We had a four day weekend over Easter and headed down from Montreal to NYC by an overnight bus, rolling in under the shadows of skyscrapers cast by the sunrise. We stepped out of the bus station at Times Square… only to gawk at the billboards and lights in our tired eyes.
Day 1 : 9/11 Memorial + Bagels
We were lucky to stay with a friend on the North-West corner of Central Park – diminishing our trip expenses significantly. After a quick stop to unload our bags, we headed back out for the day. We’d bought tickets from Smart Destinations for the 9/11 Tribute museum and tour, the Top of the Rock Observatory, and the Statue of Liberty – which gave us some discount and the possibility of skipping the ticket-buying queue at TotR (we still had to exchange for tickets though).
The original plan was to head out to Liberty Island, but there was an enormous queue 3 hours long once you’d bought your tickets – so we decided to head for the 9/11 memorial and Tribute Center, which was due to be closed for the rest of our trip as they were moving house. We headed to Zucker’s Bagels for lunch – it didn’t particularly leave any impression.
The memorial itself was solemn and well done – but the Tribute Center was definitely worth a visit, and was what brought the whole event to life for me. There were testimonies from survivors and families of victims written on the walls, with video documentaries and other artifacts from the site. These exhibits were poignant and painted a good picture of the attacks as it was experienced by those present.
We then followed a tour led by two locals who were in some way touched by the 9/11 bombings – in our case, a lady who lived in a building nearby, and a man who was working at the building next to the Twin Towers. I found that it was a good way to reflect on the attacks and to appreciate the complexity of the different experiences people had – not necessarily always heroic, but each to be heard and valued.
We strolled through Wall Street, and in the late afternoon, picked up cupcakes at Magnolia’s Bakery, before heading to the Museum of Modern Art, where entry was free (Friday afternoons). There were a lot of people – and we were rather shocked by the disrespect shown by some towards the great masterpieces (we saw some tourists touching the paintings!!). Among the most acclaimed were Starry Night by Van Gogh, which had a crowd before it much as Mona Lisa does in Paris. If time and money aren’t constraints, it would be worth it to come on a quiet morning, and take the time to listen to the audio guides, which were really well narrated and informative.
Day 2 : Brooklyn + Top of the Rock
We headed across Brooklyn Bridge early on Day 2, primarily wanting to visit the Botanical Gardens. On the bridge, there were impregnable views of both cities – I had the impression they were facing off each other!
Saturday mornings meant free admissions to the Botanical Garden, and with free admissions, comes huge crowds! We saw some cherry trees blooming, rows of tulips in their full array of colour, and also visited the greenhouses, in which there was a display of different bonsai-s (even a red maple tree one!)
We grabbed lunch at Junior’s Diners, which seems to be a stereotypical out-of-a-film scene, with huuuuge portions of cheese cake, that left us too full for even dinner later in the day. We then headed out to Fort Greene Park for a “sieste digestive” 😉
And then it was back to NYC, where I met up briefly with an old friend from high school at Bryant Park. Bryant Park is situated just behind the New York Public Library, and is a little oasis of green in the middle of tall skyscrapers – it was particular, and I felt really captured the essence of NYC well.
We had tickets that evening to go up to the Top of the Rock Observatory. After reading reviews online, we’d decided to head up to the TotR instead of the Empire State Building, as there were better views over Central Park and the city itself (+ the Empire State Building!)
The views indeed did not disappoint, and as there were several levels of the observatory, we took our time winding up, and spent the evening on the top deck. This is probably the view that most typifies New York for me – the great rectangle of green to the north showing the carefully pruned edges of Central Park, contained within the mountains of cement and glass. Too bad the weather wasn’t good enough to catch a sunset!
Day 3 : Liberty Island + Chinatown + High Line
We made sure to head out early this time to Liberty Island, grabbing some donuts and a coffee to wait out the queue. Surprisingly, there was none, and we were soon on our way!
The lady speaks for herself in her elegance. With the blooms of spring, the sunshine, the informative audio guides, it was a well spent morning walking around the island. Interesting and ironical fact gleaned of the day – women were not allowed at the opening ceremony of the Statue of Liberty!
We spent only a short time at Ellis Island as we were meeting friends for lunch at Nom Hwa Tea Parlour in Chinatown for dimsum, but the few exhibits that we saw seemed to paint a rather fair picture of immigration to the USA.
Dimsum was good and cheap, the tea parlour being open since the 1920s, situated in a turn of the street in Chinatown so sharp that gangs used to wait there in ambush for their enemies! We ambled around and stopped at Little Italy to cool down at Mo Il Gelato afterwards. To walk off all that we’ve eaten, a ballad down the High Line seem necessary. Again, spring was working her magic all along the path – little bits of green came up between the train tracks – a bit of calm in this busy city.
We spent the evening along the Hudson River front, and made the lucky discovery of Liz Christy Community Garden – a really small, roadside green space – before heading to Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery to pick up some Knishes for dinner. The place has been open since the 1910 and it seems almost as though time has stopped in there – no hip decorations or catering to tourists, but just good potato pastries made by the same old Jewish man. I really liked that in a big bustling city like New York, little businesses can exist and survive for a hundred years.
Day 4 : Central Park + Natural History Museum
Today was a day to spend through Central Park. Starting at the Hungarian Pastry Shop at Amsterdam Avenue, we picked up pastries and headed into the northern, rambling parts of the park.
We strolled around, people watching and sitting on grass, and when we arrived at the Natural History Museum, we ducked in for a tour.
The museum is definitely a must-visit – I loved the dioramas of animals in their natural habitats, which were extremely faithful portrayals of the ecosystems and full of tiny details. The great blue whale and the dinosaur exhibits are of course classics as well.
Lunch was at Shake Shack, and we grabbed a big cookie from Levain as sustenance for the rest of the day.
We passed up on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, heading instead to the south of Central Park. At the end of the day, we settled down on Sheep Meadow for a break, before heading back and getting ready to catch our bus back to Montreal.