November 2009

NY State Courthouse

"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories."

For the last day of the trip, I didn’t have anything planned in advance. I wanted to keep it open in case there was something we didn’t get to earlier. My mom wanted to visit the state courthouse where on its steps many Law and Order scenes were filmed. So we visited there first. It was nice to see the courthouse, although it looked like every other Roman-designed courthouse. I did spot the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian as we left the area. I didn’t realize the Smithsonian had other institutions located outside of Washington, D.C.
I wanted to visit the United Nations next. Unfortunately, due to a global summit that was happening next week, we couldn’t tour the UN as it was closed to visitors. Hopefully the next time I’m in the area I can tour the place.

United Nations Headquarters

United Nations Headquarters, sans the country flags.

Our last stop before heading out of town was visiting the famous metal bull that is the symbol of Wall St. Now, I thought finding a giant metal bull would be pretty easy to spot in NYC. Sure, there’s lots of crazy things to see around the city, but even a large animal cast in brass attracts attention. But it was challenging to find the “Charging Bull” for the simple reason that despite its connection to Wall St., the bull is not actually on Wall St. It’s close, but it’s a few blocks over on the north end of Bowling Green at Broadway and State streets.  We ended up having to get directions from a friendly New Yorker who pointed us in the right direction. We found it, surrounded by a large group of tourists eager to get their picture taken in front of it. The bull is sculpted in great detail, right down to certain, ah, anatomical features.
After getting a few pictures, we headed back to the hotel to grab our bags and headed over to Penn Station to catch a train back to Newark Airport. Work on the Airtrain was still going on so it was a bit chaotic getting back to the terminal. The flight back on Continental was on time and uneventful. I did spot the Continental retro jet (a plane painted in CO’s old color scheme) parked at one of the gates in EWR, which was fun to see. I had heard about it but never seen it before.

Final thoughts

Overall, the trip was a great success. I’ve been wanting to see New York for many years, so I’m glad I finally made it there. The city was everything I imagined it would be. From the ease of getting around on the subway to the diversity of different neighborhoods and restaurants to the hustle and bustle of being in one of the world’s largest cities, I enjoyed every aspect of it.

Even though I spent five days there, I barely explored all the city has to offer. If I get a chance to go again, I would love to get out of Manhattan and explore some of the surrounding boroughs. I’d also go visit more museums and walk through the north end of Central Park. New York City has no shortage of things to do, so I suspect I’ll be making many more trips there in the future.


A display of candies in the Soda Shop

For Day 4, 0ur last full day in New York City, I wanted to visit Central Park and my mom wanted to see another museum. We had breakfast in a cafe next to our hotel called the Soda Shop. The cafe is filled with pictures of old candy ads and sells all kinds of harder to find candies along with serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We hopped on the subway and got off near the FAO Scharwz store. We passed by the Apple store and I couldn’t resist taking a look. I love how Apple maintains the same look for its stores in each city and still find a way to make each one unique. In the case of the NYC store, the entrance to the store is on the ground level. That’s the only thing on the ground level. The rest of the store is located underground, so you have to enter the glass cube structure at the ground level and go down stairs or an elevator to get to the store. It’s certainly an eye-catching way to design a storefront. The rest of the store is your typical Apple store, complete with a long Genius bar.

Next to the Apple store is the famous toy store, FAO Schwarz. Known for unusual items like a piano so large you can play it by standing on it (as featured in the movie Big), the store is worth a walk through.

A display of Muppets in the FAO Swartz store

A display of Muppets in the FAO Schwarz store

One of the highlights of the store for me was the giant stuffed dragon on the second floor. The dragon has been my favorite animal since the sixth grade and my apartment is full of them. So seeing a giant dragon almost from the moment I entered the store delighted me. Alas, it didn’t have a price tag on it. I probably couldn’t have fit it in my apartment anyway.

Other fun things to look at included a nice electric train setup, the Muppet workshop where you can design your own muppet, looking at several large Lego creations, and of course dancing on the large quarter-million dollar piano.

As we were leaving the store, I noticed several people dressed up in renaissance fair type outfits. At first, I thought they were store employees wearing costumes. But once I saw a large group standing around outside, it was clear they were tourist. I never did find out why they were dressed up, but it seemed so typically New York that they didn’t attract much of any attention from other people walking by.

