We took our trip to New York over July 4th weekend. Since I had accumulated a bunch of Amtrak reward points from one of my projects at work, we decided to use them to take the train up to the Big Apple. Janet and I managed to leave work and pick up our luggage with just enough time to catch the train up to NYC from Washington DC.
I still had enough hotel points from a prior project to also cover our hotel. Traveling for work isn’t fun, but it’s nice when I can cover transportation and lodging for a nice weekend trip for no personal cost.
It was nearly 10pm when we arrived. We dropped our stuff off at our hotel, then stepped out for a quick bite to eat. For our first meal in New York we got two hot dogs and papaya juice at Gray’s Papaya. The hot dogs were good, and we found out that we both hate papaya :).
After our light snack, we went to sleep to prepare for our first big day in the city.
We started our day by going to Central Park. We arrived at Columbus Circle and headed straight to Breads Bakery for some Chocolate Babka. They didn’t sell the Babka in small sizes, so we got a whole loaf and I ate half of it that morning! They did a fantastic job molding the chocolate into the pastry bread, and it had plenty of little chocolate chunks.
As we ate the babka, we wandered around Central Park. The Bethesda Fountain and Terrace came first on our itinerary and we spent some time taking pictures there. We saw lots of the other highlights as well, such as Bow Bridge, the Mall/Literary Walk, Cherry Hill, Sheep Meadow.
For our last destination in Central Park, we went through Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon memorial. It was everything you would expect to honor the prolific and controversial musician: someone playing Beatles songs with a guitar, passersby singing wisps of the tunes as they paused to view a large seal in the concrete that simply says “IMAGINE,” and an elderly man rearranging the pattern of flower colors that traced the edge of the seal.
After passing through the memorial, we entered the American Museum of Natural History. The museum instantly put me at awe with its replica of a barosaurus (think of a brontosaurus or “long-neck”) fighting with an allosaurus (think of a raptor). The barosaurus stands on its hind legs, reaching up in the high ceiling of the rotunda.
After we entered the museum, we took a quick look at some of the mural and animal exhibits before joining the free tour. The tour was perfect. Our guide started with some of the murals depicting American wildlife. He told us about a couple of specific murals painted by competing artists. One artist worked on realistic depictions, while the other painted a more impressionistic scene. Apparently they had little respect for each other’s work, and the museum officials had to break up a few fights.
Our tour guide also brought us to see the cut of an enormous sequoia tree. Its rings showed that it grew for ~1,400 years before lumberjacks chopped it down in 1891. That’s old, but still not quite as old as the T-Rex skeleton we saw next. I really enjoyed the entire dinosaur exhibit in the museum.
After the dinosaur, our guide showed us a few more exhibits, such as a large model of a mosquito, and the replica of a blue whale. Then, we went to see “Lucy,” a 3.2 million year old hominid. Lucy’s skeleton marked a huge turning point in our understanding of our origins and evolutionary process. She also has a more complete skeleton than most other discoveries that old with ~40% of her skeleton discovered and on display.
Why is she called Lucy? After the archaeologists found her, they naturally held a party. At the party, they played “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles over and over. In the midst of the merriment, someone suggested that they use Lucy as the name for the skeleton, and it stuck.
Our tour ended with the rock collection. The museum has a collection of lots of beautiful gem stones, as well as asteroids.
After our tour, we wandered a little more around the museum, but quickly had to get lunch before our next activity. We grabbed a pizza lunch at Motorino. I had an Amatriciana pizza, which I think is one of my favorite Neapolitan-style pizzas I’ve had outside of Italy.
After eating, we walked across Central Park to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had a tour here as well.
Our guide started the tour by bringing us through the Egyptian section. We saw some temple walls that were brought in from Egypt, as well as a few mummies. Egyptians buried the mummies with pictures of food, animals, and other things with an understanding that the dead would receive them in the afterlife.
We also focused for a while on Hatshepsut, the second confirmed female Pharaoh. The museum contains multiple carvings of her sitting, standing, or being a sphinx – the three most common activities you’ll find a pharaoh engaged in.
Our guide finished the Egyptian section by showing us the Temple of Dendur. Egypt allowed it to come to the U.S. to show appreciation for helping Egypt move many other monuments that were going to be destroyed by an expanding Lake Nasser. Several foundations made bids to receive the Temple in their location, but Jackie Kennedy had played such a big role in getting funding (from taxpayers) that when she suggested the Met, the Met won out.
Our guide pointed out Jackie’s old penthouse, where the Temple would be visible through its large, glass enclosure. Apparently Jackie would sometimes tell the Met to leaves the Temple lights on at night when she hosted guests so she could point to her temple.
After Egypt, we went through some art galleries and saw major works of American art. My favorite was seeing one of the original “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”
Next we went through some European exhibits, seeing things like King Henry VIII’s armor (both when he was young and fit, and later when he was pudgier). We also saw what people for a while thought might be the Holy Grail. It looked like a wood cup with elaborate decoration on the outside, supposedly added within a century of Christ’s death. The museum now recognizes it as the Antioch Chalice, and was probably actually a standing lamp. The quest for the Holy Grail continues.
We enjoyed many other pieces as well. In one of our final rooms, our guide told us that the room contained the Met’s most expensive piece. She told us that the Met paid ~$45 million in 2004 for one of the religious paintings in the room, and asked us to find it. I am proud to say that I guessed correctly: The Madonna and Child by Duccio.
