New York, New York – August 9, 2014
We were up at 01:30 to catch our bus to New York City. The bus departure time of 03:00 from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. guaranteed ample time to tour New York City during the weekend with Lorraine and Hillary.
Upon arrival in Chinatown, we found the address was a hole in the wall. Based on the meager $100 round-trip fare for both of us, there were not going to be any frills on this particular journey.
About 20 minutes before departure, the bus arrived. It was full of passengers coming from New York City. Once the bus was empty, the staff quickly set about cleaning the interior. While they did that, the passengers placed their luggage under the bus. When they allowed boarding, Leslie and I found ourselves in the front seat to the driver’s right. At that point, we thought it was a good thing.
The bus pulled away at about 03:10. We quickly found out the bus driver’s “other” car must have been a small, sleek sports car. It was also apparent he had forgotten which vehicle he was currently driving. His quest seemed to be to tailgate every vehicle that was on the highway. If a car had suddenly applied the brakes, they would have been entangled in the bus grill like so many late-night insects. Luckily, there were no incidents, only close calls.
In addition to the bus driver’s “confusion” regarding what vehicle he was driving, he was immune to the concept of not talking on the cellphone while driving. I guess the good news is he had the cell in hands-free mode. The bad news is that only about 20 minutes of the entire four-hour trip included silence.
Our bus did not have toilet facilities onboard, so I was excited when the driver pulled off the highway at a truck stop. He drove by the gas pumps and stopped in a parking area. Surprisingly, Leslie decided to stay on board while I got off to find the bathroom. For some reason, about ten yards from the bus, I turned around and looked at the bus, noting, in particular, the markings on the bus, a very beneficial move. Emerging from the station after my pit stop, I quickly realized the bus was no longer where I had left it, but rather driving away from me. Did I miss the bus somewhere in New Jersey? Then I remembered Leslie was still on the bus. She would have torn into the driver if he tried to get back on the highway. My composure returned. The bus made a big loop and stopped by one of the gas pumps. I got back on the bus wondering why the driver did not stop there initially.
The driver ultimately accounted for all passengers and continued the drive north. The sun made the drive much more comfortable. We began to catch glimpses of the Manhattan skyline. That was exciting as our trip held the excitement of something we had never seen or done before.
The trip hit the next snag when the driver suddenly found the highway closed at one of the tollbooths. Since his regular route was closed for some reason, it quickly became apparent the driver did not know how or where to proceed. The rather light Saturday morning traffic made our predicament a little less nerve-racking; especially since we came to a full stop in a traffic lane on the highway at least twice while the driver read highway signs, and talked on the cell phone, trying to determine which turn or exit to take.
Finally, we made it to the tollbooth at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Emerging on the other side of the Hudson River, the driver seemed to be in familiar territory. A short 10 or 15 minutes later, he deposited all of us near Madison Square Gardens. Leslie and I retrieved our carry-on bags and went to the taxi cue in front of the Gardens.
The taxi took no time to deliver us to the Courtyard by Marriott – Times Square on West 40th Street. Because of the early morning hour, I fully expected to check our bags in with the bellman and then wait until later in the afternoon to get a room. Much to my surprise, the desk clerk handed us keys for our room on the 33rd floor. I guess all of my Marriott points do pay off periodically.
We placed our bags in our room. Leslie notified Hillary we were at the hotel. She arranged to meet Lorraine and Hillary downstairs so we could get some coffee and breakfast.
Once together, we all four set out for Times Square. On the way, we stopped at Duke Deli so Lorraine and Hillary could get something to eat. Leslie and I just had another cup of coffee. I was struck by the “no” sign that was above our table. It contained a seemingly unending list of prohibited behaviors.
After breakfast and a couple of more blocks of walking, we were in Times Square. I found myself awe-struck. Even though one may have seen pictures or video footage of Times Square, it is something else to be standing at the location. All of the sights and sounds nearly overwhelmed my senses. Several things competed for my attention, such as the height and architecture of the surrounding buildings; the crystal ball that drops each New Year’s Eve; the NYPD substation; the neon American flag on the Armed Services Recruiting Station; the dozens of taxis; the throngs of people; and, of course, the ABC Good Morning America studio.
One thing about Times Square I cannot imagine is just how many people pack the area each New Year eve. That is not my idea of entertainment. I have zero desire to be in such a mass of people.
The morning before we arrived, Hillary stood outside the Good Morning America studio replete with her poster touting her desire to be the next anchor on the show. She thought she might have been on-air for a few brief moments during the Good Morning America show.
During breakfast, we decided to go on a boat tour of the city. It came highly recommended by Lorraine and Hillary, having done it the day before. We hopped in a taxi and headed to Pier 78. We bought tickets for a 90-minute tour of Midtown. When the boat docked, we waited for the passengers to get off. Boarding the craft, we went to the upper deck, near the stern. We departed close to 10:30.
