Central Park has hills.
This came as a major shock, as I believed all of Manhattan was flat. Or if there had been hills, construction workers steamrolled them over in the skyscraper building frenzy of the early twentieth century.
But in the sunny 80-degree moderately humid climate, these unexpected ascents made a leisurely bike ride on the paved main park loop a bit of a challenge, even for relatively fit people like me and RAS. This is how we started our chock-full storm-free third day in New York City.
After renting bikes at Central Park Sightseeing (also on our New York Pass, which got us the rentals and entry into the Empire State Building – more on that later), we chose to do our own ride. You can also choose a two-hour guided tour, which will take you all around the park and make stops at points of interest like some of the famous statues, Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle, among others.
You will not see pictures of us with these bikes, because navigating the pedestrian clogged sidewalks and bike paths required sharp attention, and I just didn’t want to pull out my camera then. Also, my kids weren’t exactly in a picture-taking mood.
The park itself on a Saturday morning resembles the frenetic streets that surround it on the weekdays. But instead of honking, weaving taxis and other impatient vehicles, cyclists and runners at all different speeds zipped and zig-zagged on the car-free road, the bike lane and the adjacent dirt path. Nonetheless, for all its mixed history and notoriety, Central Park does offer a lush, green respite from the concrete canyons outside its boundaries. My only regret? We didn’t try to find the statues and other landmarks that we would’ve seen on the guided tour ourselves. One of my kids (I won’t say which one) was running out of patience, way too quickly, to take leisurely detours.
But I did manage to take a picture of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, the one you often see in movies featuring the park:
Later on, after we split up and NLS and I left early to do some shopping, JRS was willing to have her picture taken, post-ride:
We agreed to meet up in two hours at the Empire State Building. While my younger one and I headed down 7th Avenue toward Times Square, my hubby and older one attempted to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is right along the park’s midpoint east-side edge. This was something I really wanted to do, but after realizing the tightness of our schedule, I gave up on it for myself and wanted them to see it. Turns out they didn’t go either. Instead, they popped into famed toy emporium FAO Schwarz on 5th Avenue. Maybe next time??
But eventually, we regrouped at New York’s most famous landmark (or at least one in close tie with the Statue of Liberty). All I can say about this place…
GET THERE EARLY.
Or, if you don’t mind shelling out $50 per head for “VIP” access to bypass the cattle herd, then go for it.
I always thought that you just go up an elevator, then you’re there at the top, like the interlinked movies “An Affair to Remember” and “Sleepless in Seattle” portrayed. Guess it used to be like that.
It’s deceptive when you arrive, because you easily enter its main foyer, take an escalator, then see that the Disneyland-style snake lines are deserted.
Then you see the First Line…wait for the crowds to dissipate some…go through security…wait in the Second Line…get your tickets and your audio guide…wait in the Third Line with displays of green technology and construction…walk past a souvenir shop (already?)…wait in the Fourth Line…opt to or not opt to take your group photo against a green screen…wait in the Fifth Line…then get to a sardine can elevator to the 80th floor. Are you there yet?
Walk down a hall filled with historical pictures…Wait in the Sixth Line…and take the last elevator to the 86th floor. Yes, you’re finally, absolutely there. And all is forgiven, even after a 90-minute wait, once you see the views (even with hundreds of others doing the exactly same thing):
Our final stop for the day was Ground Zero, where the tragic events of September 11, 2001, began. Even though JRS was only three weeks old and NLS was not even born yet when this happened, they understood the significance of the place. They even showed a surprising measure of quiet reverence and maturity while we walked around the grounds.
The 9/11 Museum just opened up a week before we arrived. Thinking that it would be difficult to get tickets, I never tried to get them in advance. I think it was enough to just be there.
The new 104-story Freedom Tower looks complete, but it’s not. Five years of construction and other delays have constantly pushed back its opening, which is now slated for later this year. As one of the tour guides on the bus said, the natives are skeptical and won’t believe it until it actually happens.
We took the Gray Line double-decker to the site, and strolled over to the two deep double well fountains, where each building of the World Trade Center once stood.
Along the edge of each, the names of the 9/11 victims are carved in granite:
While you do feel a sense of sadness and anger when you really think about what occurred here, in DC and in Pennsylvania 13 years ago, you also feel a great sense of hope and resilience. I’d like to think the girls felt some of that, too.