Field Report:
NYC: Day 5
West Side Story


Rosie, MaceVindaloo, ThePlazaQueen, SteakGrrl, Diana, Wraith6, Runt, Farklempt, Susu, PandaCat, Csillag

When we were planning this trip in chatrooms, we realized that it would be best to consolidate our sightseeing. Manhattan is physically small (only 13 miles long and a couple of miles wide) but it's densely packed and though we planned to take public transportation, we'd cover the features and the distances between them on foot. And running around can get tiring and time-consuming, so better to consolidate as much as possible. As we had bought tickets online to see a play in the theatre district tonight (by Times Square on the west side of Manhattan) we'd stay on the West Side today and make our own Story! (Hey, we're getting the hang of the geography here!)

Since the happenings of Day 4 were long and ambitious, we got a late start today. When we awoke, we realized our feet hurt, and that wearing sneakers in the city had nothing to do with fashion ... it could simply be a matter of comfort and survival if one is to walk everywhere in this concrete canyon. However, today is the day we will be doing some more hoity-toity things in the evening, so we had planned to carry our "good" clothing in rucksacks. We'd wear the sneakers for hopping about town, and carry our shoes for the good clothes later, so we wouldn't be totally dorky looking!

We took the subway toward Carnegie Hall, though we wouldn't visit the New York Philharmonic's home on this trip. Instead, we were interested in a place with an earthier sort of fame, the Carnegie Deli, just across the avenue on the west side of Seventh Avenue. From the street, it doesn't look like much, and you might even miss it as you walk by. But note the crowds lined up inside, patiently waiting for some space either at a table or at the counter to order their deli fare. If you're lucky, they'll squeeze you into some empty seats at an otherwise occupied table so you can order, eat, and get out faster than waiting for a table of your own (there are not really tables for two — these are more like trestle tables for eight or more). This town has an obsession with speed and you do get caught up in it's rhythm, even as a tourist. This was a weekday, so the lunchtime business crowd was moving briskly along, taking their overstuffed pastrami sandwiches to go.

In many places, they won't seat you until everyone is there; as we got there early, we took a little time to run into a souvenir shop across the street. It was fun browsing, but they sold mostly the same type of stuff we'd seen last night at the Empire State Building. That's a good travel tip: don't buy your tchotchke at the major monuments and attractions — save your money and get them at discount shops instead. If you think enough ahead, areas like Chinatown or the weekend flea markets at Chelsea are even cheaper than these stores.

While out on the street, we saw our first Presidential Motorcade — the seal of the President of the United States was emblazoned on the side of the normal black Cadillac limousine one sees, along with the black Chevy Suburbans, NYPD motorcycle police, and regular NYPD patrol cars. There were panel vans and minivans of various colors, but no horses this time! We did wonder what the President or Vice President was doing in town this time?

Once assembled, we found we were lucky to be a large enough group to warrant our own table. We ordered quickly — no dawdling, remember? As we waited, we gawked at the impressive collection of many autographed photos from celebrities of every stripe and status who had come to nosh here. The framed headshots covered nearly every inch of available wallspace, and then some. We barely got a chance to get into a round of "spot the celebrity" (we'd gotten through Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu, soap opera star Susan Lucci, singer Neil Diamond, comedian Arte Johnson, kiddy pacifier Barney, among a few others) when our food arrived. To say the portions are enormous would not be an adequate understatement — there is not a word big enough to convey the size of these things, even if you are Wedge Antilles! And it was all very good — their signature pastrami sandwich is house-made, and so famous that the New York City Olympic Committee used it as the standard against the mass of a gold medal. A stretch, but we see what they mean. The matzoah ball soup is made with real chicken stock, and comes in a cup which is poured tableside over the matzoah ball dumpling and kreplach — ground chicken liver "wontons" — with enough soup left over in the cup for a bit of a second serving. Though this is a Jewish deli, they are not kosher, so you can order something like a bacon and cheese sandwich and not have the waiter scold you. They also have a fabulous house-made strawberry cheesecake, so be sure you try to leave some room in your belly for a few forkfuls. Easier said than done, but do try!

