It’s America’s city. I think most Americans have strong feelings about it, details about this place are baked into our cultural consciousness without our even trying. You either love it or you hate it.
The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The city so nice they named it twice.
Until 2022, I had only been to New York City once, in 2006 for a choir trip. It was a good trip and I had a blast, but it very much was not a self-directed trip. I was with a large group most of the time and a small group of folks for the rest. I was a broke college kid so I definitely could only do so much exploring and experiencing.
As a part of my research travels, I have been to most of Europe’s biggest cities, checking off collection after quintessential collection of Roman art. If you had told young me that I would have managed to go to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen before making it to The Met, I don’t think I’d have believed you. Alas…
So in 2022 when I was finally heading to New York City to see one of my dearest friends and to see my first Broadway shows, I knew that I would finally have a chance to do New York City more the way I wanted to do it.
GOALS FOR TRIP
- FRIEND TIME
Most of these adventures were had with my friend, Katie, who lives in NYC, so by that very fact it was a great trip. You can read all about my first Broadway shows, which were totally amazing and perfect. It was a life-changing weekend, where I existed in the presence of some of my favorite performing humans.
That NYC Experience
I love being in a city. The hustle and bustle. The architecture, the sites, the smells, even the bad ones. There is something about a city that when you figure out how to navigate it, you just feel like you’re so in control and independent. Some cities work with you to make it happen (others work against you and are hard to navigate–these are frustrating cities).
New York is probably the most easily navigated city I’ve been to yet. It’s the griddy-est of grid cities. It’s relatively straightforward to mark the cross-section of your destination and move in the correct direction (To be fair: I’m not sure how this plays out in boroughs other than Manhattan). The buses and subway are all relatively straightforward, especially with google maps. They’ve also introduced a new ticketing system called OMNY that lets you just tap your card to pay your fare rather than needing to purchase a separate card (really a relief for the visitor). After a couple of days, I felt confident that I could navigate anywhere I needed to go without much stress.
I had done some Midtown exploration back on my first visit in 2006, but I had no real idea of where I was going (someone else was almost always navigating during that trip because they knew the city better). In 2006, I also had only really explored one major city by myself (Paris, and well, I guess D.C., which was near home). Since then, I have navigated London, Berlin, Munich, Copenhagen, Paris (again and again and again), Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, Athens, and many other cities, all by myself. Being able to guide myself around New York and definitely seeing it with “grown-up” eyes was great, and it let me see its many strengths that 20-year-old me was not able to see (and to be fair, its weaknesses).
Without even trying, I imagine most Americans have general cultural knowledge of New York City’s sites and offerings, more than they possibly realize. I am no different, and it was great to wander the streets of NYC, even if it was painfully cold for half of my trip. The worst was definitely the Saturday of my visit, when the high for the day was 16*. Way too cold for comfortable walking around. Way too cold. I can’t wait to go back and explore in more comfortable temperatures. I’ll be able to give Central Park more than a passing glance. I’ll feel more comfortable just walking around to explore, since it won’t literally hurt to be outside. I’ll get to notice all of those city details that make a city unique. I can’t wait to explore more of in NYC.
That NYC Food
My food goals were random. I just wanted to eat well. I wanted to go to a French restaurant. I wanted to eat a bagel. I wanted to get cupcakes from Magnolia bakery (lolz), and I wanted to eat a corned beef sandwich from a Jewish deli.
I managed to have that delicious corned-beef sandwich, get cupcakes from Magnolia bakery, and a nice dinner at a French restaurant. In addition to the things I wanted to do, I also had some delicious Mexican and Greek food, an honest to dieu croissant, and a happy-hour cocktail that cost $19.
Those NYC Museums
I honestly barely scratched the surface of NYC museums: I visited the Met, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Met Cloisters. Of these museums, I only feel as if I fully did the Cloisters (and I would happily go back). I am sure I will revisit all of them again in turn in subsequent visits to NYC, plus hit many of the museums I missed.
I have wanted to go to The Met since reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg as a child. (I’m pretty sure the only way you could convince me to go camping would be if it was in a world-renowned museum.)
Obviously, I started with the Greek and Roman Wing. Duh. Highlights of The Met’s G&R collection include, among many others, the New York Kouros, the frescoes from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, frescoes from the imperial villa at Boscotrecase, oodles and oodles of ceramics, oodles and oodles of statuary, Greek and Roman, portrait and idealized. Twas a little-ole recovering art historian’s paradise.
I did have a few moments of profound sadness, though. This was my first visit to a major collection since deciding to not pursue a straightforward academic trajectory of a tenure-track job. As I perused the Met’s antiquities, in some ways it felt like a physical pain akin to grief. Well, no, I suppose it is legit grief; grief for the path that is no longer mine. I no longer know what my role in the art historical world is. For that matter, I don’t know what I want it to be, either.
I meandered through the Egyptian collection, taking a nice little footrest in front of the Temples from Dendur (standing on stone floors is hard, literally!), before making my way to the American Wing, which I only had time to do partially. I basically sprinted through some parts of the European painting collection and then to visit oh-so-briefly the medieval section. I didn’t linger in the medieval wing since I knew I’d be going to The Cloisters later that weekend.
I am so glad to have checked the Met off of my list. It was about damn time and I’m sure I will be back.
American Museum of Natural History
“The” Museum that is a quintessential stop for many visitors to NYC was without a doubt the most hopping place I visited this trip. The rest of NYC, honestly, seemed a little empty thanks to the pandemic.
I could have spent almost the entirety of the visit looking at the murals in the entry hallway, if it weren’t so crowded. In fact, this post took so long to write because I got lost in a research-esque wormhole looking up these batshit insane murals, which celebrate the (dubious) accomplishments of Theodore Roosevelt. (I think I’ll do a separate exploration of them later, because they are wild, and truly quite awful.)
I mainly wanted to see the dinosaurs and gemstones. I cared less about the anthropological bits and non-dinosaur life-forms. I just wanted to see some dinos and shinies. It was so busy compared to all of the other places in NYC, that it was a little overwhelming to my post-pandemic self. The whole time I was just thinking about those murals. But I love seeing dinos.
The Met Cloisters
The Met Cloisters is an extension campus of the Met focused solely on medieval art from western Europe. Built in the early 20th century to house cloisters that were brought from Europe to NYC, the museum displays Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, and early Ren art in various media: manuscripts, sculpture, frescoes, windows, tombs, architecture, ivories, textiles, and on and on and on.
It is a literal HOOF to get The Cloisters–you definitely don’t feel like you’re still in Manhattan–you are, but only just, it’s on the northern edge of the island. We had to climb a fairly significant hill to get to the museum, which just felt right. I feel like every monastery I’ve visited required a “nice” climb to get to it (I blame Italy).
It was an evocative space, it definitely felt like I was transplanted to Europe. There were even lots of other visitors speaking not-English, which definitely contributed to that sensation. It’s a great museum, the quietest that I visited this trip. it’s totally worth a visit and the hoof. I definitely want to visit it again, in the spring or summer when all of the gardens are more active.
Until we meet again….
It is now weeks later and I am still just so pumped from my extended weekend to New York. I feel like I packed a lot into a relatively short amount of time and I can’t wait to go back. Fortunately, I might not have to wait too long as I am currently scheduled to go to a work conference in NYC! This time I get to do NYC as a professional and it will not be nearly as cold.