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Hello Met, have we met?

[New York City, NY]

Our second day of sightseeing started out with a classic New York thing to do – walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. But before we got there, we experienced another classic New York thing – subway maintenance. We need to switch from the F Train to the A train but due to maintenance, the A train was running on the F train track. It worked out OK at the end, since the stop we got off at was just as close to the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian entrance as the original one we were headed to.

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Walking across the Brooklyn bridge was great. There were a bunch of tourists doing the same thing as us going either direction, but there were also a bunch of locals running and biking. We got great views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty again to the south, and the Empire State and Chrysler buildings to the North.

At the Manhattan end, we enjoyed views of City Hall and the rest of the Financial district. From there, we got on the subway again and ended up in one of the oldest stops at Chambers Street. We traveled a couple of stops to the Lower East Side, where we first ducked into Economy Candy upon Melissa’s recommendation. While all the chocolates were out of the questions as they were going to melt in the heat, I managed to buy some sesame crunch and some caramel chews, and Martha and I both indulged in a dark chocolate-covered oreo cookie – that was quite the treat! It was a good thing we couldn’t take some to go!

After Economy Candy, we headed to the Tenement Museum, which I really loved. The Tenement museum got started with an idea – historian and social activist Ruth Abrams wanted to build a museum that honored America’s immigrants, and the Lower East Side’s tenements were the perfect location for it as these mutli-family buildings were the first homes for many immigrants at the turn of the last century. However, finding a building suitable for this idea didn’t happen until 1988, when Abrams stumbled upon the tenement on 97 Orchard St – a building that had been completely shut down since 1935. When Abrams and her partner entered this building in 1988, they found it just the way the landlord left it in 1935. They reconstructed the lives of the immigrants who lived there through the items they found, census records and the kids and relatives of the immigrants who lived there themselves. The museum offers several tours of the building that cover different time periods and different immigrants. Martha and I took the Sweatshop workers tour, which took us through the second floor of 97 Orchard. The first apartment we toured was untouched, left exactly the way it was when the original owners boarded up the building in 1935. The apartment had 20 different layers of wall paper on the walls and 10 different layers of paint, and items left behind in that apartment and elsewhere in the building were a testament to the different immigrant populations that came through the building – more than 7000 people in a 40-year span. In another apartment that was restored to be historically correct as of 1897, our Tenement educator told us the story of a Jewish family of 4 that lived and worked in this 350-square-foot apartment. The husband was a dress-maker, which the museum’s historians figured out from the census records from 1900. He and 3 of his employees worked in that same little apartment his wife and kids lived in, in conditions that today we can hardly imagine. In a third apartment restored to 1911, we were told the story of another Jewish family of 8. This family’s two teenage daughters worked in the high-rise factory lofts that replaced the home-based garment shops the individual families used to run in their own homes at the turn of the century. Through the lens of their experience, we were told about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York that killed 120 of other families’ teenage daughters who worked in the garment industry at the time. Although the daughters of this family were not victims in the fire, their parents had to watch them go to work in a high-rise factory loft similar to the one that had burned a couple of days before. Not only did we immerse ourselves in the lives of these families, but we also saw pictures of the actual people whose stories we were hearing and their kids. The whole experience took an hour, during which we were so immersed in the stories of the individual families who lived here that we completely forgot what year it was. It was such a creative, unique way to re-create the history of the historically immigrant Lower East Side! So far, this is probably my favorite NYC experience along with being at the top of the Empire State Building.

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After the Tenement, it was time to lunch and since we were in the LES already, we went Katz’s deli, a NYC staple since 1988. The pastrami sandwich was to die for, and I also tried two of its other most popular items – potato latkes and New York egg cream. An egg cream is a beverage consisting of chocolate syrup, milk and soda water dating back to the 19th century. I’d say it should probably have stayed there, as it wasn’t my cup of tea at all, and people who know me can testify that anything with chocolate in it would have to be pretty terrible for me to not like it. At any rate, it was worth trying nonetheless, and the sandwich and latkes more than made up for it.

Next on our list was none other than the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as the Met. On the way there, we took the subway again and got off at Grand Central station just to see it. 🙂

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The Met is the largest museum in the US, and one of the largest in the world. The main building is on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan’s Museum Mile, and a much smaller building is located in Upper Manhattan and contains mostly medieval art.

The Met has one of the most significant art collections anywhere, as was evident by the sheer number of paintings on exhibit by such classics as Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse. In addition to the art collection, we also toured portions of the Asian and Islamic exhibits, and we were not left disappointed. Although we could have spent hours at the Met, we decided to just pick those several exhibits to focus on so that we can enjoy them more. Afterwards, we headed for the roof where we enjoyed views of Central Park and the New York skyline, as well as a recent addition to the Met’s temporary exhibits – a construction of interconnected modules designed by ArgentinianTomas Saraceno. The Met was a great museum to spend time in, although one would need several visits over many days to fully appreciate the vast collection of art in this 2,000,000 sq ft gallery.

Since the Met was on the Eastern Edge of Central Park, we decided to walk through it down to the Plaza hotel, where we wanted to have drinks. Central park wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be – many New Yorkers had left the city for the long weekend, and the influx of tourists hadn’t fully made up for that – but it was still busy, and there were many people picnicking, reading or just hanging out. We made it to the fountain that’s been featured in so many movies, and then continued going South until we hit the Plaza Hotel.

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I immediately recognized the intersection (at 59th St and Fifth Ave) from an episode of the TV Show Sex and the City (which I want to watch again from start to finish, just to enjoy the NYC scenes!). After a few very good drinks at the Plaza, we were very tired and mellowed out so we headed to Brooklyn for a quiet dinner in the neighborhood at a German place called Steinhoff.

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Drinks at the Plaza Hotel

What a great second day in Manhattan! I had managed to squeeze in many of the items on my to-do list, and even detoured some to places like the Plaza Hotel and Grand Central terminal . I got an even better feel for the city, and my tired, sore feet attested to the fact that I had traversed Manhattan all the way up and down the East side. After only a couple of days, I was beginning to understand why so many people wear shirts that read “I Heart NY”.

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