Thursday, June 8, 2017

Our Whirlwind Tour of New York City: Part III

Sunday morning, our last full day in the city, we had every intention of waking up at 6:00 AM and getting out on the streets to jump-start our final day of touring before the rest of New York City awoke. We were pretty zonked from the previous day so we actually slept in until 7:00 and did not regret it one bit. After a quick shower, we headed out to catch the Staten Island ferry in search of some gorgeous views of the New York City harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. We chose to bypass taking one of the Liberty cruises that will take you directly to Liberty Island and Ellis Island for tours since they were a bit pricey and crowded. The Staten Island ferry gets you very close to the statue, operates every half hour continuously, and is completely free. Since it was still fairly early in the morning by the time we got down there, there was probably only a dozen other people boarding the ferry at the same time. It was kind of neat having the entire boat for ourselves. The views of the harbor were stunning and the cool breeze against our faces was simultaneously refreshing and relaxing. Seeing Lady Liberty was a thrill and I couldn't help but imagine what the hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including members of my own family, must have felt when that statue finally came into view, signaling the end of their long journey and welcoming them home to a country that held so much promise for a new life, a new start, a new beginning. One can't help but get emotional while gazing upon Lady Liberty. Paul and I hardly spoke at all as we just stood there and let the moment sink in.

All too soon, our journey to Staten Island was over and we quickly disembarked and then basically turned right back around in the ferry station and re-boarded the boat to head back to Manhattan. Sorry, Staten Island, but we had no plans to tour you! Unlike our trip out, the return ferry was absolutely packed with people heading into Manhattan, but we managed to squeeze our way to the outdoor deck on the side of the ferry not facing the statue and just enjoyed the ride back while basking in the sunlight and watching the tug boats go by. It was pretty relaxing and I darn near fell asleep. I'm pretty sure that Paul actually did take a little snooze on the way back but that's not entirely surprising given his talent for falling asleep anywhere.

When we disembarked, we headed into the financial district of Manhattan. Paul really wanted to take a good look at the Wall Street Bull, but unfortunately just as we were walking up to it, two big tour buses stopped and about 300 hundred Asian tourists piled out and started swarming all over the bull. There was simply no way we were going to get a decent picture, so we just kept walking. We found Trinity Church, the famous Episcopal structure that has provided a place for worship and burial since 1697. It was amazing to gaze upon an edifice that has been a staple of worship in New York since this country's very beginnings. Perusing through the old cemetery outside the church, we found headstones that had been erected hundreds of years ago, including the oldest discernible stone placed by grieving parents in 1681 over the grave of their young son. We also easily found the graves of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury and one of my favorite historical figures (long before they decided to turn his life story into a rap musical) and Robert Fulton. I was excited to point out the Robert Fulton grave to Paul since, being a mechanical engineer, this guy should be one of his heroes. My excitement quickly turned to horror when I realized that Paul had absolutely no idea who Robert Fulton was. So, for the next few blocks, Paul had to put up with me giving him a quick synopsis of Robert Fulton's life and accomplishments, including how he made travel by steamboat possible and designed the first practical submarine The Nautilus for Napoleon Bonaparte. Given Paul's interest in engines and transportation machinery, I was happy to fill the gaps in his education with the life story of this early American engineer. Paul just walked faster to try to get away from me.

The night before, we had looked up mass times and schedules for the lower Manhattan area and our next destination was attending Mass at Saint Joseph's chapel right next to the Freedom Tower. In this tiny chapel, we were pleased to see that it was absolutely packed to capacity with fellow Mass-goers, including quite a few families with young children. The Mass was lovely but hardly peaceful. The many families around us struggled with their young, rebelling children during the entirety of the Mass. Paul and I found the occasional screams and shrieks from the back of the room rather comical and refreshing, especially since it was so nice to be on the other side of that scenario for once. Normally we are the ones juggling children and rushing to the back of the church to shush them while sweating and blushing profusely out of anxiety for disturbing our fellow parishioners. In all actuality, it made me miss our kids a lot.

