Life in the big city – Day Six

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Well, I’ve had quite the adventure. Six days, alone, in New York City, my first vacation in several years and my first time in the city since the early 2000s. I visited four museums, attended three operas, and saw just about every major sight in the city. All told, it was a very successful trip with few snags. I love New York!

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I imagine the thought of being alone in New York is terrifying to some. Actually, I didn’t feel afraid once. I had no negative encounters. This isn’t to say they don’t happen, but if you’re careful  where you wander, no one bothers you. I didn’t see any bad apples anywhere I went (and I covered a lot of turf). There are other tourists and regular folk everywhere, and more cops available than you see at home. There are moms and kids walking the street and riding the subway, even at night.

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So did I get to do everything on my list? Almost. In some cases the weather didn’t cooperate, in others, my energy level fizzled. I did a lot of walking. Living here is wonderful exercise, even though public transportation will get you anywhere (except the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For that, you have to wander Central Park for several hours). I didn’t get to the top of Rockefeller Center to see the city at night from above; I didn’t do the night time boat ride around the tip of Manhattan. I didn’t go to the Bronx Zoo.

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Standout moments? Seeing the Statue of Liberty’s face up close. Mimi’s death in La Boheme. The memorials to the dead at the 9/11 Museum. Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, looking out over the city, while listening to Neil Diamond’s poetic reminisces about it in Brooklyn Roads. Seeing my friend Michael again.

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I didn’t even spend much money here. Many of the attractions are free, I ate cheaply, and a few things I paid for in advance. The best deals in New York? The Statue of Liberty (boat ride, pedestal and museum access, and Ellis Island museum for $18) and the subway (I rode it all week, and all over, on a 7-day MetroPass for $30. I didnt take a cab once).

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So now it’s back to my mundane, everyday life. Jarring as it will be after this magical week of sights and sounds and stimulation, it’s a welcome return. The conveniences of home have their own special attraction, and life becomes stale no matter where you live. That’s why we need to get out of our elements periodically, to get a fresh perspective on life. We return a little bit changed, a little more knowing, a little more open to possibilities. Mind you, I haven’t been taking this advice lately. My life is extremely routine, but I broke free for a week and it was wonderful.

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My NYC breakfast spot, and a description of me in the summer?

Life in the big city – Day One

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Having an amazing time in New York. I’ve only been here a day and a half, but it feels like much longer. The pace is of course very different from back home, and I did pack quite a bit into today’s itinerary. All in all I walked from my hotel on 87th Street all the way down to 34th Street, stopping at many attractions along the way. The weather turned really pleasant in the afternoon,  which was a nice change of pace from how overcast it’s been.

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I started the day having breakfast at Hot and Crusty, a cool bagel & sandwich shop that’s open 24 hours in my Upper West Side neighborhood. I then headed over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art via Central Park. It was a little overcast, but the park is fantastic (and huge) with many species of mature ornamental trees and great, picturesque spots to sit (and dogs are allowed!) What an amazing respite for the city folk. Finally made it to the Met after taking so many meandering turns in the park that I ended up on the same (West) side that I originally started on, which was not my intent. After what seemed like an hour-long walk – and well may have been – it turned out the museum was closed for some big gala they’re having this evening (!), so I’ll have to save that for another (rainy) day.

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Instead I took a stroll down 5th Avenue, encountering many attractions along the way including Trump Tower, Rockefeller Center and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. There were many police around Trump Tower, no doubt because of Trump’s presidential aspirations. The building itself is extremely tall and slender, and the lobby reminded me a bit of the casinos back home in terms of decor and extravagance. Rockefeller Center had many gorgeous water fountains and flowers, which made for a pleasant place to rest.

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The Cathedral of course is stunning in its cavernous size and grandeur. There’s even a gift shop inside, which is a little surrealistic for a church, and places to donate money every six feet or so. I also stopped in the Chrysler Building, which has a very 1930s-looking Art Deco exterior and interior, but unfortunately only the lobby was accessible to casual tourists. Checked out the New York Public Library also, with the slight disappointment that the famed main reading room was closed for renovations.