The FAO Schwarz store is catty-corner to Central Park, so the park was the next logical stop. My mom really wanted to find the carousel that’s located in the middle of the park. I was happy just walking through the park. We were there on a Saturday and lots of people were out relaxing, walking their dogs and just enjoying the lovely NYC weather. Even with all the other people, the sheer size of the park meant that it never felt crowded. The size of the park also means they have all kinds of attractions like a zoo, two skating rinks, an outdoor theater and a conservatory garden. In many ways it reminded me of Vancouver’s Stanley Park in both size and attractions.

A fountain in Central Park

A fountain in Central Park

As we walked over to the carousel, I heard the sounds of a band playing. After going around a hill, we found some kind of world peace concert going on, complete with a gentleman singing one of his favorite Brazilian songs. On the ground were large sheets of paper with line drawings of people on them that passerbys were coloring in. In a nearby lake, canoers were out paddling and a yoga class stretched out on the lakeside plaza. It just felt like a perfect morning in the park to me.

Eventually we found the Central Park carosel. Since I had already let my inner 5-year-old out to play at the toy store, it was easy to let her out again by buying 2 tickets to take a ride on the carousel. It had been several years since I had been on a merry-go-round and I had forgotten how fun they could be. Sure, I was just going in circles, but it was fun to listen to the music and wave to all the kids having a birthday party as I spun around.

After the ride, my mom and I were ready to head over to the American Musuem of Natural History. The museum is located right across the street from Central Park at 79th street. We picked this museum because it’s one of New York’s more famous museums and because of its location. I’ve been to a couple of other natural history museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, DC; so I was curious to see how this one would measure up.

The museum is divided into five floors, with each floor being devoted to a topic, such as fossils, mammals, culture and outer space. The museum was a bit complicated to navigate at times as it wasn’t always clear how to get from one floor to the next. While I took the stairs most of the times, the elevators were quite crowded since several elevators were for “staff use only”.

AMNH Lobby

A brontosaurus skeleton in the lobby of the AMNH.

Some of the exhibits were quite interesting. I enjoyed the space exhibits the most, as it included features like finding out how much you would weigh on various planets, films on various space research programs, and a history of the universe walk where each foot on the ground represented several million years of history.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the museum was really showing its age. In the environments floor, most of the exhibits consisted of various dioramas of animals in their native environments. I would have liked to see more informational films about the animals or have some kind of interactive exhibits. Looking at dozens of statues of animals doesn’t excite me at all, even if the sheer size of them like the humpback whale one is impressive.

The floor devoted to world cultures was even worse. Not only was it diorama nirvana, but many of the displays looked yellow and faded. On one display about Islam, a tag indicated that a item had been removed from the display- in 1995! The museum still hadn’t replaced it with anything 14 years later. I understand that keeping displays fresh takes time and money, but the AMNH could really do a better job in this area, especially since it’s suppose to be one of the premiere natural history museums in the country.

The fossils floor was a bit better. They had more fossils in their exhibit then I’ve seen anywhere else. They had everything from a tiny shrew skeleton to a giant brontosaurus and everything in-between. One of the coolest displays was a boneyard- a pile of skeletons from a dried-up lakebed. It was so neat to see so many types of skeletons jumbled together in one spot.

Overall, the museum is not a bad spot to go to if you need to fill a few hours, but there are better museums out there.

After our AMNH visit, we headed back to our hotel to get ready to see another Broadway play- Wicked. I had first heard the Wicked soundtrack when I was in college and later read the book that the musical is based on. But until now I had not seen the musical anywhere. So of course I was excited about finally seeing the musical whose soundtrack I’d come to love.

So after enjoying a lovely dinner at the Cosmopolitan Cafe, we hopped on the subway and went down to the famous Great White Way.

Wicked stage

The stage of Wicked before the start of the show.

The musical was magnificent. It had just the right balance of humor, drama and musical numbers. The costumes dazzle, the stage shines, the actors entertain. It is everything I imagined a Broadway play to be and so much more. It was definitely the highest point among many high points of the trip.

The only downside to such a fantastic, populer show is that it sells out every night. Wicked tickets are usually not available through the discount channels like TKTS or Playbill. Tickets for Wicked generally start around $100 for seats towards the back.

After the show, we headed back to the hotel to get one last night’s worth of sleep in New York City. The next day would be our last in the Big Apple.

Subway art

Subway art in the Broadway station.