Friday, July 07, 2006

Small Town Girl in the BIG Apple!

Oh, my, where to start!

First of all, anyone who has never been to New York and is close enough to get there on the train, but scared to go to the BIG CITY... I can truly say that every New Yorker I dealt with personally was WONDERFUL. I was not shy about asking for assistance with directions and such and had a great time.

I took the train from Lewistown to Philly... had a two-hour layover there, so I had lunch from my two favorite places in the 30th Street Station... the Au Bon Pain shop and the smoothie stand right across the corridor. Mozzarella and tomato with pesto on a baguette and a blueberry and banana smoothie. YUM! At least it was healthy.

The train from Philly to New York was not packed like the first train had been. I could have stayed on and gotten to the city earlier, but since I couldn't check into the hotel until later in the afternoon, I chose the "break" and was very glad when I had so much space. My hotel in the city was directly across from the station, so very easy to get to.

Hotel Pennsylvania (as in the song "Pennsylvania 6-5000".... still is their phone number!) is an older hotel, only two stars and a little shabby around the edges, but my room and bathroom were clean, as were the beds, sheets, and towels (when I finally got some... that was my only complaint, that I had to ask for towels in my room). I had gotten a little worried with some of the reports on, but I didn't need four stars and the location couldn't be better. After checking in and cleaning up a bit, I explored the neighborhood. Lots of shops and little restaurants. Only one block from Macy's, five from the Empire State Building, and six from Times Square! Many subway lines run through that area, too, so getting elsewhere in the city was no problem.

On the morning of July 4, I found my way to Coney Island with every intention of watching the hotdog eating contest, but it was already way too hot and humid and way too crowded for my tastes. By the time I decided to bag it and see who won on the news, it was really too late to go back to the middle of Manhattan since I wanted to be at the airport by 3 p.m. in time for Fanny's flight. Back at the new Coney Island subway station, I asked the young lady in the information booth how she would go about getting out to JFK if she had to leave from work to get out there. She gave me clear, concise directions on which trains to take and which stations to transfer at, so I got out to the airport with time to spare. Of course, I had brought some knitting with me for waiting, so I could people-watch happily.

Fanny's plane arrived on time, but there was a bit of a backlog unloading, so she didn't make it to the terminal exit door until 4 p.m. (She told me later she knew I would be knitting and wouldn't mind the wait, lol. Does she know me or what?) We took the Long Island Railroad back into the city (a few dollars more than the subway, but much quicker!), right to Penn Station! Got to the room in time to see the end of the World Cup game (which Germany unfortunately lost), then went out for some exploration, a sandwich, and down to Battery Park to watch the fireworks with a few hundred thousand of our new best friends. (The Macy's fireworks are supposed to be the biggest show in the world... the ones at Penn State are the fourth biggest... sorry to say, I wasn't impressed by NYC's. The fireworks at State College are all shot from one area, surrounded by mountains to bounce the sound back to the spectators. There may not be quite as many, but there is quite literally more "bang" to the buck!)

The next day, we had an appointment with a "Big Apple Greeter" for a private tour of Chinatown and Little Italy. If anyone is going to be visiting New York and staying for more than one night, TRY TO GET A GREETER TO GIVE YOU A TOUR!!! It's a free service provided by volunteers who are excited about showing their city to tourists. NO TIPS ALLOWED!!! You can specify the area you'd like to see or make it "greeter's choice". We got a retired gentleman who used to work in the gourmet food wholesale business and he was fantastic! He took us to the Trade Center site and the little church across the street that survived the collapse and was the place where so many people posted signs on the iron fence looking for missing friends and family. The church was also used by rescue workers as a place to sleep, get something to eat, get foot care, etc. Historically, it is where George Washington attended church when he was in New York City, including the first church service after his inauguration. It is still a working church, but they also maintain a shrine to 9/11 and the firefighters, police, and rescue workers. VERY moving!

We walked down the street to the federal court buildings (where they film all the outside shots on the steps in Law and Order) then down into Chinatown and Little Italy. He told us the history of the areas as well as showed us into some of his favorite shops. The piece de resistance was an Italian food shop that used to be one of his customers when he was working. He became friends of the family that have owned the shop since its beginning and took us in to introduce us! (Di Palo's at 200 Grand Street, for those of you who can get there) We met the brother and sister who are the current owners (Fanny had to take some teasing about the soccer loss when they found out she was German), and then the sister brought out a plastic clamshell container holding slices of fresh Mozzarella. "Here... this is for you to try!" O M G .... fresh Mozzarella, made in the back room from her grandfather's recipe from the old country!!!

Mr. Darmstadter asked if we wanted to see anything else, but since we were soaked from the rain and I knew that he had to get out to JFK to pick up a friend, we let him leave then. We were only two blocks from the hotel I had stayed in a year and a half ago when I went to New York with Marion, so I was pretty familiar with that part of town. We went back up the street to Ferrara's for some gelati, then took the subway uptown to Grand Central Station. I wanted to see the ceiling there (very beautiful), then we went to Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Got there just in time for the end of an organ recital (I LOVE that, and seem to be that lucky a lot). Checked out the brochures I had picked up about bus tours, and decided we wanted to do the Gray Line Uptown Loop (Central Park, St. John the Divine, Riverside, Harlem, and Museum Row). We even worked in a carriage ride through Central Park before we went back to the hotel so I could change to different shoes. (Memo to self: do NOT take nylon socks when you know you're going to be walking!) By then, we were pretty close to exhausted, even Fanny's much younger legs were screaming, so we finished up with a trip across 7th Avenue to a bargain clothing store where Fanny had seen a "New York" t-shirt that she was sure her sister would like (and it was different from the street vendor/gift shop shirts). We were "a little" hungry, so decided to find some "real New York" (not chain franchise) pizza... and Fanny found out that American baseball fans are a lot like German soccer fans in their enthusiasm.

Checked out of the hotel the next morning thinking we were going to be on the train for PA in less than an hour. WRONG! They were "moving equipment" in the trainyard and our train was (the only one to be) delayed for two hours. It took another half hour for everyone to board... and then a grandma who had come to shop in NYC with her daughter and grand-daughter tripped at the bottom of the escalator. Of course, the escalator kept moving (the Amtrak employees supervising boarding were both at the TOP of the two-story long escalator and couldn't hear the people yelling "STOP!" immediately). After they got everyone untangled (Fanny and I had been ahead of her, so weren't involved), the lady was sure she had broken her arm, but she refused medical attention since that would have involved getting off the train and staying in New York another day. Amtrak personnel are not allowed to give medical assistance, so the daughter rigged a sling with a jacket and they bumped all the way back to Harrisburg. (If it had happened to me or my mom, you can be darn sure it would have been seen to there in NYC, with Amtrak footing the bill and providing our transportation home!)

Any way, no further incident. We got to Lewistown, where my mom, sister, nephew, aunt and uncle were waiting for us. We went to dinner with everyone in Lewistown, then drove home. The cats were glad to see me, but not too sure about Fanny (except for Mimi, who loves any human who has a hand to pet her with).

Fanny had a phone message waiting for her, from her friend Michele, and she's now up the street to visit with her friend Desiree before she leaves for work. So much to fit into only four weeks!