While waiting for our ship (tour boat) to come in, we saw the motor yacht, Bella Una, pass by Pier 78. The roughly $10,000,000 yacht’s destination was somewhere up the Hudson River. For that amount of money, one can get a 127 foot (38.7 meters) yacht that holds ten guests in five cabins and comes with eight crew. I will keep this in mind for when Leslie and I retire…
From Pier 78, our tour boat traveled south on the Hudson River, skirted the southern tip of Manhattan Island, proceeded north on the East River, passed by the Statue of Liberty, and returned to the point of embarkation. During the trip, a very knowledgeable guide related stories about what we saw from the boat.
Several things struck me; for example, Pier 54. Pier 54 is where the HMS Carpathia docked with the survivors from the sinking of the Titanic. She docked on the evening of April 18, 1912. There were 705 fortunate Titanic survivors on the Carpathia. Today, the abandoned pier still juts into the Hudson River, but it is very dilapidated.
Shortly after beginning our tour, we did have a good view of the Empire State Building. It would have been nice to visit that iconic building. Unfortunately, we could not fit everything into our weekend in New York City that we would have liked to have seen.
The Manhattan skyline is impressive from the water. I think that is because one can get a perspective of the scale of the city, the people, and the buildings. When one is in the city one feels more like an ant in an ant farm; scurrying along narrow paths with hundreds of others. When in the city, it seems one can never see the sky, no matter how high one looks.
I found it very moving to see the One World Trade Center, known as Freedom Tower, soaring to 1,776 feet. I felt very patriotic. I am not sure I could manage to go through the 9/11 museum based on the feelings that overcame me while on the boat, viewing the tower from a distance.
As our boat neared the southern tip of Manhattan, there was a considerable increase in river traffic due to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. Large ferry boats and multiple private watercraft moved back and forth between the islands and Manhattan, each with dozens and dozens of tourists.
When the tour boat turned to go up the East River, we could see the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge in the distance. That is also where we saw a pier with some 14 landing spots for helicopters. One can take an aerial tour of Manhattan, but it is a bit pricey. The helicopters are like flies. I am not sure if it was an unusually busy time or if it was just the norm.
Continuing along the East River, we neared the Wall Street area of Manhattan. It was amazing to see how close the buildings seemed to be to each other. As I wrote earlier, if one is at ground level, it is almost impossible to see the sky.
Our tour continued past the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges; although, not far beyond the bridges the tour boat did a 180-turn and began the journey back to Pier 78. On the way back, the tour boat took a path in the river much closer to Liberty Island. That allowed for some very spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty. Also, since the boat was farther away from Manhattan, there was a splendid view of the skyline.
In between Liberty Island and Ellis Island, an immense yacht lay anchored in the Hudson River. The boat was the Amaryllis. It is a tiny 257 feet (78.43 meters) motor yacht originating from Germany. That means the Amaryllis is 130 feet (40 meters) longer than the Bella Una we saw earlier in the day. I guess that makes the Bella Una a speed boat in comparison.
The Amaryllis will accommodate 12 guests in six cabins with a crew of 23. I am not sure how much it might cost to purchase the yacht, but charters start at US$875,000 per week plus expenses in the high season. If one is whimsical enough to rent in the offseason, it is a steal at US$770,000 per week plus costs! The “plus costs” more than likely include fuel charges. With tanks holding 63,300 gallons of diesel (239,620 liters), one would be looking at US$188,634 to fill ‘er up! So, it appears a week on the Amaryllis is not in my plans–unless they need a barnacle scraper!
When we finally returned to the pier, I took a photograph of the wheelhouse. One of the deckhands yelled at me for doing that. Oh well, I guess I have been in trouble for worse in the past.
When we returned from our tour, we hailed another taxi for the trip back to the Times Square area. Since it was time for lunch, we ducked into an Applebee’s restaurant. The lunch was OK, nothing spectacular.
Next on our list: shopping and the store of choice – H & M. By “our,” I do not include me. The store is on Times Square. I contained at least three floors of clothing and accessories. I have never seen a store with so many shoppers. The number of shoppers in the store made it difficult to walk through any part of the store. Hillary did find something she wanted. When the time came to pay, the length of the line for payment would have turned away all but the most intrepid shopper. Lorraine and I hit the eject button. We went out of the store and sat on a bench, awaiting Leslie and Hillary.
While sitting on the bench, I busied myself taking photographs of the store and people walking by the store.
When they emerged from H & M, Hillary said she wanted to visit the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. I told her I would tag along. Leslie and Lorraine opted for a nap back at the hotel. The museum was near Madame Tussauds wax museum. Out in front of that museum, grabbing the attention of many pedestrians, was a wax figure of Morgan Freeman.
As one might imagine, the Ripley’s Museum was chock full of all sorts of oddities. Hillary thoroughly enjoyed herself. She kept relating how she remembered watching Ripley’s television show as she grew up.
