Travelogue: New York 1999
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With fond memories, the World Trade towers
1970 - 9/11/2001
Itinerary: 8/12/99 Ė 8/16/99, A few days in New York, New York, USA. by Andrew Sigal

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Book List:

Fodor's New York

Thursday 8/12/99

Got up bright and early to take the 8am direct flight on United from Seattle to JFK airport in New York. Taking a Boeing 757, I have exit seat 8E, which is a really good seat, but has no window. It was a pleasant and uneventful flight. However JFK was really crowded and there was an amazingly long taxi line - I've never seen so many people waiting for cabs. Then there was a lot of traffic, so it was a long taxi ride. There's gotta be a better way. Maybe I'll look into trains or subways for the return trip.

I'm staying at a boutique hotel: The Sheraton Russell Hotel, 45 Park Ave at 37th St. (212) 685-7676. Itís a cute place. It lacks some of the amenities of a large hotel (pool, restaurant, etc.) but makes up for it in attractiveness and charm. Initially they put me in a room on 2nd floor. It was a nice room, but there was much too much street noise, so I had them change me to a room on the 7th floor. The new room is slightly smaller, but much quieter. These rooms are nice upgraded business rooms with two phone lines, a printer/scanner/fax machine, three phones, etc. Very convenient for telecommuting. One thing I really respect about Sheraton is that they provide these business conveniences, but then do not gouge for them. I have been in hotels where printers and faxes were provided, but there were steep fees for using them. Here, the printer is free, and all local calls a free too. I love that.

Tonight I went to The Livingroom (84 Stanton St at the intersection of Allen St.) to join my friend Linus, who runs Home Office Records. We saw two excellent acts: Joe Brack, and Trina Hamlin. Afterwards, went and had a great Belgian ale (La Chouffe, from the Brewery díAchouffe) at a bar called D.B.A (41 1st Ave.) Got back to the hotel really late. What a long day.

Friday 8/13/99 (Ohhh no! Friday the 13th)

Thoroughly jet lagged, I dragged myself out of my room late.

The concierge was nowhere to be found, and the desk clerk couldnít tell me where to go for coffee and a bagel! Good grief! How about: walk out the hotel and go three blocks in any direction.

So, I wandered a few blocks up Park Ave to Grand Central Station. Wow. What a building. It is absolutely beautiful. My only experience of Grand Central Station is reading Jim Caroll's description in The Basketball Diaries. Not pretty. Well, it may have been a grisly place in the 60's, but in 1999 it is a stunner. A beautiful starscape adorns the ceiling, the walls are gleaming carved stone. It is alive and vibrant. Currently there is an art installation in the front hall: Carousel of the Stars. Really intriguing.

After a good look around Grand Central, and a couple yummy doughnuts at Dunkin Doughnuts, I walked back downtown a few blocks to the Metropolitan Library. Another grand and glorious building. A couple years ago I had seen Martha Stewart do a piece on the history of the main reading room there, and was very keen to see it myself. It did not disappoint. Truly a grand room. The Library currently has an exhibit on the life and works of Vladamir Nabakov. I've always considered Lolita to be one of the greatest books ever written, so it was very cool to see some of his manuscripts and research materials and to learn a bit more about his life.

Finally it was time to head to the Empire State Building, which in all my visits to New York I had never seen. The building is nice from the outside, but the main lobby was a huge letdown. I spent a good bit of time looking around trying to find the lobby because I was looking for something really grand. Finally I asked a guard, and he told me I was standing in it. I had crossed through the lobby several times in my searching, but it was so underwhelming that I didnít realize I had found it. I stood in a 10 or 15 minute long line, and bought myself a New York CityPass, which would get me into the Empire State Building, World Trade Towers, MOMA, The Metropolitan Museum, etc. I then went up to stand in the truly epic line to the elevator for the observatory. Eventually I was able to determine that the wait would be over an hour, and the view wasnít very good due to the overcast conditions, so I decided to bag it. It was stiflingly hot in the line anyway, and I wanted to be outside, so it wasnít a difficult decision.

Heading further downtown, I went by the Morgan Library, which United Airline's Three Perfect Days had said housed a great collection of illuminated manuscripts and Gutenberg bibles. I walked into the attractive building, and through a lovely courtyard which housed a great looking restaurant till I got to the ticket desk and paid my $7.00 to get in. But, when I asked the woman at the desk which way to go to see the manuscripts, she told me that none of them were on display now. The lions share of the library was showing an exhibit of watercolors, and the display cases were full of pages from the first edition of Morgan's biography. So, they gave me my $7.00 back, and I was on my way.

