Sunday, April 30, 2017

NYC On My Mind April 2017 Day 7 - Bowne & Co Stationers, Walking the Brooklyn Bridge, The Brooklyn Promenade & Goodbye

I had a plan for the last day.  It was the sunniest, hottest, most fabulous weather which was great, but I had been saving one indoor attraction for this day - The American Museum of Natural History. I missed visiting this museum last time, so it was high on my list. They had a live butterfly exhibit I particularly wanted to see, but I held off as they opened a new jelly fish exhibit on Monday. I figured I'd show up around 10-10:30 a.m. today, spend a few hours there and then head out into the sunshine for the rest of the day.  Wrong!

Repeat after me again - I will not book a trip to NYC during Easter, Passover and Spring Break!  I walked into the lobby and found myself in a sea of hundreds and hundreds of parents and kids. The noise level was deafening.  The day was too beautiful and I'm just not a crowd person, so I turned around and headed outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. My visit to this wonderful attraction will have to wait until my next visit.

Brooklyn called me today.  I wasn't up for another tour, so decided to visit the Brooklyn Promenade for it's fabulous view of the Manhattan skyline (see my panorama above). There were three options open to getting there. #1 - take the subway to the closest Brooklyn station. #2 - take the subway to the station closest to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge and walk over it and then down to the promenade. #3 - take the East River Ferry across from Wall Street or 34th.  As the day was so beautiful, I decided to take option #2 and walk over the Bridge even though I'd done it before. What an experience.

First I really didn't figure out the subway route very well.  I ended up a fair distance and a little confused. No worries - it's all an adventure.  I stumbled across the South Street Seaport District. The museum was closed that day, so just explored a bit and continued on my way. The one shop I did go into was charming - Bowne & Co Stationers.  They actually print some of the posters and more that that sell in their shop right on site.  I may come back and explore this area more fully on my next visit.

After twisting back and forth through the side streets, referring often to my map and asking a few strangers, I finally arrived at the entry point for the Brooklyn Bridge. The walkway goes down a raised centre above the car lanes, so it is really noisy. It is a divided path with bikes supposedly going on one side and walkers on the other. BUT, it was high tourist time and the walking half was too small to accommodate all the walkers going both directions and stopping to shoot views and selfies. The bike riders were frustrated, but that didn't slow them down. I was surprised there were no collisions.

Left - I photographed this building many times over the week, but this pic is my favourite.
Centre - stepped out of the subway on a crowded street and loved this angle of the Empire State Building
Right - you can seen the Brooklyn Promenade awaiting as you cross the Brooklyn Bridge

At each end of the bridge the first 20 to 30 feet have people selling prints, water and more. Most offer pretty much the same selection of stuff.  I just ignore them, although I did buy a bottle of water.  Then about 2/3 of the way across the bridge I saw an older man with some artwork out. He did not speak any English which made it a challenge but we persevered.

He had his original drawings hanging and then a box full of matted, signed prints that were selling for the same price as all the other tourist ones.  Oh my! As I was looking through the prints, he would point to his name and then to the area of the city where he drew that image.  I selected three and tried to pay him a little extra. He was flattered. Grinning broadly, he gave me a fourth to take with me. I love these moments in NYC, but they only happen if you keep your eyes open and again, SLOW DOWN!

Note - have of this walkway was for bicycles. As you can see, when crowded the walkers ignore this.

Once I left the bridge, I winded my way through the side streets. I knew roughly where I was going and while I didn't take the most direct route, I arrived. The Brooklyn Promenade is another very touristy area as it has truly the best view of the Manhattan skyline.  It's big enough though to not feel too crowded. There were benches all along to rest on and tables/chairs set out for anyone wanting to rest while enjoying a bite.

The one negative was because of the large number of people there, every restaurant, ice cream parlor, etc., was full with a long line to get in. I would have enjoyed relaxing there and enjoying a bit and perhaps a beer, or snagging an ice cream to enjoy while I lounged on a bench.  However, I'm glad I went, especially on that day.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the view was impressive.

The food places were swamped but the Promenade was fairly empty

With the help of a local, I quickly located the Brooklyn subway station closest to the Promenade. Thanks to this wonderful businessman for pointing me in the right direction as I had discovered only that morning that the wonderful fold-up subway/street map I used every day only covered Manhattan. There was no Brooklyn section. I need to correct for future visits.

