I dashed up the stairs from my office. “I was thinking, how would you like to spend a few days in Manhattan?” I asked, trying to sound composed and nonchalant. My husband’s eyes sparkled. “Absolutely,” he nodded.
Just moments before I had received an unexpected offer from a dear friend who had invited us to spend a few nights in her Manhattan condo at The Phillips Club in the very ritzy Lincoln Square area of Manhattan. We quickly agreed four days in early December would be an ideal time to take in the Christmas spirit and lights for which the Big Apple is so well-known.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Conveniently situated at Columbus and West 66th Street, our luxurious two-bedroom accommodation couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve always preferred to take in the sights and sounds of New York on foot and we were within easy walking distance of Central Park, Columbus Circle, Carnegie Hall, numerous museums, theatres, Rockefeller Centre and Times Square.
The first thing we purchased was a New York CityPASS, which entitled access to the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum, the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The pass also guaranteed exclusive discounts on the entry fees to any of the optional attractions listed. We had plenty of ground to cover and, over the course of our stay, we would walk a distance equal to twice the length of Manhattan Island—about 43 kilometres.
Of the many attractions we experienced, we especially enjoyed a relaxing Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise, which departs from Midtown’s Pier 83 and completely circumnavigates Manhattan. It gave us the opportunity to rest our weary feet as we took in breathtaking views of the city skyline from every angle as well as the Statue of Liberty.
From there, we hoofed it all the way down along the West Side Highway to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum between Fulton and Liberty Streets—referred to as Ground Zero—to pay homage to the nearly 3,000 victims of that eventful catastrophe in 2001. The name of every person who perished is honoured in bronze around two Memorial pools. Words cannot express the deep sorrow that engulfed me when my eyes fell upon the names of an unborn child and her mother. Truth be told, I had to walk away from the site. It was all too much to bear.
We couldn’t resist a late-night drink at the Top of the Rock. At US$18, it may have been the most expensive glass of wine I ever drank. However, the views were spectacular and included in the price. Seating is reserved for those who order food from the pricey menu, so it was standing room only for us. In the plaza below, we stopped to admire the world-renowned Rockefeller Christmas Tree, a 22-metre, 12-ton green pyramid decked out in red, white and blue lights and crowned by a nine-foot, four-inch topper designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Each year, millions gather to watch the lighting of New York’s iconic Christmas symbol. It must be quite a spectacle to behold.
As you can imagine, the dining options were endless. We could have dined at any of the trendy restaurants, such as the Tribeca Grill in Lower Manhattan, owned by actor Robert De Niro, or Le Cirque where an impressive wine list includes a bottle of wine for US$11,810, or Ellen’s Stardust Diner where singing waitstaff cater to a long line of hungry diners. Instead, we opted to see what we might discover wherever we happened to be when hunger struck.
We hit the jackpot at a small, rustic Italian eatery called Da Mikele on Church Street in the Tribeca neighbourhood, where the food and service were excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal at the all-time favourite Rosie O’Grady’s Restaurant in Times Square, just steps from the Gershwin Theatre, where we had reserved tickets for WICKED that evening.
The best surprise was the outdoor Columbus Circle Holiday Market, located on the southwest corner of Central Park where we treated ourselves to tasty treats prepared by various food and refreshment vendors. This market is one of many that pop up throughout the city from mid-November through January. It definitely ignited the Christmas spirit in us as we roamed from booth to booth searching for unique gifts for friends and family members back home. Even if you don’t plan to do much shopping, the atmosphere is festive and definitely gets you in the holiday mood.
What’s New York without a Broadway show? The musical, WICKED, has been entertaining audiences at the famous Gershwin Theatre since October 2003, and is still going strong, with no end in sight. WICKED set a box office record for the Gershwin Theatre after its first show in 2003, when the production grossed US$3,201,333 over nine performances for the week ending December 29, 2013, resulting in the highest one-week box office gross income made by any show in Broadway history, until that time. How could we pass this one up?
Magic began the moment we entered the theatre, which is also home of the American Theatre Hall of Fame, where inductees are given their own plaque during an official ceremony. Designed in a modernist art nouveau style, this particular theatre first opened as the Uris Theatre on November 28, 1972 before it was renamed in 1983 in honour of the legendary brothers, composer George Gershwin and lyricist Ira Gershwin. It boasts a seating capacity of 1,933 seats, the largest of any Broadway theatre. It also has one of the largest stages, making it an ideal venue for very large musical productions such as Porgy and Bess in 1976 and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express in 1987, just to name a couple. Its lobby walls are graced with portraits of all-time greats like Fred Astaire, Tallulah Bankhead, Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Lauren Bacall, Pearl Bailey , Kevin Kline, Cicely Tyson and more. I could have spent hours here just gazing at the stars.