17 October 2013

2013 NYC by Train 10 - A Stroll in CP

As we came out of the Guggenheim, we could see Central Park (CP) right across the street. With no entrance in sight, we headed south along the high stone wall. If I didn't know better, it felt like we were strolling along the streets of Paris --classic old apartment buildings to the left, trees forming a green tunnel overhead, cobblestone walkway, people resting / eating / reading on benches to the side. So relaxing.

We entered the park at about 85th St. The first informational sign we spied was for a CP app. As the NY subway app had been so helpful, we downloaded this one, too, and were glad we did. Then we slowly meandered south, mostly on the east side of the park. It is lovely with numerous lakes, statuary, and amusements. Many of the plants, trees, and landmarks were labeled, so an educational experience as well. Something for everyone.

One thing so interesting about CP is the terrain. Many highs and lows in the middle of this seemingly flat and concrete city. Apparently at one time the entire island of Manhattan was very hilly, but the dreamer and schemer architects of the original town moved dirt from the tops of hills into the gullies of the terrain to pretty much flatten the living, working, and shopping areas. But they were wise enough to leave the park in its natural form to keep the landscape interesting and unique against the surrounding city environment. Lots of winding trails, hills and dales, and boulders big enough to rest or picnic on, landscape surprises in every direction.

It wasn't too long before we came across the back of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is quite modern looking. We detoured back onto Museum Mile to see its historical front. It was under renovation and quite packed. We decided to stick with our plan to get the "lay of the land" on this trip and visit here another time.

Continuing down The Mile to the next park entrance, we admired the lovely apartments on the east side of the street. Our mouth's literally watered with envy, as we oohed and aahed at each one, more spectacular than the last. We tried to decide which we might live in if we had followed our retirement plan and won the Mega Millions or Power Ball lottery!! OK, back to reality. We re-entered CP at 79th. 

This park is a huge (6.5 acres) and lush oasis in a land of skyscrapers. There are plenty of places to just relax or enjoy the lakes of varying sizes. You can rent bikes or row boats or paddle boats; ride a carousel; fish; dabble in chess or checkers; play various sports including croquet, tennis, bocce ball; and more and more.

There is no end to the points of interest, monuments, theme gardens (Shakespeare or "secret" butterfly gardens, for example), fountains, and sculpture. So many things for folks to admire or study, or for kids to play on.

There are many special areas kids (big and small) would enjoy. Although we did not visit today, there is a zoo (and children's zoo) which contains polar circle, rain forest, and temperate zone habitats. We saw the harbor seal (familiar to us from our California days) pool from the outside edge of the zoo. And there are fenced off play areas dedicated to kids, as well, with signs that say "No adults without kids." I loved it!

While in CP, we did not have to cross any streets. Bridges or those iconic arched tunnels help you avoid auto traffic for block after block. We saw only one street traversing north and south through the park, but vehicles journeyed at a slow pace and so there were many opportunities for pedestrians to cross safely. Numerous bicyclers and joggers enjoyed the space with us on this lovely day as well.

 We came across a jazz trio just having a good time. Their guitar case was open for donations, but I don't think they cared about how much they earned. They were just making music, enjoying the day and the greenery around them. Tips were a bonus.

Then we saw Conservatory Lake where one can rent model sailboats  and maneuver them by radio-controlled power from the water's edge. You can also buy a sailor or captain hat to enhance the experience. Very cute.

Next we saw a puppeteer entertaining a group of small kids. They were enthralled and couldn't wait for the show to begin.

Near the south end of the park was a bevy of street food vendors. Lots of ethnic options, but we were saving ourselves for another visit to Beer Culture for the hot caprese sandwich (which I had been thinking about all day).

At the southmost entrance gate were two huge and grotesque Samurai-like art pieces. They solemnly guarded the entrance to the park. Almost everyone walking about took a photo of their friends in front of these protectors of the park (including us).

As we exited onto 59th street, there was a line of pedicab vendors (only $3 per minute) and horse-and-carriage rides (starting at $165 for 45 minutes or $265 during holidays). Horses were dressed with silk flowers on their ears and tack gear. Carriage drivers were in top hats and tails. Pretty romantic if you were willing to chance the busy car traffic surrounding them, but maybe another time.

At every corner and turn in CP had been something new and surprising. You felt safe and glad to be there. It was a well-used and well-kept refuge of green and gorgeous nature. We had not seen near all the grandeur of this natural haven. It was a happy, happy place!

And in the words or Arnold Schwarzenegger, "We'll be back!"

For more info, go to:  www.centralparknyc.org

07 October 2013

2013 NYC by Train 9 - Breakfast and the Guggie

A casual get up and headed to the French Cafe Un, Duex, Trois that was recommended by the Charleston folks from our hotel yesterday. It was also just down the block from our hotel. We did not know what to expect (especially price-wise), but wanted to try different ethnic foods and cultures on this trip.

Stepping inside the door of this large but intimate cafe was like entering a Parisian bistro. Little tables, beautiful delicate mosaic floor, crystal chandeliers, lots of dark wood, mirrored back bar, ornate columns throughout. The owner met us with a "Bonjour!" which topped off the atmosphere.