Fortunately, we were able to pack up the copious leftovers and leave them with those who needed to get back to work. They'd refrigerate them for later, so we wouldn't have to stuff them in our rucksacks (and thus perfume our nice clothes and shoes with the redolence of pastrami — we wonder if chef Emeril Lagasse is talking about Carnegie Deli pastrami when he says, "Put some of this in your pocket, I guarantee you'll have the whole subway car to yourself!" Though we beg to differ ... if it's a Carnegie Deli pastrami sandwich, everyone might be trying to get close to you!).

We walked up to Columbus Circle, which is technically the geographic center of Manhattan, even though New Yorkers refer to that area as "uptown." Will we ever figure out the local geography??? It's heavily under construction, and there are some curious stories about the buildings located on this curious traffic circle.

Columbus Circle was once the home of the infamous Gulf + Wesson Building. Through a quirk of physics, the size and shape of the building — combined with the winds in the area would cause the structure to sway — sometimes over six feet from its intended vertical position! It would cause windows to crack, the residents to feel ill, and the building to creak, and eventually the building was abandoned for fear it would someday collapse. It never did, but it stood empty until real estate mogul Donald Trump acquired it. What did he want it for? There is a NYC law that in some areas of the city, a new building could not be erected; it could be renovated as long as no new foundation was dug, nor a new footprint required. This was one such area. The Donald wanted to build a hotel/condominium here because the views over the west side of Central Park would be spectacular, and such views would command top dollar. But he couldn't demolish the building, and he couldn't build a new one. His solution was to strip the building down to its very structural bones and secure those so they would "be stiff" as he put it. He hired architect Phillip Glass to design the gold and black mirrored building that is another monument to the extent which the Donald will go to get what he wants. He called it "Trump International" and had a version of the Unisphere in Flushing, Queens (the globe from the 1930's World Fair, and shown in the movie Men in Black, and also near where the Donald had grown up) created (but shinier) and mounted it in front of the place. It set the tone for the revitalization of Columbus Circle, which had simply been known as an annoying roundabout traffic circle with dowdy buildings up till then.

Columbus Circle was also the home of the former New York Coliseum, which has since been replaced in function by the Jacob Javitz Center way the heck west on 34th St. Any developer who invested in this white elephant would be strapped by the same law as for the Trump International, but finally the Time-Warner company built ... um ... how to describe this place? It's a very, very, VERY swank mall, with restaurants like Per Se of ex-pat New York-exile and culinary wünderkind Thomas Keller. So desperate was the Time Warner Center to attract Keller that not only did they foot a large part of the $12 million restaurant bill, but they told him he could choose his neighbors. Keller chose superchef Gray Kunz, Masa Takayama, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Charlie Trotter, to create "the restaurant and bar collection" ... give us a break?? There was a minor electrical fire there last February which took a while for Per Se to recover from (because the chef is said to be obsessive-compulsive), but the Stores on Columbus Circle, as they are collectively known, opened more or less on schedule. It's a really snotty, beautiful, one-of-a-kind place, seriously! And it's not done yet, but it's a place for those with deep pockets only. (So all you AOL/Time-Warner stock holders who watched their stock shrivel a few years back — take heart!)

Another "never happened" fact about Columbus Circle — do you recall in Crocodile Dundee when Linda Kozlowski ran from the Plaza Hotel to the train station to catch Paul Hogan before he took the subway out of her life forever? The doorman told her the subway station was "3 blocks away". The station she entered was the Columbus Circle station — yeah maybe 3 AVENUE blocks (which can be 3 to 5 times longer than normal street blocks) ... just another "that doesn't work" tidbit. Another thing ... character Sue Charlton pulls off her shoes to hoof it to the station. NO ONE walks or runs barefoot in New York, in any season — the concrete is hard, the tar and asphalt are bumpy, and you'll step on gravel or glass or worse. Or twist your ankle on some cobblestones or cracks in he sidewalk. We cringed at the thought, knowing how our feet were feeling from four previous days of simply walking around this town!

