There and Back Again: NYC Edition
So now that I've had a few days to decompress from our whirlwind tour of New York ;), here's the post I promised.
We flew into JFK on JetBlue, which just recently started flying to Austin. As far as flying goes, it wasn't bad; I'm not really a fan of leather seats (true even before I became a vegetarian), and for some reason the air vents (in both directions) blew warm air rather than cool for much of the flight, but other than that I was pretty happy. The XM radio wasn't much of a draw for me; there weren't really any channels I liked, and with my Zen on hand I just did a quick scan and turned it off. The free DirecTV service, on the other hand, was pretty cool. The flight itself was quick (we got in to JFK right on time, and we arrived back in Austin 30 minutes early), everyone was courteous, and the snack variety was excellent. I'd definitely fly them again.
We flew into the city with a really ambitious plan for the night; we'd arrive, grab a SuperShuttle to our hotel in Manhattan, go to an amazing fromagerie for dinner, then catch an off-off-Broadway show before crashing for the night. Like I said, ambitious. Unfortunately, Fiona and Simon got held up in customs for two hours, so we missed dinner--but we did make the show. Barely. Fortunately we ended up at the restaurant the next day for lunch, and it was really, really, really yummy. Definitely give it a try if you're in Manhattan.
Our hotel was really conveniently located--the Chelsea Star Hotel, at 30th Street and 8th Ave. One block from Madison Square Gardens, near Times Square, Broadway, etc. So the rest of the second day we spent walking around Manhattan; we checked out the Art Gallery district (which appears to be largely closed except on Saturdays or by appointment), walked through Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and up Broadway. Then we picked up a rental car, checked out of the hotel, and headed out of the city. Fortunately our hotel was only about a half dozen blocks from the Lincoln Tunnel, so I didn't have to deal with all that much traffic. Although, to be honest, in many ways driving in NYC was less annoying than driving rush hour in Austin. :-P Sure, lane divider lines appear to be invisible to the average NY driver, and there's all kinds of crazy jockeying for position, but the traffic moved much better than it often does here. (Of course, we missed rush hour in NYC, so that might have something to do with it.)
So out of the city, to a timeshare in the Pocono Mountains, where we met up with Jen's family and my family. The next few days were very "resort"-y: golf, tennis, late-night poker games, etc. Some of us went white-water rafting (kind of a misnomer; the river was running more slowly than the Guadalupe here in Texas, and we went down that with margaritas and inner tubes), some visited a historic farm, we went shopping in small towns, etc. Jen, Fiona and I visited Jim Thorpe, PA, where the Asa Parker Mansion is. Asa Parker was, at the time of his death, the second richest man in the US (worth $54 million in 1870 dollars--better than $4.3 billion today, IIRC), and his 11,000-square-foot house (built for $14,000 with an $85,000 renovation a few years later) is incredibly cool. His daughter died in 1912 and deeded the house and all its contents to the borough of Jim Thorpe, which didn't know what to do with it and so locked it up for 44 years. It's in near-perfect shape; everything is original to the house, no reproductions. Among the coolest things in the house is an automated orchestral, essentially an early jukebox. Paper tubes with punched holes store the music, which is then played by several automated instruments. All with 1860's-era technology. There are actually only 2 left in North America, and the Smithsonian has the other--but theirs doesn't work. The Asa Parker one does, and is played for every tour that comes through the house. (It's all polka music, but neat in any case.) The woodworking in the house is incredible as well--apparently they spent about $75,000 of the $85,000 renovation on carpenters.
We came back to NYC for 3 more days with everyone (Fiona and Simon left Saturday midday, our families left early Sunday morning). Much more walking about Manhattan. In one day we walked from our hotel, through the Fashion District, all the way up to Central Park, with stops in lots of stores (including Tiffany's and FAO Schwartz). It was exhausting. :) The other two days we used the subway more, since 60+ blocks (one way) tends to punish the feet a bit. We saw a Broadway show (Avenue Q, which was completely hilarious), ate at famous restaurants, and generally had a good time. (Chinatown was a bit meh, though.) One day we got up very early, headed up to Central Park (a great place to go on a summer morning, to see all the dogs playing and enjoy the relative lack of crowd), hit up an Upper East Side bakery (Le Pain Quotidien--I highly recommend their Belgian Waffles) for breakfast, and then did museums. We all visited the Metropolitan, which was overwhelmingly huge but very cool. Some of us went to the Natural History Musem, but I went to MOMA with Jen, Fiona, Ryan, Katie, and my dad. MOMA was a lot smaller than I expected, although it did have a very cool photo of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. (We would have liked to get to the NYC World's Fair remnants, which we saw on the way from/to the airport, but there just wasn't time.) The thing about the MOMA is that, especially in the Design area, they don't give much explanation or background; sure, there's a ball bearing in there, as well as a cellphone, but no indication of why these things are selected over others. Anyway, it was an interesting visit. On the way out of the MOMA we stopped in at the branch of the NY Public Library across the street, which has the original stuffed Winnie the Pooh and friends.
Our last night we went to a bar overlooking the Columbus Circle (next to Trump Tower), where we got to watch the sun go down over Manhattan. Kind of a fitting end, I guess. ;)
My lasting impression of Manhattan is that it is overwhelmingly vertical. I've been in other large cities, including Chicago and London, and they're nowhere near as purely tall. Obviously that derives from the limited space to spread out, but it's hard to get away from mentally. The other thing to notice is how crowded it is. I'm not really a big fan of crowds and noise, and NYC has limitless amounts of both. Our first stay in the city, we were in rooms right on the street, and the city was so loud it sounded as if the windows were open all night.
It was fun to see all these places I knew of or had seen on TV, though; all the Project Runway locations, for instance. (And Wednesday's episode had them going to Tavern on the Green, which we visited our last day--random but neat.) So all in all it was a good trip, I think, although I was more than glad to get home to the pets and our own space. :)