Saturday was our first day that promised relatively good weather; the only question was, whether to wear coats. We took them, and then ended up carrying them for a good part of the afternoon, after the sun came out and warmed everything up. It was literally the lull before the storm on Sunday– 24 hours later the nor’easter would be flooding New York.

Again we took the train into Penn Station and walked directly to the Empire State Building to check the line– already around the block. Madison SquareSo, plan B: the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan. We stopped at a Starbucks for coffee (there is a Starbucks on every block- sometimes more than one) and Roman ducked into a Walgreens to buy one of the good international phone cards we can no longer find at home. Roman Buys a Phone CardWe walked down 5th Avenue to Madison Square, going through Korea Town Korea Town on the way (we never did get to Chinatown or Greenwich Village, alas, but I took a good look at the new Robert A.M. Stern apartment building near the ESB Robert A.M. Stern Building) and caught the Lexington Ave. subway down to the City Hall station. City Hall Station The approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge begin right at City Hall park City Hall, where we walked out on the pedestrian boardwalk. The Brooklyn BridgeFor some reason, Roman at the BridgeRoman’s fear of heights was worse on the bridge than it would be later at the ESB, but once we got to the first stone pier, he was more interested in the view than the distance down to the water. On the BridgeThe towers of lower Manhattan are pretty impressive from the bridge The City from the Bridge, as is the view out towards the Verrazano Narrows bridge and up the East River. The Ships and Lower ManhattanWe walked all the way to Brooklyn and back, then swung around Nassau and Fulton toward South Street Seaport. The Strand Bookstore Annex was on the way, so we checked it out. “18 Miles of Bookshelves” is their motto, and even the Annex (the HQ store is in Greenwich Village) is an impressive book store. By the time Roman pulled me out the door, it was lunch time. We found a local eatery off the beaten path to the seaport and I had a turkey pannini (really good bread) and Roman had his first Reuben Roman's Reuben(corned beef and Russian dressing. We’re not sure what made it Russian…)

The guidebooks I’d been reading don’t think much of the South Street Seaport- – too commercial, too fake… but the tourists evidently don’t read those guidebooks, because the place was absolutely packed. There were stores and restaurants, ferries and ‘water taxis’, Water Taxisbands playing, jugglers, mimes– something going on everywhere, and busloads of people. South Street Seaport 2It’s a surprisingly short walk from the docks to the tip of Manhattan: past the end of Wall Street, Wall Street Canyonpast the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, to Battery Park. The BatteryWhere we found more people, hanging out, playing frisbie, and lots of artists selling crafts and art. In the center of the park is the golden globe that used to stand in the plaza of the World Trade Center. The WTC GlobeThe pieces were pulled out of the rubble after the buildings fell on it; they put it back together and made it the centerpiece of the temporary 9/11 memorial at the Battery.

Walking from there up Broadway to Hanover Square is the bronze Bull sculpture in the center of the financial district. The Bull on Hanover SquareRoman and I watched amazed for several minutes as several groups of high school or college students used the Bull for photo ops; the surprise was how many of the girls wanted pictures of themselves rubbing, kissing, or somehow fondling the bull’s balls. That’s a scrapbook picture for the 21st century girl, I guess. The centerpiece of their Facebook or MySpace page, maybe? Wow.

