We chose to stay at the Hotel Mulberry on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan, not just because it is one of the more affordable places to stay in New York, but also because of its location in the heart of Chinatown. Here, where the streets are lined with colorful open markets, and very little English can be heard on the street, we felt we had traveled a long way from home, instead of just a four-hour train ride away.
Our hotel was directly across the street from a popular neighborhood park, where musicians could be heard playing Chinese music in the afternoons, and in the mornings, groups of local women moved through the fluid movements of Tai Chi exercises.
I don't know what game these men are playing, but the intense concentration of both players and onlookers suggested that maybe something more was at stake here than simply winning one game.
Just a few doors down from our hotel was a shop that declared it sold funeral supplies. Funeral supplies? Then why, I wondered, are these items that looked like toys -- fancy dollhouses, luxury toy cars, miniature flat-screen TVs -- on display in the window of such an establishment? Consumed by curiosity, I entered the shop and asked the proprietor. He informed me that these items -- all made of paper -- were burned along with the bodies of the deceased, to provide housing, transportation, and entertainment in the afterlife. (Did I mention we felt we had traveled a long way from home?)
Such cultural shifts occur abruptly in this part of lower Manhattan, for only two blocks from our very Chinese neighborhood, we entered the neighborhood called Little Italy, with its wonderful offerings of all things Italian and not a single attraction that could be taken for Chinese.
We had already eaten our dinner but were looking for something a little sweet to enhance our evening stroll, and what better place could we find for this than Caffe Palermo, which offered, after 44 years, "still the best cannoli on Planet Earth"? The cafe latte and ricotta cheesecake were very good, as well.
We had eaten our dinner earlier at the Great N.Y. Noodletown restaurant, which had a very interesting menu.
Declining the pork stomach porridge, we opted instead for a delicious meal of salt-baked shrimp, scallops, and squid, accompanied by another dish of shredded duck with pea shoots, along with a side of Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce. Yum!
We continued the Asian theme for our other dinners, enjoying Japanese sushi one night and Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches the other, meals that were not only delicious, but very moderately priced, by NYC standards. Our lunch at the Metropolitan Museum cafe, for example, came to more than $40 for two meagerly filled sandwiches and one fruit cup.
Since this is now the holiday season, we ventured up to mid-town Fifth Avenue at night to see the glorious holiday displays that New York City is famous for. And we weren't the only ones being dazzled by the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue.
The department store's decorating theme this year was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, with all the windows along Fifth Avenue featuring scenes from the Walt Disney movie of Snow White in amazingly elaborate detail.
The side-street windows at Saks were also amazingly elaborate, and they featured designer gowns just as fantastic as those in any fairy tale!
The huge Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center would not be lit until the following night, but the spectacular sparkling music-and-light-show that danced across the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue offered far more dazzle than any tree-lighting could.
The facade of Saint Patrick's Cathedral offered its own kind of beauty, and the doors were open wide to invite us inside, where we gazed in awe at this church's architectural splendor. We also toured all the side altars, marveling at the paintings and statuary while learning many details about the lives of the saints each altar was dedicated to.
We spent most of our second day in the city at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a special exhibit of Michelangelo drawings offered a stunning selection of this artist's works on paper.
A few of Michelangelo's sculptures were also included in this exhibit.
And one darkened gallery was crowned with a full reproduction of Michelangelo's magnificent paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican in Rome. An awe-inspiring culmination of a beautiful exhibit!
The museum also offers many astounding works by the world's most prominent Abstract painters, including these works by Mark Rothko my husband Denis is admiring.
Denis was also delighted to revisit this monumental work by Jackson Pollock.
Another special exhibition at the Met featured artistic works in bamboo. There were many intricately detailed baskets and other utilitarian objects included in this exhibit, but I was most impressed by some of the large, strictly aesthetic sculptural forms that had been rendered in bamboo.
The Metropolitan Museum is so huge we could never hope to visit all its works in one day, but we always try to include the gallery that contains many gorgeous polychromed wooden carvings of religious subjects, including this lovely rendering of the Madonna and Child.
At the center of this gallery was a huge Christmas tree that was decorated with intricately detailed figures from the Christmas story, including the Holy Family and attending angels.
After several hours of admiring the magnificent works of human hands, I craved an outdoor adventure, especially since the day was almost summer warm, under a clear blue sky. So we caught the Fifth Avenue bus that took us right to the entrance to the Central Park Zoo. I love this little zoo, with its sea lions frolicking in an outdoor pool, its charming buildings, and its botanical plantings nearly as exotic as the animals housed there. We visited grizzly bears, snow monkeys, and penguins, and delighted in the absolute adorableness of some extremely active Red Pandas, one of the prettiest animals on earth. But the absolute stunner of the afternoon was this magnificent Snow Leopard, who accommodated us by venturing so close to us that we could exchange slow blinks. What a gorgeous creature!
Here's another gorgeous creature, a Crested Blue Pigeon, who resided in a splendid aviary where birds of many brilliant colors were free to fly about and perch among the branches of tropical vines and trees.
We spent our last morning in the city at the Frick Collection, a splendid small museum on Fifth Avenue at 70th St. that features the art collection of the wealthy industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). Here in this mansion that was once Frick's home are housed works by some of the most magnificent painters of all time --painters the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyke, Veronese, Titian, and many others -- as well as sculptures, small bronzes, fabulous porcelains, and antique furnishings of incomparable quality. Unfortunately, the only place in this mansion that photography is permitted is this splendid skylit atrium with its splashing fountain and monumental columns. But I think this one photo is sufficient to suggest the magnificence of this mansion and the quality of its collection.
Here's a peek at one of the Veronese paintings, visible through a doorway from the atrium.
When we visit New York, we never bring our car, so we don't have to spend a large portion of our days looking for parking places or grumbling over extravagant parking fees. Plus, one of the great pleasures of visiting this city, in my opinion, is riding the subway. Here, all the glorious mix of folks who inhabit this city crowd in together, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, in what seems to me to be an example of how we might all get along. Most of the time, anyway.
One of the great pleasures of a trip to New York is the train ride to get there from Saratoga Springs, and I always try for a window seat on the west side of the car. For almost the entire trip, from Rensselaer to Yonkers, the train travels close to the east bank of the Hudson River, offering views of this magnificent waterway, its picturesque bridges and river towns, the waterfowl that inhabit the river, and even the occasional Bald Eagle. (Yes, I saw one Bald Eagle perched on a piling, but the train was traveling close to 100 miles per hour at that point, and my photo was only a blur.)
Several still-working lighthouses can be seen as we whiz past, including the Rondout Lighthouse at Kingston. Standing at the mouth of the Rondout Creek, the lighthouse remains an important aid to navigation on the Hudson River, warning boat captains of the dangers of the shore and the shallow tidal flats surrounding the mouth of the creek.
Probably the most fantastic sight from the train is this crumbling castle perched on the shore of a little island near Newburgh. Called Bannerman's Castle, it was originally built in 1901 by Francis Bannerman as a storage facility for surplus military equipment, including millions of munitions cartridges. Damaged by a munitions explosion in 1920 and further devastated by fire in 1969, the castle continues to disintegrate, making each glimpse of it from this speeding train all the more remarkable.