Friday, July 31, 2015

Views of the City

The stunning views were worth every bit of pain endured.  We knew well in advance that this day of our itinerary would test our endurance and the comfort of our walking shoes.  By day's end, we would cover nearly 9 miles on foot.  We would also ride 2 subways, 3 boats, a bus and the fastest elevators in the United States.

Battery Park was about 20 minutes by subway from our hotel.  There we boarded a boat to take us to the Statue of Liberty.  

The boat sailed toward the statue as we watched the downtown skyline grow smaller behind us.  One World Trade Center stands majestically as the recently completed giant among skyscrapers.  We looked forward to visiting later in the day.

 Lady Liberty was kind enough to pose in some pictures with us.

Looks like she photo bombed here:

Caleb tried to imitate her in the gift shop.  Creepy.

The Statue Cruises move masses very efficiently and quickly.  We didn't wait long to board the next boat to nearby Ellis Island.

Millions of immigrants arrived here through this port.  In fact, it is estimated that nearly 40% of Americans can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island.  A self-guided audio tour and informative movie helped us understand the difficult and unsettling process it would have been for those people who passed through this gateway.  Some had to stay for extended periods of time in the dormitories (pictured below on right) before being cleared to officially enter our country.

We ate an overpriced, very subpar lunch at Ellis Island before taking another boat back to Battery Park.  

Then we walked nearly a mile to arrive at One World Trade Center.  Standing 1,776 feet, it's the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.  I stood at the bottom and looked toward the sky.  It seemed to go on forever.

Visiting the One World Observatory was at the top of my can't-wait-to-see list.  I was not disappointed.

After going through security, we walked through tunnels of ancient Manhattan bedrock.  Along the way are incredible stories of 9/11 and the building's construction.

The elevators to the observatory travel at a speed of 23 mph.  They are lined with floor-to-ceiling high definition monitors, made to look like windows.  On the 47 second trip to the 102nd floor, the monitors display an animated time lapse of New York City, beginning in 1500 AD.   Riders watch the city evolve from an undeveloped land before the Dutch arrived, to the massive metropolis that it is today.  The words "incredible" and "awesome" don't do the experience justice.

Here's a short video of the elevator ride:

And that's just the beginning.  Once on the 102nd floor, guests are taken into the See Forever Theatre. A short movie is shown on a wall and then the wall is retracted to reveal a floor-to-ceiling view of New York city so high the curvature of the earth can be seen.

Chills.  Teary eyes.  Applause accompanied by oohs and aahs.  It takes your breath away.

My beautiful brown-eyed girl with all of Manhattan behind her:

See the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges?

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island looked so small:

Three floors of 360 degree views of the city.  And the elevator ride back down was equally as entertaining as the ascent.

We then walked past the memorial pools to the 9/11 museum.

We'd managed to get free tickets to the museum, but had to have three different people order them due to limits on numbers that could be ordered by any one person.  When we arrived to scan our electronic tickets, Grandma was unable to locate the tickets on her phone.  It was stressful and there was a mini meltdown.  Though four of the group didn't get to see as much of the museum as they would've liked, all in our family were eventually admitted.

It was a sobering place.  Hard to see.  Hard to relive.  (Below on right are the "survivor stairs" an actual staircase used by many to escape to safety on 9/11.

Behind this wall (above) is a repository that contains unidentified remains.  The tragedy that took place here is still unbelievably heart-wrenching, but the rebuilding of this space is inspiring and the museum is exceptionally well done.

We took a bus around the downtown tip of the city, past South Street Seaport, to a quirky, trendy restaurant located right under the Brooklyn Bridge.  Cowgirl Seahorse served Natalie her favorite meal of the trip.  She loved it so much she wanted me to take her picture:

And then it was time to walk the Brooklyn Bridge.  The city is so beautiful at night.

By the time we reached the subway in Brooklyn, we were all thoroughly exhausted.  Just look at these cute cousins though, still all smiles on the train back to the hotel.  

I was all smiles, too.  But I had to soak my aching feet before going to bed.  We had no tub in our hotel room, so I made do with the sink.  Lys thought I looked funny so she snapped a picture.

What views!  What fun!  What a day!