We turned down Wall Street (blocked not by concrete Jersey barriers but by big bronze blocks– the sculptural equivalent of Jersey barriers, maybe). Federal Hall is on one side, Federal Hall where George Washington took his first presidential oath of office; on the other side is the New York Stock Exchange. NY Stock Exchange Only tourists there on a Saturday, of course. We looped around on Pearl Street and Stone Street, one of the oldest parts of Manhattan, part of what was originally settled by the Dutch, in fact. That’s where Fraunces Tavern is Fraunces Tavern, a revolutionary war site, and other early buildings (part of the few that haven’t been torn down for skyscraper offices). The loop took us back to Broadway, past the bull and his admirers again, and on up past Trinity Church Trinity Church(where Alexander Hamilton is buried) to the edge of Ground Zero.
When we were there in December 2001, it was all still a huge mess. Ground Zero from the WestDavid Griffin from Greensboro was running the clean-up, and took Lori and I to the edge of the Red Zone to look into the pit, still smoking and stinking. Now it’s just another construction site. On the fringes there is the old Police Memorial, Policemen Memorial now with 9/11 names, and a new Firemen MemorialFiremen Memorial. The temporary PATH station (another set of New Jersey trains) is in operation at the very bottom; Ground Zero from the Eastthe new Freedom Tower is erecting steel in the northwest corner, and an elevated steel walkway rings the 4-acre block, connecting into the World Financial Center so that tours can walk completely around the site and end in the Winter Garden, The Winter Gardenwhere there’s a food court and high end shops. An exhibit there shows the model and plan for the future 9/11 memorial and skyscraper city… but the sense of tragedy only lingers on the south side, where the old Deutsche Bank building is finally being demolished, now that they’ve given up on fixing the 9/11 damage, Ground Zero from the World Financial Center

and on part of the north side, where the “bathtub” or slurry wall is still visibleThe Slurry Wall, showing the ends of those 20-foot-long stainless steel bolts that I saw them intalling in 2001.

We caught the subway at the old WTC stop Subway Car to get back to the Empire State Building– neither of us was capable of walking that far at that point. Good news– when we arrived, there was no outside line at all, for the first time. Unfortunately, we discovered that there was an hour’s worth of line inside on the second floor. Waiting in Line at the ESBA line to go through security, a line to buy tickets (at least I had the internet tickets), then a line to wait for the elevator to the 80th floor; then a line to wait for the elevator to the observation deck on the 86th floor. From the 86th FloorAll in all, we waited about an hour and a half to get there; was it worth the wait? Roman said yes; On Top of the World especially since we waited in line so long that the sun was going down as we stepped out on the deck SOL from the ESB. We stayed out there for about 45 minutes, watching the city lightsLighting Up the Night come on, and night settle. I liked the insight into the building itself- the zeppelin mooring mast, especially.The King Kong View When the colored lights came on, it was time to go. Good NightWe grabbed some pizza in Penn Station (Roman had to have some New York pizza by the slice- and it was good. Maybe anything would have been good at the end of that day). The trip back to Linden didn’t seem to take long, and the bus back to the hotel was waiting for us. Elizabeth and Max picked us up Sunday morning, and we slogged back home through the monsoon.

I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all.

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Since the hotel was a Hampton Inn, we got breakfast Friday morning before we set out. This was not as new and nice as the Williamsburg HI, but it was good. Roman has decided that any accommodations with “Inn” in the name is a guarantee of comfort and quality. He thinks that “hotel” is something like the one where we stayed at the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce retreat—ten or 15 stories tall, and more formal. I said it’s not quite so cut-and-dried, but that in general, he’s probably correct.

The weather outside looked grey and rain-swept, but the weather channel was calling for the rain to stop and the chance of sun. Later the rain did stop, but the cold wind never let up- that was the worst problem in New York. I’ve been coughing and having hoarseness issues since the snow in DC—but I tried without much success to nip it this week, so it’s probably less of a cold and more of an allergic reaction to the seasonal pollen. The more it rained and the farther north we went, the better I felt for a while, so that’s probably it.Penn Station

Elizabeth used to commute into the city from New Jersey and Connecticut, so she set the example on the train this morning. We bought tickets at a machine in Linden, but it turned out to be easy to buy tickets the old fashioned way- from the conductor on the train. And the whole commute turned out to be painless. Linden is just two stops from the Newark Airport, which is just 4 stops from Penn Station. It took only about half an hour to get into the city. All three of these trips, hard as it has been to get from home to the destination, have reminded me in the best possible ways of the value of public transportation. The buses in Williamsburg, the Metro in DC, the trains and subways in New York all functioned perfectly to transport large numbers of people into and out of core areas which aren’t much bigger than Asheboro/ Franklinville. Commuting was not only more convenient than driving, it was generally the most stress-free part of each trip.At Penn Station