After Mass, Paul really wanted to eat but I wanted to keep moving on our tour of lower Manhattan since we had to wrap it up quick to get back to the Frick Collection in time for the discounted tour! We headed over to the 9/11 Memorial and the Freedom Tower which proved to be far more emotional than I was prepared for. I could not help but tear up while gazing at the touching memorial to the thousands of lives lost in the senseless attacks over 15 years ago. Paul and I exchanged stories about where we were while we watched and listened as the events of that terrible day unfolded. Standing on the exact spot where so much devastation had taken place was emotionally overwhelming. However, it also provided us with the opportunity to reflect upon all the acts of heroism, love, and compassion that also occurred that day, strengthening my conviction that people are really basically good and even in the darkest of times, light can always be found. And on that terrible day that light came in the form of the thousands of firefighters, policeman, aid workers, paramedics, doctors, and volunteers who gave their blood, sweat, tears, and, in some tragic cases, their lives, to help the wounded, recover the dead, and protect the living. And, when the dust had finally settled, an entire nation of people came together to mourn, to grieve, and to pray. While terrible and painful to think about, gazing up at the Freedom Tower, which now stands tall and proud where its predecessors once fell, it is inspiring to think about how people find a way to come together and rebuild even after the unthinkable. Like I said, that visit was very emotional and left me with a lot to think about as we began our walk back uptown.

We finally made it to the Frick Collection just in time for the pay-as-you-wish time period. As soon as we got inside the foyer, I started snapping pictures like mad but was soon accosted by a member of the museum staff who sternly told me that no photos were allowed lest they confiscate my cell phone. So, sorry, the only pictures I got were the few I shot before almost getting kicked out. Needless to say, the mansion was breathtakingly opulent and the art in the collection was mesmerizing. Paul and I both enjoyed walking slowly from room to room and gazing upon painting after painting. We eventually found the piece we were seeking - the stunning portrait of Saint Thomas More, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger eight years before More's beheading at the hands of King Henry VIII. The portrait of More was on one side of an elaborate fireplace with a portrait of Thomas Cromwell, also painted by Hans Holbein, hanging on the opposite side. Thomas Cromwell was instrumental in helping Henry VIII divorce his first wife in order to marry Anne Boleyn and some accounts say that he conspired to get rid of Thomas More in order to obtain the Chancellorship for himself and viciously carry out King Henry's reformation by squashing the church of Rome. The portrait of Thomas Cromwell, depicting an uptight, angry, and soulless man, was a sharp contrast to the serene, kind, confident and calm demeanor displayed on the face of Thomas More. Very interesting given how history played out between these two figures - one is now a revered and loved saint of the Catholic Church while the other is generally considered a historical villain. Interesting that the artist seemed to capture the contrasting disposition of these two men in his work.

Completely satisfied with our tour of the Frick Collection, a very famished Paul and I then made our way up to a French bakery for some walnut croissants and macarons for lunch. We devoured the croissant on our way to the subway, but saved the macarons for a more idyllic noshing location. We took the subway down to Union Square where we alighted and found another bakery I wanted to visit - on the recommendation of my friend Diana - and try their non-traditional version of Chocolate Babka. We picked up a loaf and then made our way to Union Square Park where we feasted on our macarons in the shade while listening to a guy philosophize loudly from a nearby park bench to whomever would listen. Paul and I kept cracking up at all the ridiculous things the guy would spout off. Our favorite rant had to do with "the perceived stereotype that black men love their mothers and white men hate their mothers." I had personally never heard of this stereotype before, but the guy went on and on about why this was absolutely ridiculous and that "black guys can hate on their mamas just as well as the white guys." Words can't describe how much this guy cracked us up. The best part was that there was this very, very old man sitting on the bench next to him who acted completely oblivious to the ranting happening right next to him. Our philosopher would even ask the old guy every once and a while "You know what I"m sayin'?" only to receive a blank stare. It was our afternoon entertainment.

The Philosopher.

Then, we took off on a walking tour where we just meandered in and out of the different Manhattan neighborhoods. This was fun, relaxing, and a bit freeing since we didn't have anything truly specific that we needed to get to and we had fun just meandering about. We did stop for lunch at the famous Katz Delicatessen once we got into that area and we sat at the same table where Sally displayed her penchant for theatrics in front of both a packed restaurant and a mortified Harry. The pastrami piled high on rye was absolutely on point - especially when paired with the excellent mustard they slathered on the bread.

