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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Our Whirlwind Tour of New York City: Part II


My last post left me and Paul sitting in Magnolia cafe around the noon hour in the Upper West Side. Afterwards, the sun came out and the drizzling stopped for good, and we made our way back through Central Park to the Upper East Side. I was in search of the former mansion of Henry Clay Frick, the Pittisbuergh Steel Magnate. His home on the corner of E. 70th street and 5th Avenue was bequeathed to the public upon his death in 1919 along with all the art and collectibles contained within. One of the most famous pieces from his collection is the portrait of St. Thomas More painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, a painting that has always struck me for its lifelike qualities when I've seen it reproduced in books. I was eager to gaze upon the real thing.


Also, having learned so much about the Frick family in recent years thanks to my many visits to their Pittsburgh mansion, I was eager to tour his New York home. When we arrived at the Frick Mansion, the steel gates surrounding the imposing stone edifice hardly had the look of a family home, very different from the charming Victorian style of his Pittsburgh mansion. We debated about paying the hefty $25/person to enter when Paul noticed that there was to be a pay-what-you-wish hour on Sunday. We decided to tour it then because we're cheap.


So, we about-faced and headed straight down 5th Avenue in search of Saint Patrick's cathedral. Along the way, I concluded that this area was probably my 2nd least favorite so far due to the ridiculous number of shoppers fighting over a tiny bit of sidewalk. I also learned that me and Paul walk much faster than the average human being and we soon made a game of weaving in and out of the crowd, dropping hands when necessary then rejoining once more when there was a break in the mob, which was basically never.



We stepped into St. Pat's which was absolutely crawling with tourists - and for good reason. The architecture of the cathedral and each of its tiny side chapels is breathtaking. I found the saintly namesakes of each of my children represented in some way throughout the church - Saint Lucy, Saint Therese, Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Matthew, and, of course, Saint Patrick, the patron saint of the Cathedral and both the middle name of my Matthew and the name of our first baby born into heaven.




After leaving the cathedral, Paul announced that he needed to find a restroom and something for lunch. We started heading towards Grand Central, figuring it would probably be our best hope for a public restroom of some sort as well as a good place to hop on the subway to head elsewhere in the city. Grand Central certainly had bathrooms and Paul was able to walk in and out the men's room with no difficulty, but the line for the women's room extended out the door and wound around the food court. Being impatient, I decided to just take my chances finding a restroom elsewhere. So, we strolled through the market at Grand Central and I drooled over spices, fresh fish, and fresh loaves of babka. Paul got even more hungry, but I convinced him that maybe we should pick up something to eat in Chinatown. So, we hopped on a subway and headed downtown.

When we got off the subway, we saw that we weren't too far from the Brooklyn bridge, so we decided to take a slight detour and walk across it, since that was the ONE thing on Paul's New York to-do list. Unfortunately, a ton of other people had the same idea and we were caught in a moving mob trying to enter the pedestrian pathway of the bridge. We also got to witness a fantastic fight between a pedestrian and a biker when the pedestrian tried to walk up the bike path on the bridge and nearly got wiped out by the biker heading the opposite direction. I was personally on the side of the biker until I realized how few people were actually using that bike path and with the pedestrian walk way being so clogged with people, I took the opportunity to dart in and out of the bike path to pass people while walking up the bridge. This was the second time since Central Park that I almost was taken out by a flock of bikers. But, we eventually made it all the way across the bridge and into Brooklyn just so Paul "could say he went to Brooklyn." We took a couple pictures on the bridge and immediately sent one to my mother with the request to show it to Emma while telling her "No Sleep Till Brooklyn!" Emma has taken a firm liking to that Beastie Boys song ever since it was featured in The Secret Life of Pets. It's so funny to hear her sing it.





After crossing back over the bridge we began to walk in the direction of Chinatown. It was a beautiful walk, although I was starting to regret not visiting the bathroom in Grand Central Station. As we were passing the courthouse, I couldn't stand it any longer and ran up the steps to see if I could possibly access the facilities inside. The good news was that there were public restrooms inside. The bad news was that we had to go through a complete security checkpoint and screening in order to reach them. The officers were nice enough and the restrooms, while extremely filthy, had no line!

Just a few blocks more and we were in Chinatown! It's amazing how different the architecture, pedestrians, and the atmosphere change between neighborhoods. Chinatown featured all sorts of Asian vendors peddling fruits, vegetables, massages (particularly foot massages), fresh meat, fresh seafood, souvenirs, and all sorts of food. The streets smelled like soy sauce and several buildings featured pagoda roofs. We ducked inside a small souvenir shop owned by a cute little Asian couple to purchase a gift for Matthew. Before we left, Matthew had requested that we bring him back some food from Chinatown. We told him that transporting an entire carton of Sweet-and-Sour Chicken (his favorite) back with us was out of the question. So, he requested a pair of chopsticks next. We found him a nice pair of chopsticks at this little souvenir shop, along with a stone dragon for his bookshelf and a waving lucky cat for Emma. Then, we continued weaving our way in and out of the streets in search of some dim sum. Paul was about ready to die of hunger by this time - it was nearly three o'clock. I was actually still full from all the cookies we had while touring bakeries earlier in the day.