One of the exhibits in Ripley’s Museum that surprised me was the video and associated information on Mike, the Headless Chicken. Anyone might be surprised when confronted with a headless chicken; but, when that chicken is from your neck of the woods (excuse the pun), it is quite surprising. The short story is that a farmer in Fruita, Colorado (our neck of the woods) wanted chicken for dinner. When he cut the head off of the chicken, it did not die. The chicken lived for some 18 additional months before finally dying. It is not known if at that 18-month mark Mike made it to the dining room table. For readers interested in the rest of the story, please check out Mike, the Headless Chicken in a Smithsonian Magazine article from 2014.
Hillary and I made it back to the hotel with only about 30 minutes to spare before leaving for our dinner reservations. A quick change of clothes and we all departed the hotel. Our destination was Bond 45 Italian Kitchen Steak & Seafood. A supposedly short walk from the hotel became a little too much. Hillary very kindly volunteered to continue walking to the restaurant to ensure we did not lose our reservations. Meanwhile, the three of us hailed a tricycle pedal cab. We enjoyed that short ride.
The restaurant seemed stuck in the 1920s or 1930s. The first query from our waiter was not what we wanted to drink, but whether or not we had Broadway show reservations. We replied that we were heading to The Lion King after dinner. That set his pace, which was nice. The rather expensive meal did not wow me as much as the other $100 per person meals I have eaten. I guess I characterize it as particularly marginal with excellent service. A nice touch near the end of the meal was the fresh baked cookies a staff member brought to each table.
The theater to which we headed was right on Times Square, only about a block from the restaurant. As noted above, The Lion King is the play we decided to see. Upon arrival, I was able to get one of the ushers to provide a couple of folding chairs for Leslie and Lorraine. That made the wait more palatable. When the doors to the theater opened, an usher took us up an elevator to our seats. I noticed a bar selling drinks near the entrance. I purchased four glasses of wine. I nearly collapsed when I found the charge for the wine was $120. I can get an entire case of wine for that price!
We settled back into our seats with our “golden” wine and prepared for The Lion King. I must admit I do not believe I ever saw the movie; regardless, I had a reasonable idea of the storyline. The very beginning of the play is striking with the various “animals” crossing the stage in every direction. The costuming to make one believe they saw actual elephants, rhinos, gazelles, etc. was amazing. Exhaustion began to set in toward the end of the performance because of the packed day. Even still, I enjoyed every bit of the play.
After the performance, we exited the theater and “merged” into the mass of humanity that was now in Times Square. There were so many people; one could hardly move. It seemed as though the crowd would carry one along without one’s feet ever touching the ground. In the heart of Times Square, we found the “sisters” of the Nearly Naked Woman from our recent Las Vegas trip; Nearly Naked Patriotic Women. I guess it takes all kinds.
When we did make it back to the hotel, I collapsed.
For breakfast the next morning, we walked to the Red Flame Diner on 44th Street. The diner would be more at home in the middle of Nebraska rather than the center of New York City. That said, the meal would be hard to beat anywhere on this planet.
Properly fueled, the next adventure beckoned. Departing the diner, we saw dozens and dozens of police officers standing around, obviously waiting for something. The street, lined with barricades, would soon be the sight of the annual Dominican Day parade would begin shortly. To avoid the tumult, we jumped in a cab and went to Rockefeller Plaza.
Rockefeller Plaza was another site at which I was awestruck. Previously, seeing only pictures or television footage of these sights made it exciting to see the sites in person. The most iconic image was the fountain with the gold Prometheus sculpture in front of the NBC building. After taking several photographs, we entered the NBC building. The gift shop on the ground floor beckoned us all. Hillary, the future GMA anchor, could hardly contain her excitement. She seized the opportunity to have a photograph made with an antique television camera and a cutout of Matt Lauer.
Our final stop was Central Park, one of the many must-see attractions in The Big Apple. We thought the perfect way to see Central Park was by horse-drawn carriage. The three of us hopped in a carriage while Lorraine found a bench on which to await our return. Our carriage driver was a delightful man from Ireland. As he guided us through the park, he also told us about many of the sights. In truth, he did not steer us so much as the horse led us on the route he had no doubt walked hundreds of times.
At the end of our ride, reunited, we hailed a taxi and went back to our hotel. It was around 11:00. At 15:00, the bus back to Washington, D. C. would leave. I thought it best to travel to the bus pick-up point, thinking we could eat something before we boarded. Upon arrival, we noticed a bus there with several people waiting to board. I checked with the man in charge of the boarding to see if we might be able to get on that bus. He looked on the bus, saw seats available and said we could board. That meant getting back to our apartment at about 16:30 instead of 20:30.
We both enjoyed our visit to New York City, but neither of us thinks we need to return anytime soon. We are not big city people.