We recently did a reverse “commute” to spend a few days in the big city. We’ve lived in the country for so long that it’s a real treat to be in the Big Apple with time to spare. I found it especially fun to spend these days in the Greenwich Village area, which is filled with all sorts of wonderful things to do.
Although we were there in late fall, Christmas is a great time to be in the city, and with the current warm weather, and the possibility of seeing all the Christmas store windows and this year’s special tree at Rockefeller Center, there are even more reasons to try it. This year, there are snowflakes being lasered down the building behind the tree at Rockefeller Center, fun to watch.
When we drove in on a recent weekend, our only plans were to see a play, explore the new Morgan Library, and meet some friends for dinner. The rest of the time we had just to ourselves to walk the now unfamiliar streets of the village, to window shop, and to pretend we were New Yorkers for a few days.
I am a firm believer that the only way to get around the city with any degree of speed is the subway. We immediately walked over to the 14th Street subway stop at Union Square and bought a Metro card, which would allow us to come and go very easily. No longer is it necessary to have correct change or to dig around in one’s pockets for the one or two dollars necessary for each ride. Buy a $10 card and you’ll get an extra ride for free, and your card is good for a year so if you have extra rides, fear not. Subways are also handy when it’s raining, which it was for a good part of the time. However it was a gentle late summer rain, with warm breezes. Not so bad.
Our first foray was to go up town to meet friends for dinner. This gave us our Upper East Side fix, and was accompanied by intelligent sprightly conversation and a very good meal with our friends at Orsay. A very satisfactory evening, leaving us well on our way to feeling like New Yorkers.
When we first arrived, we headed toward University Place for lunch. Our friend said it was, restaurant-wise, like a Round The World flight. Afterward, we walked down to Washington Square. Now mostly surrounded by NYU buildings, with lots of students peopling the park itself, I was reminded of living in the village for three weeks in the early fifties before my first city apartment was ready. I was fresh out of college and terrified of the city, but anxious finally to have a grown up job in New York. (That particular career didn’t last long, since I soon fell in love.)
Back “home” on the subway, and after a good night’s sleep, we started the day at a wonderful breakfast place at Sixth Avenue and 11th St. called “French Roast.” Friends had suggested it, and though Jim is leery of European coffee, he took a chance. As soon as I saw the scones and croissants in the glass case, I was sure I would stay, even if he bolted. Luckily, he loved the coffee, and I loved the way local apartment dwellers came in to their “local” and sat reading the New York Times, doing the puzzle, chatting with others, meeting friends, and eating the delicious, not-very-expensive breakfast. Jim read the paper and I fantasized about the lives led by various people at tables nearby. With the slightest bit of imagination, we could have been in Paris or London.
Before us lay a few days of culture, and the actuality proved as good as the contemplation. Fortified by our good breakfast, we hied over to the subway station again, but exited (one stop too late) at Grand Central, so we walked down to the Morgan Library at 36th Street.
There has been a big buzz about the recent re-opening of the Morgan Library, after a two-year closing, during which a new Renzo Piano entrance was built. We’d always loved the Morgan, and its quite fabulous collection of books and medieval art, and all sorts of wonderful treasures. However, we’d heard somewhat mixed reviews from friends about the new space. We decided we had to spend some time there to see for ourselves.
After about three hours in the museum, we were unanimous in our approval of the whole new “hyphen” which connects the major buildings of the complex. On (another) rainy day, it was a treat to enter the bright cheerful soaring (dry) space. Very pleasant staff added to the warm welcome the physical space provided.
We signed on to a tour, with a marvelous volunteer docent, who gave us a good background in the old and the new at the Morgan, detailing the paintings in the library of Mr. Morgan, and had us mesmerized with his detailed discussion of one of the Morgan’s great medieval treasures, the Stavelot Triptych. It is made of gold, cloisonné enamels and ancient gems. Believe me, it is worth all the enthusiasm; so don’t miss a close look at it when you go.
Lunching in the Morgan Café was very relaxing, and we enjoyed more people watching as we took a break from the exquisite collections. I never let a museum store go un-perused, as you know, so I gave this one a thorough going over. The shop has been moved to a larger space, so much the better for Christmas and other shopping.
That evening we had tickets to see a Broadway show, The History Boys. A little short on time, but hungry, we wavered on what to do, until we spied the old standby, Sardi’s, just across from our theater. We figured if any place could manage a decent meal in a hurry, it would be there. We were right. We had efficient professional service of some lovely crab cakes and a glass of wine, and a quick cup of coffee and dashed across the street.
The History Boys is a tragicomedy of English School boys, extremely well acted, and proved to be a great choice. And now, the movie of The History Boys has opened at the Upstate.
Before we left for home, I couldn’t resist another walk around the leafy streets of the West Village, fresh from the morning rain. As familiar as the area is in some ways, I was constantly confronted by something new.
New York City is so many villages, each one with its own personality, and so incredibly eclectic. No wonder they call it the Big Apple. There’s no place like it in the world, and here it is just two hours away.