New York, New York
Why I Love Manhattan
Published in the Summer 2007 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
Text & Photos Michael Morcos
How do I love thy? Let me count the ways. Ten! That’s the number of times I’ve visited New York City since 1976. And yes, I’ve loved every single time, as I’ve always discovered something new and exciting to do on each visit. With that in mind, I was really looking forward to my four-day stay, accompanied by my wife Nat and our two kids, Mat aged 17 and Jas aged 15, during the March school break.
Our itinerary included the usual tourist venues of Chinatown, Times Square and the shops on 5th Avenue. But we also wanted to add some new and exciting family experiences in the Big Apple.
Among them was a ride all the way up to the second observation deck on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building; a visit to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum; and an afternoon brunch at the B. B. King Blues Club & Grill to see a live performance by The Beatles (well almost, as the concert was live alright and the performers were great, but naturally they weren’t the real Beatles).
The drive from Montreal to Midtown Manhattan took less then six hours. That included the usual delay at the border crossing and a gas fill-up. But the time seemed so much shorter than on previous trips to New York, when the kids were much younger and much more restless. Now, thankfully, they are older and happy to just watch movies or fall asleep in the back seat of the van.
The change in climate on the drive south was quite dramatic. We left a snow-bound Montreal behind and were welcomed by the early sprouting of spring flowers in New York.
Our hotel, The Westin New York at Times Square (www.Westin.com/TimesSquare) could not have been any better situated. Times Square itself was less than a block away and was visible from our window on the 42nd floor. As well, the hotel was in the perfect location for exploring Midtown and theatre district.
Shopping in Chinatown
America’s largest Chinatown is situated in the southern part of Manhattan. It’s always crowded, noisy, unkempt, filled with pungent smells and hard to navigate by car, but that’s the way I like it. The shops on Canal Street, its main thoroughfare, offer just about everything you might want to buy as souvenirs and many other articles that you probably don’t need.
On each visit to New York, my wife Nat seemed to really need a new handbag and this trip was no exception. As well, my daughter Jas couldn’t seem to get her hands on enough designer clothes, while her brother Mat had his eyes on the Samurai swords. After four hours of non-stop bargain shopping, we headed for the true heart of New York City — Times Square.
A Nighttime Promenade
Times Square, considered by many to be the centre of the Western World, is never dull. There is always something new to see and do under the glow of its gaudy neon lights. The crowds were there, as always, as were the street vendors and the ever-visible and welcome city police.
We strolled through the almost pristine Square, briefly visiting the stores that were still open even at ten o’clock at night. Jas still wanted to shop, but we assured her that everything would be open during the following three days of our visit.
I woke up the next morning to a view of a fiery sky over the city. The forecast called for a sunny day and warm temperatures and indeed the Manhattan skyscrapers were already silhouetted against the early bright sunlight. What a sight that was to behold!
Most striking of all was the Empire State Building, which set against a blaze of red, orange and yellow.
Our first full day in the New York was indeed going to be a great one. Now, if we could only get our teenagers up and on the go!
We started our walk on the always-impressive 5th Avenue, crisscrossing from side to side to visit the upscale boutiques that have made the street internationally famous.
Along the way, we managed to pull the kids away from the stores long enough to see the NBC Studios and Rockerfeller Centre, with its famous outdoor skating rink.
We ended our walk at the FAO Schwartz Toy Store, but not before visiting each one’s favourite. For Mat, it was the NBA store; Jas’s favourite was Zara’s and Nat’s, Saks Fifth Avenue.
My favourite was not even a store. It was the historic New York Public Library. The kids thought that I had really poor taste and consequently, our visit there lasted just about ten minutes!
A New York Appetite
After four hours of marathon walking, we had built up a huge appetite and we were going to do something about. We stopped at the highly recommended Nora’s Restaurant at Le Parker Meridien on 57th Avenue (www.parkermeridien.com), just a stone’s throw from Fifth Avenue and Central Park.
The atmosphere there was très chic, which told us that famous New Yorkers might be sitting at a nearby table. The restaurant’s specialty was breakfast, but it was hard to believe by the large choice of meals on the menu. I believe Nat was the only person having breakfast items and I must admit their homemade (American-sized) waffles with fresh fruits looked delicious.
Jas found peace and harmony with her all-time favorite meal of macaroni and cheese, while Mat and I chose the man-sized multi-course meal of sizzling steak. Sadly, Mat didn’t seem to have what it takes to go all the way in consuming the huge meal. However, with some determination, I managed to eat all twelve rounds of it and enjoyed every last bite!
At the Top of the World
The legendary Empire State Building (www.esbnyc.com), once the tallest building in the world, was calling us. We had to hurry, as it was a fifteen-minute walk away and we wanted to get up to both observation platforms before the sun went down. This would be my second assent of the famous building. The first time I went to the top, there were no line-ups, but that was 25 years before.
The ESB is one of the biggest tourist attractions of New York City and by the look on the face of Nat and the kids as they ascended it, I could see why. To stand on the observation deck of 102nd floor of the Empire State Building is to truly feel that you are standing at the very top of the world!
Figures in Wax
Madame Tussauds Wax Museum on 42nd street (www.nycwax.com) was a great place to end our long and action-packed day. The front door of our Westin Hotel was directly across the street from the museum, which was very convenient.
A wax incarnation of Samuel Jackson greeted us on the first floor, but the real greeting was by The Incredible Hulk, who towered over us as we got to the second floor. He looked very mean and green indeed!
On other floors, we saw a cross section of famous people from all walks of life, including the Spice girls, Gandhi and even such factionary and scary characters like Jason and his demented friends in the horror-movie section of the museum.
A Brunch to Remember
B. B. Kings Blues Bar and Grille (www.bbkingblues.com), located on the same block as our Westin Hotel, was one of the highlights on our itinerary. Its famous Lucille’s Bar is open nightly and features many live acts. But unfortunately, we could not attend these performances due to the restriction of minors, even though Mat would probably have contested this question of his maturity.
We settled on a weekend brunch. The Saturday brunch featured a reincarnation of The Beatles by the Broadway cast of Beatlemania and on Sundays the Harlem Gospel Choir performed. Because of our schedule, we ended up going to the Saturday brunch.
The buffet menu was Southern cuisine and included some things this northerner had never seen, let alone tasted. These included slices of baked yams, cornmeal-encrusted fried catfish, South Carolina grits and collard greens.
After my second plate, I quickly became a confirmed grits-and-collard-greens aficionado!
The show at B. B. Kings Blues Bar and Grille lasted two hours, including a short intermission so that Paul, John, George and Ringo could change outfits and to get into the gear of the psychedelic era.
I had flashbacks during the songs they sang to my younger days and to the many things that I did in the sixties and seventies. To my surprise, my teenaged kids seemed to know all the songs and had an equally great time singing along with the mainly older crowd!
A Manhattan Farewell
As we left New York on our way back to Montreal to help celebrate Nat’s Grandmother’s 90th birthday, we made a detour south to Chinatown to find her a unique birthday gift. At that moment, I realised why I love Manhattan so much and why I will always return.
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