Our next destination was about 24 blocks north of Columbus Circle and that is a long haul on sore feet. We hopped on a bus and arrived in front of the American Museum of Natural History in no time. Yet another attraction included with our CityPasses, this museum had something for everyone — yes, it's a Victorian-era name and it's a Victorian-era museum. It's architecturally a castle; it would have had a courtyard, but the building was never completed. When we were little, it held many static displays, rather than the colorful, animatronic, video-enhanced things kids get today. And we loved it — dioramas of stuffed animals in realistically depicted environments, semi-naked humanoids hunting or cooking in the many ages long ago, wired and mounted real dinosaur bones and eggs! 1:1 scale models of a blue whale or giant squid mounted on the ceiling! Half an embryo, mounted in Plexiglas! Bugs! Worms! Real gemstones! Meteorites! This was the greatest freak show in the universe, but teachers and parents actually wanted you to come here! The old Hayden Planetarium was here too, with it's creepy view of the night sky. What would it be like now?

Believe it or not, the spirit of the old place was preserved. With better research and better materials, the brachiosaurus skeleton rearing up on it's hind legs to land on an attacking allosaurus is even MORE awe-inspiring, and that pack of stampeding elephants is still there! The monuments to Theodore Roosevelt, who donated many taxidermied and collected specimens and artifacts, are still there, cleaned and brightened. Even the dioramas — including the one of a polar bear killing a harp seal, or the pod of dolphins — they're all still there! The beautifully painted backdrops and action poses still took our breath away — the paintings and depictions are considered better than any theatrical set, we'll have you know! Even the whales and squids and magnified worm models were here, though the dinosaur exhibition had been seriously revised and improved. The bones and eggs and fossils were no longer housed in glass coffins in institutional-gray-green painted ballrooms. And they are as wondrous to the Wooklets in the group now as they were to us longer in the tooth beasts.

The Hayden, however, was long-gone, but the tradeoff was more than worth its demise! We are all fascinated with space in one way or another and the Rose Center for Earth and Space is like a museum within a museum dedicated to space. The centerpiece is a gigantic spherical IMAX theater, known as the Hayden Sphere (that's where the Hayden went!), seemingly suspended within a glass cube. We noticed that we had just enough time to get tickets (for an additional charge) to an IMAX film called Passport to the Universe narrated by Tom Hanks — note he is not an astronaut, but he did play one on Apollo 13. (We actually wanted to see the show narrated by Harrison Ford, but we missed the showtime ... thus we didn't totally dork out!) We got great seats inside the dome with a completely unobstructed view. The 20-minute film was a high energy rollercoaster ride from earth to the farthest reaches of the universe and back — those of us who remember Carl Sagan will be reminded of his "Ride Through the Solar System." Other features of this exhibit space were a life size model of the Mars Rover and scale models of the planets of our solar system (Jupiter is 9 feet across and Saturn's rings are 17 feet!). The Hayden Sphere is even incorporated into the exhibit, which is called Scales of the Universe. If the sphere, which is 87 feet across, is the size of the sun, the model of the earth, which is attached to one of the walkways, is only 10 inches across. It's all too much to really take in, and next time, we'll devote more time and gazing to the Rose!


Back to the main part of the museum, the exhibits are truly amazing, if for no other fact than they are so very old and plentiful by most standards. Many were collected back in a time when "conservation" meant shooting the critter and making sure you had it stuffed and mounted to show the folks at home. This place is less like the Smithsonian — nicknamed "America's attic" — and more like visiting grandma's house because grandma's father and brother were adventurers and the dropped stuff off at her place. And unable to throw anything away, her home is filled with stuff the macho menfolk brought back from their many daring escapes from death and imprisonment. There is a serious but batty / obsessive nature about the place, if you understand? I mean, did they really have to collect a whole village worth of indigenous South Pacific huts? A whole pride of elephants? A whole harem of gorillas? And though the ASPCA and PETA might lambaste us for this, we are secretly and guiltily glad they did, because the sheer majesty of the well preserved and beautifully presented bounty was truly wondrous to behold.