Then, we meandered through the Bowery, Greenwich Village, Tribeca, Soho, and headed north into Chelsea. We walked along the Chelsea pier and the walking path that parallels the shoreline, cutting up into the meat-packing district where we found the entrance to the High Line, a rooftop park path that extends for about a mile and a half and features some pretty incredible views of the city. I wasn't a huge fan of the High Line because, although the concept was very neat, it was so crowded that I couldn't really enjoy walking up there. While I was shuffling along at one point, I nonchalantly dropped my hand and grabbed Paul's hand to hold as we walked slowly along. Only, I realized quickly that the hand I was holding was much to soft and small to be Paul's. I hadn't realized that Paul had actually moved on ahead, dodging past a slow-walking couple in front of us, and I had in fact grabbed the hand of some poor old lady walking with her husband. She and I laughed about it and then I went and caught up to the husband who had abandoned me.

After exiting the High Line, we headed into the Chelsea Market since I had read in my guide book that it was a destination for foodies. Being the foodie I am, I decided to take a peek. Overall, I was pretty unimpressed with the selection of shops and eateries inside with the exception of the seafood market where they were selling the freshest, most wonderful fish and shellfish I have ever seen. They had a "lobster bar" where you could order freshly made lobster rolls as well as an "oyster" bar where you could pull up a chair and order a variety of fresh oysters, clams, lobster, or prawns and then watch as they shuck, clean, and assemble your platter right in front of you. Paul and I, being lovers of oysters, pulled up couple stools and ordered a sampler platter of local oysters. I had thoroughly enjoyed just watching the men behind the counter work at shucking the oysters - they were fast! When our oysters arrived, they lasted a whole 10 seconds before we slurped them down. They were so good and so refreshing! Best oysters I've had yet.

After our delicious oysters, we continued casually strolling through Chelsea and back into the neighborhood of our hotel. We took a quick break in our room and then realized that we hadn't actually taken a photo outside of Rockefeller Center. So, we headed out the door and made the walk up 6th street to Rockefeller Plaza which is right by Saint Patrick's Cathedral, so I have no idea why we didn't take our photo the day before. It was gorgeous to see at night though and not nearly as crowded as during the day! They had some weird blow-up ballerina thing in the center of the plaza and I have no idea what that was for but I thought it kind of ruined our pictures. We continued to stroll around a bit and enjoy the lights and the lack of crowds. It was kind of nice to imagine that we had New York to ourselves for a bit!

Realizing that it was fairly late - almost 9:30 pm - and that we really hadn't had a proper meal most of the day other than the ginormous sandwich we split at Katz's, Paul and I tried to figure out a place to eat for our last night in New York. I'm almost embarrassed to admit how lame we were, but we were both so exhausted from the excitement of the last couple of days that neither of us really felt like going to a restaurant. So, we hit up a Whole Foods not too far from our hotel and I made myself the most glorious salad ever while Paul bought a loaf of bread the size of Staten Island and a wedge of Gruyere. We also grabbed a bottle of Riesling. We brought our food back to our hotel and had a picnic dinner on our bed while watching sitcoms on Nick at Nite. It was wonderful, relaxing, and, while certainly lame to be eating a grocery store dinner while visiting a city renowned for its cuisine, absolutely perfect after such an exhausting day.

We arose at 5:00 AM the next day, showered and got our things together, and then made the depressing walk to the subway to catch the train that would take us to Grand Central and then back to White Plains to pick up our car and make the long drive home. I was sad to see our time in New York end so quickly, but I was very satisfied by how much we saw in our short time and how comfortable we became with navigating around the city. It was a wonderful experience and I can't wait to go back again sometime! It has probably replaced Chicago as my favorite large city. There is just so much history, so much culture, and so much to see crammed into the small little area that comprises New York City. If you have the chance to visit, I urge you to do so! Matthew is making me promise to bring him next time I go. We'll see!

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