As those of you who have been following this blog have probably picked up, it is no longer active. The existing posts will stay up for reference, but I am no longer adding new content. Thanks for a fun two years! ~Tamara

Friday, December 31, 2010

Central Park and Empire State Building

Yesterday we set out late because we were debating what to do that day: go to Central Park and save Brooklyn for when the snow melts (because we saw on the news that many parts of it haven't been plowed) or vice versa? We settled on Central Park because, even if we waited until the 2nd for the ground to thaw, we'd just be walking on muddy slush instead of ice, whereas Brooklyn should at least resemble roads. We got to Manhattan with relatively little incident ("relatively" because, from our experiences over the past few days, a train or two out of commission is a good day). We stepped off the train at the Museum of Natural History to give ourselves a nice scenic walk through Central Park.

In the preceding sentence, replace "walk" with "slide."

20 inches of snow + a million visitors pouring in for New Years = the largest metropolitan skating rink ever. On the plus side, I thought we'd just be walking through dormant trees, but we stumbled on some nice attractions. Like the "wildlife trail":

(These were the only active species we found; evidence of others were in tracks only)

And Belvedere Castle:

The roof was too slippery to go all the way up, but there were some very pretty views.

Sweetie asked me later if I'd ever seen an obelisk. Yes, I have, but no, I don't have any idea why they fascinate people.

Our primary destination was not the park itself, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But first, we had to cross an item off our travel-food bucket list.

The man at the stand said a traditional New York style hot dog has saurkraut and mustard. I found out that I really like the taste of saurkraut and mustard, but detest the smell and aftertaste. Two jumbo hot dogs and a tiny diet Mountain Dew cost us $10, but it successfully kept us sane until 10:30 at night (more on that later).

In the museum, we were thrown off gaurd when we presented our student IDs and the lady at the counter said, "The recommended is $20; you can pay what you wish" and looked at us expectantly. Apparently it's not really admission, but a donation? We would feel awkward not paying, though, so I gave her the full "recommended" amount. After navigating the maze of displays to find a bathroom, we checked our coats and Sweetie made a beeline for the Greek and Roman rooms.

For his humanities electives, he took history and culture courses on the ancient Mediterranean, so he likes to show off in these places.

We walked through the African and South Pacific areas and made a startling discovery. You know how European art is all about death and destruction? Crucifixions, martyrdoms, mythical figures in the middle of mutilation...or at the very least some rich nobles standing around looking serious. But in the warmer Southern hemisphere, art is happy:

The most I've ever seen in typical "classic" art is a benevolent smirk. I think I would have preferred Mona Lisa smiling for real.

Sweetie and I dodged passed the medieval art because he said the aforementioned cloud of death made him uncomfortable. Then he spent an hour gleefully running around the rooms of Arms and Armory.

He likes guns and pointy things. Just not when they kill people.

On the second floor, we covered China, Japan, India, and the ancient Middle East. At the end of the day we tried to get through Egypt, too, but they shooed us out 15 minutes before closing.

We hadn't eaten since 1, but we were afraid of complications at the Empire State building and headed straight for the subways.

I had purchased tickets online to avoid the lines, but when we arrived we found a queue of people snaking around the building for "security." That line wound into the building, folding over itself in in a large room. After skipping the ticket line, we were herded slowly through another huge room, around the hall, and finally up the elevator. But wait, the elator stopped 6 floors below the observation deck. Another half-hour round of waiting and shuffling, and we finally reached our destination.

The entire time, of course, people in official-looking uniforms were trying to take more of our money. In the first two rooms they walked along pointing out how frustratingly long the wait was, and how we could skip them all if we gave them $45 per person. In the second they hollered about how nothing would make sense up there, and they highly recommend "picking up" a map and audio guide of the sights for $8 each. Oh, and they generously let you take the map home with you afterwards! They didn't install any drinking fountains so you would dehydrate and pay $4 for a bottle of water. And when we reached the top, after a very long day and hours standing in lines, Sweetie and I collapsed against on the floor to rest our swollen feet and aching backs (no proper seats were installed, of course). Another uniform promptly came around ordering, "No Sitting!" to us and the other exhausted tourists. Obviously, it would be best for their business if we were too tired to spend any time up there and came back down to let the next $$$-paying herd in as quickly as possible.

Well too bad for them, because we already sold our first born to get up there and we were not leaving until we sapped out every last bit of our money's worth. We spent at least 45 minutes on the first obervation deck, then went up to the 102nd floor where we were protected from freezing winds by a lovely glass window and didn't have to push anyone off the building to see the lights.

Around 9:30, two hours and a half after getting in the first security line, my body failed me. I had pecked at half a granola bar before leaving the museum, but it could only support my skeletal system for so long. We went back down to the street (a journey which unsurprisingly took only 5 minutes, versus the hour+ one up). On the way they tried to sell us a photo we had to take in front of a green screen while in line, but they couldn't find the picture and said someone else must have bought ours :o Apparently, somewhere out there, some stranger with bad eyesight has a photo of the two of us floating in space in front of the Empire State building slipped into a scrapbook.

We walked back to Penn Station, looking for food along the way, but it was all chains. We passed Macy's on 34th street, and were shocked by how enormous the building was.

And then a lightbulb went off in my head. 34th street. Like the movie with Santa Clause and Natalie Wood before she grew up and developed drug problems. I always thought the "34th street" in the title was where she and her mother lived, or something, not the Macy's itself. Now I know.

We decided to eat in the station before catching a train, and fortunately were presented with a plethora of options. Another travel-food bucket list item: genuine New York pizza.

Actually, it wasn't originally on the list. But when Sweetie took a few bites he said he was putting it on the list and crossing it off.

You can't tell very well from the photo, but each slice of pizza was about 3 slices. Its surface area was larger than my fully splayed hand. Earlier in the trip, I was confused when I overheard a large man on the subway on the phone saying he didn't need dinner because he had a slice of pizza, as if it were an entire meal. If this is the norm, a single slice around here is more than enough for anyone. Another first: trying canned mushrooms on my Sicilian.

Sweetie: "How can you tell they're canned?"
Me: "Because they don't taste like mushrooms."

They really don't. They taste like pickles with the consistency of mushrooms. But they worked on the pizza, and I have no complaints. Except for the mild tummyache I had while heading to the train, which is either from going too long without food, eating too much too quickly, or the outlet using fake mozzerella. I don't think it's the last because I saw the elderly cook shaping the dough from scratch, and they probably wouldn't cheapen it with the processed stuff.

We arrived back at the hotel in the wee hours of the morning, due in part to our lengthy adventures and in part to a traffic jam which resulted in our shuttle driver backing up onto the highway and zipping around an alternate route to get back. We slept late and have diddled around the hotel until mid-afternoon...soon we will head out to test our meddle in a throng of one million people. We have been told that we will not be allowed out of Times Square once we go in, and we probably won't be able to sit, eat or use the bathroom until the floodgates open after midnight. Here's hoping we make it out alive.

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