The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog

Near the Natural History Museum

The Williamette meteorite at the Rose Centre, Natural History Museum

A Lynx, one of the North American mammal displays

Grizzly bears. These photos don't do the displays at the Natural History...

The sun is settting as we enter Central Park, it is about...

Central Park, the city is never far away

Cleopatra's Needle, Central Park

Central Park

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Funerary Stelae from Thebes, 2030BC in the Egyptian rooms at the Metropolitan...

Kneeling statue of Hatshepsut, circa 1450BC

Are you my mummy?

Sarcophagus of Wennefer

Central Park has it's own police force, but someone should tell them...

Horse drawn cabs in Central Park

From the Top of the Rock (Rocerfeller Centre)

Meet Chuck, he is a Geocaching Trackable. We picked him up in...

Top of the Rock wedding photos

Liberty Is, Ellis Is, New Jersey from Top of the Rock

That is four of four on the TShirt. Job done. Hudson River...

Central Park from Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Watch the birdie. A falcon on the Top of the Rock

Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895), Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night (1888)...

United Nations HQ (going to see if Aunty Helen is at work...

“Sphere Within Sphere” by Arnaldo Pomodoro, first seen in Dublin and again...

The sun is setting as we arrive at the ferry. We thought...

We were lucky, there was a sailing due to leave, we only...

Across the Hudson to the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island...

Coast Guard escort

New Jersey at sunset from the Staten Island ferry

Manhattan at sunset from the Staten Island ferry

Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry

Staten Is ferry and Statue of Liberty

from Staten Island f erry

from Staten Island f erry

from Staten Island f erry

Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry

Load of bull

Wall Street

Lincoln Centre

Lincoln Centre

Lincoln Centre

Friday 16th

Cynthea goes to the pool at the Y for a swim first thing, but she has a bit of a hassle as you have to wear a bathing cap. She doesn’t have one, and the pool doesn’t have any available to buy. They send her to reception, but they don’t have any left for sale either. Cynthea is not impressed when the guy on reception tells her she will have to buy one down the street, she is not exactly dressed for that! She decides to hell with it, she will swim without one and see what happens. As she enters the changing room she spots a plastic bag for your footwear, so she grabs one of those to use as a cap. As Cynthea gets out the lifeguard realises what she is wearing, and offers her a loan cap. Cynthea was impressed that he even thought to carry one with him, she just wishes she had been told before she finished her swim.

Our first outing today is a few blocks up the road at the American Natural History museum, Cynthea is having a grumble to Tony because he said it wasn’t far to walk, but it was nearly 2km. There is stadium seating being constructed all along the road on the way there, we figure it is something to do with Thanksgiving, perhaps a parade. The museum is HUGE! There are five levels, and our ticket also gave us admission to the Hayden Planetarium. How many is that we have seen now? Most still do not measure up to Auckland’s. There is too much to see in just one day, let alone a few hours.

We have about half an hour until our show at the Planetarium, and when we go inside we wonder just where to start, if we don’t keep a close eye on the time we will miss our slot. We do a quick circuit of a small exhibit, and briefly look at their newly opened hall featuring North American mammals. Our biggest difficulty is choosing what we will see over the next four hours, it is such a maze it is easy to get distracted and lost.

The planetarium show is excellent, Whoopi Goldberg narrates as we take a journey to the stars. When we leave the theatre we follow a cosmic pathway timelime on the spiral walkway down to the hall of the universe. The Williamette meteorite is on display, it was discovered in Oregon in 1902, and is one of the world’s largest. There are a couple of gift shops, and there is a lot we could get from here, but the lack of room is a big problem. Some of the stuff weights a fair bit too, like the fossils Tony has his eye on. They stay in the shop…

We decide to look at the North American mammal display, it was re-opened just a couple of weeks ago. The display has been very well put together, in huge glass cases with stuffed animals in a natural setting that has real and fake plants and rocks, with amazing painted backdrops. We spend nearly an hour in just this section alone. We decide to visit the Native American display and a couple of others on the same floor, it is a shame we wont’ have time to see much more of this fantastic museum.

The sun is setting as we leave, and we decide that we should see the Metropolitan Museum today, it is open late and is only a kilometre away, across Central Park. Yes, more walking, even though we are a bit hesitant about walking through the park at night. But it is not quite dark yet, and there are plenty of people about, besides there is no easy transport option.

We didn’t realise it at the time but we passed by Strawberry Fields, where on October 9, 1985, on what would have been John Lennon's 45th birthday, New York City dedicated 2.5 acres to his memory. It is a surreal feeling, just a few days ago we were at his birthplace, and now here we are where he was murdered.