Next stop was the wonderful Flatiron Building, followed by Union Square, where there is a really interesting front on the Virgin Records, and a lot of other fun and funky stuff. Continuing down Broadway, I roughly followed one of Fodor's walks to Washington Square, and then on towards The World Trade Center. However, I'd barely made it past Washington Square when the wind started howling and the rain blasted down. Somehow I never quite manage to make it to the World Trade Center. This time, rain and the lateness of the hour thwarted me. It was coming up on 5pm on Friday evening in the rain, and I realized that I had better head back to the hotel or I might not be able to get there at all. The rain let up enough for me to dash about 8 or 10 blocks to the subway, where I and 10,000 soaking New Yorkers bonded on the #6 train uptown.

After a nice shower to cleanse myself of the New York heat and rain, I headed over for dinner at Blue Water Grill in Union Square. I had a reservation for 8:30, but I didnít get seated until 9:30! Clearly this place over-books. It was a really beautiful room, the service was good, and the atmosphere was great, but the food was just OK. I started with a Gazpacho and then moved onto seafood stuffed raviolis. Each dish was just OK. I wouldnít rush back here for the food.

Saturday 8/14/99

One of my main targets for this trip was to get back to MOMA to see it more fully, and to spend a good long time staring at the room-sized Monet water lilies they have there. Unfortunately, the entire 2nd floor of the museum was closed to prepare for an exhibit called "MOMA 2000". I swear, there's no Y2K bug in the world that will cause as much frustration as that caused by the many attractions that are closed to prepare for 2000. As it happens, it didnít much matter anyway, since the Monet I wanted to see is on temporary loan to the Musee L'Orangerie in Paris for the big Monet exhibit there.

So, I went up to the third floor and was thrilled by the collection of masterpieces of modern art on display there. Apparently they have hung a selection of the best and most important pieces from the second floor galleries on the third floor while the second floor is closed. The display of architectural works on the forth floor didnít do much for me, but section of industrial design pieces was great. They have a whole section at MOMA for the display of beautiful manufactured objects. These range the gamut from custom designed furniture that really is intended to be art, to manufactured goods like toothbrushes and computer components that just happen to be beautifully designed. It is an interesting contrast to the displays of antique decorative arts on display at more traditional museums.

From MOMA, I had a pleasant walk over to Central Park. Wow! What a place! Again, all my preconceptions about Central Park were wrong. Somehow the media of the 1970's had managed to represent Central Park as nothing more than a place to go to get mugged. The reality is that it is one of the world's great metropolitan parks. It is huge and filled with variety. Ponds, lakes, fountains, playgrounds, even a small forest with dirt hiking trails. Astonishing. I had intended to simply cut through the park on my way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but instead I was captivated by the warm day in this great place. After exploring to my heart's content, I sat by the edge of a lake and read for a while.

Eventually I headed on, wandering up the streets of the Upper East Side. Past shops ranging from swank to mundane (but mostly swank), exclusive clothiers, beautiful apartment buildings, etc. Finally I made it to the Met. It was a much longer walk than I had realized, and when I got there it was much later than I had intended. The museum would only be open for another hour, and I really didnít want to be indoors anyway. So, though the Met was my target, I didnít even go in, but instead continued a few blocks further north to get a look at the great Frank Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim museum. Just like in the photos, it is a very cool structure. It is well worth a visit, and certainly worth a step inside to look up into the atrium. Again, time was working against me, so I didnít enter the galleries, but just enjoyed the organic shape of the building.

True to form, just as I was leaving the Guggenheim the skies opened up with a fury. Again I made my way through lashing rain to the subway, and thus back downtown to my hotel. The subway was a very steamy experience with the throngs of wet people, and though I'm sure my hotel was only a few blocks from Grand Central Station, it seemed like an interminable walk in the rain.

