Monday, October 17, 2005


Wednesday afternoon, October 12th. Torrential rain combined with gusty winds at LaGuardia Airport in NY delayed my MN-->NY flight, and my friend's flight out of Milwaukee delayed as well. But we were delayed by different amounts - I arrived in NY, while their plane hadn't even taken off yet. So I settled in for a few hours wait at the airport, just me and a Sodoku puzzle (and a totally quintessential mother-son couple from Jersey sitting across from me - if only they knew how much entertainment I was getting out of their incessant bitching with their accent!)

Friends (BS, JK, and MC) touched down around 9, and together we grabbed a cab to our midtown hotel (the Midtown Super 8 - not too expensive by NY standards, centrally located - the rooms are small, but that's the standard in the city - I'd recommend it.) MC inquired from cabby where he could score some bud and some hookers - I'm not sure the cabby knew what to make of us. He answered the questions, but none of us put his info to the test (although BS and MC got to tried out some Vicodin ... but I'm getting ahead of myself here...)

Thursday, rain coming down in sheets all day. Rainfall records for the region were broken today, meanwhile we're out sightseeing all day. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to pack a decent umbrella, raincoat and rainpants. JK and MC purchased the cheapest possible umbrellas available - the kind that turn inside out at the slightest breeze - one of them self-destructed a few minutes after purchase, and we had to walk to back to exchange it.

The previous night we had walked around Times Square, grabbed some pizza (while being
panhandled like 4 times inside the pizza shop) and downed a few pints at a bar a few blocks away. Today, we headed in the opposite direction towards Rochefeller Plaza. The ice rink was up, but the rain kept any would-be skaters away.

Walked up 5th Ave, and stumbled on to St Paul's Cathedral. Beautiful inside, but they're real sticklers about making all visitors remove their hats inside that place. Walked east to Grand Central station for our first subway experience, which was surprisingly simple (once we got past the inevitable argument over whether to buy a debit pass or a 7 day unlimited ride pass - this is what happens when a bunch of guys, all budget travelers, take a trip together.)

Grand Central Station

Rode up towards Central Park and the Gugenheim. The Gugenheim was closed, so we couldn't get in :-( I thought museums were closed on Mondays, not Thursdays - WTF? And the outside was in a state of disrepair, half-covered w/scaffolding, so we couldn't even get a good look at it's snail-like bun-shaped structure. Disappointing.

Took a stroll across Central Park in the rain to get to the Museum of Natural History. Got lost in the Ramble (Bramble?) area of the park, so we were forced to take the scenic route. But we happened upon the "Strawberry Fields" near the end, and MC is a HUGE Beetles fan so I think he got some fulfillment out of that.

Museum of Natural History was closing in 1.5 hours, and BS asked if we could get discount admission since they were almost closed. We were caught off guard when told that we could "pay whatever we wanted for admission." We offered $1 per person, and we were in! What can I say, we are indeed thrifty travelers. They had some great exhibits showing how the various evolutionary lines of dinosaurs evolved and diverged over the eons, with tons of fossil examples ... we were forced to rush through them, so they were a little overwhelming, but if we'd had time to really digest them it would have been really interesting.

Exiting the museum, we noticed some trees all lit up with Christmas lights in Central Park, and they turned out to be in back of Tavern in the Green. So we indulged in drinks at the bar upstairs, while taking in the surreal scene of an overweight older man and the young, extremely attractive asian woman he was with. Tavern in the Green was actually a good time.

Took the subway back to Times Square and found a little Japanese restaurant on a side-street, with great fried rice and miso soup.

Friday, more rain. Blech. Some clothing/shoes had yet to dry out from the previous day.

Plan was to get up early and check out the fish market (where you can see big frozen fish being hauled around, cut up into slabs with meat saws for restaurants, cool stuff like that.) But JK took so long getting ready that we had to shit-can that idea. I was a little miffed.

Instead, we looked into taking a Ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, but you can only
climb up into the pedestal of the statue (not into the statue itself) so we decided to just take the Staten Island ferry instead, which is free, and passes fairly close to the statue and Ellis Island.

Sphere sculpture damaged at Ground Zero on 9-11, now on display in Battery Park

MC and JK on Staten Island Ferry

When the ferry returned us to Manhattan, we wandered up into Downtown and the Wall Street area. Found the New York Stock Exchange, then set off towards the big bronze wall street bull statue. BS tried to climb up onto the bull, slipped off and fell into a heap on the brick cobblestone sidewalk - the Japanese tourist onlookers thought this was pretty hilarious - so did we, until we realized that BS had really messed up his ankle.

