Optimistically Cautious

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New York City: Day 5

If Wednesday was characterized by food, then Thursday will be remembered for the cold.

To start off the day, we grabbed breakfast at McDonald's, where they offer a Sausage Biscuit! Not really something to get excited about I suppose, especially when it really paled in comparison to Tim Hortons' version (the biscuit itself was overly greasy), but it was something we couldn't get back home! (For the record, Mack vehemently disagreed with my assessment.)

A good old American breakfast

Onto the subway, where we inadvertently made it to a borough, an item on Mack's New York to-do checklist. We accidentally got on the train heading North, and as we stepped up onto the street, it was obvious we weren't in Manhattan anymore. The New York subway system really isn't clear when compared with the Tube - the latter of which features reliable, recorded announcements of line names and upcoming stops, accessible maps at each station, and electronic signs indicating the wait time for the next train. Still, besides our little sojourn to Queens, Mack was a very solid "navigateur" throughout the week. So much so that I really didn't have to think for myself at all. Done again, however, I do believe I would have paid more attention to signage and directionality for future reference.

Subway (an aside - this was also the day that we saw two rats on the tracks, christened Remy 1 & 2 by Mack. Their fate, after the train passed over their scavenging bodies, remains unknown to us.)

We returned to Times Square (again) to Madam Tussauds to redeem our Explorers Pass for the Liberty Island Ferry. It was also the site of Mack's "meeting" with Shaft himself.

Looks real, doesn't it?

Hopping back on the subway, we just made it back to the southern tip of the island to join up with a free walking tour through Manhattan's Financial District (a great list of free tours is here). Led by a PhD student (specializing in medieval manuscripts, of all things), the tour provided many interesting facts about the area's architecture, history, art history, and personalities. Highlights included an overview of the statues representing the continents at the U.S. Customs House, the famous bronze bull figure, and the pockmarks on a building that remain from the very first car bomb.

Our tour guide

U.S. Customs House Statue

Wall Street Bull (notice the discoloration on its, er, most prized possession)

Pockmarks from the world's first car bomb

We didn't spend too much more time on Wall Street following the tour, except to snap a few pictures. Observations: the New York Stock Exchange looked exactly like it does in the movies; the pedestrian traffic in that area was crazy at lunch time; and there were a noteworthy number of fitness clubs and gyms surrounding Wall Street.

Mack on Wall Street


With the NYSE Christmas tree

We decided to have lunch that afternoon at another Pax-like chain, Au Bon Pain. It was slightly cheaper than its counterpart and had a better food selection, but for some reason, we still preferred Pax.

Mack searches in vain for free WiFi at Au Bon Pain

After lunch, we walked to Battery Park and joined the line for the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Ferry. Following another security check point, we boarded the ferry and headed straight for the third deck. It was *cold* and all the more so when the boat got going, but it provided a good view of both the Manhattan skyline and the approaching Statue of Liberty. Mack used the word "underwhelming" to describe the experience, and I couldn't have agreed more. The Statue was cool to see, but as Mack mentioned on his blog, we needed to request a Time Pass in advance in order to climb the monument, so we weren't able to take full advantage of our visit.

On the ferry

At one with the statue

With Miss Liberty

I should also mention it was bloody cold on Liberty Island, and waiting to take the ferry back to Manhattan wasn't fun. It goes without saying that I was happy to be back at Battery Park.

Battery Park at nightfall

Next, we headed to the World Trade Centre site. We couldn't locate the memorial, but we were able to take some shots of the ongoing construction.

Peering in on the construction

Just outside the fence

Near the site was the Century 21 Department Store, touted as a must-visit for their discounted designer duds. For whatever reason, I wasn't expecting such an organized store, with racks and shoe shelves clearly labelled by brand name (a floor resembling Winners or Value Village, with sections of random sweaters and shirts was the image I was holding onto). We didn't spend too much time there, however, and like most merchants known for obscure "finds", it would have taken more than a cursory glance to uncover good deals.

We headed uptown to Union Square, taking some time to explore the multi-level Barnes & Noble, where Mack picked up some reading material for our journey home. It was massive, but well-organized with the most effective tills we had seen in New York thus far (they had an employee who was essentially a traffic cop, directing customers to the next available cashier).

We also took a picture of a curious "countdown" clock which spanned the Circuit City and Virgin Megastore building. I looked it up, and it turns out that it is an art installation piece titled Metronome, "an investigation into the nature of time." Gleaned from a blog:

"The 15 numbers of the digital clock display time going and coming relative to midnight. Read time going left to right and time coming in the opposite direction. So, if the clock reads 070437000235616 it means that it is 7:04 A.M. (7 hours and 04 minutes since midnight) and that there are 16 hours, 56 minutes and 23 seconds remaining until midnight. The three numbers in between are a blur of moving numbers."

Metronome (and if you're curious, it cost nearly $3 million dollars)

We walked a number of blocks to reach our dinner destination that night - S'MAC (or, Sarita's Macaroni & Cheese), a place I had read about in Time Out New York. Only serving variations of macaroni and cheese, S'MAC was just too novel to pass up (especially given Mack's affinity for the dish).

Mack at S'MAC

The restaurant was pretty small to begin with, but packed to the brim when we walked in. We were lucky to snag the last few seats at the counter, but we didn't mind not having our own table at all. With a brick wall (yes, another), funky orange light fixtures and bright plastic chairs of the Ikea-variety, S'MAC seemed very much like a new-age diner - fun, unpretentious, and best of all, cheap!

Dining area

Mack didn't hesitate in his selection of the All-American (a blend of American and Cheddar), while I took a little more time before deciding upon the 4 Cheese (Muenster, American, Gorgonzola and Cheddar). Our orders appeared almost too cute to eat, served in their own individual cast iron pans (complete with a handle sleeve), bubbling, with a wonderfully cheesy aroma. I'm sad to say that the taste of Gorgonzola was much too strong in my serving (blue cheeses tend to have that power), but I did enjoy sampling from Mack's dish. S'MAC was, in the end, Mack's favorite of the restaurants we visited.

Our orders

After dinner, we called it a night. Our last full day in New York would, predictably, put our soles to more work.

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