All Through the Town

When visiting the most populous city in the United States, it can be difficult to know where the begin. In the planning stages, we came across a Living Social deal for the Open Loop hop-on, hop-off bus and decided it would be the perfect place to start.  It would give the kids an overview of the city and allow those of us who had visited before to see things from a whole new perspective.

We boarded a bus just a block from our hotel to experience the Uptown portion of the tour.  The top level of the bus gave us a unique view of the city.  We could touch tops of commercial trucks one minute and duck under tree branches the next.  New York City is dirty, smelly, noisy and oh so cool!

Caleb's keen ears immediately started registering the never-ending honks and sirens of New York City's streets.  He started a running tally.

No one really obeys this sign:

We rode through Times Square...

...past Grand Central Station...

...and the United Nations and Empire State Building.

Just a little mother-son bonding

Our route took us past the Metropolitan Museum of Art and around Central Park.

When we drove by the Plaza Hotel, Caleb recited some lines from Home Alone 2.

We hopped off at Columbus Circle and walked a few blocks to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts...

...which is right across the street from this:

It's the most unique temple I've ever seen.  There are no lush temple grounds and Moroni almost blends into the skyline around him.

This clown car is my forever family. (Jon was taking the picture.)

We then took our circus on our first of many subway rides.  We took the train to Bryant Park where we boarded a bus for the Downtown loop of the tour.

Lys made sure Clara stayed nice and cool.

We got off at Chelsea Market for lunch.

I'd read that Friedman's Lunch, inside Chelsea Market, was one of the best Gluten-free spots in NYC.

Alyssa would agree.  She'd never tasted a gluten-free sandwich quite that good!

Chicken salad on GF bread.  She passed on the tomatoes and I ate her giant pickle.  Lys raved about that meal for days.  Erin raved about the tacos she'd had at a different Chelsea Market restaurant. Natalie and Jon went to Starbucks.  Bor-ing!

After all that eating, we walked a bit of the High Line, an uber cool linear park that has taken the place of abandoned elevated train tracks.  My pictures didn't quite capture the character of the park, so I borrowed a couple from the internet.

The picture below shows the kids standing at the window shown in the picture above.

Each section of the 1.45 mile-long park has unique features.  When we came to the water feature, with water flowing over half of the walkway, we just had to remove our shoes and run our toes through it.

Not all of us did:

When the bus came by again, we hopped on to finish the tour.  I admit to falling asleep for just a minute or two.  Caleb was wide awake, counting horns.  As he got closer and closer to 100, the excitement grew with every honk.  Would he reach that mark by the time the tour ended?  Oh yeah, he did.  And we celebrated:

The bus had taken us through a fair amount of the city and we had very much enjoyed the view.

Dinner reservations in Little Italy were next on the itinerary.

Benito One was New York tiny.  I lie not, we took up half--literally half--of the restaurant.  The food was New York delicious!  Jon liked mine better than his, but I thought they were both divine.  Alyssa was in gluten-free pasta heaven!

And less than a block away was a gluten-free crepe vendor.  What?  Are you kidding me?  Heaven, I tell you.  This girl was giddy!  Could New York be any more awesome?

The other kids opted for authentic Italian gelato from Ferrara.

Dessert-eating cousins in Little Italy, NYC

We'd learned earlier in the day that a night tour was also included with our bus passes.  It was going to be tight, but we decided to try and make it.  A subway mishap, however, kept us from catching the bus for that tour.  

There's a method to subway ticket swiping.  It's swipe, pause and go!  If you try to swipe and go at the same time, you'll be denied access.  And if you fail to swipe correctly two times in a row, then your subway pass becomes useless for the moment.  Poor Grandpa was the first to learn this lesson the hard way.  And he was the last of the clown car to come through the gate.  The scene grew tense for a few moments while Spencer and I tried to talk him through the process of buying a new ticket from the other side of fence.  Meanwhile, down on the platform, Jon--ever the jokester who's a pro at lightening the mood--put his hat on the ground and tried to convince the rest of the family to try their luck at subway performing.  He couldn't get anyone to agree to singing and/or dancing, however. Ultimately, after several stressful minutes, a thoughtful stranger gave Grandpa a card he no longer needed and we were again on our way.

On our way back to the hotel, we paused in Times Square to marvel at the sights and take a family selfie.

We may have made a scene or two, but this clown car was having a ball!