April 29 - May 3, 2011
Tuesday 3 May 2011
May 3, 2011
New York City
I first visited New York City in 1968 as a five year-old boy, during a four-week family tour of the United States. I also visited in 2006 with Scotti. Manuela has never been, so when it came time to redeem our round-trip airline tickets, the Big Apple was the obvious choice.
We left Sacramento Friday night but first flew west to San Francisco rather than east. United Airlines doesn't fly direct from Sacramento to New York, but since the tickets were free, we decided to fly to San Francisco rather than drive. We were able to nap only a bit during the 4 1/2 hour flight and arrived at 6:30 AM at John F. Kennedy Airport very tired. An hour-long subway ride later and we found ourselves in the middle of Manhattan. Our hotel, the Best Western near the convention center, was a just a few blocks from the subway station.
Manuela has become a big fan of donutes since moving to the States, so after dropping our luggage off at the hotel we found the nearest Dunkin' Donuts. I like donuts in the morning, but she thinks they are a great any time of day and doesn't understand why donut shops close in the afternoons. After "breakfast," we walked to Time Square just in time for the start of a 10K race benefiting breast cancer. Air cannons filled the air with red, pink, and white confetti as the crowd ran off down Broadway.
Grayline Bus Tour
Because we were tired, we decided to take a hop-on/hop-off bus tour to start our visit to Manhattan. We purchased a 48-hour pass for the Grayline bus tour and rode the downtown loop past the Empire State Building, through Greenwich Village, and past Wall Street. We hopped off at St. Paul's Chapel, which stands beside Ground Zero. There is a cemetery at the rear of the chapel with tombstones so worn that the name are illegible.
It was here that volunteers ate and slept between rescue shifts at the World Trade center. Inside the chapel there are several displays paying tribute to the rescue workers of September 11. One display shows the countless police and fire department patches brought from around the world. We found one from my police department, though I don't know if it is the patch I left when Scotti and I visited Ground Zero, or one left by a fellow officer. A new tower is under construction, but not much can be seen from the street. There is model memorial on display across the street from the Chapel, along with stirring photographs from 9/11 and the aftermath.
St. Paul's Chapel
After visiting St. Paul's Chapel and Ground Zero, Manuela and I hopped back on a Grayline bus and rode to the South Street Seaport near the Lower Eastside. We visited some shops and watched the crowds rallying for Parkinson's Disease. After wandering for a bit, we rode the bus to Rockefeller Center where we took in the crowds and ate a pretzel from a street vendor. From there, Central Park was a short walk away.
By the time we reached the famous city park, Manuela had been awake for nearly 24 hours and had run out of energy. Much to her dismay, I had no difficulty taking a 20 minute nap on a wood bench while a violinist played classical music nearby. Like my father, I can nap anywhere, anytime. After our rest, we walked through Strawberry Fields. Numerous twenty-first century hippies were gathered near the memorial, some trying very hard to look and sound like John Lennon.
In the evening of our first day in Manhattan, we strolled through the crowds and tourist shops of Time Square, including the Hershey's M&M store. By the time we got back to our hotel, we were each very tired. Despite our intention to sleep late Sunday morning Manuela and I were woken at 5:00 AM by the Long Island RR train blowing its horn as it passed beneath our tenth floor room. That was soon followed by honking horns and a jackhammer. Welcome to the big city!
After breakfast at the hotel, we walked across town to the Empire State Building. We had to wait several minutes to cross Broadway because of the Five Burroughs Bicycle Tour passing by. The line to purchase tickets wasn't too long, but we stood in an hour-long line for the elevator. The observation deck was crowded and we had to wait a few moments on each side for a spot at the railing. The view from the 86th floor is amazing - downtown to the south, Central Park to the north, the Hudson River & New Jersey to the west, and the East River and Queens to the east.
View From Empire State Building
The world's largest department store, Macy's, is just a few blocks from the Empire State Building, so Manuela and I stopped in. As soon as we saw the prices of their merchandise, however, we quickly went across the street to H & M, an equally fashionable clothing store with prices that fit our budget.
Although some frequent travelers may thumb their noses at guided group tours, they are often very informative as well as entertaining. Many walking tours I've been on were led by knowledgeable guides. Manuela and I took The Big Onion Walking Tours' Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour Sunday afternoon (www.bigonion.com). Sarah, an art history graduate student at NYU, guided 15 of us through the ethnic history and neighborhoods of the Lower Eastside, which has seen numerous waves of ethnic specific immigration. Along the way, she fed us fried plantains (Caribbean), kosher pickles (Jewish), tofu (Chinese), and mozzarella (Italian). Many of The Big Onion Tours are free, but we paid $20 to for the cost of the food.
After the tour, we returned to Mulberry Street in Little Italy had excellent pizza at Il Picolo Bufalo. Manuela has a talent for languages, so when a young couple sat down at the table beside us and began speaking German, she immediately deduced they were from Vienna. We learned they were in New York for ten days. That's not the first time we've crossed paths with Austrians on vacation. In March we shared a ski lift with three Austrians visiting/working in California and just last week I rescued a university student from Salzburg stranded in Stockton. There may be only 8 million Austrians, but they get around.
Manuela and I returned to our hotel by 9:00 Sunday night, oblivious to the events that transpired half a world away in Pakistan and the resulting celebrations just a few blocks away in Time Square. We didn't learn about Osama bin Laden's death until Monday morning.
Statue of Liberty
With only a few minutes to spare on our 48 hour bus tour pass, we hopped on the Grayline bus near Time Square Monday morning and rode the Uptown Loop. It was a bit cool and windy, but Manuela and I sat in the deck and took in the sights. We passed numerous Upper Westside luxury apartment buildings (the Dakota), Central Park, through Harlem (the Apollo Theater), and then down the Upper Eastside along Museum Mile (Guggenheim Museum). Our guide, an older woman raised in Harlem, was very informative.
In the afternoon we rode the subway to Battery Park and toured Liberty Island (Statue of Liberty) and Ellis Island. The wait for the ferry was about one hour, mostly due to the airport level security screening. Separate tickets can be purchased daily to enter the statue's pedestal, but those sell out early in the morning. Limited tickets are now available in advance to climb to the statue's crown, but they must be purchased weeks in advance. Everyone was allowed to climb the narrow spiral staircase to the top of Lady Liberty back in 1968. I was five years old, but still remember peering out the windows set in her crown.
After walking around the Statue of Liberty and listening to the audio guide, Manuela and I took the ferry to Ellis Island. It was my first visit to the historic immigration port. Besides learning a great deal about the trials and tribulations of early 20th century immigrants, Manuela and I found numerous artifacts from Austrian immigrants. We agreed that her immigration process paled in comparison to the ordeals those newcomers to America endured.
Manu and I spent Monday evening in and around Time Square. We bought "I heart NY" t-shirts in the same souvenir shop Scott and I shopped and saw Water For Elephants at the same 42nd Street movie theatre he and I saw Superman. There were no more crowds celebrating the killing of bin Laden, but there were a lot of police officers around.
With little time Tuesday (May 3) before our early afternoon flight, Manuela and I took a short walk along the Hudson River where the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid is permanently moored as a museum. We checked out of our hotel by noon and rode the subway back to JFK airport. Although the flight east took only four and one-half hours, the trip back to San Francisco took six and one-half hours. Our flight was delayed 30 minutes because the pilot's first officer overslept! The flight from San Francisco to Sacramento was only 20 minutes long.
New York City is a great city. There is so much to do and see (we ran into four different fund raiser/rallies in three days), that we couldn't possibly see it all in one weekend. We didn't even get off Manhattan Island. We will definitely be returning.
Where to next?