My journey back to my Airbnb was winding. I jumped off DT and revisited a few places I had seen before.  I walked the streets enjoying the sunshine and just soaking up the unique flavour that is NYC. It was a time to say goodbye again and I already knew that another trip was in store.  This is an amazing city with so much to offer.  Each time I discover something new.

Back home, I connected with Gabriella and found out that dinner just wouldn't work. Fortunately I had some Hummus leftover and a couple beers.  Packing, uploading the last of the pictures and organizing my shared shuttle to JFK for the next morning filled my evening. I headed to bed early ready to start the long journey home in the morning.


Friday, April 28, 2017

NYC On My Mind April 2017 Day 6 - Gabriella Contestable, Central Park, Cooper Hewitt & Chelsea Market

Two days left to go and they were going to be glorious. The wind was gone, the weather outside was sunny and warm.  And I had the privilege of finally meeting a social media friend in person after two years.

When I launched my first book - Life Outside the Box: The Extraordinary Journeys of 10 Unique Individuals - in February 2015, I decided to book a virtual book tour through iRead Book Tours.  Gabriella Contestable was one of the wonderful reviewers who gave my book a thumbs up and then reached out to connect. She is also a published author with one fiction book to her credit and a new non-fiction book coming out this year. She also is the president of Su Misura which organizes “tailor-made” sensory travel journeys for women celebrating Italian fashion and artisanship in Florence.

Magic happened this trip as the Airbnb I booked was only 2-1/2 blocks from her home and on the exact same street.  She popped by and picked me up this morning and we headed off first for a leisurely walk through Central Park.  I had never actually seen the small lake there and the trees lining some of our path were in blossom.  Beautiful. Although the pic I snapped makes the park look empty, there were walkers, joggers, tourists and artists all scattered around us. One handsome jogger agreed to snap our picture with the lake and skyline in the background.

There was a destination - the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.  First stop on arrival was the Tarallucci E Vino Cafe operated by Italian restaurant and caterer Tarallucci e Vino.  Gabriella had an espresso and a pastry.  I decided on a mushroom quiche with salad and a large latte. Other than when I met Amber, I've been living on instant coffee in the mornings. Having a well-made, quality latte was a real treat. There were a few places to sit indoors but it was just too beautiful outside. We snagged a table out in the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden.

The stroll through Central Park and conversation over food gave us all the time we needed to catch up. It was time to head in and start exploring the exhibits.  It was then that another moment of magic happened.  A handsome and extremely friendly young man behind the entrance desk - Eric R. DySart - looked up and broke out in a huge smile. He loved my new hairstyle - asymmetrical with a black rectangle feature on the long side.  He asked if I ran a museum or...........

At my age, moments like this come rarely and I was truly touched. I dragged him out from behind the desk to get a picture together. Alas it is out of focus, but I have included it anyway as it is a fond memory. I have been approaching, talking to and interviewing people for over a decade. A moment like this stands out as rare. To the Cooper Hewitt, this positive and generous spirit is a true asset to your organization. Use him wisely.

One very cool thing at the Cooper Hewitt is guests are offered a special flat-end Pen at the admissions desk. This is used to keep track of any item that catches your eye. You just press it to an X next to the description and it stores the item in a passworded file specifically for you.  You can view pictures and descriptions of everything you scanned on your mobile device or at home on your computer just by going to the website and putting in your password.  Brilliant!

The first exhibit we explored was one called The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920's. This is a multi-media experience of more than 400 examples of interior design, industrial design, decorative art, jewelry, fashion, and architecture, as well as related music and film. Giving full expression to the decade’s diversity and dynamism, The Jazz Age defines the American spirit of the period.

Related to The Jazz Age was a second exhibit we explored called Jeweled Splendors of the Art Deco Era. The Carnegie Mansion’s Teak Room was the setting for this showcase of more than 100 extraordinary examples of luxury cigarette and vanity cases, compacts, clocks, and other objects of the era are now on view in the . The collection included work from the premier jewelry houses of Europe and America—among them Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Lacloche Frères, Boucheron, and Bulgari—dating from 1910 to 1938.