We did love the new hands-on exhibits — dinosaur footprints (or demon tracks, depending which side of the Darwinism / creationism argument you squat) to step into (We wish! They were under glass), bones they could touch, other bones they could excavate from a sand box, displays with buttons that backlit different facts about the different critters ... stuff we would have loved back then, too. And the gem display, who doesn't like shiny things set out so prettily? Or how about shiny things under blacklight so they fluoresce in natural and eye-bending dayglow colors? Must be the trip to Vesuvius back when we were 7-years-old, or the climb up Kilimanjaro from our days in the army ...

There was also an accidental display. We wanted to see the African cultural exhibit, but the lower floor was closed to the public. We took a peek and saw them setting up for a party — the museum's halls are actually rentable! One of us actually had nearly been married under the shadow of the brachiosaurus, but the room charge gave her pause — over a decade ago, it was quoted at $45,000 just for the room! No tables, food, crew, clean-up ... must be the insurance fees ... But the idea was gorgeous! Still, it did unnerve some of us to think we'd eat, drink, and schmooze while being stared at by a herd of elephants headed our way ...

We checked out the gift shop, which was very nice and filled with lots of books and videos as well as educational games, stuffed animals (including some realistic pandas, like in the Miyazaki film Panda, Go Panda), posters, and inexpensive knick-knacks. We dutifully got dinosaur-printed and shaped dishes and cups for waiting nieces and nephews, as well as a few science sets for the older kids. But their magnet collection was weak — this is the first time we struck out in getting something for the collection on the 'fridge door! Otherwise, it was very similar to other museum stores, though more culture-oriented than fish- or rock-oriented.

We sat down in one of the little kiosk / cafés scattered around the museum for a drink of something. A couple of the kids wandered off into the Hall of North American Mammals; we followed shortly after, and though they were many feet away, we could hear them whispering to one another, very clearly, plotting to sneak back to the gift shop ... There is a whisper spot here, just inside the curve of the ceiling! There is one in Grand Central Station, too ... wonder if this was accidental? Whether or not it was, we didn't reach them fast enough to prevent them from buying that panda doll! At least we were a giggly, happy crew leaving the museum.

We walked across the street right into Central Park, which really is an inspired Victorian-era idea. This part of Manhattan was inhabited by squatters who'd build shantytowns; wanting to create a park for the rapidly growing city, a competition was announced for the explicit purpose of building a part in that area. It was won by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux (the two also created Prospect Park in Brooklyn) and work was started in 1853. It's America's first large landscaped park, but natural elements and a forward thinking infrastructure were built into the planning, making it as usable today as 150 years ago. Crosstown traffic (in those days, it simply didn't exist so it was very progressive of them to think of it at all) is practically invisible from the walkways of the park, as the cars and taxis travel below-ground in what are essentially trenches hidden from the eye by shrubbery.

Vaux made sure no two bridges were alike, building them of Gothic cast iron or native Manhattan schist, a metamorphosed granite-like sparkly gray rock, or a variety of other stones; Olmstead is considered the foremost American pioneer of naturalistic landscape architecture, and it was his vision that defined not only Central Park, but what other cities would do with their greenswards. They dammed creeks and rivers to make the lakes, and doing it so artfully that no one ever realized any part of the park was not natural. Olmstead disliked sculptures in the park for this reason, but unique statuary has crept in over the years, including Balto the husky dog who mushed medicines to sick children in Alaska in 1925 (and for whom the Iditarod race memorializes), the Mad Hatter and Alice, the Angel of Bethesda, several Generals, poets, artists, War Memorials ... there must be hundreds, but they aren't obtrusive and they really make the park much more interesting.

Speaking of memorials, nearly a quarter century ago, a man decided that if he killed his hero, he himself would become that hero. Thus Mark Chapman became known as the man who murdered John Lennon, arguably the most talented of the Beatles. Lennon was gunned down in front of his residence at the Dakota, right in front of his wife, Yoko Ono. It seemed the whole world was plunged into disbelief and mourning that December night. Many of us were young teens at the time, and though the Beatles had not been together for a decade at the point in time, we felt the loss more keenly than we could admit at the time. We strolled down the paths of Central Park from the museum to Strawberry Fields, the memorial created and donated by the city of Naples, Italy and funded by Lennon's widow, who donated over a million dollars to create the memorial across the street from where she still lives. It features a 10-foot diameter gray and black mosaic emblazoned with a single word — Imagine — inlaid into the path itself, and the names of others to be remembered along the edges of a large triangle bordering Strawberry Fields. At one point, strawberry plants had been laid into the soil, but they were constantly vandalized and stolen, so are no more. That's sad, but when we got there, flowers had already been laid by an anonymous fan.