It took a while to start checking the menu as we took in the details around us. Wonderfully tasty coffee helped us settle into a leisurely breakfast. Mike ordered fresh squeezed OJ (cheaper than Food Dance in Kalamazoo) and traditional bacon, eggs, toast, and the French version of home fries with onions and red peppers. I had hoped for my favorite Eggs Sardou with artichoke heart, creamed spinach, covered with Hollandaise sauce, but alas not on the menu. So to stay in the moment, I ordered Eggs Florentine, a second favorite. All was delicious. For more info, see www.cafeundeuxtrois.com .

Our next goal this day was the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum located at 88th and 5th. We decided to take the subway there and stroll back through Central Park. We walked the few blocks to Grand Central Station (or Terminal) located at 42nd and Park Avenue. This place is amazing and I think there were as many folks taking photos here as there were passengers.

This magnificent edifice was built 1913 by the New York Central Railroad. In 1954 there was a proposal to demolish the terminal due to the railroad era diminishing and decline of the building. But over the years those plans drew huge opposition, especially from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. After much debate, planning and lawsuits, there came a major restoration during 1994-2000. We are so glad this NYC iconic building still stands today.

We browsed in awe from the top of a marble staircase at this amazing structure. We saw the beautiful brass (I think) clock in the center of the main hall, the ceiling which is teal blue and has constellations painted in gold (some primary stars glowing with little lights and much more spectacular than the photo here shows), the grand staircases, the original ticket windows (some still in use), sculptures, and much, much more.

We browsed a bit on the basement levels trying to find our departure platform and came across the famous Oyster Bar Restaurant. Mike loves oysters! Although it was 10am and we had just eaten, he was ready to dive in again. But alas it was closed on Mondays. We perused the menu though and vowed to come back on our next trip.

There were so many things to see here and we had not planned enough time. Its history is so long and interesting and quirky. So you must read and see more photos at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Central_Terminalhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Central_Terminal .

We had to pull ourselves away and head to our morning's destination. We took the 6 line uptown toward Pelham Bay (of the famous Pelham 1-2-3 movie fame) and got off at 86th. It was lightly raining and there was an umbrella man waiting outside the subway exit. We debated buying one, but decided not. The fellow was very nice though and gave us directions to the Guggie.

Outside the museum were food trucks (so common everywhere in NYC). They sell everything from hot dogs to tacos, to stuffed potatoes, to you name it. Mike got a huge fresh OJ with a little banana blended in. We shared. Refreshing! 

We admired the outside of another iconic NYC structure. No missing this one. White, round slices of circle stacked upon each other. Stark, no hint of the colorful artwork inside. Beautiful. To read up on the history of this one, go to:

 www.guggenheim.org .

Thankfully, just a short line to get in this day. The main exhibit on display was an installation by James Turrell, who is known for his light "environments."

In this case, from the open expanse of the 5-story rotunda you see massive concentric shapes. These start from the skylight above and slowly and continuously evolve in increasing color saturation down to you. These shapes might be circles, ovals, even round-cornered squares, depending upon where you are standing or lying in the room.

Yes, lying. There were huge foam mats on the floor, covered with humanity of every age--baby to sage age--peering up into the "sky." Laying there was actually the best, or at least most comfortable, view of the installation. Others stood with necks crooked back as far as possible. Still others filled molded benches with angled back support 

to offer some relief to necks and backs. We chose the angled seats.

The view up was fascinating, almost like looking at a stylistic version of the night sky. Colors gradually and continuously change from hues of blues, oranges, purples, reds, yellows, even grays and whites. The atmosphere and "temperature" of the room changed as the colors changed. The reds felt exciting, the yellows and oranges felt hot and dry, the blues were not cold but heavenly or angelic, if that makes any sense. Hard to describe. I guess you had to be there, and we were glad we were.

The color cycle takes 60 minutes. We saw about 20 minutes, but did not have enough gumption to see the whole series as our aged necks gave out too quickly. The environment was meditative, spaceship-like, and very cool. (Sorry no photos, but there is an article and photos here: www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/arts/design/james-turrell-plays-with-color-at-the-guggenheim.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 .)

After some hypnotic time, we took the elevator to the top floor and walked down the winding 5-story ramp. Again, we had expected to see what we have seen in so many movies, but we were somewhat disappointed. For this exhibit, no art lined the stark white outside walls. And normally the inside side of the ramp would be open to overlook down into the rotunda, but the nature of the Turrell exhibit prohibited that. The open inside space was closed off with white fabric scrims in contrast to Turrell's colorful art piece. Even though the circular ramp was all white and undecorated, we did see several other art exhibits in side halls. These included a static light display by Turrell and Kandinsky in Paris 1934-1944.

At the bottom of the ramp, we again admired the light show in the rotunda, checked out the gift shop, and exited into bright sunlight.

PS - Forgot to mention (and I'm sure you probably know already), that Frank Lloyd Wright was the architect of the Guggenheim. He is one of our very favorite architects and we try to see examples of his work wherever we go. One of the next exhibits coming to the Guggie is the FLW Usonian House. We saw that years ago, or a similar version, at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California. This Center was also designed by FLW and is a National Historic Landmark.