Walking was the down side, only because I see how little I’ve practiced it the last few years. But for people living in the city, walking is the healthy aspect of urban life. Roman commented that there were very few fat people in Washington or New York, except for obvious tourists. He was right- we see more big people at dinner in a steak house than we saw in a whole day in NYC. Walking must keep people exercised. And we started hoofing it right off the train in Penn Station, getting up to the corner of 33rd and 7th Ave. and finding ourselves in the middle of school bus loads of kids arriving to see the circus in Madison Square Garden. We walked east to start at the Empire State Building, but the line was already around the building- we’ll check back later. So, north on Broadway to Times Square. Roman Enters the City We used the walk to get Roman used to the surroundings: the traffic, the noise, the crowds, not to mention the tall buildings. We continued walking all the way north to Central Park (taking a look at Carnegie Hall on the way). Roman wanted immediately to see the Plaza Hotel, since Home Alone II was his entire inspiration as “a child” (what- last year?) to visit America. We held that off, though– inspecting the buggy rides, buying pretzels and hot dogs from a vendor Pretzel Stand in the park at the carosel, enjoying the sun peaking through the clouds. Poet's WalkWe walked up Poet’s WalkBobby Burns toward Bethesda Fountain, Bethesda Fountainbought peanuts, and discovered that someone had rented the Fountain PlazaWedding Reception? for what appeared to be a wedding reception. A First Class, High Quality wedding reception. A guess enough money can rent anything in Central Park!

We trended toward the Loeb Boathouse (where Greg and Lori and Eric and I had lunch when we were in the city after 9/11), and ran into our first Mime. Mime #1I explained to Roman the concept of Miming for Money; we probably saw a dozen more Mime #2before the trip was over. Leaving the Park at Fifth Avenue, just north of the Frick Museum (I haven’t been there since college- and they’ve recently renovated- but this isn’t really a museum trip), Roman noticed that there were more cabs than cars in New York. Yellow Cabs Rule the StreetsYep, we’re not in North Carolina anymore. From there we walked south to the Plaza, so Roman could take Home Alone pictures (the hotel is being renovated— The Plaza Hotelthey’ll keep some rooms as a hotel, but more than half the floors are being turned into high-dollar condos—the Penthouse was sold to a Russian Oligarch (says the Times) for $52 million!

Walking down Fifth Avenue, we had to make a ladies’ pit stop, so what better place than Bergdorff-Goodman? The toilets are in the basement, behind the perfume counter- VERY expensive perfume, too. Elizabeth stopped to talk to the girls walking around in the expensive designer clothes—living mannequins. Elizabeth says she used to have the same job in a department store in Scotland. (I think haute couture dresses must look considerably different on the average rich lady than they do on the skinny 20-somethings who model them).

Walking on: we finally see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Patrick's Cathedralso I know Rockefeller Center is not far away. We veer east at 50th and find 30 Rock and the ice skating rink, Prometheus at the Skating Rinkwith one hefty woman in purple swooping around center ice, bowing to the crowd and applauding herself like she is Peggy Fleming or Michele Kwan. We see the Today studio (all quiet at 1PM) and the street where the onlookers gather each morning. Radio CityAcross the street from there we choose the Channel 4 Irish Bar for lunch (Channel 4 being the local NBC affiliate). The food was good there- Roman decided he liked Shepherd’s Pie, since it’s covered with mashed potatoes. I had Chicken Pie, and Elizabeth had salmon with wasabi mayo- yum! They make their own ice cream there, too.

The east to Park Avenue and down to Grand Central Station for coffee. GCS has been beautifully renovated- the stars in the ceiling really shine, and the food court downstairs is extremely impressive. The line for the women’s WC, though, was ridiculous. Leaving there, walking east on 42nd Street past the Chrysler Building, Chrysler Buildingall the way to the United Nations. United Nations PlazaA line and lots of security to get inside (sad- Jac and I went there 40 years ago- was it with a church tour? – and there was no security to speak of. That’s where we bought Dad a carved European chess set.) We spent some time looking for the Russian flag, and finally found it so Roman could have a photo op. Roman Finds the Russian FlagThen we walked west on 42 to the Public Library, Mac Goes to the Libraryso I could show Roman the reading room- newly renovated and beautiful, but so strange without card catalogs- only computers now.

