Even inside our warm hotel room, I could tell the day was about as raw as it is possible for a Saturday to be. Rain streaked the windows and the passing cabs gleamed wet and bright against the pavement far below. None of us cared. The romance of New York City was all around us, and we had umbrellas.
Please click on photos for full-size versions.
It was my job to be our New York guide, and I had done my homework. Our first stop was a few blocks north of our hotel at the Pershing Square Café. What better place to stay dry than in a restaurant tucked under a bridge? Especially one that bills itself as serving the busiest and best breakfast in New York. Hot chocolate was essential.
So was admiring the girders overhead.
Although Teddy was more interested in ordering a lumberjack’s breakfast – buttermilk pancakes, homefries, and huge, taut sausage links. The pancakes were crispy outside, creamy inside, and very soon gone as was my brioche French toast. Teddy hugged our white-shirted waiter.
We didn’t have to open our umbrellas walking across the street to Grand Central Station, all dolled up for its 100th birthday in 2013. We wandered for a bit in the free exhibit that tells a story of when railroad travel meant linen table clothes and five-cent sandwiches and piles of leather luggage. The chandeliers looked like expensive jewelry.
In the main terminal we looked up of course, and I reminisced about how when I was a child the constellations weren’t really visible through the accumulated grime and then we found the tiny patch of dirty ceiling near the crab’s claw that’s there to remind us what will happen if we’re careless with our important buildings.
Descending with crowds to the subway I remembered to tuck one of my business cards in Teddy’s coat pocket and to ask him repeatedly what he would do if he became separated from us. “Find a policeman. Tell him I’m lost. Give him the card.” A mantra I hoped he’d never need.
The lobby in the Metropolitan Museum was damp and teeming. On my own I’d head, as I always did with my own mother, to the Impressionist paintings. I’d remember how she’d ask me what stories I saw in the paintings, what song the girls in the Renoir painting were playing on the piano and violin, or what colors Monet used to make the façade at Rouen glow. Instead, we made a right, straight for Egypt’s irresistible treasures, small and vast. The guard roared at Teddy, making him jump and laugh, when he touched the lion outside the Tomb of Perneb (oh how hard it is for children to remember in those galleries not to touch things).
The figures that occupied yet another tomb, this one from Thebes are as fascinating as any dollhouse, working to make bread or beer or butcher animals – all the necessaries for an after-life feast.
And we learned that the mummy inside this box was laid with his face pointing toward those eyes so that he could look out at us across the centuries.
The Temple at Dendur is light-filled even on the dullest of days, and the idea that the entire thing would have been underwater if not rescued and placed here in the middle of New York is one that’s difficult to apprehend. Teddy loved looking for reflections and marveled too at the tourists who at one time carved their names into the walls not holy to them. And of course, there had to be some imitation of the Sphinx.
And then it was on to glance warily at the mummies and admire the bric-a-brac that filled Egyptian tombs, the schwabtys (or little blue men as I called them), the small snakes and birds and scarabs. Our favorites were the hedgehogs.
A quick dip into the period rooms in the newly restored American Wing followed. I would not have expected Teddy to like looking at the furniture, but a touch screen that allowed him to explore the objects in front of him on his own terms made even these rooms interesting.
We met up with friends in the glorious courtyard, full of fountains and sculptures and an astonishing Tiffany stained glass window before moving on to the arms and armor. The children had a hard time deciding which hirsute set of Japanese armor was the scariest.
After that we were replete and ready to sit, and unfortunately the balcony bar surrounding the great entrance hall was not due to open for another hour. The afternoon was utterly dreary, and I knew that the scavenger hunt in Chinatown that I had planned was not to be.
So instead we walked a few blocks to Pain Quotidien where everyone could have just what he or she wanted, whether that was a giant chocolate chip cookie or a ham and gruyere tartine with mustard and pickles. Suffused with beauty, we laughed and ate, and the children traded Pokemon cards until Teddy remembered that New York City has a Lego store. And so we made our way back down to Grand Central, through crowds with soaked feet, past the ice skaters making their damp revolutions underneath a golden statue in Rockefeller Plaza to see Atlas and a dragon and even the entire plaza itself (with Batman watching benevolently from above) made out of plastic brick blocks. And Teddy learned that the Lego Deathstar cost over 400 dollars and resigned himself to the fact that he was not going to own it, even if he did save his allowance.
But it didn’t matter. Because in that moment, we with wet feet and cold hands and minds full of beauty owned New York, owned the temples and statues and wet sidewalks and umbrellas turned inside out in the wind.
- The Pershing Square Café is located on East 42nd Street, directly across from the entrance to Grand Central Station. The breakfast there is a bit pricey, but the portions are generous. It would also make a great place to stop for a drink and snack after an afternoon spent strolling the city.
- Make a little time to explore Grand Central – yes, it is a train station, but it’s also a cultural landmark and has been gorgeously restored. Numerous events and exhibits throughout 2013 will celebrate the building’s centennial. It’s also a great place to grab some lunch (the food court is large and varied) or catch the subway either going up- or downtown.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art is huge, so don’t plan to see it all in one visit. The website offers suggested itineraries and also has family guides that you can print off in advance – if you’ve never been, it’s worth spending some time checking these out so you have a sense of what you might want to see. There is also a family audio guide.
- Le Pain Quotidien is a Belgian chain with numerous Manhattan outposts. With comfortable communal tables, organic baked treats, and a wide range of beverages from coffee to wine, these restaurants make a perfect place to stop for a snack or light meal on the go
- On this visit to New York, we stayed at the Hotel Kitano, a few blocks south of Grand Central on Park Avenue. Read my full review.