Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day 1: Empire State Building, Intrepid, Spider Man

I've been planning for about a year to go to New York City during the first week of October, ever since the receptionist at my office advised me to avoid the summer months, and several other friends touted this particular week as being ideal. We're able to disregard school schedules because we homeschool. Maybe that's why I'm seeing so few kids on the streets and in the subway.

I didn't quite trust the weather forecast as I was packing, so was prepared for mild fall weather, but instead was met with quite warm summer-like temperatures. Yesterday, it was downright hot, but at least not muggy and uncomfortable. I was surprised to find that the temperature here varies much less than back at home (maybe 15 degrees over a 24 hour period versus 30 or more in the Bay Area).

So far, much of the city we have seen apart from Times Square could be mistaken for San Francisco, except for two things: it's incredibly flat, the streets are relatively free of litter, and there is a conspicuous lack of urine odor. OK, that was really three things.

Empire State Building

Our first official tourist stop was the Empire State Building. Given that Lliam went to bed at midnight the previous night, we didn't roll out of bed until 9:30, so the day was well underway by the time we breakfasted and hit the town.

Despite my impaired sense of direction compared to Will, I seem to be more adept than he at navigating the often confusing subway lines. There are local trains, express trains, day versus evening trains, station closures, multiple levels and platforms to name a few. And then there's which direction you're going, called out by the name of the destination, which is really no help at all when you have no idea where anything is. So far though, we have managed to avoid getting on the wrong train. This was partly aided by the fact that most cars have a handy LED display listing off upcoming stops. One time I was unsure of which direction the train was going, so I peeked in at the display, didn't see our stop listed and quickly hopped off, which allowed us to make a course correction.

After stepping off the subway and wandering down 34th street, we knew we were approaching the famous landmark when barraged by peddlers pointing skyward and asking if we were going up today. There were bike companies, tour busses, and many claiming to sell tickets to the observatory. 

We made a beeline for the official entrance, but we still ended up talking to a man selling NYSKYRIDE tickets inside the building. He wanted to sell them for $57, including the 80th, 86th and 102nd floors, plus a virtual tour of the city in a simulator. He made a big todo about how we would get to see the 80th floor unlike regular tickets, and we could get our picture taken with King Kong. I'm glad we didn't get those tickets because the 80th floor was included in the regular $27 admission, and this is what the King Kong pic looked like.

Even after entering the "official" attraction, we were amazed at the efficiency of the money extraction operation. The line to get to the 80th floor featured a photo op in front of a green screen where they insert a scenic background and sell the photo prints for $30 a pop. One couple tried to bypass this portion of the line and were thoroughly reprimanded by a security officer dressed as a depression-era bellhop. We opted to skip having our photo taken. There is also a very specific path that guests must take to leave the building, which includes a complete tour of the gift shop. Lots of people were posing in front of the gift shop sign for some reason.

We could not have chosen a better day to visit the observatory on the 86th floor. The views were breathtaking, and visibility was quite good. Lliam's acrophobia erupted as soon as he could see out the window. That's when we were glad we didn't pay extra to visit the 102nd floor. We went outside and he literally plastered himself to the ground near the building entrance. We had to retreat back inside to my disappointment, but luckily Lliam recovered his wits and we were able to see the sights and even snap a few photos.

In the elevatorKing KongThose old-fashioned viewer thingiesInstagram this!Lady LibertyOvercoming his fear
MacysA cool buildingMore buildings 'n stuffClinging for dear lifeMom & Lliam on the 86thCity block
Masonic buildingGold tipped buildingsSome bridgeRooftop gardenLower ManhattanEmpty Lot!
A Park! Trees!Check it out!Crysler BuildingObservation Deck. What more can I say?Central Park
Empire State Building, a set on Flickr.

Times Square & Tickets

We bounced on over to Times Square because several friends touted the discount tickets that you can buy for shows on the same day. The only catch is that you have to stand in line for a couple of hours. We were a bit turned around when we got off the subway, so ducked into the first theater we found to ask where the ticket booth was. It just so happened that this was the theater where Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark was playing, which was our #1 choice for shows. The ticket lady said she could give us very good discounted seats, so we decided to go for it.

They turned out to be very good seats indeed, with prime viewing of the action of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin flying over the audience and even landing in the aisle. We were close enough that we could clearly see the faces of the actors. The singing was fantastic and we were repeatedly amazed at the elaborate sets and technical setup of the whole show. At the end, Lliam even got a souvenir backpack.

Midday Meltdown & Intrepid

Lliam had his first meltdown between the Empire State building and our next destination, the Intrepid Sea & Space Museum. After being out for only 2 hours, he was complaining about needing to take a nap and wanting to go back to the hotel. This was likely a secret plot to play on the PSVita, which was mentioned several times earlier in the day. As parents, we persisted in continuing with our original program.

We dragged him onto the bus and he whined the whole way. He even stated that he wanted to ruin our day and make us unhappy. I told him calmly that he was really just embarrassing himself and he could ask anyone on the bus if that was not the case. He did not find this funny. Once off the bus, he quite literally dug in his heels. Will and I just looked at each other with smirks on our faces.

After a meal and sitting in the shade for a bit, Lliam was a new person, although that didn't stop him from bargaining for time on the PSVita in exchange for good behavior the rest of the day. I told him that this is not how things work. We sensed another looming tantrum as we entered the museum, but luckily Will whipped out his distraction and fascination tactics describing the submarine that we were about to tour. Once we actually boarded, Lliam completely forgot to display any pretense of bad behavior.

The submarine we toured is called the Growler, one of only 5 of its kind and the only remaining one in its existence. It was decommissioned after only a short time because it had to surface in order to launch its missiles, whereas the military quickly developed technology to launch from under water.

We also got to see the Enterprise, the NASA shuttle that was used for testing the shuttle program. I was disappointed that we weren't allowed to go inside. Silly me to think that would be possible!

GrowlerGiant AdUSS IntrepidIntrepidYeah, it's bigMissile hatch on the growler
Inside the missile tubeMissile bayMissile guidanceMissile GuidanceMan the hatch!Code red
Periscope depth!Main controlsI forgotCrew quartersmmm..Diesel
Bunch 'o gaugesTorpedo tubeAtop the GrowlerNext to the EnterpriseWill in front of the EnterpriseEnterprise
Intrepid Sea & Space Museum, a set on Flickr.

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