I must admit, after six months spent seated in a kayak, my legs and feet are not as tough as they normally are. Consequently all the walking I did yesterday wore me out. Thankfully, after getting my fill of the downtown scene yesterday, my plan for today was to sample the quieter “Uptown” part of the city checking out Central Park and some of the museums as I went.
After leaving Kirsten’s Bronx apartment I walked up a couple flights of steel stairs to the elevated subway tracks that run through her old neighborhood. A quick lesson from a subway ticket agent introduced me to how to ride the rails. The most important thing I learned was that, essentially as long as you remain underground (inside the rail system) you can change trains and go several different directions with the same $2.25 ticket. In addition I also learned that most often the shortest and most direct route to a destination (which may involve exiting the system and coming back in a block away) my not be the least expensive. Instead it may be more cost effective to ride a couple miles (somewhat) past your destination then transfer to a different line (for free) and backtrack to where you wanted to be. That was exactly the type of train hopping route the ticket agent explained to me that took me underground in the endless miles of brown brick apartment buildings in the Bronx only to emerge, a half hour and two trains later, in the lush green park that surrounds the Cloisters which was my first stop for the day.
The Cloisters are part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and house an incredible collection of art dating back over 800 years. The building itself is patterned after a monastery and actually uses many actual architectural components (such as doorways and columns) salvaged from ruined churches and monasteries in Europe. Situated in a lush garden of trees and flowers atop a steep hill overlooking the Hudson River it is a site worth visiting if you have any interest at all in art, architecture, gardens, or just plain peaceful places.
After my visit to the Cloisters, I returned to the subway to catch a ride south to 96th street so I could have a nice walk in Central Park as I made my way toward the Museum of Natural History. It was when my train blazed right past my stop that I learned another valuable lesson about New York subway travel… Be careful to not accidentally get on an express train when you don’t want one. After watching my stop pass by the subway windows in a blur, I frantically studied my maps and schedule to figure out what train I was on. It was then that I noticed the LED light display that said in plain letters “Express Train to Downtown”… apparently I was in it for the long ride. Just as I relaxed and figured “what the heck I’m in it all for the adventure.” the train stopped at about 59th street and I hopped out so I could grab a north bound train back up toward where I wanted to be. However, I’d made another small mistake and realized that although I was on a north bound train, this one was headed to Harlem. At the very next stop which happened to be 72nd street I jumped off that train deciding I’d had enough fun with trains for the moment. This time I stepped from the steel and concrete bowels of the subway into the towering high priced apartments and tree lined streets of the Upper West Side. Happy to be on foot I made a loop through Central Park on my way north toward the museum.
The park is an incredible gem, essentially an island of green in a sea of roads and buildings. While it’s not exactly wilderness it is wooded enough to almost forget that you’re in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. Complete with, miles of walking trails, small lakes, open grassy lawns, athletic fields, playgrounds, horse riding stables, a zoo, and more you could spend a month wandering the park and never see it all. My sampling walk was enough for now as I was excited to get to the Museum of Natural History to check out some of the displays. While the huge dinosaur fossil skeletons were amazing I really got a kick out of the full sized blue whale they have hanging from the ceiling of the ocean life wing of the museum.
Originally the plan was for me to meet up with Steve and Kristen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art however, when Steve called to check in when they got to town I was still at the Natural History Museum so they were able to simply jump on a different train and catch up with me over there. After my third hot dog of the day Steve and Kristen met me on the steps of the museum and we made our way on foot across Central Park to the Art Museum. The beauty and impact of the displays at the Cloisters was only a teaser of what was in store at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With not a lot of time, Steve showed me to his favorite places in the museum which included the Hall of Armor (which houses dozens of knights armor amazing in every detail) then the Egyptian tomb (an actual tomb dismantled an relocated inside the museum) and finally the museum cafeteria which has excellent a-la-cart food prepared by chefs right there on site. With so much to see it would be easy to spend almost a week exploring each wing of the huge museum. We had other places to go, however, so it will have to wait for another day. Before we did leave we made our way to the rooftop “Big Bamboo” display which is a new (temporary) feature on the museum’s roof which consists of a huge scaffold-like network of bamboo with a winding ramped walkway going up inside it. It was quit a sight to see.
From the art museum we hopped in a cab and got a ride downtown to Times Square. Where we stopped to take in the mass of people and lights before we found our real destination for the evening, the Peter Jay Sharp Theater located just a block or so “off Broadway”. There we had tickets to see “This Wide Night” starring Edie Falco and Alison Pill. Seated only a couple rows back in the small theatre we could almost see the color of the actresses eyes. It was a great show, (if perhaps a little heavy for my entertainment tastes) and a great experience.
After the show we grabbed a slice of pizza (only $2.75 for two slices and a Coke) then dove into a K-mart where we rode an escalator down two floors to emerge… in the subway. I’m telling you it’s almost like magic the way the subway system works around here. We enjoyed a cookie at Starbucks (in the subway terminal) while we waited for the 10:00 train that would take us back under the East river and on to Steve and Kristen’s place on Long Island.