There were so many sunbathers, rollerbladers, walkers and bikers enjoying the day and the park. John Lennon was killed nearly 25 years ago, so one would expect the incident to be forgotten or at least blunted in our memories, especially given the insanity and hate displayed too often by the angry and the ignorant. But the beautiful thing is that we remember John, and from looking around, we see the lyrics of his famous song demonstrated consciously in daily practice perhaps more today than when he died,
Imagine all the people living life in peace ...

We came across a map of the park and headed toward the oddly named Sheeps Meadow, which is a bunch of softball fields. Apparently, this was once a grazing meadow for a flock of sheep; the shepherd lived nearby in a Hagrid-like shack, we imagine. And that shack was located exactly at our next destination, which is today the only business once allowed in Central Park itself.

We walked up well-groomed paths and cobblestoned sidewalks and saw the horse-drawn hansom cabs heading toward our destination. Though it was still daylight, we could see the strings of lights (not yet on) wrapped around trees and sculpted topiary menageries. This was the famous Tavern on the Green, which is familiar to us through descriptions in novels, as a backdrop in movies, and in the descriptions of many dining features in newspapers across the country. It looks like an ornate hunting lodge, and the owner probably had lots and lots of daughters.

Before we could gain admittance, we had to change into our party clothes — you remember the clothing we didn't want to smell like pastrami? We were directed to the bathrooms without pause, which means that the maitre'd was used to guests needing to change before being seated. The bathrooms were luxurious but the stalls were surprisingly small, so changing was a bit of a contortionism exercise (especially for those of us who had imbibed too freely in pastrami earlier today, and other days). We found putting on socks or hose to be the most difficult act in the stalls which were maybe three feet wide, if we were being generous! We figure they wanted to get more 'loos in her for those big parties ... So if you need to change in this place, be forewarned! (We had surmised the owner might have had lots of daughters, and he'd certainly need a lot of bathrooms if he did!) Of course, be sure to bring some change to tip the bathroom attendant, who does keep this place sparkly clean, so you don't have to worry where to drop your bag.

The decor is jaw-dropping but not necessarily because it's ... um... beautiful? Some might call this ostentatious and over the top, and it's possible that the person who designed this place had once read about opulence, but had never seen it ... No, it's not really that bad, well somewhat is ... but this is a tourist destination and it does deliver on fairy tale style promises. This place does a LOT of weddings, proms, coming out and debutante parties, and isn't it nice that you don't need to pay for "decoration" if you host such an event here? Hey, what does one expect from a review that states, "If Oz had a restaurant, this would be it!"

Despite this, it was clean, well appointed, the service was excellent and the food was really really good. The restaurant seats up to 1500 in its six dining rooms, and up to 2200 for a reception if you include tents over the gardens, where diners often request to be seated on balmy nights.

Actually, we came here for the pre-theatre dinner meal, so we were part of the first seating of the evening. Our waiter was very friendly, but he seemed a bit forgetful. He brought the wrong food, but was prompt and apologetic when we pointed it out to him. The problem is that he kept forgetting stuff ... we assume he got better as he warmed up to the evening. But really, we forgave him because not only was he nice, but the hostess who seated us gave us something to giggle about. The couple to be seated before us DEMANDED a window table, overlooking the garden. To us, they seemed a bit rude, but we figured, why not ask. But the hostess apologized and refused the request because window tables are reserved for parties of four or more. The woman was unhappy about it, and though we didn't overhear what she said, we figured it wasn't good because the hostess came back shaking her head. The customer kept pointing to other tables and gesturing, obviously insisting that she be seated "over there" instead. Each request was denied, and finally, they offensive couple sat down.