Cleopatra's Needle is a red granite obelisk and one of three (there also is one in Paris and one in London, which is one of a pair with the New York obelisk). Each obelisk is about 21m (69 feet) tall and weigh about 160 tons. They originally were erected at the Temple of Ra, at Heliopolis in Ancient Egypt around 1450 B.C. by Pharaoh Thutmose III. The hieroglyphs were inscribed about two hundred years later by Pharaoh Rameses II to glorify his military victories. The obelisks were all moved during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus Caesar when Ancient Egypt was under the control of Rome. They were brought to Alexandria and erected as tribute to Julius Caesar, in front of the Caesarium, a temple originally built by Cleopatra VII of Egypt in honour of Mark Antony, thus the name "Cleopatra's Needle.

There are two versions of how this Cleopatra's Needle made its way to Central Park: either it was a gift, or it was stolen. The obelisk arrived in New York in July 1880; it took thirty-two horses hitched in sixteen pairs to pull the obelisk to the park. It was erected in an official ceremony on January 22, 1881.

It is fully dark by the time we reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Zoo is next door). Once again we have the problem of too much to see and too little time, so we concentrate of just a couple of exhibits to spend time in. We visit the Egyptian Art because we did not make it to Egypt itself. There are thousands of objects on display here, dating from 5,000BC to around 400 AD. We spend a bit of time in the American Wing, art from the 17th –20th century is on display, and period rooms are set up as well. We have a short visit in gallery of European sculpture and Decorative arts featuring Italian Renaissance, French 18th century sculpture, and English and French period rooms. There is a café here too, but there is little available at this time, and the prices seem a bit high. It is nearly closing time so we make our way to the exit past the ceramics, glass, metal and jewellery on display.

We are quite tired, so decide to take a taxi back, and ask the driver where a supermarket is. He takes us to Columbus Circle, and shows us where the supermarket is there. The fare was $US12 ($15). We enter a rather posh looking building, and the supermarket is indeed here, downstairs. We had walked past it several times, not realising it was here. The prices seem very high (probably due to the location), and all the products are organic. Tony is famished, we have not eaten much all day and there is all this wonderful hot food on offer, and he is almost at drooling point. There is a place to sit and eat after you have passed through check out. Cynthea is taking too long to decide so Tony gets a container and starts filling it – lots of dishes to choose from, $US9/pound, they price it at check out based on the weight. Tony has bought just under a kilo, and Cynthea is not impressed at the $20 price tag. The check out system is unusual, there are about four or five lines for the ten or so check outs, and you wait there for the next check out at the end of your line, instead of just lining up behind the customer at whatever check out you chose. Guess it is quicker in that you don’t get stuck behind a person that takes forever.

We buy fruit at the barrow on our street corner, and back at the Y Tony goes to the sauna until it closes. We check our email and we have had another offer in San Francisco, Joe has asked us to house sit and look after his two cats while he is away, but we have to decline because we have already made arrangements. Besides that he will still be away when we fly to LA.

Saturday 17th

We fly to San Francisco tomorrow, so we have to go on line to pre purchase our luggage, US$25 ($31) per bag, we are allowed 23kg. We also book a shuttle from the hostel to JFK airport US$39 ($50) for the two of us. Here was a bit of hassle with the website continually resetting, but it all went through in the end.

We have a later start than intended. We start with a walk to Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon in Central Park, but when we check the map in the park it is a bit further up than we thought. In fact it is near the museum we were at yesterday, we just hadn’t realised. Tony laughs as he spots a “police car” in the park (Central Park has it’s own Police Station). The car is a three-wheeled thing, probably only a single seater, with an open tray at the back, a bit like a ute.

We have a lot to see today, so we turn back and walk through the park to 6th Ave. We are heading for MoMA, (Museum of Modern Art) but decide to go to the Rockerfeller centre first, as it is such a beautiful day, clear sky for the most part, and no wind. We have a wonderful view from “The Top of the Rock” 86 floors up, we spend nearly an hour up there on the three open levels. Tony spots a falcon resting on antennae, many birds of prey live in the city. A bride and groom are here having their portraits taken. Tony gets his photo taken wearing the blue Tshirt (it has London, Paris. New York, Eketahuna printed on the back). The shirt is pretty much worse for wear, but it finally made it to all four places. If we have room we will bring it back as far as NZ.

