Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New York is for Nerds

As much as I love planning a vacation, I love being on vacation even more. Brian and I celebrated being married for 20 years by taking a trip to New York City last week. Our anniversary was back in November, but we planned this trip to coincide with Chubbuck, Idaho's Spring Break for obvious reasons (my parents came and stayed with our children). I have been fine tuning our itinerary for MONTHS and most of my reading for the last few months has been New York related. Here's what we did...

Tuesday, March 21

We left our home just before 7am after kissing the kids and having some last minute briefing with my brave parents. Brian drove into the wrong parking lot at the airport and we snuck into the correct one through an exit because we were LATE. Coming up the stairs to the security check we were directed to the back of a very long line. We were certain that we weren't going to catch our plane after seeing that. A guy kept telling us they were getting "the dog" set up and then the line would go quickly. What was that a euphemism for? It wasn't! A real dog showed up and sniffed everyone's bags instead of having a human open them up and dig through everything. We were through security lickety-split.

When we arrived at JFK, we took a taxi to my cousin Allison's place on the Upper West Side. She and her family (husband Noah and two impossibly cute girls, Scout and Fern) live in a small apartment near Central Park, several great restaurants and subway stations. They had said goodbye to their previous house guests earlier that day, I think. So, extremely generous people and very knowledgeable about the city. Perfect hosts. We talked so much that Brian and I decided not to risk trying to find a place to eat near their apartment and we immediately took a subway going the opposite direction from our show on Broadway. Ah! We hurried and got off at the next stop and got on the correct one. I tried to memorize our surroundings when we emerged from an unmarked doorway on 42nd and Broadway and walked to 44th for Hello Dolly!
Since it was a Tuesday night, we got into Guy Fieri's restaurant right across the street from the theater. The line to get into the theater went all the way around the block and down another street. This was our first show on Broadway, so we figured this was normal, but people in line told us it was not. We were on the tippety top of the balcony, so we had to lean forward when the action was in front of the orchestra. Still! It was BETTE MIDLER as Dolly! She rolled onto the stage on a "trolley" and had to pause for a full minute while the audience cheered. She owned the stage. Owned. It. Hello Dolly! is my family's musical. My Dad played Cornelius Hackle in college and again when we lived in Oakley, Idaho. I know all the words to all the songs. It was THRILLING to watch an actual production of it! And it was the best anyone could do, too. When "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" started, I had to fight tears. Bette Midler got a standing ovation when she appeared at the top of the stairs at the Harmonia Gardens. She's 71 years old, you guys! Remarkable.

Brian and I walked right by our subway station coming back (of course) and ended up on an express that took us to a stop 11 blocks from Allison and Noah's when we did find it. I had packed a skirt and tall boots for our theater nights. Like a dummy. I was whimpering in pain by the time we made it to Allison and Noah's. Never have a bunion and be too short for flats walking all over New York City.

Wednesday, March 22

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island! Allison fed us delicious oatmeal first thing in the morning before we got back on the subway and headed south for Battery Park. We had tickets for a Statue Cruise and had to run for it after getting out of the subway. Security is tight when you go to the Statue of Liberty! We went through one security check to get on the boat and another one when we got off at the island. I had tickets to walk up into the pedestal, but not the crown. I thought that would make me sad, but it was COLD and WINDY and not going to the top was fine with us. The museum just under the pedestal was great - they had examples of Lady Liberty's face without the patina on the copper, stories and amazing photos of the process of getting the statue put back together once it was in the United States. One of my favorites was an example of the copper "skin" on the statue. It's something like 3/8" of an inch thick and they pound it out over the statue.
Then we walked up the steps inside the pedestal. Lots and lots of steps. We walked out a door and the wind took my breath away. My hair was ridiculous.
We shopped a little at the gift shop and found the most beautiful snow globe for Bridget (she collects them). It was exactly what I had in mind to get her - the Statue of Liberty with a cityscape behind her in gold. It contains more than six ounces of liquid, for those of you who like foreshadowing.