Eventually, we made our way into this tight, dark alleyway where we found the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. There was a bit of a wait for a table, but we opted to be patient figuring that by the time we found another place to eat a table would have opened up here anyway. So, we hung up for a few minutes while I read up on the history of the restaurant in which we were about to dine. Apparently, it has been in operation since 1920 and the alley in which it is situated was a common location of ambush during some of the bloodiest periods of gang warfare in New York City. After sitting in that alley for a bit, I could totally envision it. The street still had its original brick foundation and all the buildings in the area were at least 100 years old, looking very much how it did back in the day. At night, I would not want to be anywhere near that alley.

We were eventually seated and treated to a fine meal of dumplings, shu mai, pork buns, and tea. It was such a fantastic meal, but we ordered way too much. Because I hate wasting food, we dutifully ate ever single bite and left feeling about as stuffed as the pork buns we had just wolfed down. We took a nice long walk through Chinatown and into Little Italy before we decided that we should probably find a subway and get ourselves back to the hotel to freshen up a bit before our Broadway show that evening. By this time, both Paul and I were very comfortable with navigating the city both on foot and via the subway. We must have looked comfortable too because throughout the day many, many tourists kept coming up to us asking for directions or for advice about which train to take. I usually let Paul answer their questions but when a nice man approached us for directions as we were heading into the subway to take the train back up to Chelsea, I felt the need to open my big mouth and confidently pointed him in the direction of the yellow line. He thanked me and hurried off. Paul, reacting a bit too late, grabbed my arm and hissed: "What's wrong with you? You just sent that poor guy in the complete opposite direction that he wanted to go!"

Oops.

The remainder of the trip, I let Paul give the travel advice.


We made it back to our hotel where we showered and changed into dressier clothes before heading back down Broadway to see The Lion King. I was so incredibly excited about this show! We took the short subway trip to Times Square and then headed to the Minskoff Theatre where The Lion King plays. The decor inside the theatre was entirely Lion King themed. I loved it. Paul had obtained awesome seats for the show - in the front row of the middle of the balcony. I much prefer balcony seating for most shows and this was PERFECT. The show was so amazing - the costumes, the music, the acting, the stage tricks! I cried at the end - I was THAT into the show. I was just so happy that Simba finally got to take his father's place as KING. Paul was a little less impressed. I caught him snoozing on more than one occasion. He claimed it was because he couldn't stand the Rafiki role - all the clicking and the random sputtering really irritated him. It irritated him further that Rafiki got more applause than any of the characters during the curtain call. While Rafiki was good, the actor who played Scar was truly incredible. He was absolutely perfect for the role. The show was an experience I will never forget.




As we filed out of the theatre, I was amazed at how bright it still was outside just from the lights glowing in Times Square. Even though it was almost 11 o'clock at night, it was as bright as daylight. Seriously ridiculous, but also kind of nice. My least favorite thing about going to a movie theater is going in while it's light out and then coming out and having everything be pitch black. Definitely not the case in Times Square.


We decided to wander around Hell's Kitchen a bit in search of pizza. Paul warned me that every time he had pizza in NYC that it was absolutely terrible. Which made me wonder why he wanted to eat some so badly now? We passed pizza joint after pizza joint, but I found an excuse not to eat at every single one of them. The pizza just looked too stale or the crust was too thick or the restaurant smelled to much of smoke. Finally, we decided on a little corner shop that did not look too offensive and ordered a couple slices and a salad. Not good. I think my biggest problem with it was the sauce was just too sweet for my taste. I really do prefer a Chicago-style pizza sauce that is thick and chunky with aggressive garlic and herb seasoning. After our greasy pizza, we continued the long walk back to our hotel. One thing that was surprising to me while wandering around in the wee hours of the morning was that I never once felt unsafe. It was dark, there were very few people out, but there were also cops and security guards everywhere. Not to mention, the deserted streets did not really give the vibe of "danger" as they were relatively well-lit and not entirely deserted. Although, I was a little wary of the food truck we kept seeing driving around advertising marijuana-laced popsicles, particularly their specialty flavor "Strawberry Cough".

We finally made it back to the hotel at 1:30 AM and collapsed in the bed and fell asleep. Well, Paul collapsed while I watched a Friends re-run on the television. Very appropriate given where we were.

Stay Tuned for Part III!

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