When the hostess came back, we apologized and said, "I'm sorry, but we're going to make the same request as that couple did. May we be seated by the window, please?" The hostess looked at our reservation, smiled, and said, "Please follow me," and took us right past the other couple and sat us by the window ... and you should have seen the glare that woman gave us for the duration of the whole meal! You could actually hear her fuming as she violently tore her breadrolls ... hey, didn't her mother tell her you'll catch many more flies with honey than vinegar? Okay, that doesn't sound so appetizing, but you know what me mean. We laughed more loudly than we might have, and really enjoyed ourselves despite our poor waiter's bumbling. This is a great experience for the NYC scrapbook! What's more, the youngest member of the party wasn't feeling particularly well that evening, but her behavior was stellar and polite. That woman would have learned a thing of two about proper behavior from our much younger, much cuter Wooklets! (Said one Wookteen, "She needs to chill and listen to more John Lennon ...")

The place really is fairy- and dream-like. The young girls really enjoyed their private fantasies as each course came out. They got to gaze at the crystal chandeliers, the painted ceiling. We all enjoyed the view from the coveted window as the trees on the property lit up for the evening — they are wrapped tightly in many strands of white Christmas lights. It was a view that would have Disney's imagineers groaning why they hadn't come up with it first ... Lights in the topiaries — deer, rabbit, and gorilla — also lit and greeted us when we exited the restaurant. Okay, so it's ostentatious, but it's also magical and you'll come to get used to it if you linger too long!

We had to leave sooner than we wanted to because we had to get to the theatre — be sure to tell your waiter you need to be somewhere by a certain time, and he'll see to it that your meal is served promptly. At least he didn't forget that part. We walked past the evil woman on our way out and she stared daggers at us! Can you believe the chutzpah of some people, as if she didn't understand the hostess's explanation for not giving her a window table? Not only did she ruin the meal for herself by holding onto an unnecessary grudge, but she tried to ruin our evening and blame us for her unhappiness, too. But of course, we were very happy, and rubbed salt in her wounds by smiling at her and saying, "Good night, and enjoy your evening!" at her as we went by, enjoying her determined glower. We refused to be bothered by her, and instead decided to write a fanfic about her someday soon. Honey over vinegar, and fanfic over stomachaches, right?

We promptly forgot about her when we saw the lighted scene outside. Again, we had to leave too soon, as a line of yellow cabs pulled up at the covered entrance of the restaurant. We spotted one that was configured like a minivan with two rows of passenger seats, and jumped for it — no need to be squished or take more than one cab to get to Times Square! All NYC yellow cabs collect the same fare, so this was a really good deal for us.

The lights of New York were starting to come on, and when we pulled into Times Square, we sure did know it! It's so bright that one could argue that it was still daylight! The texture of this modern "Great White Way" is different from the lights we used to see in the "Million Dollar Movie" trailer on Sunday nights, but it certainly was bright, and much more colorful now. We actually decided to get out about three blocks from the theater and walk the rest of the way so we could gawk at all the signs for the different shows and the customized advertising billboards. We'd never seen billboards like this, and though we've all seen this place on the annual New Year's countdown or in numerous movies, you cannot imagine the energy and sparkle of this place until you're walking right in it. Signs spouted steam, lights moved and blinked, billions of watts of halogens lit up everything, and every vertical space available became an advertiser's staked out property!

And it was really, really packed with people hustling to get to the shows. We made sure to keep a good grip on the younger set, mainly because they'd be too tempted to wander off toward the many distractions available — toy and souvenir shops, the Hershey store, restaurants, and the many things they would have seen on TV. If we got separated, even for a second, the smaller kids would have been swept away in the streams of people making their way to their destinations. And we were determined to make our show, and not spend all night chasing down missing children or adults! Though the seedier and porn elements had been largely cleaned up from what was once a very bright red light district, temptations of other sorts have become no less prevalent. It's actually quite safe here, but it never hurts to be cautious.

If something bad should happen, there are mounted police patrolling the area — horses can get through crowds more easily than police cars, so go ahead and ask one of them. They are regular NYC Police officers, not a special unit. Why use horses for crowd control? Because the cops are seated above the crowd, and in general, even people who will harm a fellow human will not hurt a horse. For one, Americans are horse-lovers in general and for another, those beasts are big. Imagine a 10-foot-tall high thing weighing half a ton stepping on you?? The horses also navigate the packed bumper-to-bumper traffic — the cars really do pack the roads with often only a few scant inches between them. And they all move when the light turns green, so stay off the streets unless you're at a cross walk. And for your mother's sake, don't drive here if you can help it — let the cabbies deal with it, or better yet, get out just before you get there and walk the rest of the way.