Next we caught the boat to Ellis Island. What an amazing place! I've been reading City of Dreams by Tyler Anbinder and there is a lot about what the travel was like for emigrants on the boats and getting checked out by doctors once they arrived. To be in the very place where they had been and to see that incredible museum was emotional. There were so many different reasons people left their homelands to come to America not knowing what was here, but counting on it being better than where they lived. We have it so easy!
We spent probably more than two hours at Ellis Island and it was absolutely not enough. We were getting hungry and I wanted to see Federal Hall before it closed, so we got back on the boat.
Brian borrowed a scarf from Noah (because Noah insisted) and he never would have survived without it, but also he is pulling. it. off. It was my favorite part of the trip being on a week-long date with Brian.
We did stop at Castle Clinton, the place where our ancestors would have stopped first. (Ellis Island didn't exist before 1892.) I went to get our National Park Passport stamped and someone had stolen the Castle Clinton stamp. (Who does these things?) One of the rangers had to find the back up stamp for us. From there we walked to Federal Hall where George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States.
I've read Ron Chernow's Washington and I'm about halfway through Alexander Hamilton so this was a stop I was really looking forward to. The very place where our nation began!
The first thing I did was stamp the passport, then I noticed the date was October 39, 2017. Come on, field trip kids! Oh well. It's by all the other stamps with the correct date. Also, the bible Washington used for his inauguration wasn't there because the free masons of New York City (or something) were using it. For what?! Couldn't they find another copy somewhere?! The bible belongs to the free masons, so they have dibs, but that was quite lame. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant called Frounces, which is supposed to be the very spot where George Washington said goodbye to his troops after the Revolutionary War.
Between Federal Hall and Frounces we saw The Bull and The Fearless Girl on Wall Street. Kind of. Pesky tourists.
By the time we got back to Allison and Noah's that evening we were spent. Allison suggested a few places we could go for dessert, but then we just kept sitting on the couch instead.

Thursday, March 23

My plan was to go see Teddy Roosevelt's Birthplace at 9:00am, then head to our Brooklyn Food Tour that started on Cornelia Street. Allison and Fern offered to come with us to Roosevelt's and if they hadn't, Brian and I would probably still be wandering the subway right now. Ah! :)
Emil says I have Mickey Mouse ears in this photo. Ha! They didn't give tours until 10:00, so we couldn't go upstairs. So sad! We were in the house! The rangers turned on a movie for us. Meh. It was all stuff I knew from reading Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough. I got a stamp in the passport and a children's book about Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. I guess the male ranger felt bad for us (and we were the only people there) because he finally said he'd take us on a quick tour of the upstairs. Yay! We stood in the room where Teddy Roosevelt was born! It made my nerd heart burst with joy.
My favorite thing that I learned about Roosevelt at the museum was that he had a standing appointment to play with his children at 4:00 every day. Sometimes dignitaries were invited to join him, because it was happening.

Allison led us to Cornelia Street (which we NEVER would have found) and our bus for our food tour of Brooklyn. We had a small group, more than half of which were Asian students with their teachers from Boston. Our tour guide, Rick, had us introduce ourselves and that's when he discovered that one of the guys in the tour was the librarian at his high school in San Francisco in the late 1960s, early 1970s. "Mr. Rogers?!" Ha! Small world.

Our first food stop was The Meatball Shop in North Williamsburg. Each of us got a meatball in a little bowl. They had a meatball leftover and I claimed it. Yum! Next we went around the corner to a Middle Eastern place called Oasis for a veggie ball with a name I can't remember and a hummus-y sauce.
It turns out I really like Middle Eastern food. The flavors and spices and especially the hummus speak to me. We got back on the bus and went to a Polish place called Krowlewskie Jadlo (King's Feast, I think).
At this place we sat down and had lots of different stuff - Kielbasa Sausage, Pierogies, carrot and beet salad with horseradish. Brian and I were the last ones to file into the restaurant and they had a long table set up for our group. We had to sit across from each other and he ended up between two of the Asian students. Hee! Funny because he looked so out of place.

