rapidly to indicate “Out with you all!!” At this point, I did not care how hot the sun got, I would wait outside and take my chances getting admission tickets with a friendly person at the front entry.
For four hours, we toured parts of the American Museum of Natural History, each of us going our own way. It was a huge place where one must pick and choose areas of interest because it would be impossible to see it all in one day. FD and I were interested in mammals and birds, dinosaurs, and earth and space. Mostly though, after shuffling and stopping to read exhibits and ooh and ahh at the wonders of the past, our backs and feet were telling us it was time to move a little faster. Finally, our bodies decided we had had enough and pushed us to get on with the day and see the other attractions we planned to visit.
Back on the subway, we traveled on to Lower Manhattan. Our next stop was the One World Trade Center. The new building is a combination of modern and contemporary architecture. After spending a short time admiring and photographing this magnificent piece of architecture, we walked a short distance further to visit the nearby 9/11 Memorial. When we arrived at the twin reflecting pools, we quietly stood in awe. At nearly an acre in size each, the two pools sit in the space where each of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood. These deep pools are surrounded by the largest man-made waterfalls in North America, and are quite a sight to see. The names of those who died in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993 are inscribed into bronze panels edging both pools. Though hundreds of people were milling about and nearby construction noise filled the streets, there was a general solemnity and respectfulness of those who came to visit. One could see in the eyes of each of us who stood at the Memorial, a reflection of something personal, remembering those dark days.
After viewing each memorial pool, we stopped briefly to peer in the windows of the newly opened 9/11 Museum before moving on. I had not managed to secure tickets in advance to this popular exhibition. Tickets were booked up for nearly two weeks, though we were told one could wait in line, as it was common for tickets to be available throughout the day. But we had too much to see yet, and waiting in line in the sweltering humidity was not very appealing to any of us.
After a short jaunt to the east, we walked past the New York Stock Exchange and around the corner to take in the famous Charging Bull of Wall Street. Lots of people were crowded around to touch the bull sculpture for good luck and take photographs. Apparently, it was quite popular to have oneself photographed while touching the, uh, testicles of the bull, especially if you were of the female gender. Women and girls of all ages and sizes gathered around the south end of the bull as if flocking to get an autograph and photo of some movie star. Jules and I just snickered about all that, as we needed to take no such photograph. Being farm girls, we had seen plenty of real bulls in our time and had a good chuckle together, knowing the proportional relationship of the testicles on this mammoth bull would have made him the laughingstock among all of the cows in the pasture – they were a wee bit small for his size.
Our next plan was to meander through the South Street Seaport area and then on to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. Had we taken a better look at the map and researched our route better, we would have realized the difficulty in getting to the Brooklyn Bridge going that far east. To boot, it was late afternoon and the Seaport area was feeling a bit creepy. Overall, not many people were around, the area seemed gloomy, and the stench along the East River did not make us feel very safe. The closer we got to the bridge, the more apparent it was that we would have to walk back to the west quite a distance to reach the entrance of the pedestrian walkway. Fortunately, we found a series of stairs that painstakingly took us high enough to access the bridge without having to backtrack quite as far as the main entrance. Finally reaching the walkway above, we were completely exhausted from climbing the steps, but were glad to be out of the eerily quiet Seaport area and back to a more populated setting. We then began to maneuver our way up the very narrow and congested pedestrian path trying to dodge people stopping to take photographs while, at the same time, avoiding getting hit by bicyclists zooming past in the bicycle lane. I will say though, the walk was well worth the effort, as the view of Manhattan was spectacular from the Brooklyn Bridge. And the bridge itself is an architectural beauty!
Friday was a bit more relaxing, as we had a simple plan to cinch up a little sightseeing of the neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan. For the second day in a row, we did not get started out until late morning. Jules, Chris and Sid had been to the Rite Aid Pharmacy again. This time Em was not feeling well so they hurried to The Roosevelt Hotel to deliver her medicine before she had to jet off to practice. While out, they caught the end of a Fox News summer concert on the way back to the hotel. Had I known this, I would have had the television on in our room, hoping to catch a glimpse of them in the crowd.