The World of Radio exhibit came next. A Depression-era, monumental batik mural designed by Arthur Gordan Smith titled The World of Radio provided the inspiration for this exhibition of iconic radios, radio design drawings, and photographs from the early twentieth century through the present day. Designed by  Radios designed by pioneering industrial designers such as Donald Deskey, Dieter Rams, and Henry Dreyfuss are installed alongside drawings by hand of prototypes for radio consoles and cabinets designed to enhance a modern home

Our final stop was an exhibit called Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse which offered the work of three designers who put sustainability at the heart of the design process: Luisa Cevese, founder of Riedzioni in Milan; Christina Kim, founder of dosa, inc., in Los Angeles; and Reiko Sudo, managing director at NUNO in Tokyo. Through more than forty works, this exhibition explores key facets of sustainability, such as the efficient use of materials and resources, the preservation of local craft traditions and the integration of new technologies in the recycling process.

Our senses now overloaded, it was time for Gabriella and I to enjoy a leisurely stroll back home while we talked more about what we saw and life in general. In a moment of inspiration, I snagged a second large latte to enjoy as tomorrow it would be back to instant. Although we tentatively planned to have supper together the next night (my last in town), things just didn't come together for it to happen.

Back at the Airbnb, I changed to a cooler sundress as it really was getting hot outside and headed off to explore a destination suggested by a my friend Kean Tan - Chelsea Market. The market is a food hall, shopping mall, office building and television production facility. It is a block long and a block wide and just a short walk from the Hudson River in the area of Manhattan known as the Meatpacking District.

I am still yearning for this bolero.
The belt is interesting too, but I
don't have much of a waist. :)
In my walk through, food and food related items seemed to be the main focus of most outlets with more than thirty-five vendors purveying everything from soup to nuts, wine to coffee and cheese to cheesecake. It has been open for 15 years and attracts 6 million visitors annually.

I decided to stroll the full length of the market - a long hall with occasional side shoots - to see what kind of food I wanted in particular and what was for sale in terms of merchandise.  You couldn't help but get hungry just looking at all the unique choices.

At the very very far end, the hall ended in a large room of vendors called Artists and Fleas.  I did a general walk through and saw many items of interest, but one in particular caught my eye. A vendor right at the entrance had this zipper dominated bolero and unique belt on display. The bolero made my craving meter fly off the register - well at least until I asked the price. It cost $250 USD.  The craftsmanship of this amazing work of art meant the asking price was well justified, but regardless, it was sadly outside my budget or I would have snagged it in an instant.  I'm still dreaming about it though. You can get more information on Artists & Fleas HERE!

While there were a lot of really crazy, interesting food establishments, I decided I was hungry again for pizza, something I don't often indulge in at home.  Of those offered, Filaga seemed to have the most luscious looking selection. I ate my large slice perched on a bar stool at their counter, savouring every mouthful.  Filaga also offers Crocchette Di Patate , Zeppole, Cannoli Siciliani, Calzone Al Pollo and Arancine (tried it, but not as good as the pizza), 

As it was only late afternoon, I decided to pick up something to take with me for later. and settled on hummus from Dizengoff, Named for one of Tel Aviv’s most iconic streets, Dizengoff NYC is an authentic, Israeli-style hummus stall (hummusiya) like the ones found around every corner in Israel. They serve freshly-made hummus (heavy on the tehina) – topped with rotating seasonal garnishes like hot spiced lamb with pine nuts or avocado with harissa – accompanied by fresh, hearth-baked pita, chopped salad, and Israeli pickles. While I went with the classic, the menu was so intriguing, I've decided to include it (minus the beverages) here. 

It was definitely time to start heading home, but I decided to not take the closest subway. Instead I walked the streets for about another 8 long blocks enjoying the sun, the architecture and the buzz of the city that surrounded me. I only had one more day to go and wanted to enjoy the last of my time here as fully as possible.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

NYC On My Mind April 2017 Day 5 - Amber Nifong, East Village, Timbuktu, Kinky Boots & a Wine Sippy Cup!

As predicted, this Sunday was the first warm day, something that would continue for the few days. It wasn't really hot yet, but my jacket soon became unnecessary.  I had a real treat lined up today.  Amber Nifong, an amazingly talented fashion designer whose grad show totally blew me away, reached out to have a catch-up brunch. As I am no longer young, it took me by surprise. What an honour. (Check out my show review HERE!)

My first delight of the day was again being serenaded on the train, this time by the duet of Charles and John singing rousing gospel numbers. The picture is blurry because they never stopped moving.  My toes were tapping and a grin spread across my face.