Our next stop was farther away and we had more time in the bus with Rick telling us about hipsters and underground clubs where famous bands got their start and finding bodies in the canal and... zzzzz. I fell asleep. That's what I do on public transportation. When I woke up we were at Table 87 in Brooklyn Heights for coal-fired Margarita Pizza. I've been craving it ever since. So simple, but so good! Then it was off to Monteleone Bakery for a cannoli. Delicious.
Our last stop was chocolates at Jacques Torres. Brian and I were the only ones in the group who were going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get back to Manhattan. It was cold and windy all day and we were a little nervous about our plan. We both ordered hot chocolate at Jacques Torres, then got back on the bus. Rick led us right to the steps to the Brooklyn Bridge, probably so Brian could give him a tip discreetly. (A subject for another time is tipping. Why is 20% considered standard now? Who gets tips? Why aren't people paid enough to not need to ask for more? Shouldn't it be a matter of pride and honor like in Japan and Denmark to just pay the price listed on the menu at a restaurant? Discuss.)

Once we were on the Brooklyn Bridge promenade, the sun was shining and the wind had calmed. Of course I'd read The Great Bridge by David McCullough and it was surreal to be there. I even asked Rick before we were dropped off where Washington Roebling's house was because I knew that he watched the progress of the bridge from his window. (Rick pointed out where the building used to be, by the way.) Brian and I took our time and soaked in the view. It was one of my favorite things we did on our trip.
We met Allison and a sleeping Scout near City Hall and they led us to the 9/11 Memorial. We went into the building above all the subway stations right there. It looks like a very clean dinosaur skeleton.
Outside on the plaza is the actual memorial with the names of all the victims surrounding infinity pools. When I saw it I was surprised to feel exactly what I should feel even though I couldn't describe it. What a beautiful tribute.
Remarkably, Brian and I were hungry enough to eat dinner and Brian wanted to try a restaurant Allison had pointed out that morning called Beecher's. We walked there and they were slammed, so we decided to get on the subway and go to The Meatball Shop near Allison and Noah's place. I beat my previous step record (which I made on Memorial Day last year when I did a 10K with Makenzie) by 8000 steps on Thursday. My heels hurt! I was wearing good shoes, but I probably should have been wearing running shoes.

Friday, March 24

We slept in a little and took our time getting ready Friday morning. Brian didn't think he'd ever need to eat again, but we went to Maison Pickle for brunch anyway. Biscuit French Toast with strawberries and homemade syrup! Duh. That's happening. After brunch we walked across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Secretly we could have spent 12 hours a day for a week at that museum and still not see everything. Amazing!
We spent the bulk of our time in the American Wing since it was kind of the theme of our trip. :)
This is inside the Met - one of the entrances to the American Wing. We walked through a gallery with a baseball card collection. Adorable.

After the Met it was time to go to our hotel, Library Hotel, on Madison and 41st near the New York City Library and our second Broadway show of the trip, Anastasia.
We are in our 40s, y'all. It was time for a nap. And it was a glorious nap. We found some greasy pizza for dinner, then walked to 44th and Broadway for Anastasia.
We had great seats this time (I bought the tickets as soon as they were available last October). The musical has three songs from the movie and the story line followed the movie in most ways. There was no Rasputin - the bad guy was the son of one of the officers who killed the rest of the Romanov family. The singing, dancing, and costumes were incredible - top notch. There was a bit too much of the reaching out longingly during a song and the actor playing Anastasia/Anya was trying really hard. If we hadn't seen Bette Midler's confidence a few nights before, I would've thought Anastasia was the best show in the world. The ending is very different from the movie as well. The woman playing Lily, Carolyn O'Connor (the dowager's last lady-in-waiting) was our favorite part of the show. There's a fantastic scene in a Russian night club in Paris where she dances and sings and it's just the best.

