04 July 2008

A Ride with a View: Taxi, Pedicab, Feet, Car, Boat, and Train

Friday, 27 June 2008

We had one more day in the big city and we wanted to make the most of it, so we hit the ground running. On the news the night before, we had seen a big story about the unveiling of an interesting art project - four waterfalls on the East River. They were installed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, and they range from 90 to 120 feet tall. Yesterday was opening day, and they'll be up through October 13, 2008. How could we leave New York without seeing them in person? We went to the website, http://www.nycwaterfalls.org/, and ordered tickets on a water taxi for later in the afternoon, and then we checked out of our Hampton and hailed a cab heading for the Hearst Building. We had had the bright idea to ask our cousin Melanie's husband, David, to take our bags home with him so that we could spend the day unencumbered, and he had agreed. Thanks, David!!! You saved us many headaches. After we had told the cabbie where to take us, it occurred to me that David might not want to have to lug our bags from his office to wherever his car was, so we gave him a quick call. When we gave the cabbie our new destination, maybe two or three blocks away from the original one, you would have thought we had asked him to take us to China the long way! At any rate, we met David at the Applejack Diner, got our bags safely stowed in his car, bid him thanks and a good day, and went back to the Diner for breakfast. I had eggs Benedict (you know I'd been craving them since Kitchen Little - they would have been better there, I suspect) and Kim had her usual. Just as we were leaving, a huge school group came in for breakfast, almost filling the whole restaurant. It was a good time to go!

We walked around Columbus Circle and crossed over to Central Park. Several buggy drivers attempted to solicit our business, but we were just planning to stroll around for a while. Then this cute young man - blond hair, blue eyes, foreign accent - accosted us and he was so earnest and sweet that we agreed to ride with him. Then he told us to wait right there while he got his bike! We had no clue that we had just hired a pedicab, but we had, and it was such fun! Nick (Nikolai, from Russia, small town of half a million people on the Volga River near Moscow) was a great tour guide. We loved his accent (he told us some people told him it made him sound sexy, so we just called him our Sexy Mon) and his charm. As you can imagine, he had to work pretty hard pulling us around by bike, and it was becoming very hot and very humid very fast. He was full of information and we helped him out with a few pronounciations and facts that he didn't know about. Turns out he has been in America all of four WEEKS, and he's been doing this job for only two. Prior to that he had worked for an air conditioner company, a butcher shop, and had been a flyer boy - we think he has found his niche for now!

Anyway, he rode us all through Central Park (http://www.centralpark.com/), past the carousel, the dairy, the statue of Balto (the Alaskan sled dog of the diphtheria vaccine fame), statues of Mother Goose and a pilgrim, to the Bethesda Terrace, Cherry Hill, Strawberry Fields, the Great Lawn, the Tavern on the Green, and much, much, more. He narrated the whole time, never missing a beat, even talking about many of the buildings surrounding the park. We stopped several times and were able to take pictures and he even took one of us (it was not flattering so I'm not sharing it - you'll just have to imagine how pampered we looked in our pedicab). We had a great time and I recommend pedicabs over buggies (I've done them, too) in Central Park any day! I'm so glad we didn't end up trying to walk our way around, because we walked enough the rest of the day...

After we said our goodbyes to Nick, we walked across the park to the newly renovated Plaza Hotel. It was still closed when Rex and I had been to New York in December, so I was glad to get a chance to see it. We admired the Baccarat crystal chandelier (commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia) and the Palm Court, then we found Eloise's portrait and wandered around part of the renovated area where shops are being installed. Then we crossed Fifth Avenue to go to FAO Schwartz, where we were greeted by the doorman who must have been HOT inside all that regalia. It was not as cool as it had been in December, but it's still my favorite store to shop in. I guess I'll always be a kid at heart...