Amber chose a restaurant in East Village, an area I wasn't all that familiar with which is always fun. I made a good choice and a bad choice in terms of getting there. The good choice was to leave fairly early so I would have time to figure out where I was going.

The bad choice? I totally screwed up my trip planning.  Wrong subway, wrong stop, misjudged how far it was on foot from one point to another. Fortunately I love walking new areas and my fold-up subway map includes a more detailed tiny street map.  I ended up arriving on time and despite the long walking route, enjoyed exploring what the area offered along the way. I also got in some great exercise.

Charles & John singing, unique architecture, what look like a metal pig BBQ outside a restaurant that didn't serve BBQ,
a huge cathedral that magically appeared as I crossed a street, and a Vespa parked on the sidewalk with custom paint job.

Amber and I met at the Copper Still at 151 2nd Ave. We were the first people in the doors at as they opened which meant great service and our food came quickly.  They have a lovely and varied weekend brunch menu.  Not a morning person, I went with the standard Eggs Anyway with home fries (a favourite of mine), brioche toast and salad. Amber chose the Eggs Norwegian, a combination of poached eggs, salmon & house made hollandaise that was also served with home fries & salad. We started with a mimosa each and ended with several cups of strong coffee.

It was fascinating to hear how her career was progressing and what it was like to work in the garment district. This is one seriously talented lady, but paid jobs were still hard to come by, unpaid internships the norm, rents high, salaries low and you often worked for companies that had very different aesthetics from your own.  If you think working in the fashion world is glamorous, just spend some time with a designer just starting out. You really do need passion, drive and focus to carry you.

A highlight of our time together was to get a look at the illustrations in her portfolio - I am a HUGE fan of illustration - and the new collection she is just beginning to move forward on. As was her last, it is unique, outside the box and very conception. I literally drooled over her concepts and cannot wait to see this collection come to life. Hoping I can be front row and centre at it's unveiling.

After we finally ran out of steam, Amber was nice enough to offer to walk me to the closest subway station so I could get on the right train this time.  We did a double take and paused on the way when we passed a unique shop called Timbuktu. The window display drew us in. Caftans, handbags, incredible jewellery and more filled this shop. The largest part was Moroccan, but there were other countries represented. I walked out with a caftan because I fell in love with it's construction. Next time I'm in town I'm coming here to snag some jewellery.

This day was good to start with but it only went uphill from here. Last time I visited NYC I didn't have the budget to see a Broadway play.  I missed Kinky Boots when it went through Vancouver, so decided I was going to make it happen this time. Fortunately where it has been running five years and offers matinees, I could snag a great seat about row seven dead centre for the 3 p.m. show that was within my budget.

The Al Hirschfeld Theatre on West 45th Street off Time Square was literally two blocks from my subway stop.  I picked up my ticket at will call and got into the very short line-up.  A lovely family helped me out with the daughter snapping my pic with their dad (see top photo), then the doors opened!  Inside and to my left was the bar with two smiling handsome bartenders awaiting my order. This is when the fun truly started.

I asked if I bought a glass of wine if could I take it into the theatre as I didn't want to have to stand in the lobby and slug it down. They both smiled wide and introduced me to the wine sippy cup. WHAT? I was instantly curious. This plastic glass looks like a kid's sippy cup, but has a twist top that closes off the drinking and air holes to prevent spills. You twist to top open to drink, but here's the kicker. They give you a straw that fits perfectly into the drinking hole to sip through.  I could not stop laughing. 

I snapped a picture of them, bought a wine in a sippy cup and headed into the theatre. True to form, I started talking to those around me and showed everyone my sippy cup while laughing. Soon a stream of patrons were headed out to get their very own sippy cup.  I carried mine home in my purse to make sure it didn't get broken and every time I look at it I smile. 

What a privilege to be at this performance. As it was my first Broadway play, I have nothing to compare it to, but it was spectacular. The first thing I noticed was that from the minute the play started, the audience began enthusiastically and audibly showing the actors their appreciation. The energy was palpable.

So many things have to come together for a play to be superb - casting not just great actors, but the right one for each part; a strong script; great music; wonderful set; fabulous costuming; great directing; great producing; spectacular lighting; an enthusiastic audience and last but not least, the actors need to bring their A game to their performance. This can't be easy day after day, show after show. 

Every single element came together this day and I am filled with gratitude to have been there to be immersed in it. When all of us in the audience as one leapt to our feets to give a standing ovation, the actors smiled broadly. When ten minutes later we were still clapping and cheering, a few actors looked at each other and shared a high five. Brilliant and wonderful. 

