One Week in New York City, Part II
In our first two days in NYC, we had already seen more than enough to justify the trip. And we still had five days to go! Monday morning, after another outstanding breakfast at Penelope, we ventured toward Union Square. I decided I had to at least visit The Strand, after placing online orders with them for the past six years without ever setting foot in the store. On the way we walked through Gramercy, and visited two of my wife's favorite NYC stores (this was not her first time in the city), ABC Home and Fishs Eddy. Then, since it was a Monday, we had the fortune of stumbling into the Union Square Greenmarket, where we downed a bottle of fresh apple cider before moving on to the main event.
The Strand was... overwhelming. I did not really come to buy, but if I had I would not have known where to start. I can hardly believe I am saying this, but there were just too many books. I am glad we visited, it was great to see, but I think I will stick to their website from now on.
We had greatly enjoyed our walk through Greenwich Village on our tour, so we decided to spend the afternoon walking back through those streets and visiting all the cute shops we had seen. We also stopped for lunch at what immediately become our favorite New York pizzeria, Bleecker Street Pizza. Now this is what thin pizza is supposed to taste like! It was hot, delicious, and the crust was sufficiently crisp that when you held it in the air, it stayed in the air. No drooping, sagging, or sliding to be found. Top notch stuff.
But that was not the last of the eating that afternoon. Oh no. Because Greenwich Village is also home to the Magnolia Bakery. Fortunately we got there about ten minutes before a big tour group, so there was not much of a line for us to get our cupcakes, which were very tasty and which we enjoyed from the benches just outside the adorable Bleecker Street playground.
But wait, there's more! The final piece to the Monday afternoon food bonanza was a dish I am ashamed to admit I had never tried before: falafel. That's right, vegetarian though I may be, I had never tasted the Middle Eastern delight that is fried chickpeas. Short of actually visiting the Levant, New York City was probably the best place to start. And start I did, at a tiny hole-in-the-wall spot called Taim, owned and operated by Israeli immigrants. Fried to order, crispy but not greasy, served in a whole-wheat pita with hummus and Jerusalem salad, this was one of the most revelatory food experiences of my life. Not only did we return to Taim just a couple days later, as soon as we returned to Atlanta I found the closest falafel source (Olive Bistro) and a few days ago I actually cooked falafel at home (the patties fell apart a bit in the oil, but they still tasted great).
The only black mark on this otherwise fantastic day, and really the only misstep of the entire trip, was our visit to Broadway that night. We saw The Phantom of the Opera, which now claims the mantle of longest-running show on Broadway. Well, I for one do not know why. I thought it was terrible; it was boring, incoherent, maudlin. I think I bought the tickets because it was one of the few Broadway shows open on Monday, but we would have been better off saving the money and going to a movie.
Tuesday morning we decided to take a break from Penelope, as I had other plans. We woke up early and headed to Grand Central Terminal. Though there's not much to do there, other than catch a train, it was still a site worth seeing. And after that, we walked up 3rd Avenue for my first real NYC bagel experience, at Ess-a-Bagel. I placed my standard bagel order: plain cream cheese on a plain bagel and butter on an everything, and it was exquisite. This is what real bagels taste like! Stomachs full, we moved on to St. Patrick's Cathedral before making our way to the Top of the Rock, where we treated to the most extraordinary views of the city. In every major city, people seem to go to the top of the wrong structure. In Paris, if you go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can not see the Eiffel Tower! Go to the top of Montparnasse instead. Likewise, in NYC, do not go to the top of the Empire State Building for sightseeing, go to the top of Rockefeller Center.
That night we saw Billy Elliot, which will likely be crowned best musical at the Tony's on Sunday night. And it will certainly deserve it. This was a movie that we very much liked, and the musical takes it a step beyond. The sets were exceptional, the choreography even better, the performances by the children superb, and though no single song stuck in my head, the music by Elton John was wonderful and integral to the show's success. Though a sentimental favorite (see below) gets my pick for favorite show of the week, I can certainly say I thought Billy Elliot was the best production we saw.
Wednesday was a bit of a lazy day for us, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, wandering through shops in SoHo, returning to the Village for falafel, and squeezing in a couple hours at the MoMa before it closed. But that was all just a prelude to the show I was most excited about, the new revival of Hair. My love of Hair traces back to a two-part episode of Head of the Class in which the students perform the musical. In high school I had a CD of the soundtrack that I listened to constantly, especially as I drove to Salt Lake City in the afternoons to intern at the ACLU of Utah. As my wife can attest to after sitting next to me through the show, I know all the words to every song. Seeing it in person was an experience to treasure.
Thursday morning we decided we needed bagels one more time. As we were headed to the Met, it was not out of the way to hit H&H Midtown Bagels East, which is rightly regarded by many as the best bagel shop in the city. My wife certainly thought so. I am glad we carb-loaded, because we were on our feet most of the day at the Met. Without taking anything away from the British Museum, this is one awesome place. In fact, we spent so much time with the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, the Arms & Armor, and the Modern Art (hey, that is what they have on the first floor), that I did not even get to the second floor.
Our last NYC dinner was enjoyed at a lovely Indian restaurant called Dawat, and for our last show we saw the revival of Guys and Dolls. It was, we think, the only show we saw that was not sold out. It was very cute, and as Gilmore Girls addicts we were sure to enjoy anything with Lauren Graham. But Oliver Platt's performance was rather stiff and the show has just not aged well. It was pretty tame stuff; as my wife pointed out, there's a reason it is produced in high schools across the country.
With a half-day to spend on Friday, we had one last breakfast at Penelope before we decided to venture out to Battery Park and see if we could get on a ferry to Ellis Island. The lines were not too bad, so we made the trip. The ferry docks first at Liberty Island, and we got some great photos of Lady Liberty because my wife was smart enough to ask which side of the boat the statue would be on as we approached (it's on the right). We did not have a lot of time to spend at Ellis Island before we headed back to Manhattan, but it was enough to take the Park Service tour and then wander a bit through the exhibits. There is a lot of history packed into not a lot of space on that island.
Unfortunately, we saved our biggest adventure for last. Based on the ease of the cab ride into the city, we figured budgeting an hour to get back to JFK would be plenty. So with a 4:40 flight, our plan was to get back to the hotel at 2:30 with a cab waiting. Well, we did get back to the hotel at 2:30, and there was a cab waiting. But when we told our cab driver we had a 4:40 flight out of JFK, he did not seem very confident that we would make it. And he was almost right. The traffic was awful. It was breathtaking, and this is coming from someone who grew up in Chicago, has driven the San Diego-Los Angeles circuit a number of times, and has lived in Atlanta for the past four years. This was something else.
But our cab driver knew we were in a hurry, and he was completely mentally unstable, so a combination of daredevil maneuvers and side street navigation got us to JFK at about 3:45. There was just enough time for us to check our bags, make it to the gate, and go home. Lots of excitement, which made the arrival in our home and the sleep in our own bed that night all the more pleasant. It was a wonderful trip. I do not see myself ever living in a city as crowded and busy as New York, but I certainly plan to return.