Each day of our trip to New York City brought with it a new sense of invigorating excitement and wonder. Our fourth – and final – day in New York City did not disappoint and did not lack excitement. When I woke up on the final day, I truly had no idea what lay ahead.
We began our morning with checking out of our delightful accommodations on the Upper West Side and hailing a cab to brunch with one of Nicola’s college friends who lives in New York City. We met for brunch at Sarabeths located at the southeastern corner of Central Park. Because we knew our day would once again be jam-packed, starting with a hearty breakfast was instrumental to our survival and Sarabeths did not disappoint. We great conversation over a delicious meal.
Our first major destination was the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This is one of a handful of buildings that I’ve wanted to see since I was a little kid and first discovered architecture. Just as with brunch, we took our time arriving at the museum after a peaceful walk through Central Park. I could go on for endless paragraphs about Central Park; it is a true gem in the middle of the city and New York City wouldn’t be the city it is today if this land had not been made available as public open space. The old-growth trees and rolling hills and stone bridges and ponds filled with wildlife transport you away from the city in a matter of steps from the street.
Frank Lloyd Wright was the first famous architect that I learned about as a child. In my seventh grade English class, I did a book report and presentation about him. As part of the presentation, my teacher required us to dress like the person we were presenting about, so I managed to do my best impersonation of Frank Lloyd Wright as a seventh grader. When I began to craft my sight-seeing list for this trip, the Guggenheim was the first building on the list; I had to make a visit to the iconic museum. It did not disappoint.
We were basically the first people at the museum that morning and managed to beat the crowds of people who arrived later in the day. Upon seeing the building for the first time, I was in awe. The museum is much smaller than I was anticipating but has a striking appearance from across the street. In college, my classmates and I learned that you were supposed to experience the museum from the top, down. After craning my neck to see the impressive lobby atrium while Nicola bought our tickets, we rode the elevator to the top and slowly began our descent. For those who don’t know, the museum is arranged as a continuous ramp that circles the atrium in an ever decreasing radius. It was a bit of an odd experience and I found it difficult to maintain balance and equilibrium during my visit. The floor is sloped and the walls are curved, yet the art hangs level on the wall. In an effort to stave off incessant vertigo, I relied on being able to find the elevator doors because those door frames always maintain level.
Off to one side, about two-thirds the way down from the top there is this beautiful little reading room called the Aye Simon Reading room. Originally, it was intended to be used for storage of models and drawings of the building but over time it became an employee lunchroom and general storage room. In 1978, Richard Meier was commissioned to redesign this space as a reading room. This was a peaceful respite from the growing crowds in the atrium and an opportunity to regain my balance. Not many people know about this space and few venture into the room to pour over the small collection of books. I highly recommend making a stop if for no other reason that to regain your balance. The Guggenheim is a magnificent building and it was everything I expected it to be. We briefly browsed through the gift shop before rushing across the city to catch our lunch-time boat tour.
The Guggenheim is a magnificent building and it was everything I expected it to be. I was worried that I would be disappointed because I had worked it up to be such an icon. The work of Frank Lloyd Wright was an impactful inspiration for me as a child and it remains an inspiration to me as an architect today. Honestly, I’m at a loss for words about my visit to the Guggenheim. To put it simply, it was magical.
Before leaving, we briefly browsed through the gift shop and then rushed across the city to catch our lunch-time boat tour. The boat tour was our compromise between wanting to see as much as possible and not spending an entire day going out to see the Statue of Liberty. I’m glad that we decided on the boat tour that took us down the Hudson River, past Lady Liberty, around the downtown point of Manhattan, and up the East River. I wrote about this in an earlier post, but I was not expecting to become so emotional when I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I was overcome with emotion and can’t begin to imagine what must have gone through the minds of immigrants as they neared the shores of their new home. After all these years, she still stands proudly in the New York City harbor.
I enjoyed seeing the city from a distance. During our visit, we had seen the city from the sky as we landed at JFK, from the ground as we explored the neighborhoods, from above as we ventured out to observation decks of Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building, and finally, we got to see it from afar as we boated up and down the rivers. The skyline takes on a new life when seen from a distance with the buildings layered over each other and the sun reflecting off of the gilded roofs and glassy facades. During our stay in NYC, we had been blessed with beautiful weather. Our last day was definitely the warmest and we got our fair share of sun during the boat ride. Having a boat tour around the city was a perfect way to wrap-up our time in the Big Apple and allowed me the opportunity to have a passing glance at many buildings I didn’t get to see.
So, here’s where the real excitement came into play for the last day. Our second leg of the trip took us to Princeton, New Jersey to visit Nicola’s aunt, uncle, and two cousins and the third leg of our trip would take us to Westport, Massachusetts to visit my aunt and uncle at their weekend house. We had originally planned to take the train to New Jersey and then take the train to Massachusetts. However, we didn’t reserve tickets in time and prices quickly climbed. After some research, I discovered that it would be cheaper to rent a car and drive for the remaining legs of our trip. Without thinking, I reserved a compact car to be picked up in Manhattan. After spending four days in the city, I finally realized how crazy of an idea this was as I settled myself into the dinged-up and dingy Chevy Cruze with 30,000 miles on the odometer. I was going to drive in Manhattan, on Friday, at rush hour. I’m a competent driver but the streets of NYC are daunting: cabbies darting in and out of lanes (really, lanes are a suggestion here), bikes whizzing through traffic, and seas of pedestrians at every crosswalk. Somehow, God willing, I made it out of Manhattan and to rural New Jersey without any dents, scratches, and only a mild case of road rage. Many thanks to my patient girlfriend (now fiancè) and Google Maps for getting me out of Manhattan. I wish I had photos or video to share of this experience but it’s probably for the best that I don’t.
We made it safely to Princeton, New Jersey in time for dinner after stopping at a roadside vendor to buy some freshly picked sunflowers. After four wild and crazy days in the Big Apple, it was so very nice to be in the peaceful countryside of New Jersey. The incredible hospitality of Nicola’s aunt and uncle was much appreciated. After a truly whirlwind visit to New York City, I was very much looking forward to waking up to a calm and relaxing day five of vacation.