April 16 we departed from the Boise airport on an early flight going through Salt Lake City and Minneapolis in route to LaGuardia Airport in Queens. We were able to find a play area in the Minneapolis airport to entertain the kids while we waited.
Upon arriving in New York, we got an arranged car, a minivan to accommodate all of us. It was noisy and there was lots of traffic. We had a Chinese driver. Alice heard "cuss words" right off the bat, just as her dad had told her. So even though she looks exhausted in the photo after a long day of travel, you can be sure her brain was still firing rapidly with all the new exciting stimuli in the big city! She was really tuned into it. We crossed the bridge into Manhattan and made our way to the Essex House, a JW Marriott property on Central Park South. The lobby was beautiful with a big blue arrangement of hyacinth and other flowers. We got two rooms at the end of the hallway that could be made to be adjoining by closing a door in the hallway. It was quite luxurious. Alice, Clyde and I shared one room and Mumsy and Elliott got the other. We got settled in and headed to the restaurant where Aunt Catherine joined us, surprising everyone with gift bags. She headed up to see our room and started jumping on the beds with the children before we all settled in for the night.
Our first full day in New York we got on the double decker bus tour to get our bearings and see the sights from a great vantage point above the hubbub of the crowd. I loved getting close up to all the wonderful windows and architectural elements that aren't so visible from the street. We'd hoped to avoid the hustle and bustle of Times Square, but right off the bat we had to change busses in Times Square. The kids were amazed by the crowds and the crazies, including a woman in a thong and pasties and "Naked Cowboy" who thankfully had underwear and cowboy boots on. We continued on to the Empire State Building where we met Catherine and headed up. It was a foggy day so not the best visibility but the city looked beautiful shrouded in fog. We could see downtown to the Freedom Tower and financial district, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, Stuyvesant Town (which I spotted but didn't know what it was until later on the bus ride). It was windy at the top, but the kids enjoyed the view. We hopped back on the bus and continued past the court and municipal building which were located around a central plaza and were majestic looking from our perch atop the bus. We got off and walked over to the 9/11 Memorial and Tribute Center. I really liked the new Freedom Tower building and it made me happy that they had built another skyscraper, it seemed victorious in a way. The memorial fountains are wonderful in that they really gave me a feeling of vacancy and loss. The water falls down into a hole you can't see the bottom of and the two fountains sit right where the foundations of the towers were. They are massive and empty, surrounded by the names of all those lost, categorized by their role which made it so obvious how many first responders were lost doing their jobs and trying to save and recover the other victims. The Tribute Center told about the history of the tower and had some artifacts and video stories. We had a cursory visit, as much as I thought the kids could handle. Catherine stayed around to get a tour from a survivor which she said was very moving but would've been too much for the children. We continued walking down past Wall Street to Battery Park to get back on the bus which took us up through Chinatown and Little Italy and past the United Nations before we got off at Rockefeller Center and walked home to our hotel. It was a full day! The children settled in to have room service and hang out in the room with Mumsy while Catherine and I had dinner and attended Jane Elias's "Do This One Thing For Me", a one woman show about her relationship with her dad, a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. It was moving and still funny, a great production. After we went out with Jane (a fellow alum of Duke and my freshman hall) for some drinks. It was a fun night.
On the 18th, the kids and I slept in while Mumsy and Elliott got schoolwork done and headed outside where the good weather prompted them to take a pedicab through Central Park. They got to see the Balto statue which Elliott really enjoyed after learning about Balto in homeschool. We got dolled up in dresses and seersucker suit and met them at Macy's for brunch and shopping. The kids all got some wonderful new clothes and we had a long brunch in the bright and airy Trattoria Stella. The waiter predicted Elliott will be a football player after seeing how much he could eat. After Macy's, we all walked to Times Square for the matinee performance of The Lion King. I was pleasantly surprised by it. Alice bopped along to the music. The sets and costumes were amazing. We walked away from Times Square and got a cab home to the hotel. We changed into play clothes and went to FAO Schwarz, explored all their offerings before getting some tea and a snack at their sweet shoppe. We crossed over to Central Park and got a horse carriage ride. The forsythia was out and the trees were starting to flower, it was sunny and warm, there were lots of people out enjoying Spring. After our ride, we went to The Plaza Hotel basement food court and got some dinner, crepes and pasta.
