August 18, 2012 – The hotel breakfast was hot and good, and the weather was neither. It was raining so we got our little umbrellas (though we could have bought some from the umbrella vendors standing under hotel awnings – at one hotel one guy was selling umbrellas for $3, another was offering 2 for $5) and headed into the near-deserted streets.
Sure we could have taken the subway and stayed dry, but the American Museum of Natural History didn’t open until around 10am and there was a lot to see between our hotel and the Upper West Side. We had to walk through a few small puddles by the sides of the road, and occasionally the wind would pick up, and the rain may have seemed to lighten before getting heavier, but we also got some great views of lights reflecting off the slick pavement at Times Square. The rain stopped, and We eventually dried off while relaxing under an overhang in Central Park. Our shelter provided nice views of the tall buildings poking through and rising above the trees.
First up was the American Museum of Natural History. We bought tickets online so to avoid a bit of waiting in line, and the security lines moved pretty quickly. We got tickets for two of the live shows – one on spiders and the other on phosphorescence. Those exhibits had a timed entry, and we had about 30 minutes until we could go learn about spiders. The museum wasn’t too crowded (things seem to get more packed after lunch), but it is very maze-like so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to figure out where you’re going.
We headed to the 4th floor to check out the dinosaur exhibits. The dinosaur exhibit wasn’t too crowded yet, which gave us a chance to read some of the signs and look at the fossils. Once it was time to head to the spider exhibit, we walked down all the flights of stairs to the ground floor, walked through three or four (I lost count) large exhibit rooms, turned a few corners, went down a little hallway/nook area, and found the exhibit. Yes, it really did take almost 10 minutes of walking, the museum is seriously a maze. Along the way we found an exhibit with some very rare bird eggs, apparently there are only two preserved nests/eggs in the world, and one is in the museum – tucked into a corner by a bathroom, presumably for lack of exhibit space.
The spider exhibit was fairly crowded, and contained information and live specimens of various spiders. Tony thought it was pretty funny that Louisa initially didn’t realize that the spiders were alive until she saw a tarantula move. Other little critters included black widows, multiple kinds of tarantula, and about a dozen other kinds. We were in time for the live demonstration, which included learning about a tarantula and a scorpion. The worker used a soft paint brush to indicate what parts other arachnids they were talking about; the scorpion didn’t like the paint brush (and maybe not the bright light either, since they’re nocturnal) and immediately raised her claws and circled her container. Louisa thought she was cute and feisty, although the tarantula was alright (at least from a distance).
Next up we headed to the Creatures of Light exhibit, another timed exhibit (we got the timed tickets 1 hour apart, to try to beat the rush we thought might come in the afternoon). This exhibit taught about creatures, including fireflies, fish, and plants, that use light to communicate, as “flashlights” when swimming around, and to hunt.
We walked back through the museum and a few blocks to Patsy’s Pizzeria. We got there around 12:30 and the restaurant was virtually deserted (though by 1:00 it was almost full, so don’t let the potential lack of crowds fool you). The ambiance is very nice, with wood tables, high pressed tin ceilings, and nothing at all to muffle the exuberant diners. Though a noticeable hush does fall once people have their food. The meal started with two warm rolls, with a crunchy exterior and light interior perfect for sopping up the olive oil that is strategically placed on every table. For lunch we split a medium pepperoni pizza, the crust was thin and perfectly crunchy while still being doughy, the pepperoni was spicy and there was fresh basil on the pizza. It was fantastic.
The afternoon lull was the perfect time for a little pick me up. We initially wanted coffee and cheesecake, but then we read about this little place in the basement of a rowhouse that was making amazing, gooey, perfectly chocolate cookies. So cookies it was, at Levain Bakery. We got an iced latte and a chocolate chocolate cookie (a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips). The coffee drink was average, next time we might get an iced coffee instead. The cookie though… the cookie was amazing. About the size of a palm, maybe 1/2″ thick in the middle, warm and gooey. We heard that is a sister shop in another borough that was less crowded, though we didn’t think the wait was bad. And the cookies are totally worth it.
We enjoyed the cookie and coffee on a bench on the street side of Central Park, so after eating we walked through Central Park to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met for short). Along the way we found the literary walk, fountains, ponds, flowers and a densely forested section where it was almost impossible to see the skyscrapers that ring the park.
The Met is also huge. It’s billed as an art museum, and it does have a very nice art collection, but we spent the majority of our time in the Egyptian and Greco-Roman exhibit halls. The Egyptian exhibit was very impressive and very well done, including a reconstructed tomb with beautiful hieroglyphics, art, statues of various pharaohs more beautiful hieroglyphics, pottery, and sarcophagi The Greco-Roman exhibit included some massive temple columns, pottery, kitchen utensils, jewelry, some artifacts from Pompeii (including a basket carefully packed with the household silver bowls and mugs), water jugs, funeral sculptures, and various other statues.
There are a variety of street vendors outside The Met, including a chain of food carts run by and supporting veterans. We got dinner #1 from the street vendors (all beef hot dogs and a crispy, salty soft pretzel) and sat on a wall by The Met to eat. After dinner headed back into the museum (this is when we walked through the Greco-Roman rooms), then then walked back to the hotel. Times Square was much more crowded this time around, especially with the nicer weather.
We got a late second dinner from Abitinos Pizza – since it was fairly late we got two pizza slices to go pepperoni and sausage, and margarita with great sauce and fresh basil-flavored mozzarella. The slices were excellent, with a thin, slightly crispy crust that was substantial enough to hold the toppings but still thin enough to fold for ease of eating. Both pizzas were very good, and the pepperoni was excellent.