Later that night I met up with my old friend Lisa and two of her friends for drinks at the Time Café. We then all headed to dinner at a really good, traditional Indian restaurant called Modhumita (283 Bleeker St. between 7th Ave South and Jones street, 212-645-1456)

Sunday 8/15/99

Took the train to Upper East Side this morning, heading directly to the Metropolitan Museum of Art so that I could see the final day of the Dr. Gaget exhibit. I had missed this exhibit when it was in Paris earlier in the year, so I wanted to catch it this time. Dr. Gaget was a French physician and painter who befriended many impressionist painters, including Van Gogh, Renior and Monet. Van Gogh's portrait of Dr. Gaget fetched the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction (something over $80 million.) Anyway, the exhibit is fairly interesting in the way it brings together the works of these different artists, and some of the artifacts from Dr. Gaget's house that were used in still lifes. There are also some nice examples of different painters' interpretations of the same material. However, while I found the exhibit intriguing and educational, it did not feature many paintings that I liked particularly in and of themselves. There was one great Monet, and a few Van Gogh's that I liked, but in another setting I might not have paid much notice to most of the pieces on display.

The Met is a huge and impressive museum, and I'm afraid I only had enough energy to explore a fraction of it. The Temple of Dendur is really amazing; an entire temple covered in hieroglyphics, moved block by block from Egypt. There is a courtyard filled with fantastic mosaics and stained glass windows by Tiffany and his compatriots where I spent a great long time just sitting and taking in the atmosphere. The Met has an astonishing number of paintings by Vermeer, possessing 6 of the 13 Vermeers that exist in the US. They are well worth a look, though none is as striking as his works in the Louvre and the Reichsmuseum. Finally, I went up to the roof garden and enjoyed a snack while taking in great views of the city and Central Park.

But being up on the roof of the museum made me think about the Park again, and its magnetic pull brought me down the elevators and out into the street before I knew it. Again the park was excellent, and I enjoyed wandering through the Shakespeare garden, and sitting and reading on a sunny grassy knoll.

This evening I joined my friend Tina for dinner at The Elephant restaurant in the East Village. The Elephant is a sizzling, exciting, and really noisy little restaurant doing interesting interpretations of Thai/French cuisine with a nouvel edge. After a fine dinner I had a bit of a late night wander around the East Village, then headed home.

Monday 8/16/99

Another day in "The Big Apple". Actually, it's another gorgeous day. Where the prior days had been hot and humid, today dawned pure spectacular. Warm but not hot, sunny, but with a few clouds to give the sky character. So I got a couple of donuts and some of that oh-so-famous coffee from Dunkin Donuts. Sure, the new gourmet coffee explosion is a bonanza for us coffee drinkers, and those of you who didnít grow up near a Dunkin Donuts wont be able to appreciate this, but I still love Dunkin Donuts coffee. Oh, by the way, I got them to go. And "go" I did, to Bryant park, behind the Library. A pleasant urban spot where office workers and execs stop for a break, a chat, a picnic. Nice.

Today I intend to get to the top of the World Trade tower. Last time I was in New York, I started walking towards the World Trade Center, but it was always farther away than I realized so I never made it. Those suckers are tall, and they look like they're just a few blocks away, but donít be deceived, it's a voyage. After my aborted attempt at mounting the Empire State building, I felt pretty committed. Besides, I already had a ticket as part of my New York CityPass.

Hopped a cab, and jetted (er, make that crawled), across town and downtown to the World Trade Center. There were some really interesting reflections of buildings in the windows of the all-glass Hilton across from the World Trade Towers, which offered some nice photos. So, I wandered around and had a good old look. Of course, by the time I finally went in to go up to the observatory, the wait was 45+ minutes, and I only had about an hour before I had to head back to the hotel to leave. Ugh. I could either wait in the line and hope that I made it up before I had to go, or I could leave and miss ascension a second time. It was a no-brainer.

I left the World Trade Center and headed down to Battery park. Another great park in the city of New York. People were out roller-blading, sitting on benches, walking, running. It was great. I walked the whole length of the park and got great views of the World Trade Center behind me, and the Statue of Liberty out across the water.

Alas, all good trips must come to an end, so at 3:00pm I climbed into a cab for the long ride back to JKF Airport. About 75 minutes later I made it to the airport, about an hour early for my 5:15 flight.

I'm flying home today on a Boeing 757. Seat 9A, the most excellent seat in coach - right next to the exit door, with huge amounts of leg room. This is also the best seat for chatting with the flight attendants, which is always entertaining. And I had plenty of time for chatting too, since our flight ended up sitting on the ground for 2 hours. As we were taxiing to the runway, apparently a warning light came on, so we had to return to the gate and wait while maintenance fixed the problem. Oh well, better safe than sorry. At least I had a good seat and was in no rush.

© 1999, Andrew Sigal

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