Sunday we headed over to Pier 83 where 42nd Street meets the water on the west side. We met Catherine there and boarded the Liberty Cruise. We got a great view of the Manhattan skyline from the water. I particularly liked seeing the contrast with the New Jersey side which had lower more spread out buildings, including the charming Lackawanna ferry terminal, where trains deliver people to the ferry boats to Manhattan. We continued down right past Ellis Island to Liberty Island, getting great views of the Statue of Liberty from the comfort of a boat with seats rather than having to wait in line. When we returned to Pier 83 we were approached by the harried/haggard driver of an aged gray stretch limo. After a little negotiation, we hopped in to go to Catherine's neighborhood. It was so funny to be in such a long car. The kids were all excited about the television and I couldn't help think how filthy it all must be. Alice even stretched out on the couch like seat, lounging there like some kind of rock star (her mother screaming "Ewwww" to herself). The driver was really impressed and exclaimed, "Those are the best behaved children I've ever seen!" before giving them all his business card. We went up to Aunt Catherine's and saw her apartment. Alice crawled right up into the sunny windowsill like a cat. The boys roughhoused and jumped on the bed. She had lots of art and pretty rugs and a view of the Empire State Building. She's on the 6th floor of a 6 story building and it was surprisingly quiet and bright - a perfect peaceful oasis in the city. We walked to a neighborhood restaurant that's actually owned by someone with Idaho connections that Mumsy knows. "Cowgirls" is a perfect family spot with food to please children and fun 1940s cowgirl decor. After that, we walked over to Washington Square Park where we listened to some jazz (one man played two trumpets at once!), watched these twins do a show where mostly they extorted money from the crowd before one of them jumped over a line of 5 audience members, and played on the play equipment. From the park we walked to the subway and hopped on to go uptown. It was pretty crowded so at first we stood but once some people exited we were able to get seats. I'm always surprised how rickety and clickety clackety the NY subway seems compared to DC. It was a loud swaying ride to 68th St. Then instead of heading north to 72nd, Catherine took us south to 64th because she really wanted Alice to see Alice's Tea Cup and Mumsy had wanted a cup of tea. After a long wait with the kids entertaining themselves in a shopfront, we were seated and had treats and tea. We proceeded on to Camille's when we were done. To me, Camille's apartment will always be quintessentially NY, because it was the first place I ever was in NY. It's small and has a garbage chute in the stairwell, an old dark elevator, and a small lobby with art nouveau clay tiles. When I was little it was all pink (Camille said that was a rebellion after her divorce), but now the guest bedroom is green and the main rooms are yellow. It is still cozy and comfortable with wonderful eclectic decorations including a lot of Bill's classic antiques and "Billy lamps". The children had a blast playing with Bill while we got some time with Camille. They led us over to "The Beach" which Clyde kept playing jokes with.... "Elliott didn't you know we're going to the beach?" It was a nice small restaurant with a pub feel with kelly green booth benches and yard umbrellas and string lights. After dinner, we were treated to ice cream with hot fudge sauce back at Camille's before grabbing a taxi back to the hotel.
On Tuesday, we got up and went to breakfast at Cafe Europa for our third day in a row. Once we found a (somewhat) affordable clean cafe with food everyone liked we stuck with it! As it turned out, it was a regular hangout of Catherine's, close by her drawing classes. She joined us and we headed back to the hotel and got our luggage and made the trek down to Penn Station. I'm glad she came with us to get us to the best entrance and get settled and situated. Schlepping bags was no fun. I wish we could've checked them, but we made it. The Acela train is made for business passengers more than it is traveling families with lots of luggage. The first train car was crowded but we were fortunate to find a table for four in the next car. I sat next to a liberal human rights organizer of some sort and it was kind of fun to hear him talking about political strategies in rural red states. He was surprised I knew so much of what was going on in Idaho. In their experience and polling, not many Idahoans were aware of the Add the Words campaign. The children really seemed to like the train. They learned it reaches up to 135 mph on the trip.
Stay tuned for Part 2....