Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Playing Tourist

I have been coming down with a cold over the last day or so and at first I wondered why that might be, but now I figure it has to do with two things. Firstly, there has been quite a rapid change in weather lately. I’ve had to bring out my opaque stockings and leather jacket already – not that I’m complaining, but a sudden change in temperature usually stuffs my immune system around a bit. And secondly, I have spent the last couple of days playing frantic tourist and I suspect that keeping up that crazy pace is equally to blame.

With LH and BK in town from Chicago, I had a day off on Friday and tagged along on a bunch of really fun sightseeing and tourism adventures.

Our day started early, with a two-hour Circle Line boat tour. The day was clear and sunny, and it was wonderful to appreciate the beautiful city skyline from such a relaxing vantage point. Our guide pointed out key architecture and cultural icons along the way, and as we cruised past The Statue of Liberty, I thought the boat might tip as tourists clambered over each other to lean out for premium photographs.

Returning to shore, we took the bus to the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center (the infamous "30 Rock"), to collect our tickets for the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon TV show. I have a thinly-disguised crush on Jimmy Fallon, so I was all colours of excitement that day. Where would we be sitting? Would we meet him? What would I say if we did? In the end, all that came to naught. Though we had been giving almost poll position in the line-up for tickets, we ended up seated close to the back of the TV audience. Though the TV program screens after midnight during the week, filming actually took place from 5.30pm (after which time the content is edited for later screening). Jimmy’s guests when we were there included Clare Danes (to talk about her new Showtime TV series, “Homeland); Jeff Musial - a crazy animal handler guy who freaked us all out by bringing onstage a massive python that shed its skin everywhere; and the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose previous appearance on SNL had made Jimmy almost laugh himself off the chair. When the Jimmy episode screened later that night, it also featured a musical performance by Pearl Jam; but in reality they had taped their part a few weeks before so we didn’t get to see them. We still had to erupt with applause when Jimmy introduced them for the show, so we all got drawn into that TV illusion. For my part though, the best bit of the production was Jimmy’s in-house band, The Roots. They are so talented and entertaining and they had us all grooving along. How one guy ran up and down the stairs carrying a tuba is totally beyond me – it looks like it weighed a ton!

Once we got out of the taping, we headed upstairs - 70 floors upstairs - to Top of the Rock, to get a birds-eye view of Manhattan. The sun had gone down, and the City looked so beautiful with all its twinkling lights and traffic down below. The neon lights of Times Square looked particularly impressive from where we were. In the blackness we could also trace the dark outline of Central Park, the centre of which was flashing up nice and bright with the concert lights of the Black Eyed Peas. We could hear a bit of the music too, but only muffled noises – it was pretty cool.

The next morning (Saturday) was another early one. We were at Battery Park by 9.15am to take another boat cruise, this time over to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. I’d done this cruise once before, but not for a couple of years and so I was glad I got to take the trip again. Even though it was bright and early, there was a substantial line-up already and the airport-quality screening processes are quite intense. We had tickets to go inside the Statute of Liberty – which I hadn’t done before – but only up to the Pedestal level, not all the way to the crown. The Statue closes at the end of October so that they can install another stairwell inside, so we were very fortunate to get our tickets now.

Ellis Island was equally crowded and admittedly I didn’t see much of the Museum this time around. I closeted myself in the gift shop and found some truly ugly postcards for Granny (and a couple of nice ones too). Before I knew it we were back on the boat to Manhattan.

Docking at Battery Park again, we made our way to Lombardi’s, a city institution that lays claim to having invented NY-style pizza. I don’t know if that’s entirely true or not but I have to say, their pizza is sensational (and the simple yet satisfying margherita pizza really hit the spot).

By now the weather on Saturday had started to take a turn for the worst – grey skies, splotchy rain – it wasn’t looking too good. But we had a couple more stops on our tourist adventure remaining.

We took the subway over to the 9/11 Memorial and I was very taken with it. Tickets are free but you need to book them well in advance – they are currently booked out until the end of October. As we walked around the sombre memorial, it seemed somewhat fitting that light rain fell solidly the whole time. The gift shop needs a bit of work in terms of stock variety, but every purchase made helps to fund the upkeep of the memorial, so it’s well worth the look.

By this point in the day I was starting to fade, but we had one last stop to make – The Empire State Building Observation Deck. Given that the monolith is literally down the end of my street, I soldiered on and went right to the top. I’m not sure which view is more impressive – the Empire State or Top of the Rock. Perhaps they are equally beautiful, though the Empire is 16 floors higher up. Let me just say with certainty that The Empire State Building gift shop wins hands-down. So many trashy postcards and glittery souvenirs – I was in heaven.

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