Every single person on that stage brought their A game so I hesitate to single out anyone, but have chosen three that I do want to mention. Killian Donnelly played the part of Charlie Price so well, we truly believed he was just a nerdy guy. Then he stepped in front of the set to belt out a solo and we all went crazy - amazing!  One seriously talented actor.  

Then there was Taylor Louderman who played the role of Lauren - a young shoe factory worker who developed a crush on Charlie.  Her singing was superb, but it was her comedic timing and use of her body while singing these numbers that was truly brilliant.  The poses she hit and way she used her voice brought out every possible nuance and she had us all belly laughing.

Lastly, I want to mention J. Harrison Ghee who performed the title role of Lola to perfection. He brought me to laughter, tears and everything in between. Fabulous voice and truly wonderful interpretation of this important role.  While there were several times his singing left me in awe, it was his performance of Not My Father's Son that touched my soul. I was not able to fulfill the role my parents had hoped for me.  I can still recall how affected I was at the time a month later. Well done!

Thanks to all the cast and crew, to absolutely everyone who brought this moment together for me to enjoy. It's one I will never forget.

Day 5 could not have been better. I loved it from start to finish. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

NYC On My Mind April 2017 Day 4 - Alice's Garden, High Line Park,Meatpacking District, Joe's Pizza, Ellis Island & Ground Zero

Slow down. There are magical
moments to be found everywhere!
The sun, the sun!  Finally the sun appeared. All was not perfect though. That biting wind was still there.  I managed to get my layers right though, as well as donning that all important neck scarf.  That scarf plus the hood on my jacket made all the difference. I was comfortable.

Today I had two areas I wanted to cover.  The first was to walk the High Line.  Then in the afternoon I had booked a 1 p.m. boat to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In general I try to avoid the super touristy areas as they are usually really crowded and the waits can eat up most of a day. I decided to fit this one in as I am intrigued by history. Ellis Island in particular was an area I wanted to explore.

Off I headed to enjoy my first adventure - walking the High Line. I was again not feeling 100%. No worries, Tony was waiting for me on the subway. On the weekends, singers jump on and off the trains singing acapella and holding tip bags. My toes were soon tapping and a smile arose. Tony really didn't want to pause for a photo, but as I wouldn't tip him if he didn't. He was a good sport and tried his best to smile.

As I strolled on a leisurely pace from the subway stop to the park's northern entrance, I was passed by crowds of those hurrying to GET THERE! Again, slow down and look around your. The mix of architecture alone is amazing.  And everyone else walked right by Alice's Garden (a tiny community garden tucked into the concrete landscape) without even seeing it. In a quick search I found there are 30 secret gardens scattered about Manhattan - more HERE.

Most of these are self explanatory, so just 2 comments.  In the 2nd from the left, I heard the cabaret music and
saw the Vegas show girl head pieces from half a block away, I wondered how they were surviving the wind in show girl
costumes. Nope - in jackets and long pants, just the music and headpieces to attract the crowd.
In the far right image, I saw this building from several angels and never did figure out what the structure was on top of it.

The High Line was originally an elevated train track running from 34th St. to St. John's Park Terminal at Spring St. After the last train ran in the 1980's, the battle began on whether to demolish the track with the owners were pitted against Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident, activist, and railroad enthusiast.

In 1999, Friends of the High Line was founded by to advocate for the High Line's preservation and reuse as public open space. In 2002, the planning began. In 2004, a design team was selected - James Corner Field Operations (a landscape architecture firm), Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf, planting designer. In 2005 the city accepted ownership and April 2006 was the groundbreaking ceremony. Although the city has ownership, the Friends of the High Line raise 98% of the parks annual budget.

There was a wide range of architecture from old to new.

I asked a woman to snap my image and we connected. She was in town for her daughter's 25th birthday and was out for a morning walk. We walked, talked and checked out the scenery together. You are never alone in NYC unless you want to be.

During the right season this is very lush with tall grasses and trees full of leaves.
Despite being a bit off season, you could find small examples of the flowers starting to open.

The walkway winds along the water and through tall buildings.  Grasses, trees and flower gardens line the sidewalks, all planted and watered using green techniques.  There are benches at regular intervals so you can relax and enjoy the view as well as several on off points along the route.  I started at the north end and walked all the way to the south end which landed me right in The Meatpacking District. While most of the flowers were not yet blooming, I found small offerings tucked in here and there.

