Monday morning, and my first full day in New York, after a day of travelling yesterday.
Unfortunately, I woke up to my phone blaring with a severe weather warning alarm - an emergency alert for Manhattan, as flash floods hit the area. I knew that rain last night didn't look good! In the UK we don't really have emergency warnings come up on our phones like this, so I thought the world was ending. Leaving my room onto the streets, I couldn't even see the tops of the buildings, this (below) is the bottom half of the Chrysler building - the top was nowhere to be seen!
Today was the only day of my week in New York that I hadn't scheduled any work for - it was my day to take things at my pace, explore the city, and familiarise myself with the local amenities. The first thing on my to-do list, however, was find some breakfast. Even flash flooding wasn't going to stop me from getting some pancakes! I headed out with my roommate, and wandered down 2nd Avenue in the pouring rain, with pancakes as the only goal. We stumbled across Cafe Olympia - it was quiet, looked warm, and served food 24/7. Pancakes, bacon and egg ordered, I made my plan for the day. The severe weather limited my options to mainly indoor activities, but this was New York, its not like that reduced my options dramatically!
First thing I knew I had to do, was set myself up for travel in the week, and so I headed to Grand Central to get a Metro Card, and take some photos.
Opened to the public on February 2, 1913, Grand Central is a world-famous landmark and transportation hub in Midtown. A monumental façade of 3 triumphal arches (symbolising the 3 merging railroads) greets you upon arrival to the terminal, while the world’s largest Tiffany clock, is nestled in between. Weighing in at 1,500 tons and spanning 4m in diameter, it is surrounded by a statue depicting the Roman gods Mercury, Hermes, and Minerva - designed by French artist, Jules-Félix Coutain. I read here that in 1914, the 15m tall trio was considered the largest sculptural group in the world!
Heading inside, through long uphill pedestrian ramps, you get a true sense of the size of the building. The cavernous "Main Concourse" (measuring 84m long, by 37m wide, by 38m high) is extremely impressive, even when bustling with people. One of the most iconic feature of the Main Concourse is the the four-sided ball clock that sits atop the information kiosk. It is estimated to be worth between $10-$20 million!! Its four faces are made of opal set in brass with a brass acorn on top—the Vanderbilt family’s symbol.
However, my favourite feature of the main concourse, is easily the elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling. Originally meant to be a skylight, the fantastical mural was a far more welcome feature, in my eyes. I came to learn that the design on the ceiling is actually backwards... West is East and East is West. How to you mess up that badly?!
An astronomer from Colombia University even confirmed the artist’s design for accuracy, but it turns out the painters put the plans on the floor while they worked, which resulted in the constellations being painted in reverse. This flaw was noticed by a commuter in 1913, but through every renovation since, it has not been corrected. I stayed in the Main Concourse for a good while, after buying my MetroCard, watching the crowds come and go, as well as reading up on the history of the place, and how it came to be. I love history, and all the facts about the artwork made it heaven for me! There was even an Apple store...
American Museum of Natural History
From Grand Central, I headed to The Museum of Natural History - this was the mainplane for the day, since the weather was bad, and I knew I'd need a good few hours to wander through the exhibits. Arriving at the museum, I saw the perfect opportunity too bust out one of my branded stickers. I smacked it straight on the nearest poster-covered box, and then I could head inside.
The American Museum of Natural History, is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and is one of the largest museums in the world! Located in Theodore Roosevelt Park (just across the street from Central Park), the museum is made up of 28 buildings, housing 45 permanent exhibition halls, as well as a planetarium and a library. The museum collections contain over 33 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts, of which only a small fraction can be displayed at any given time.
Although there were lots of amazing exhibits, and endless things to see, my top 2 things to visit were the were the dinosaurs (both the exhibition, and in the main foyer to the museum), and the Hayden planetarium. The planetarium is housed in a giant glass-faced cube, with a central sphere for documentary viewing. Scale models of the planets are suspended in the air, as the walkway guides you though millions of years of astronomical history, from the Big Bang, up until the present day. Each step you take represents a certain amount of time, with your walk guided by a timeline of key events in the creation of the universe as we know it. I have always been fascinated by space, and the stars, so the planetarium was where I naturally spent most of my time.
The dinosaur and fossil exhibitions were equally impressive - the collection is full, and in incredible condition, given the age and size of the items on display! The arrangement of the exhibitions truly allow you to imagine how the world was when these creatures roamed the earth, with pedestrian walkways woven throughout a well curated display of bones, and fully constructed skeletons. So many kids were terrified of the T-Rex, but were so so excited to see it up close.
Mingus Big Band - Jazz Standard
Last minute plans are always the best, and tonights were no different. I scored myself a ticket to see The Mingus Big Band play at the Jazz Standard! After finishing up at the museum, I headed straight to the jazz club. New York Magazine named it as one of the top 5 jazz clubs - quite the welcome to New York!
Owned by Danny Meyer, Jazz Standard is located on East 27th Street in the Rose Hill neighbourhood of the city, and is housed in the basement of one of Meyer's Blue Smoke restaurants. The Mingus Big Band, the Mingus Orchestra, and Mingus Dynasty rotate every Monday night - I visited NYC on a Mingus Big Band week! I bagged the last ticket in the club for the night, the waitress that got me in said it sells out every week without fail. The club was packed, and my seat couldn't have been closer to the front. I might as well have been sat on the saxophonist's lap. I was seated with other people who had come alone - a lovely French chap who was in the city for a month, and 2 Italian ladies.
The club served the same food as the restaurant upstairs, which was incredible, and the time for food gave me a great opportunity to talk to the people on my table and surrounding tables. The stereotype of New Yorkers being rude, couldn't have been further from the truth! With food and drinks all done, the band weaved their way through tables to the small stage at the front.
I don't think there was any need for amps from my position - I easily had the best seat in the house. Unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed during the performance, so this is one of the few photos I got in the club. The band were incredible, and had such a vibe between them - I would definitely recommend checking them out if you're ever in the city, or online if you can! I was invited to stay for the second performance of the night, but unfortunately it was already late, and I have a meeting tomorrow - though I would have loved to stay for the second performance.
I headed back to the YMCA and finally the cloud had cleared so I could see the tops of the buildings in my area. The Chrysler Building was a beacon for me heading back, as I knew I could see it from my window. Lit up like this, (above, right) it was pretty easy to follow!
After a long day of wandering and exploring, I can finally take my shoes off and get into my rickety bunk bed with no ladder, and call it a night.