On our second day in the Big Apple (why is it called that, anyway?), I ran up to Central Park through hectic Friday workday traffic, both with cars and with people. It took roughly five blocks over and ten blocks up of uneven New York pavement to get to only the smallest corner of the park. As I zipped around a pond blanketed with water lilies, I silently complained how we should’ve found something closer to here, so both RAS and I could take quick morning runs before our crazy sightseeing quests began.
After I returned and cleaned up, we took a HOHO bus to downtown. That’s a hop-on, hop-off transport courtesy of Gray Line, with double-decker seating where no one really sits on the bottom level even if it’s really toasty outside. This was an add-on part of our New York Pass package.
Even with our somewhat successful navigation of the subways and a few necessary taxi rides, this was going to be a major means of transportation for us, especially when we wanted to get an idea of where we were going. We had four days’ worth of travel on this bus, and we could also take tours of uptown/Harlem, Brooklyn and a downtown night tour. As it turned out, we only took this tour in the next few days, just to get from one place to another. And each time, we received one of their cheap ear buds to listen to the tour narration. I think we ended up with about 18 pairs once we left New York.
Starting its journey through a daytime Times Square, which unsurprisingly wasn’t as alluring as it was at night, the tour crawled along in the midday Manhattan traffic.
The tour guide was an old-school New Yorker who talked quite rapidly and a lot about its architecture. His spiel was interesting for the first 20 minutes of the tour, throwing in some interesting tidbits about the Times Square, Soho, Greenwich Village and other iconic Manhattan neighborhoods. And yes, we learned some new things about the Empire State Building we would not have known otherwise. For instance, the structure only took 13 months to build. And when it was completed, they had a few businesses. So workers were hired to go to each floor and turn on the lights on in the evening, so it looked occupied. Today, it’s more than 95% full – and that doesn’t include the hoards of tourists marching through from 8 AM to 2 AM every day (more about the ESB in a later post).
Because the heavy Eastern Seaboard heat was already beating down on us even with mostly cloud cover, and probably because he talked about things that didn’t interest the girls too much, we decided to stop baking in the occasional sun and grab lunch in Chinatown.
Similar to San Francisco’s community, New York’s Chinese enclave encompasses a relatively small and chaotic area, teeming with native produce, iced fresh seafood and over-crammed knickknack knockoffs shops. It’s not as walkable as its West Coast counterpart, mostly because there’s far more car traffic, but it’s equal in its sensory delight and overload factor (these next few photos are from RAS, not me).
We wandered into Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, which RAS and I checked out quickly on Trip Advisor, and it turned out to be a decent meal with a few steamed pork and vegetable dumplings, scallion pancakes and siu mai dim sum. Walking around the neighborhood, the girls poked around in a comic book shop and naturally had to make a purchase or two.
Later on, we decided to catch a Circle Line Tour, which is the most popular way to see all of Manhattan from the water. However, dark ominous cumulus clouds started rolling in from the west, and even a staffer said it was going to be rough ride on the boat. Luckily, we were able to come back and take the tour later in the week.
And good thing we did, too, because just as we caught a bus on 42nd Street to return to the rental, a cascading rainstorm tumbled down over the city. We actually disembarked at the Westin, just about seven blocks away from where we were staying, so we could get a cab back. Had it been just RAS and me, we would’ve been foolish enough to walk (swim?) back, but the girls wouldn’t have stood for that. Everywhere down the street, natives and visitors alike sought shelter under entryways and overhangs, because the storm was that intense.
Once the downpour let up, we ventured out to Mimi’s, a quintessential noisy and crowded New York Italian restaurant straight out of the 60’s and about five blocks from the rental. It was just a slight step above the Olive Garden, but we really didn’t want to go too far for dinner. At least the girls were in a better mood afterward, and JRS and RAS headed back to Times Square. NLS and I decided to rest up back at the rental, and get ready for the next day.