We backtrack to MoMA for a whistle stop visit. We had not intended to go there originally, but entry is included in the book of tickets, so we decide to make use of it. Inside we are asked to check bags, packs and coats, and we waste quite a few precious minutes doing so, the system was very slow. We have time to visit just one exhibit, and head up to the top floor where there are a few pieces we want to see. There is a huge queue lined up to get into the gallery, it will be nearly an hour before we can get in to see it. Members of MoMA can by pass the queue. The look of disappointment is obvious on our faces, and Tony quietly mentions we only have short time available, and that we are leaving tomorrow. We are allowed in through the members gate, an unexpected bonus, and it made our day.

The Starry Night (1888) by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh is in the permanent collection. The painting depicts the view outside his sanitarium room window at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (located in southern France) at night, although it was painted from memory during the day.

Edvard Munch’s iconic The Scream (1895), one of four versions made, this pastel-on-board is the only one remaining in private hands; the three other versions are in the collections of museums in Norway. The Scream is being lent by a private collector for about six months, we have had a rare opportunity to see it.

We finish our visit in this gallery, and feel a little guilty when we see the long line as we leave. We visit a photography collection before we leave the museum, and on the way out we see a gigantic garage sale on one floor. We wonder if it is there permanently.

We head over to 1st Avenue and the United Nations building where our ex-Prime Minister comrade Helen is these days. Cynthea rests up in a café while Tony goes for a look but there is not time for a tour. He sees another of the “Sphere Within Sphere” bronze sculpture works by Arnaldo Pomodoro – the first that we saw of these was at Trinity College, in Dublin also one at Vatican City. Tony heads back to meet Cynthea where she is parked up in the café with a menu, ready to order, but have not got time for that either.

We had planned to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, but have run out of time there too. We take an express bus to the Staten Island Ferry. The aim is to cross over at sunset and come back for a view of Manhattan by night from the East River. The “express” service takes an hour to get to the ferry, we arrive at 4.30, just as the sun is setting. We are not sure of the timetable for the ferry, and are surprised at the huge crowd waiting to board the next one. Tony thinks we may have missed out on the timing of this one. The ferry is free, so there are no hassles to worry about getting tickets. Within a couple of minutes we board with the throngs of people, and are treated to a gorgeous sunset over the harbour. We find out later that the next one was not due for another hour, so we were lucky with the timing.

It doesn’t take too long to cross over, taking around 25 minutes to travel the 8km, it is fully dark by the time we reach Staten Is. There is still a lot closed here because of hurricane damage. We decide that we will head back on the next boat, we are just not sure when that will be. A lot of other passengers appear to have done exactly the same as us, travel over, turn around and come back on the next ferry. There are X-ray machines at the port departure, we didn’t see them on the Manhattan side, perhaps they were there, but we just didn’t see them because of the crowd. There are a couple of food shops so we get some nachos and coffee. We have not eaten a lot again today, mainly fruit. We are soon called to board the ferry, no one is screened at the X-ray machines.

The trip back is just as scenic, it is a wonderful sight with the skyscrapers of Manhattan all lit up, as are the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We walk to Rector St Station, the nearest subway, and travel to Columbus Circle. We had to top up a little bit on the transport pass as we were about a dollar short to buy two fares.

At Columbus we walk along Broadway trying to decide what to have for tea, but here is too much choice. We buy some gyros, and a coffee for Tony, from a street vendor. We are near our corner and Tony decides to head off down the street in the opposite direction to the hostel, we hadn’t explored down there yet and there looked to be something happening as dozens of people dressed up to the nines are making their way… somewhere. We are not sure what they are going to, but it is close by as many taxis are dropping their fares here. Cynthea reluctantly follows, but she has had enough walking today. There is no hurry to get back to the hostel because the gym and sauna closed early today.

We arrive at the Lincoln Centre for Performing Arts, and think… wow. It is stunning all lit up, the patrons are glittering also. We feel rather underdressed as we stand in the Josie Robertson Plaza, the centre's central plaza, with it’s iconic fountain giving us a pretty light and water show. We sit on the seating around the fountain and eat our gyros.

Three beautiful buildings face onto this plaza, the Metropolitan Opera House, Avery Fisher Hall (the home of the Philharmonic Orchestra), and David H. Koch Theatre (home of the New York City Ballet). The plaza itself is used as an outdoor venue. Here also is the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and a couple of dozen other performing arts companies.

A couple arrives and the man sets up his camera and a tripod, while the woman poses beside the fountain. But before he can take too many photos a security guard comes over and turns them away. Tony wonders what the problem is as he has been taking photos the whole time, and no one had bothered him.

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