We half slept in and half got up early. Sort of a compromise, designed to get the most out of our day without beginning the trip with too much of a sleep deficit. I made a spur of the moment decision which at first seemed rash, but seems more reasonable the more I think about it (don’tcha just love rationalization?). In any case, I shelled out $140 for a round trip taxi ride for the two of us from the hotel to downtown Manhattan, then the guy came and picked us up again when we were done and took us to the hotel to get our bags, then directly to the Egypt Air check-in. Expensive cab ride, but it was worth it because it bought us another hour at least in the city (probably two hours), without any stress about using the subway, or catching the right hotel shuttle to the airport.
We arrived in Manhattan around 10:15am, and climbed back into the cab at almost 2pm. It was a very short visit. So we were pleased to have been able to do everything we managed to do!!
Tara had it in her mind that she must visit a comic book shop in New York City. Don’t ask me where that came from. Our first stop was at an address I found online, but it turned out to be a location that was no longer selling comics, and is now more like a hotel lobby. Luckily, the man at the desk knew the comic book shop had closed long ago, and we were able to move right on to the next stop.
We began walking in a direction that I recalled would lead us to another comic store, but stumbled onto Times Square. Wow! What an excess of neon advertisement. It’s a tremendous section of the city – with action and colour and the sheer dimension of everything enough to pop our mouths open. We saw the great ball above a tower proclaiming 2010. I didn’t expect to see the ball – assuming it was removed each year on January 2. There was still multicolored confetti from the New Year’s celebration all over the streets and blowing in the wind.
First we stepped into a Toys R Us store, just because it looked amazing from the street. After getting our photos taken the moment we stepped in (just like at a theme park!), we saw a Ferris wheel inside the building. That gives you some sense of how large it is; four stories that dropped below street level. It’s divided into themed sections like Disney, Legoland, Barbieland, and Candyland. We rode the escalators and breezed through the store that exploded with lights and bright colours enough to be worthy of its prime location in Times Square.
Next on our list was the library that Gramilda had recommended, though I must admit we looked for it only because she said so, and not because either of us had any inclination whatsoever to visit a library. We went there via Bryant Park, which afforded our first good view of the Empire State Building. Tara fed dried fruit to the birds in the park, and then we watched people skating for a while on the temporary rink set up in front of the library.
The New York City public library is a stop not to be missed by anyone in the city. I am SO grateful we have a learned, traveled grandmother. We came in by a side door and thus happened accidentally upon the stunning foyer at the front entrance by approaching it from a second floor balcony. Marble floors, marble walls, staircases, arches, ceilings, columns, and even marble benches inside. It all glistened from polishing, and glowed pale caramel and cream. Chandeliers cast fiery sparks onto everything. We walked down the long marble staircase on one side of the room, crossed the foyer and then walked up the long marble staircase on the other side of the room. All the while our heads were tipped dangerously backward and we walked in waving arcs as we tried to see everything from every perspective (and not fall down while we were at it!).
The library is huge, with many staircases and corridors, so we drifted and gaped and continued to rise in elevation until we happened upon the crowning sight of them all: the McGraw Rotunda. A midsized room with 25 foot ceilings covered on all sides with handcrafted wood trimming, hand painted decorative borders, and then huge murals depicting the evolution of the printed word – beginning with Moses’ stone tablets. Tara and I were in awe. We were forced to sit and stare in silence for a long time, in order to absorb it. The intricate detail surrounding us is difficult to do justice to with words. Rather, I insist that if you are ever in Manhattan, do not do not do not miss the library.
Off we skipped back into the street and began looking for Rockefeller Plaza and New York’s 9th tallest building – the GE building. We were distracted by stumbling upon Grand Central Station. Wow. What a city. It’s like Athens, almost, in that a person carelessly walking along busy impersonal streets repeatedly comes face to face with a landmark from history. And like Athens, there was often no one other than me standing there gasping “look at that!” Of course we went inside, to say that we had.
I knew it was another public place that would have no queues and no fee to explore. We were unimpressed, and would have done better to discover the train station prior to the library. To be honest, Union Station in Washington, D.C. is much more of a show-stopper. But this one certainly was worth looking at. I especially liked the blue ceiling with gold zodiac designs painted on the ceiling amongst sprays of gold stars, as well as the traditional United States-themed carvings adorning the arch of every window.
We exited at the back of Grand Central Station in hopes of discovering either one of the two comic book shops that were supposedly located nearby, to no avail. We walked several blocks north without comic luck, then doubled back to renew our search for Rockefeller Plaza. Facing the back of Grand Central, we saw the glorious American Radiator Building with its stunning gilded crown. Completely understated was Saks on 5th Avenue. Was it the back door or something? Tame window dressings and two quiet entrances greeted us. I took a photo for my mother, who would have wanted to walk inside. I am the antithesis of an American Shopper, however, and really could care less about the place.
What we found at 630 5th Avenue was not what we were expecting to see: a rather ordinary tall building from sidewalk level. This was perhaps because we approached it only from 5th avenue and never actually saw 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Though I knew there was a plaza with a skating rink that was large enough to accommodate a gigantic Christmas tree…I had no idea where to find that plaza, and we were still scurrying to find a comic book shop and see the other high points on our list.
The Atlas sculpture on 5th Ave was exciting to see, because we recognized it, and though the street front was nothing worth blogging about, the building profile was also exciting to see, for the same reason – that we recognized it from the show “30 Rock” that we like to watch. We were blessed with stellar blue skies so that the sunlight lit the skyscrapers up till they glowed above us.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral across the street was phenomenal. Simply stunning. I love that its timeless beauty has been preserved amidst such glass-and-steel modern buildings that pack the blocks in that part of the city. Its design would fit comfortably among the cathedrals I saw in France. Prior to the trip, I had wanted to enter the cathedral, but by the time we arrived at it, we did not feel we had the time available to go inside. Though it was shadowed by tall buildings, the front of St. Patrick’s is a brilliant sight, which had to be enough for the time being.
We had one final address written down and we sought it out. I was a fool to wear attractive black leather boots that day. I wanted to avoid looking like my redneck roots just for one day in the city. I paid for it with blisters. Ugh – fashion bites. Tara was beside herself to find a comic book shop, and cranky with hunger and fatigue. So I walked on, resting only when I could no longer bear it. We passed Bryant Park again, turned a few corners, referenced our map, walked some more, and finally finally there it was!! Midtown Comics was the store to satisfy our great need. I sat on the floor while Tara perused the Teen Titans section.
Final stop: Hard Rock Café, another must on Tara’s list. We called our taxi driver to come find us and then went back to the center of Times Square to grab a burger and fries. Seated in the Hard Rock Times Square, Tara was glowing with happiness, and I considered the day a success. Four hours later we were settling into our seats on Egypt Air, on our way to the other side of the planet.
Trivia: I learned that this photo is of the GE building under construction. It’s called Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, and was taken in 1932 by Charles C. Ebbets.