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Then headed over to the cavernous Grand Central Station to admire its renowned beaux-arts decor.  I was rather tired after all this walking by late afternoon, but thank God I brought the right pair of shoes – the same ones that I wear at work, where I also do an enormous amount of walking. So I stopped at Hot and Crusty again for a delicious BLT and headed back to the hotel for a shower. Then I jumped on the “1” train to Lincoln Center at 66th Street, which is only 3 subway stops from my hotel, to see the first of three operas this week at the Met. Being there is an amazing experience for me. It’s one of the best Opera Houses in the world (and the biggest), and as a Met Opera On Demand subscriber I have watched many telecasts from this very House, so I feel like I know it. I listen to opera almost every day on my ride to work, but it’s always special to hear one live, which in tonight’s case was Otello by Verdi. It was a real tragedy. Literally. A Shakespearean tragedy, with lots of drama, cymbal crashes, and a duet that was so sublime that it almost lulled me to sleep – not from boredom, but shear loveliness. The ovations were long and deserved (my phone battery died on me from overuse today, but I’ll have pictures of the gorgeous opera house tomorrow).

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Things have changed a lot since I was here last (probably about 15 years ago). For one thing, just about everybody you encounter on the street or subway or restaurant or anywhere is buried in their smart phone, either listening to music or texting or on Facebook. I must admit I am guilty of this myself – smartphones are amazingly versatile devices that make life so much more enjoyable – and I don’t see them as an evil. It’s just something I’ve noticed. Everybody’s in their own little world, which makes the introvert in me grin knowingly. I kind of wonder what New Yorkers did before smartphones. I don’t think they really talked to each other then either, so it’s probably not a bad trend.

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The city seems safer than the last time I was here in the late 90s, and I’m sure much of this is due to 9/11. There is a much larger police presence, and you seem to get scanned just about everywhere you go, including Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the library, and the opera. Times Square has definitely changed, with much of it now blocked off creating a large pedestrian area which is really quite nice. There are many places to sit and absorb the experience of being at the Crossroads of the World, checking out the amazing billboards and engaging in some of the best people watching anywhere.

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Before all of today’s excitement I got together with an old friend last night whom I hadn’t seen or talked to much in almost 20 years. You never would have known because we picked up right where we left off, just like always seems to happen with true friends. He treated me to a nice quiet meal in a restaurant that was fairly deserted,  and we caught up on twenty years of life (neither of us has changed much – I don’t know if that’s good or bad).

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One thing I notice about New York is that although everything here is huge, such as the buildings and the Avenues, space is so expensive and at such a premium that I feel cramped everywhere I go, most noticeably in restaurants, where tables are extremely close together, and hotel rooms, which are tiny. My hotel is interesting in this regard as the designers seem to have made efficient use of every possible inch of space. The hallways are extremely narrow and mazelike, such that you have to turn numerous times to get to your room. The room itself is extremely small and there’s not a bit of wasted space anywhere. Dresser drawers are under the bed, and the bathtub is sized for a midget. It’s not like the wide-open spaces of Eastern Connecticut.

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I feel like I have adapted quickly to being a New Yorker in terms of riding the subway (I’ve got it down to one swipe of my MetroCard), crossing the street (I don’t always wait politely for the walk signal if no traffic is coming) and just walking around as if I belong here (I do). I’ve even learned to ignore people like a pro. There are plenty of tourists around though, so I certainly don’t feel out of place at those times when I feel like one. Everybody’s taking pictures and looking up and marveling at the amazing eye candy that is everywhere, and I’ve seen numerous cases of New Yorkers really helping tourists out.

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As an introvert it doesn’t bother me at all to be here by myself. It is nice, however, to have the connection of one or two friends in the city that I could rely on if I had to, and also to have the connection or sharing my pictures and experiences on Facebook. It’s enough for me without being overwhelming. My neighborhood is very safe and there are all kinds of people walking around at all hours of the day and night. The subway does thin out late at night, but even then there’s just your Average Joes riding the train to get home, just like myself. There’s almost a feeling of “We’re All in This Together,” and that may also be a residual of 9/11. However I’m also a realist, and I do monitor my surroundings for safety.

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Could I ever live here? I’ve often felt that I could. I would love the cultural opportunities (symphonies, operas, plays, shows), and nobody seems to think anything of you living in your own world if you choose to at times. But as I learned a number of years ago, it’s very different visiting a place and living in it, so for now I’ll just be content with my week. More on that as it progresses.

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