After leaving the hotel, we took the train to the Flatiron District, and began the trek south. But before we had made it very far, Sid proclaimed his feet were already hurting. He mentioned the tread on his shoes felt “thin”. Sure enough, we all stood there staring at the soles of his shoes and it was apparent why his feet were killing him. His Nike shoes were completely shot. Done. Fini. Fortunately, a Foot Locker store was just a few doors down. Of course this meant Cha-ching! CHA-CHING! And while Sid was getting fixed up, FD found a better pair of socks that offered more support, cushion, and comfort. Finally, we were all ready to set out on foot to the neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan.
Union Square sidetracked us for a little while. A farmer’s market was set up, and musicians were playing in the square. We also stopped to sample some of the goodies being offered. FD and I were checking out the organic choices and the dairy product from grass-fed cows. I was amazed by the beautiful vegetables and fresh fruits. Most came from farms in upstate New York. Many retired people were shopping for their weekly grocery items. Several individuals had little dogs (or big dogs) on leashes. Observing these folks, I thought about how this might not offer a better place to people watch and catch a glimpse of real New Yorkers.
After leaving the Farmer’s Market at Union Square, we walked on through the Garment District, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Soho, and Tribeca. It was interesting to note the special feel of each region and how the architecture varied in each little community. The lingo changed from place to place, and the energy was more laid back and not so charged-up as it was in Upper Manhattan and Midtown.
At Chinatown, I knew what to expect, for I had been to Chinatown in other large cities. If anything, Chinatown in New York City is much crazier! Personally, I do not like the noise, congestion of both people and vehicle traffic, or the smells of Chinatown. It is more about having the experience for me and there is an exhilarating energy that comes with the culture. While we walked, I snapped photos of the rest of the group who were seeing Chinatown for the first time, and I have to admit those are some of the funniest pictures I took on the trip! The wrinkled up noses as we passed by an open fish market. The looks of “leave me alone for crying out loud!” as we walked past store keepers yelling out their special discounted items. Sid kept saying, “What did they just say?” Finally, Jule’s, answered him in a frustrated tone, “Waaaaacheees! Buy Waaaaachees!”, then pointed at her wrist and said “They are saying watches!”.
At Little Italy we enjoyed lunch at Da Nico. We found prices to be very reasonable at the area shops. People were pleasant and smiles greeted us at nearly each store front. Jules and Sid had their first authentic Italian gelato and decided they loved it!
We got back to the hotel early enough for everyone to rest a bit before evening activities. Jules, Chris and Sid had managed tickets to the Yankee’s and Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium – and I was going to be worried sick until they made it back safely. All week, they had been on the train with our fearless leader guiding the way. Now they would be on their own and would be going through a rough area to get to the stadium. FD surprised me (and kept my mind from worrying about the others) by taking me on an outing to St. Andrews Restaurant & Bar. He knew we would not have time for a lengthy and romantic dinner Saturday night, my birthday, so we would celebrate a day early. The dinner was scrumptious! Our waiter was knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. There had not been one place in New York City where we weren’t pleased with food, and St. Andrews was no exception. For the most part, staff at restaurants were always pleasant and efficient.
After dinner we took a leisurely walk along Broadway back to our hotel. I was truly relieved when I received several text messages from Jules with photos of the three of them enjoying themselves at the Yankees game. By the time FD and I arrived at the hotel and settled in to watch a little TV, Jules sent a text message saying that they were on the first train out of the Bronx and headed to the station near our hotel. Finally, the worry was ebbing away. I wondered, as I drifted off to sleep, would there ever be a time I could let go of worry and fretting in my life?
Note: For those of you interested in my sister Jule’s documentation of the NYC trip, her blog is Groovy Love, Scrubs & Chimichangas.