We left the toy store and strolled down 5th Avenue, just taking in all of the window displays (which were pretty inventive, but not as much fun as they are at Christmas time), storefronts, churches, tall buildings, and people. As usual, people watching won out! It was pretty crowded, especially for a hot summer weekday. We chose not to go to the Top of the Rock, opting instead for the Empire State Building. We were pretty tuckered out by the time we got there at 12:30, and were so disappointed to see that it was under construction. Kim didn't even get to see the gorgeous Art Deco work in the lobby. It was going to take longer than we had to go to the top (we had 2:00 reservations on the water taxi) so we took a load off and sat at the bar of the nearby Heartland Brewery for a bite of lunch. We split a shrimp appetizer and some onion rings, but mostly I drank my iced tea! I think I had three or four glasses and was very thankful that they didn't charge me for refills (for a change!) As a matter of fact, we acknowledged the bartender for being one of the only servers we’ve had on the entire trip who offered us refills (without us having to ask) and he was the ONLY one who gave us a fresh slice of lemon. Good tip for him!

Feeling almost rehydrated, we tried to hail a cab and ended up getting a car instead. Costs more, but it was worth it to have the AC on and the windows up and to be in a Lincoln instead of a yellow cab. We had a bit of a drive down to the Southside Seaport, and we were really just glad to be riding instead of walking. We passed the Fulton Street Fish Market – I wish we had had time to check it out. I had not ever been to this part of the city before – it was a bustling place. But we needed to get our tickets from will call so we could see the waterfalls and the city from a different perspective. As it turned out, our boat was running about thirty minutes behind, so we just watched more people. Sharing our boat was a busload of Asian tourists, so we were ready for a lot of picture taking and excitement. We were not disappointed – I took lots of group photos, and then they would take a picture of me – it was pretty funny, and it was fun to be with a group that didn’t just sit back and watch. Our tour guide was the greatest – his name was Lee, and he did a rhyming version (would have been a rap with a little background sound) of the tour spiel – we loved it! We passed the Staten Island Ferry, Battery Park, the Colgate clock, the NJ train station, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island, several bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge, and of course, the waterfalls. I would love to see the falls at night, and if you’re planning a trip to the city, you don’t have to take a boat ride to see the falls; however, if you’ve never experienced the NYC skyline from New York Harbor, I highly recommend a tour by boat. As we were stopped at the Statue of Liberty, Lee offered to take pictures of anyone who wanted them, holding an American flag that he provided and with Lady Liberty in the background. He was awesome! All too soon, the tour was over…

Time to head back to Grand Central and catch our train back to Croton – we had no trouble getting a cab this time, and we drove right along the riverside past NYU Medical Center and getting great views of both the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

We got to the terminal just before 4:00, found our ticket counter, but were a little unsure which train to take. The cashier cut right to the chase, sold us two tickets, and then said, “You have one minute to get to track 26, behind you and to the left. Run!” We made it, but barely! At least we didn’t waste much time waiting around, and we were able to get an off-peak express train to boot.

Melanie met us at the station and we went back to the house and regrouped – we had practically unloaded the whole car and repacked for our trip to the city, so we got organized again. David got home soon after we did, and once we had our luggage from him, we started in on laundry. I don’t know what we would have done on this trip without a little help and a lot of hospitality from family and friends! It sure made it a lot of fun to see people we knew and be in their homes instead of always a hotel room (or tree house!) Thanks again to all of you who opened your doors to us, fed us, and made us feel welcome!! Sure hope we can return the favor someday!
We sat out on the patio, enjoying the view and a chilly one, and then Melanie and David fixed dinner for us. David grilled some giant steaks and Melanie had prepared a delicious tomato, cheese, and spinach salad and some great potatoes. Add a good bottle or two of wine and some lively conversation with them and their twin daughters – what an enjoyable evening! The girls were going into the city for a party, so we stayed up and caught up on family news, heard about their family’s recent trip to Spain and Portugal, shared some of our experiences, and pontificated on life in general. What a fine way to spend a Friday night!

Loving looking at life from lots of different perspectives,


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