Second Last Day in Manhattan

QF108 JFK -> LAX -> SYD, 2015-01-01

Happy New Year

Yesterday was too lazy in the morning, and far too busy after midday. As I write this, our US trip is all but over, and it's catch-up on a plane.

I've split this in to two posts basically because of picture spam. This is part one. You can find part two here.

New York NY, 2014-12-30

For our second-last day in the US, we'd planned a "Met Supplementary" day, before our only on-Broadway musical. As has been the case the last few days in New York, I was pretty slow to get up and moving in the morning.

Once we did, we hopped on the subway north to The Cloisters, a satellite museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was quite a nice walk up the hill to the museum, although the sight of (another) castle in New York still strikes me as a bit odd.

The museum is, as the name suggests, primarily focussed on religious artefacts, but does contain a smattering of other pieces from the 8th through 14th (or thereabouts) century. By far the most impressive pieces on display are the man stained glass windows, transplanted from various locations around the world. There's something about stained glass windows on a clear, sunny day that make for many photos, without really much individuality or character. But I took them anyway!

There was also the Unicorn room, where a series of tapestries told the story of the chase, capture and killing of a unicorn. It billed itself as one of the rooms for which the Cloisters is most renowned, and was certainly very interesting, even if I hadn't heard of it before.

After stained glass, unicorns, a few stone columns, and enough Christian paraphernalia to fill a dozen medieval cathedrals, we walked back down the hill and caught the train back to Central Park and The Met proper for our second run-through. We stopped in the museum's cafeteria for a quick lunch before hitting the galleries. The cafeteria-style eating thing is something I've rarely done in Australia (although I could do with another trip to Ikea for meatballs), but we did a couple of times in the US, with great results. It seems that the salad bars tend to be fairly well stocked, but just considered a light accompaniment to whatever is available at the various hot bars. Since we weren't interested in an of the hot foods, we tended to have excellent self-mixed salads with either chick peas or tuna for protein at very reasonable (at least comparatively) prices.

Refuelled, we decided to tackle the Arms and Armour galleries. There used to be so much ... BLING in firearms. Swords too, but I guess since nowadays swords are largely ceremonial, the idea of a blingy sword is not that strange, whereas guns tend to be fairly plain. Special points for the weapon that attempted to be both machete and pistol. I would not have liked to rely on it in either capacity, however.

We also looked at the musical instruments. It's been a long time since I've looked at historical instruments and this was very enjoyable. Obviously I am partial to the predecessors of the instruments I play: flute, recorder and piano, although in the case of recorder and flute the biggest change was the shift to a transverse playing position, and otherwise there haven't been any monumental changes. The piano has had a bit more of an interesting evolution though. Perhaps what is most interesting is seeing how similar instruments appeared independently across the world, and then took on influences from the others as conquest and colonisation spread musical instruments across the world.

After The Met (and another trip through the shop), we made a quick change and went in to Times Square to John's Pizzeria, allegedly the best pizza in New York. It was, like many other restaurants in NYC, walk-in only. We met Trev and Jo outside and waited "on line" to get in and then wait for a table. Some restaurants are well suited to waiting for a table. John's is not, at least not in the numbers that were present. Andy and I escaped the sardine can bar area to head to the theatre and pick up our tickets while Trev and Jo waited for our table. Being outside was not really much better than being in the bar of John's, only colder. To walk four blocks took 10 minutes, pushing through thick crowds that were moving in both directions. We grabbed our tickets and fought our way back. I guess it is the holiday season, but the crazy crowds on the street only reinforced our decision to skip anything related to Times Square for New Year's Eve.

We got back to John's and it wasn't much longer before we had our table. We had had plenty of time to study the menu, so we ordered quickly. The restaurant is a grand building that used to be a church. There are several pizza ovens throughout the restaurant, and we were seated very close to one, which made for enthralling viewing as we waited for our dinner. I was completely awestruck by the speed and technique of the pizza chef near us. It took him about 15 seconds to go from a ball of dough to a stretch pizza base, and then only another 15-30 seconds to top the pizza and get it in to the oven. I found it interesting that this place doesn't cover the bases with tomato paste the way we do in Australia. The first ingredient on the base was a generous helping of mozzarella, then covered with a free pour of a tomato and herb sauce. Any other toppings were added after tat, but what was interesting was that in general pizza menus only seem to offer very basic toppings as standard (e.g. tomato, cheese, basil), with all "the usual" toppings listed as optional extras. Not a bad idea really, especially since I tend to like my pizza relatively simple. Of course it does add to the general difficulty of attempting to keep a mental tally of the bill as you go, what with sales tax and tip.

But I digress ... Our dinner started with the garlic rolls that were very highly reviewed online. The basic premise: pizza dough, stretch and covered in butter, garlic, and cheese, rolled up and cooked until the dough is just a bit chewy, and then served with a bowl of the herby tomato sauce used on the pizza bases. The result: Amazing! The pizza came out shortly after, the speed didn't suffer at all from the very crowded restaurant. We kept it very simple. One with mozzarella, tomato, and basil. The other a mozzarella, tomato, mushroom, and prosciutto. I was very happy with both pizzas, although I'm not sure that I'd call them the best in New York without a bit more research. One big downside to the cheese-first approach is that it can mean that the pizza is a bit dry. The plainer of our two suffered a little from this in places where the artful pour of sauce didn't quite cover. The bases were good - just the right amount of soggy in the middle (for me, but too soggy for Andy), and the crust was crispy without being dry. Probably not the best I've ever had, but very good. Unfortunately, Andy and I didn't get to saviour the atmosphere, as we had to go straight back into the crowds outside to get to our show.

We'd booked tickets to A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. It felt great to be seeing a musical again - it feels like it's been forever since I saw a "proper" musical. Gentleman's Guide is not a sophisticated show and has a very simple story, but it's nicely executed and the cast were very good. The theatre was fairly small, so even our mid-priced mezzanine tickets had an excellent view.

Times Square after the show was, thankfully, a little less crazy, but still very busy. What was most amazing was the light. When we first entered Times Square from the subway I thought it was daylight. The billboards were everywhere, blinking and flashing. It's definitely worth seeing, but I'm not sure it's something I particularly like or want to experience too many times.


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