Life Between Snow Storms: A Wintry (But Fabulous) Week in New York City

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What kind of crazy Californian goes to New York in February? Especially this year, during one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory? Well, I guess that would be me.  Yes, I’ve just returned from a week in the Big City where I had a chilly, but fabulous time. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Minnesota that the cold in New York doesn’t scare me. I knew enough to come prepared with a warm jacket, stocking cap, gloves, scarf and insulated boots. Thus prepared, I found temperatures in the 20’s to be invigorating rather than chilling.

Fresh out of college, I lived in New York for three years back in the late sixties, and I’ve visited a number of times since, so New York is not unfamiliar to me.  But New York is so vast and ever changing that each visit is a perplexing mix of the familiar with the new and surprising.  I come as both a returning ex-resident and a wide-eyed tourist.

And as much as I love playing tourist in New York, I come, most importantly, to be with friends. Two of my dearest friendships, with Bobby Quidone and Phil Magnuson, I made when we lived, briefly, in the same apartment building at 84 East Third St., in the East Village.  Somehow, we’ve kept a friendship alive for more than 45 years, and it is a joy to see them on the rare occasions when we get together. My other dear New York City friend, Mary Morgan, is a friend of more recent vintage. Until about three years ago, she lived in the Bay Area, and she returns here yearly, so I’m able to see her more frequently.

And so when I do find myself in New York, I’m torn between rushing about to see what is new and exciting, and just wanting to hang out with friends. In the end, I do a little of each.  With only a week to spend, any rational person would compile a precisely-choreographed list of what to to and where to go, so as not to waste a moment.  That’s not me.  I tend to make it up day by day, but I manage to pack quite a lot in, even so.  Here in photos with captions are my impressions of New York c. 2014. See more after the jump, and check back tomorrow for my post on eating in the Big City.

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Photo above: I’d never been to the top of the Empire State Building or the top of Rockefeller Center (The Top of the Rock), so that was on my agenda this time. This photo is from the Top of the Rock observation deck, looking south to the Empire State Building and beyond.  I feared it would be frightfully cold and windy up there, but it was surprisingly pleasant.

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Want a free TV? Mary explores the garbage (some people furnish their apartments off the streets). When I arrived, mounds of neatly bagged garbage lined the sidewalks.  Why no garbage pickup?  Two reasons apparently. One, there’d recently been a heavy snow and  garbage trucks do double duty as snow plows, and two, the snow banks make it dangerous for the garbage men (they are pretty much all men) to gather up the garbage. Later in the week, the garbage had mostly been collected. One bonus of the cold temperatures: no smell!

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Looking east across Central Park, unusually quiet in the snow.

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I lived in this building on East Third Street between First and Second Avenues for two years.  My apartment was the one above the window with shutters on the left side. At the time, it was pretty much a slum tenement, and I paid $72 a month. The building has been extensively renovated and the current tenants probably pay somewhere in the $2-3,000 range.

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Looking north from the Top of the Rock, with Central Park in the distance.

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Bobby in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s entrance lobby.

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You could spend a week and not see everything in The Met. Here, one of the impressionism galleries– the next best thing to heaven. In these galleries hang dozens of Renoirs, Gauguins, Matisses, Braques, Picassos, Sisleys, Manets, Monets, Cezannes, and on and on. Tomorrow,  I’ll report on the wonderful lunch we had in the Met’s Members Dining Room.

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Growing up, I was seldom able to go to the movies.  When I lived in New York, I made up for it–one weekend, I saw nine films! At the time, New York had any number of repertory houses showing double features which changed every day or two. One of my favorites was the Avenue B Cinema, which was a short walk from where I lived. And so, one day last week I went in search of the Avenue B, only to find this construction site where that venerable theater once stood. New York is still a good place to see movies, but the old cinemas I used to haunt are nearly all gone.

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Farmer’s markets seem to be popping up everywhere on New York’s sidewalks.  This one, on Columbus Avenue, on the Upper West Side operates all year around.  Just push the snow banks aside and set up!

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The Museum of the City of New York had a photo exhibition about Hurricane Sandy.

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On this map, areas shaded in blue show what was flooded by the Sandy storm surge–the darker the color, the deeper the water.

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With Mary Morgan, relaxing in the lobby of the Museum of the City of New York

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In Brooklyn near the East River, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, an area which sustained flooding during the the Sandy storm surge.

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Because Carnegie Hall is considered one of the world’s premier music venues, tickets can be pricey and hard to come by. But did you know that Carnegie Hall also contains two smaller  concert venues where tickets are likely more available and priced far lower?  Just one day in advance, I was able to buy tickets on line for Europa Galante, a Baroque music ensemble from Italy. Mary and I got single seats in the first and third rows, and were able to experience an all-Vivaldi program close up.  It was great, and to me, more satisfying than a concert in a large hall. (Photo by David Samuel, via Wikipedia)

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Where to stay? I choose to stay at Park79, on 79th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam, for several reasons.  First it is just around the corner from where Mary lives. Two, I was able to pay using frequent flyer miles. Three, by Manhattan standards it is reasonably priced (I didn’t want to use all my miles!). In fact, I’d recommend Park79.  The room was basic, but clean and included a private bath. The location is great, near Central Park and the Museum of Natural History and close to several subway lines. Another thing I found out, if you want to save money, come to New York in February when hotel room rates are the lowest.  I learned that the rate for my room was $99 a night, but at other times of the year can go as high as $259. Rates, I was told, are highest in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

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Even though I’m an old hand at visiting New York, I still find it useful to have a guide book.  I especially like the DK Eyewitness Travel series because these guides focus on culture and history, rather than accommodations and restaurants.  IMHO, you’re better off using the internet to get info on the latter because it’s likely to be more up-to-date.

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6 responses

  1. Dear Gary,
    You make it sound so good. I was born in Brooklyn and went to college in Manhattan. I couldn’t wait to leave. You brought back some good memories. I also remember Mary.
    Love, Al

  2. Dear Gary,
    Loved reading about your New York adventures and to see the pictures. To see Mary was a real treat.

    Haven’t been to N.Y. in many years, but it is one of the things on Sophia’s and my list of things to do together, before she moves out into the world.

    As always,

    Love,
    Susanne

  3. Thanks for bringing back some old memories…ie….my friends and I staying with you in the East Village in the height of hippie life…..3 small-town girls visiting the big city. Those were the days ! :-). Your favorite sister, Jane

  4. You sure covered a lot of NYC ground for one short week! With all of the choices in the Big, Big Apple, you make it look so interesting, easy and comfortable. Travel surely is broadening, and combining it with good friends and good food creates lasting memories. Thank you for sharing with us!

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