Unique art, fabulous skyline and yes, there is even a driving range here!

Next came a stroll through the Meatpacking District. This is one I will have to do a walking tour of next time. There were artists lining one of the sidewalks displaying their wares and while the area looked a bit rundown and old, there were surprises. I turned one corner and stumbled across a small store featuring crystal encrusted shoes by Christian Louboutin. Turn another corner and it's a unique Tea Shop. A truly interesting mix. As I slowly headed east toward Greenwich, I snapped pics along the way. One thing to watch for is open covers that let shopkeepers access their basement storage. Most put an orange cone up - but as you're looking around it can get missed.

Lunch today was a pizza.  My Greenwich tour guide had recommended three pizza places, but only one sold by the slice - Joe's.  I had to take a picture of the mob.  It was a tiny place with just a few bar stools along the window.  I was in a line of I would guess 15 people crammed into a very small space. There was a limited selection of about six pizzas. You ordered, paid and were handed your slice on a paper plate. There was a jar of grated cheese and one of crushed red pepper to sprinkle on it. Most of us didn't fold the pizza to eat it, we folded the plate with the pizza in it and then walked out napkins in hands munching. It was delicious.

Repeat after me - if I visit NYC I promise to not come when Easter, Passover and Spring Break are all running at the same time.  My next destination was Battery Park to pick up the ticket for my 1 p.m. boat to  the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I had booked the audio tour at each.

Left - check out the super tiny (by comparison) older building between the 2 towers!
Centre - 2 lines at least 6 people wide each merging at the security tent - CRAZY!
Right - one of the statues at Battery Park

I picked up my ticket and then joined a line six people wide that snaked around the park. Next to it was another "Pass" line that was also six people wide and snaked around the park. Both converged at a security tent off in the distance.  Turns out a 1 p.m. ticket doesn't mean you're on a 1 p.m. boat. It's to get the the security line and go through an airport style security line-up. If you're claustrophobic like me - this is a challenge.  Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

Took a seat with a great view on top of the boat and
then as soon as it started moving everyone stood
and rushed to the railing.  Did the arms straight over
my head and guess trick and got this great snap of
the view and the crazy mayhem.
By the time I actually got on a boat I knew there was probably no way I could do the audio tour on both islands.  So I got off at the Statue of Liberty and got right back in line for the boat to Ellis Island (yes this is TWO boat line-ups and rides).  Once there I picked up my audio tour kit. The clerk's instructions were a little off from the audio's instructions so I had a bit of trouble getting started, but soon I was lost in the intriguing history of the place.  It came alive for me.  I think this is something you need to see and hear, so I'm just going to share some images at the bottom to entice you.

Note - if you are visiting NYC at low tourist times, the 1 p.m. might let you do both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as it states on their website. But based on what I saw today, I would take the earliest boat available regardless. You won't have to rush no matter what the crowds. And take the audio tour at each. It makes a huge difference. And if you want to go up the Statue of Liberty elevator, you have to book many weeks in advance.

After returning, I walked by Ground Zero, but was way too tired to deal with the crowds there, so really can't comment on what is available. The historic site has tours and there was a building to go in, but again it had a LONG line and I was done with crowds.  I headed back to Cafe 53 to pick up my evening meal and then back to the Airbnb to upload my pics and relive the day.

Another fabulous day and I still had three more days of exploring to go.  Amazing! By the end of the day the wind was dying the the prediction was for the next two days to be sunny and warm. I couldn't wait.

Just a few images from Ellis Island - 

Wanted to note those letters on the chart in the middle picture are notation they would
mark on the back of your coat if they felt you might be sick or mentally deficient. It
would let the next inspector know where to send you. 

Those bunks in the holding area are tight together. Each bed sleeps 2, they are stacked 3 high and there are 4 rows.

Monday, April 24, 2017

NYC On My Mind April 2017 Day 3 - Free Tours by Foot, Greenwich Village, Gay Rebellion, Cafe Wha & More

Today the weather was listed as improving. That was certainly the case. The rain was no longer pouring down. It was still cloudy and gray though, with a biting wind. No worries, I was game. It's all about layering and the right jacket.

Right before I headed to NYC I finally found a lined, rain resistant shell in black with hood. It was square cut so that layers would fit easily under it and went down to my mid thigh. It was a blessing.