Saturday, March 25

We slept in FOR REAL Saturday morning. AAAHHHH! Then we walked to the Library and Brian found the perfect gift for Colin. (I bought Emil's gift at the Met.)
Then it was back to the subway for our journey north to Harlem to see Hamilton Grange, Alexander Hamilton's "country" home.
One of the few times Brian sat on the subway. He is a gentleman. And a germaphobe.
The museum in the basement was pretty cool (except there were spoilers I didn't know about because I haven't finished listening to the book), but I thought they could have tried harder with the exterior of the building. The tour of the main floor rooms was self-guided, which was also a little disappointing. Still, very cool to see where one of the Founding Fathers lived. (Emil has become interested in American history and he talks about Washington and Lincoln more often than a normal six year-old. One time he asked me who the Founding Mothers are. Love.)
The dining room at Hamilton Grange.
The parlor - there was a card game set up on a table in there. :)

There were a couple of other memorials on the north end of town, but we could only get there by walking and it would have taken way too long to do that, so we headed back to Manhattan. Brian wanted to get the kids Yankees hats, so we went to Times Square to a store we'd passed going to and from the Broadway shows. Guys. If I never see Times Square again it will be too soon. It's an assault on every sense! My eyes! My nose! My ears! Bleh. A guy advertising a comedy show stopped Brian to compliment him on his "girl." Fist bump for the "silver fox." Brian laughed and told him I'm older. Then we found a Japanese Ramen place for lunch.
I'd seen an episode of Chef's Table on Netflix about Japanese Ramen restaurants, then I got the lowdown from my nephew, Taylor (he served his mission in Japan). The moment we walked into this little place I was completely disarmed. It was a U-shaped bar with 11 people sitting down slurping ramen. I've never experienced anything like that at a restaurant - it was a cultural eye-opener. So cool.

From there we took the subway to the Tenement Museum. My Aunt Julie (Allison's Mom) told us about the Tenement Museum a few weeks ago and then every single person on our food tour told us we SHOULD NOT miss it. They are all correct. We went to the Irish Outsiders tour with a genuine Irish Catholic tour guide. The tour started in the basement with the replicated bathroom facilities - wooden outhouses that were for all the residents of the tenement and the customers at the bar on the street level. Never. They took us up the stairs to a room that looks exactly as it did when people lived there. It took my breath away. So small and dark! What would it have been like to try to take care of babies in that place! We learned about the people who actually lived in the apartment we were standing in. Just an amazing museum. 

We arranged to meet Allison and Noah at Cheeky's, which was a short walk from the Tenement Museum according to the address they gave us. Brian and I got there and stood in front of a door and window covered in pencil drawings on paper. I called Allison because I assumed we'd walked right by the place or we were on the wrong street or something. She said, "I can see you!" Yikes! And, Hahahahahaha! We opened the door and there they were. We ate fried chicken on biscuits and beignets while Fern danced on the table and Scout slept in the stroller. (That sweet little girl slept in the noisiest, brightest places!) Then we all rode the subway together, Brian and I getting off many stops before Allison and Noah. They are the best! It's a good thing we're related because I'm positive I'm not cool enough to hang out with them. :)

Brian and I went right to Grand Central Station to get some cheesecake from Juniors to enjoy while I listened to Women's Conference at the hotel. Juniors is no longer in Grand Central Station. It's gone. We got cupcakes instead.

Bridget's Statue of Liberty snowglobe cost me $25 more and three trips through the same security line at JFK. Then I left my cell phone in the bathroom at the Salt Lake Airport and we had to go back and find a kind person who would be good enough to find it for me. Anniversary miracle, that. The kids were alive and well when we picked them up and it was all worth it. I'm so glad we did this trip! What an amazing time of life and what a gift that my parents could handle our household so well for almost a week! I'm feeling the love. :)

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