Then down Fifth Avenue to the ESB, only to find the line even worse than before. A passing lady showed us why—33rd Street was closed, 33rd St. ESBand the tours were temporarily stopped, because someone had jumped out of the building, committing suicide! The spots they were cleaning up with chemicals on the street didn’t look big enough for a whole body- and the next day, I read why on the internet. The jumper was a 30-something lawyer, who jumped out of his office on CSI New York at the ESBthe 69th floor. He mostly landed on a setback on the 30th floor, but a leg and miscellaneous pieces fell all the way to the street.

Elizabeth and Max needed to get on the road for Connecticut, so we hiked back to Penn Station Arrivals Departuresand made the 6:30 train back to Linden. They got on the road, Roman got on my laptop to write his blog, and I took shower! Later we had dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant, and I showed him what Sangria is. Then to bed, exhausted, as is becoming our custom.

Our longest trip had to fit into the last five days of Roman’s spring break.

Elizabeth Mitchell and Maxine Wright were driving to Connecticut to see friends, so we tagged along to New Jersey with them. We met them just after midnight Wednesday (so, actually, early Thursday morning), and started the long drive. (I was willing to drive, anyway, but as it turned out, they did all the driving. Nice! I’d already done my share, back and forth to Williamsburg and Washington, so I was ready to just enjoy the trip for a change. Between the rain (buckets, bringing speed down to 50 at times) and a tractor-trailer wreck on 95 between Baltimore and Delaware, which had us parked on the highway for an hour between 7 and 8 AM, we finally got to the Hampton Inn in Linden, NJ, about 12:15 (it was nice, just 4 years old).

 

Once we unloaded our stuff we headed directly to Liberty State Park, just one exit away on the NJ Turnpike. That a little hard to find, but turned out to be a renovated railroad yard where the ferries from New York used to dock and unload people to catch the trains west (before there were tunnels under the Hudson, and before Pennsylvania Station). Boarding the FerryWe caught a ferry there that went to Ellis IslandEllis Island, not far off the Jersey shore; after a short stop there we went on to the Statue of Liberty, Romand and the SOLMaxine and Roman and Lady Libwhere my internet tour reservation was for 12:45-3:30. It was a great thrill for Roman to see New York from the water, even though the rain and the fog was cutting visibility down to the point where we could barely see the Empire State Building– at times it looked like the top half had just been erased by clouds.

 

With the temperature in the 30s, and the wind blowing hard, and snow flurries blowing up occasionally, I’m sure the tourism was down. But the security lines at the Statue of Liberty were still long. In fact, it turned out to have the strictest security of the entire city—“Take off your belts!” “Remove your shoes!” “Put all cell phones, cameras, wallets and change in the tray!” “Step into the booth!” Everything was x-rayed, scanned, sniffed for explosives, and eyeballed. But we finally all made it into the base of the statue, listened to the guide, looked through the exhibits, and started the climb up the stairs.

 

Before 9/11 it was still possible to climb all the way into the crown, but the statue itself is closed now. The best anyone can do is to take the 14 or 15 flights of steps up to the top of the base, and look through glass into th Looking up the skirtse structural framework of the statue.Circular Stairs Inside the SOL

 

Then we could go outside on the observation deck at the foot of the statue, where we had a much better view of the city since the wind had picked up enough to blow much of the fog away. Mac and Max and Elizabeth (Here’s where Roman first tested his fear of heights!)Roman's First View of the City

 

It was too late for a tour of Ellis Island, so before we left we grabbed a snack in the SOL cafeteria. The trip back to New Jersey on the ferry got VERY cold, so we were glad to go back to the hotel for some rest. The Hampton InnWe had dinner at an Italian restaurant Elizabeth knew Elizabeth Ordering Italianin nearby Rahway—Linden, Rahway and Elizabeth, New Jersey are all grouped just south of the Newark airport, connected by the railroad into the city. That’s where we planned to head Friday morning.

Mac and Roman on the Observation DeckMac at Liberty State Park