I did make one mistake though.  I was shy one layer under the jacket. The temperature was easy to find out, but it was the bite of the wind - wind chill - that I forgot to consider. And I left my neck scarf on the bed. So this day I got COLD!

Top of my list today was a walking tour of Greenwich Village offered by Free Tours by Foot.  It's billed as two hours, but I think ours lasted a little longer.  What I love about these walking tours is that the area is no longer just an interesting set of buildings, streets and shops. As you hear the history of the area it comes alive. I also find the guides at this tour company are excellent as their payment comes as tips at the end of the tour. Give a great tour - get great tips.  The motivation for them is high.

Water towers are my favourite NYC topic. I learned about them on a Hop On Hop Off
bus on my last trip. Going to hold onto this secret until my final post!
I thought I had planned out my subway route pretty well, but made one mistake. There was a transfer I should have taken to another line that dropped off right beside the starting location.  I love to walk so figured I'd just stay on my normal train and stroll through the neighborhood to the starting point. Unfortunately, this is the one part of Manhattan that isn't laid out in numbered grids. The roads twist and turn, change names and head off in new directions at odd angles  Luckily I left early (something I strongly suggest any time you're on transit) as I had to stop often, refer to my small street map and ask at least three locals before I found my way to the right spot with only ten minutes to spare.

Left - this gated area would have been low income housing. Times have changed. It's now exclusive housing.
Center top - a 4-stack of chimneys coming out of of the roof in this complex
Centre Bottom - Jefferson Market Public Library which historically was a famous courthouse.
Right - The building the Friends cast supposedly lived in. Only used for outside shots.
I think I live under a lucky star as the tour guide who arrived was brilliant. I could not have asked for better. Renee Rewiski had both the perfect local accent as well as what I like to call the NYC sense of humour.  She charmed me from the moment she arrived. Then the tour began and I was seriously impressed. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of the area's history, geography, immigration, development, buildings of special interest, TV and Film sites, real estate prices and more. Not once did she refer to notes - it just poured out.  I came away full of appreciation for the area and actually came back another day to re-walk parts of it and review what I had learned.

I asked for Renee for her  MAY schedule at it is as follows -
--Mon and Fri 9:45 a.m. Lower Manhattan and 2 p.m.Greenwich Village
--Sat. 9:45 a.m. Greenwich Village and 2 p.m. SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown.

75-1/2 Bedford - narrowest house in NYC

Pictures were limited today as I didn't realize my camera battery was low. It ran out early in our tour so I switched to a few cell phone pics and shot a few more the day I came back to walk the route again. A few others were snagged from Google Images. There were so many highlights it's hard to remember them all.  I've just chosen a few from the large smorgasbord of information shared by Renee. You really need to take her tour to hear it all.

--Greenwich is EXPENSIVE.  Walking the small side streets, I found them interesting, BUT not luxurious.  The people walking the streets seem pretty normal and I didn't notice tons of expensive cars or clothing. A few of the homes had paint peeling on the window frames. That must be part of the expected ambiance as Renee shared what residence after residence had last sold for and it was mind boggling.  This is one of the few areas that still have single family homes and they are going for record prices.

--Narrowest house in NYC is at 75 1/2 Bedford Street.  It's only 9-1/2 feet wide and 30 feet deep. It was originally an alley, but as prices soared in Greenwich, this house was built in the narrow open space. The last time it sold, it went for $3.25 million, but I found a new listing after that for $4.3 million. Don't know if it sold for that price or not  You can read more HERE.

--Early immigrants created more
space by using landfill to build up the area. You can see the original shape of Manhattan in the image below. The yellow outline shows the area created through landfill. The number I remember was something like 30% of Manhattan is built on landfill, but I would need to verify that number as I heard so many facts on this tour it's hard to remember them all exactly.

Left - original and landfill lines, Centre - stairway up to residence and down to servant's entrance
Right - book scraper at gate to servant's entrance

--Why are the houses built above the height of the road with stairs up as well as a gate leading to a second entrance underneath the stairs? There was so little room, this is how the rich dealt with creating a servants' entrance.  The servants entered the house through the lower door. At the gate down is an arched piece of metal to scrape your boots clean. As horses were the main form of transportation at the time, the manure piled high along the streets and clung to shoes. In summer it dried out and became dusty, adding to the air pollution.