We limped to 9-11 ground zero, but didn't spend long there because we were on a mission to find a cane or walking stick for BS. After scouring a few stores (and even checking out a golf store, thinking a cheap putter might make a good cane) we got directions to the nearest hospital, spending the next 2 hours in the ER. BS came out of that w/an ankle brace, cane, and prescription for Vicodin.

I was hoping to convince the group to take in an off-broadway show, so we hit the discount ticket booth, only to find that we couldn't decide on a show. I thought if all else fails, I could talk them into seeing Stomp, which I've seen twice, enjoyed, and was willing to see again. But no one else was interested. So we're in New York, and not seeing a show, despite the fact that one of my expressed goals for the trip was for all of us to check out a show, and everyone had agreed. Admittedly, most of the others had agreed begrudgingly but this makes it no less disappointing in my eyes.

Wandered north towards the Brooklyn Bridge - we had planned to walk across to the Brooklyn side and back (the skyline is supposed to look really cool from the Brooklyn side) but it was raining so hard we walked up towards Chinatown instead in search of some hot food.

Brooklyn Bridge viewed from Manhattan side

Chinatown was a trip - I'd been to chinatown in Chicago, but it pales in comparision.
Wandered around chinatown like a bunch of drowned rats for quite a while - the place is huge. The best were the sidewalk seafood markets with live fish flopping around in buckets. Just touched on the Little Italy neighborhood before taking the subway back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, BS hit the Vicodin, along w/a bottle of wine. I helped out w/the wine, while MC decided that self-medicating w/the Vicodin was his idea of a good time. JK pretty much crashed out for the rest of the night.

Saturday was finally a nicer day. No rain, and the sun shone for much of day - it was really an incredible feeling after so much rain!

Got into line at the United Nations for a guided tour - a kid behind us in line was an intern at the UN, and he told us exactly where to stand so we'd get into the first tour - way cool. Weren't able to see the UN Security Council chamber (it was under repair) but saw the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council chambers. In the hallways, they have various works of art that have been donated as gifts from the member countries - if you go, don't miss the sculpture in ivory donated by china - the detail is incredible.

Next up, the Empire State building. There was a backlog of tourists in line, and the wait was supposed to be over 90 minutes. But luckily BS (and his cane!) got us into the express line for those with disabilities so we made it to the top in record time. It's an open-air observation deck on the 86th floor, w/stunning views in all directions.

"Virgin Mother" by Damien Hirst, outside Lever Restaurant in Midtown

Walked south from there because I wanted to see the Flatiron building, then took the subway back to Grand Central Station. Stopped at FAO Schwartz toystore, then on a whim ducked into the New York Public Library (at 5th Ave and 42nd St) and wow, was I glad we did. The building is awesome, in the true sense of the word. The classical external architecture with the columns and lions is impressive, but the interior is even more so. The interior is mostly marble, with tall, ornate wooden ceilings. Most impressive are the reading rooms on the third floor - immense warehouse-sized reading rooms like you might see in the movies. Dark woodwork and ornate fixtures - not to be missed.

Had a few drinks at a happy hour down the block from our hotel, then headed back to lower Manhattan to a seafood restaurant we noticed yesterday. Unfortunately, the seafood was sub-par, but it was a beautiful night to be out, so it wasn't a total loss. Rode the Staten Island Ferry again to take in the skyline at night (and without all the fog and mist we had experienced yesterday.) Didn't realize that the ferry runs less frequently at night, so we were trapped at the ferry station for a full hour waiting for a return ferry. Oops.

Back at the hotel, BS took off his shoe to discover that not only was his ankle swollen and black and blue (like yesterday) but his entire forefoot was now a bruised reddish-purple color as well. It was a real mess.

All in all, I found the trip fun at times, but more than a little frustrating on many occasions. The UN, the Library, Empire State Building, Chinatown, all that stuff was very cool. But several things that I really wanted to do (fish market, off-broadway show) didn't happen for various reasons, while at the same time I was relied upon heavily to read the maps, navigate, figure out the subway system, etc. BS and MC did some work, for which I'm thankful, while JK often seemed to just be along for the ride, with us leading him around. I guess it's a classic case of different people with different travel goals and travel styles, and the almost inevitable friction that can result.