In no time, we were under the marquee for The Lion King, the Broadway Musical! These tickets are tough to get — we tried seeing the roadshow version, but those tickets were sold out months in advance of their arrival in our respective towns. So one of the very first things we booked when we planned our trip were these tickets. And they turned out to be actually cheaper than the roadshow tickets, even including the processing fees. Actually, we saved on shipping fees because we opted for email delivery of the PDF. One prints the file out, and the ticket-taker scans the barcode on the printed sheet. We love modern technology!

The decor of the theatre is very much like Grandma's sitting room — you know, the place where you sat up straight and drank your tea and felt grown up? The carpeting was a muted green, red, and orange floral print, and though the seats were not covered in needlepoint, we imagined they were! The place was very much like a comfortable middle class family home, if your family happened to own a theatre. It was certainly fancy enough with polished carvings, gilded features — and not as dark as the word "Victorian" evokes ... maybe more Regency or Edwardian style, like the home of the Banks family in Mary Poppins? More muted, more mauve. But it was air-conditioned and didn't smell of smelling salts or barley water!

We highly recommend getting to a live show at least an hour early — there is a gift shop inside entranceway, where you can get the bird kites, CDs, souvenirs books, stuffed animals, programs — everything you'd want but shouldn't have! And if you are late, you might not be seated at all! The ushers shut the doors before the orchestra starts its warmups, so that the enjoyment of those who made it on time is not compromised. They will seat latecomers at their discretion, or at intermission. This is the normal practice on Broadway, at the Opera, ballet, etc., so suck it up.

The New Amsterdam Theatre is actually quite small with a capacity of 1,771, especially when compared to Radio City Music Hall's 6,000. The house was packed, and there was a very intimate feel to the place. We don't think there were really any bad seats in the house — we could see every tic and facial twitch, could even hear the drawn breaths as the actors panted their way across the plains. There are some obstructed views — the balcony is supported by columns — but the sales and ticketing systems will assign the best available seats at the time. So unless you waited too long or were just simply unlucky, you'd enjoy a full view of the stage.

It seems everyone is into putting the show down for one thing or another, but we conclude those are just sour grapes. We had a great time, and truly and fully enjoyed the sets, the music, and the energy of the actors.

Returning from the wilds of the African Savannah to the urban wilds of Times Square, we hummed our favorite tunes from the show as we made our way to the nearby subway station. Many of the stations we had seen over the last few days were quite attractive, especially if they had been recently renovated, but the Time Square station was not one of those. It was more like the station from hell. It must extend under the entire Square so we had to walk forever to get to the platform for the train that would take us back to Queens. Since several trains — both local and express for each line — run on the same track, we had to wait a little while for our train to arrive. Fortunately when it did, it was an express train.

Still the ride back was about 40 minutes, and we were pretty drained. We could have used a cool drink as a nightcap and thought we would stop in at Johnny Rocket's, which was on the way home, but they were lined up halfway down the block to get in. We decided to scrap that idea and admired the full moon, which was an unusual shade or orange that night. And hummed "Hakuna Matata" instead!


Day 1: The Courage of the Fearless Crew Midtown, Grand Central Station, Circle Line
Day 2: Lessons & Exotica ICE, Union Square, Little Italy, Chinatown
Day 3: "and on the seventh day He rested ..." Incarnation, Waldorf-Astoria, The Plaza, St. Bart's, Central Park, Harry Potter
Day 4: Just Another Manic Monday St. Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, U.S.S. Intrepid, the Empire State Building
Day 5: West Side Story Upper West Side, Strawberry Fields, American Museum of Natural History, The Lion King
Day 6: International Men (and Women!) of Mystery Ellis Island, United Nations, Guys & Dolls
Day 7: Weesa Goin' Home! Airport Tips, Ethnic Enclaves

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