--C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries is one of the oldest pharmacies in the North America.  It was founded in 1838.  I love that they didn't change the name to pharmacy or drugstore and that they kept some of the vintage flavour of the building inside the store.

--Located on Christopher Street, the Stonewall Inn has a very long history. The most important event is that it was the site of the 1969 Gay Riots, aka the Gay Rebellion or the Stonewall Riots. A year after, the very first pride parade was held, but it was initially called Christopher Street Day and it is still called that in some parts of the world.

"The Mafia-run bar had a colorful reputation and drew patrons across the Gay community, including Drag Queens, effeminate young men, and homeless youths. Members of the Gay and lesbian community had made several attempts at achieving civil rights after the Black Community had done so in 1965. But, when they organized and demonstrated, leaders of the community whose names got into the newspapers were often fired from their jobs, even kicked out of their apartments. Homosexuals had no Civil Rights under the law. The Stonewall Inn was a place in which they could socialize and dance as themselves. The fuse that incited the events was a raid by federal and New York City agents looking to close down the bar"

--Macdougal StreetCafe Wha and Minetta Tavern.  From the moment we entered Macdougal Street I was charmed. It had the look of 1960's San Francisco with Hookah shops, tiny places that were just doors at the bottom of stairs like the Rabbit Club (black door in the pics below), unique eating places, crazy signs and of course Cafe Wha!  Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor all started out here. In fact the side door is painted in honour of Hendrix. Another - Minetta Tavern - looked pretty rundown from the outside, but the website shows a wonderful interior, so who knows. It opened in 1937 and was named after the Minetta Brook, which ran southwest from 23rd Street to the Hudson River. It was the place to hangout for unknown artists of the time such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Eugene O'Neill, E. E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas, and Joe Gould, as well as by various writers, poets, and pugilists.

--Hess Triangle! When the city moved to appropriate some land, one man fought back. The city won, but his heirs discovered the city's survey missed a tiny corner of the plot - about 50 square inches. They refused to give it to the city.  This small triangle set in the concrete sidewalk right in front of the entrance to a corner store was claimed. They actually put in this plaque and a fence around it. The fence is now gone but the square is still there.

Left - Hess 50 inch square, Centre - Street with 2 names, Right - Theatre tucked on a back street.
--Some streets in NYC actually have two names and two sign posts. The street signs also come in three colours. I'm hoping I have this right. Green ones are the regular signs. Brown indicates a historic area. Black is a sign you're in one of the oldest historic areas (I did not see any of these). In our walk we only saw brown and green. Again, I need to double check to make sure I have the colours right.

--Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off Off Broadway - The definitions of what these terms mean have changed in recent years as all theatres in Manhattan want to be able to say they offer Broadway plays. It is now defined by the seating of the theatre.  Broadway means they have 500 or more seats. Off Broadway means the have over 100 seats. Off Off Broadway means they have 100 or less seats.

From Google Images
-Where are the bodies buried? We ended our tour at Washington Square Park under the arch.  What is not mentioned in most of the history articles I looked at is that was once was a graveyard. Renee of course shared this juicy tidbit with us. I wonder how many hanging out in the park know?

"It remained farmland until April 1797, when the Common Council of New York purchased the fields to the east of the Minetta (which were not yet within city limits) for a new potter's field, or public burial ground. It was used mainly for burying unknown or indigent people when they died. But when New York went through yellow fever epidemics in the early 19th century, most of those who died from yellow fever were also buried here, safely away from town, as a hygienic measure... the cemetery was closed in 1825. To this day, the remains of more than 20,000 bodies rest under Washington Square. Excavations have found tombstones under the park dating as far back as 1799."

This is only a very small offering from what was an information packed walk covering Greenwich Village from every angle you could wish for. It's hard to remember all the history notes in particular.

When it was over I was chilled to the bone so stopped into the small restaurant that was our starting point - The Waverly Restaurant - for a hot sandwich and bowl of soup. This is a typical old cafe with 5-6 page menu offering a bit of everything and filled with locals. I had hoped that meant great food, but alas it was very average. However it was at the right place at the right time and I left warmed just a bit.

The long hours in the wind chilled me completely, so I headed back to my Airbnb and jumped into a tub full of water as hot as I could make it.  E-reader in hand, I lounged for quite a while.  After, I ended my day ensconced in my PJ's with a good book under a comforter.  I love holidays.