After we finished up at the Met, we walked through a little more of Central Park so that we could drop off some things at the hotel. After that, we walked through the rain to go see The Lion King on Broadway. We quite enjoyed the show, and finished the day off with a walk through Times Square and dinner at a Ramen shop.
We started our day attending church. To our delight, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf came to that ward that day. He and his family spoke, and we felt incredibly grateful and enriched to have heard them.
After our church, we visited a Catholic church at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I took plenty of pictures of the stained glass windows and carvings inside.
We started getting hungry, so we went to grab lunch at Xi’an’s Famous Foods. I thought it was one of the better Chinese restaurants I’ve ever tried.
For our next stop, we went to the top of the Rockefeller Center. It has a great view of the Empire State Building. Since Rockefeller Center is a bit less picturesque, I thought it would be better to stand in it and take picture of the Empire State Building instead of the other way around. We never did end up making it into the Empire State Building, so that will be on our list next time we visit.
Next we visited the Museum of Modern Art. Here we had a chance to see lots of well known pieces, such as Starry Night by Van Gogh, the Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, and I and the Village by Marc Chagall. We also saw several Picassos, some pieces by Monet, and of course some Jackson Pollocks and Andy Warhols.
Those were the pieces of art that we understood anyway – or could at least concede were art. On the top floor an exhibit consisted of a bunch of wooden benches that looked perfect and normal for sitting. However, a guard stood there and told anyone that tried to use the benches that they couldn’t since it’s actually an exhibit. Maybe the artist is trying to say that art is what we make it, and all it takes to turn some regular benches into art is a social construct saying that it’s so. It didn’t convince me though – those were benches, and I would have quite enjoyed taking a seat!
After finishing up at the museum, we went and tried some Wafles and Dinges. It consists of a waffle, then lots of other indulgent additives, such as ice cream, fruit, nutella, caramel, etc. I had way too much :).
After dinner, we walked through Bryant Park where people played ping pong and relaxed. We had planned to go through the NY Public Library there, but we found it already closed. We did take a quick look through Grand Central Terminal nearby.
To finish our day, we got a big pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli. It’s famous, and widely considered the best deli in New York. We loved our sandwich, and followed it up with some gelato across the street.
For me, day 3 captured the essence of what hits my head when I think of New York. We started our day at Battery Park where we met our tour group. Our guide gave us our tickets, and told us about a few local landmarks. This included a large, damaged monument that stood between the Twin Towers before they fell.
After a brief intro, we got in line and hopped on to the ferry to go to the Statue of Liberty. I had seen it as a little kid, but only had some vague memories of it. Now, I got to see it in a way that I’ll remember.
We were able to go through the statue’s exhibit, including seeing the original torch, a replica of the face, and some commentary on its construction. Mostly, we took some great pictures of the great monument, and the harbor it stands in.
After the statue of liberty, we went to Ellis Island. Our guide told us the process that thousands of people went through as they came to the U.S. through the island. He shared a few stories of particular individuals as well, of those who were successful at entering and some less-so. We saw some tools they used to inspect the immigrants (including a hook they used to inspect people’s eyes), and walked down the “sorting stairs” where people took a different staircase depending on whether they were allowed in, or going back home.
After our tour and a short movie, we took the ferry back to the mainland. We started a journey toward Umami burger for lunch, but our route took us close to lots of landmarks to see. We started by going by the statue of the charging bull on Wall Street. Next, we walked by the New York Stock Exchange (though we didn’t go inside). This stands near Federal Hall, which I’ll talk more about tomorrow.
Our route also took us by Trinity Church. Not only did we enjoy the short break in the peaceful church, but we found Alexander Hamilton’s grave – now a much more popular destination with the Hamilton musical in full swing.
Our stomachs now in full revolt, we decided to make Trinity Church our last detour. We finally arrived at Umami burger, and enjoyed a filling lunch.
After lunch, we visited the World Trade Center memorial site. We walked through the grounds and looked at the infinity pools before going into the museum. I still remember bits of that day when I was 11. My Dad flew for American Airlines at the time and we got lots of calls that morning from concerned family and friends worried that my Dad might have been one of the pilots (he was not). The museum really takes you back to the events of that day, and highlights the many acts of heroism in the face of the fear.
We wrapped the day up by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and getting some more Wafles and Dinges. When we travel, we always eat well, but typically walk so much that we end up losing a bit of weight. Not this time – my stomach finally met its match with Wafles and Dinges.
Happy Independence Day! We started our final day in New York by going to Federal Hall. It served as the first capitol building of the U.S., which makes it quite a proper place to start the 4th of July.
Our next stop brought us to Russ & Daughters to get some bagels and lox. The cafe outlet had a long wait, so we decided to go to the main store. After getting our order, we went outside and enjoyed our food on the stoop.
After stopping by a specialty candy shop, we went to our last destination: the Tenement Museum. This museum takes us through tours of how people lived during a few different eras in New York City. We did two tours, covering the lives of some Irish immigrants, as well as other groups who endured “hard times” in the tenements.
After our tours, we picked up our luggage from the hotel, and took the train back to DC. We left too early from New York to see fireworks there, and arrived in DC too late for theirs, but it was a sacrifice worth making for our visit to the Big Apple.
Keep seeking truth.
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