Susan's Blog - New York City Christmas 2016 (Day 1)

Another year, and another trip to New York City. This year, it was Christmas time again. On one hand, we really like coming up for Christmas since the city is beautiful with all of the holiday lights and decorations. However, it is normally VERY VERY VERY cold! This year is no different .. while today (the first day) is relatively warm at a balmy 50 degrees, the rest of the week will be down below freezing, so we've packed lots of warm clothes. I don't normally have a "theme" for my blogs, but as this week went on, a theme came out for this one .... Tradition. Throughout the trip, we did a set of things that we do every trip to NYC ... our traditions ... along with a set of new things that we have never done before.

We flew into LaGuardia very early morning (Thank you Sandhya for taking us to the airport!) and then made our normal trek on the Q70 bus to the E train to 53rd and Lexington to our hotel, the Doubletree Metropolitan. It is always a very busy hotel and while the external is, well, in a word .. ugly ... the rooms are nice and it is is a great location. And you know us ... for our hotel it is definitely location, location location.

Our first traditional thing ... we walk from the hotel to Rockefeller Center to see the sights and (if at Christmas) all of the decorations. On our way to Rockefeller Center, we popped into St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, commonly called St. Bart's. The parish itself dates all the way back to January 1835 when it opened in a small church at the corner of Great Jones Street and Lafayette Place. They then moved in 1876 to Madison and East 44th. The current church was built between 1916 and 1917. The original Byzantine Revival design by Bertram Goodhue was called "a jewel in a monumental setting" by Christine Smith in 1988. However, this design was modified to preserve the old church portal with its bronze doors (beloved by the parishioners) from the Madison Avenue building. We grabbed a few pictures of the interior from the back, but we didn't really go very far inside as they were having services at the time. The entry area has these really amazing domes with gold decorations. There is a guided tour but we didn't have time .. maybe next time.

Another block and we got to The Cathedral of St. Patrick (commonly called St. Patrick's Cathedral). This Neo-Gothic church is built of brick clad in marble, quarried in Massachusetts and New York. At the transepts it is 174 feet wide and 332 feet long. The spires rise 330 feet from street level. The front facade was being cleaned last time we were here, but this time we could take in all of its' glory (so to speak). Unfortunately, we did this on a Sunday and, again, they were having services at the time.

As we walked past, we grabbed a couple pictures of the decorations at Saks Fifth Avenue. This year we didn't do any "windows" since last time we were here, they seemed a little weak to me.

Tom in front of one of the large decorations at Rockefeller Center.

I always love this building .. well .. the door of this building. I think I take a picture of it every time we are in NYC. It is the British Empire Building and the door has nine gilded figures, each representing the industries found within the British empire. The British Isles are symbolized by three of the figures: the unlabeled central figure of a seaman with an anchor; Fish is a man with a net and a leaping fish; and Coal is a miner with a lantern and pick. India is also symbolized by three figures: Sugar, a man holding sugarcane stalks; Salt, a woman carrying a salt bag; and Tobacco, a woman with tobacco leaves. Africa is symbolized by Cotton, a woman with cotton plants. Australia is symbolized by Wool, a shepherd with a crook and sheep. Canada is symbolized by Wheat, a reaper with a scythe and wheat stalks. The stylized rising sun beneath the allegorical figures represents the old adage "The sun never sets on the British Empire".

Above the door is a replica of the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. The shield is quartered: The first and fourth symbolizing England with lions on a background of red. The second, symbolizing Scotland is a single lion also on a red background. The third symbolizing Ireland contains a harp of Tara. Around the shield are even more symbols. The lion wearing the imperial crown, then the crown itself with a lion on top, and then a chained unicorn. The lion represents England and the unicorn represents Scotland (it is chained because legend says that a free unicorn is a very dangerous beast). They stand among three other symbols of the British islands: the gilded Tudor rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, and the shamrock of Ireland. A banner below the shield carries the gilded motto of British royalty: Dieu et mon droit, which is French for "God and my right" (or God and my birthright depending on the translation). Inscribed on a belt surrounding the shield is the motto of the Order of Garter: Honi soit qui mal y pense, Latin for "Evil for him who thinks evil".

And no trip to NYC is complete without a stop at Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree and watch people try to ice skate at the rink. It was a bit breezy as you can tell from my hair in a couple o the pictures. The last picture is a closeup of Prometheus, an 18-foot-tall, eight-ton, gilded cast bronze sculpture. Prometheus is best known for going against the wishes of the gods and providing fire to humanity (and thus is given credit for civilization and progress). Over time, this classical figure came to represent human striving and the quest for knowledge. The statue is meant to show progress, depicted in motion, thrusting forward with his right arm held high, handing off the eternal flame to all of mankind; he sits on a mountain (Earth), is surrounded by the fountain (sea) and is encircled by the ring of the zodiac (heavens).

We then headed to Top of the Rock (the observation deck). This was our first new thing of the trip, since while we have been to Rockefeller Center many times, we had never gone to the Top of the Rock. We first headed through the main Lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza and gazed at the painting American Progress, by Spanish painter Jose Maria Sert. He was commissioned to paint this mural after the Rockefellers fired Diego Rivera, who offended them by making Lenin a principal figure on his original fresco. The mural depicts the development of America through the unity of brain and brawn. The three Graces symbolize man's intellectual activity, while Titans and men working represent men of action. Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Center's skyscrapers also play prominent roles.

Then here are a whole bunch of pictures from the various observation areas, trying to get all 4 directions. You can see quite a bit, including the largest lake in Central Park, although it was VERY overcast and cloudy. In some of the pictures, you can see the top of the Empire State Building and the top of this one square-shaped apartment building actually going into the clouds.

Meals are a mixture of tradition and new. There are a few things we always do (pizza, bagel vendor, Boulud .. I'll explain as we get to them) and then the rest are all new. We actually never go to a restaurant in NYC twice for lunch or dinner (breakfast is different). One of the things we try to do in NYC is to eat at restaurants where we can't really get that type of food at home. Lunch here fits that goal. We went to Katsu-Hama, a small Japanese restaurant which featured Katsu, which is a pork tenderloin cutlet coated in homemade bread crumbs and then deep-fried. In the 19th century, the Japanese decided that the source of the Prussian army's formidability stemmed from their consumption of Wiener schnitzel. Not to be left behind, they adopted this dish as their own ... Katsu! We started with Miso soup and picked turnips, and then we went with a Katsu Donburi, which is a bowl of rice, topped with a Katsu cutlet and then has scrambled egg cooked over the top.

Then we headed to the Broadway Theater for the matinee of Fiddler on the Roof. Tom had really wanted to see this and since the current run on Broadway ends this month, we went ahead and got the tickets. We had really good seats .. up in the Mezzanine in the 2nd row. While we weren't on the main floor level, I actually thought these were better since you looked down on the action instead of looking straight or slightly up. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon the family's lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters, who wish to marry for love - each one's choice of a husband moves further away from the customs of his faith - and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village. We took a few pictures to show the theater, and then a couple of the stage (beginning and then at the start of Act II with some scenery) although no pictures during the play itself. This is actually where the theme of Tradition first started in my mind ... the first song in the musical is "Tradition", and Tevye is struggling with things changing from what is Tradition.

We saw the Late Show with Stephen Colbert next door to the theater ... we should have looked to see if we could have gotten tickets .. maybe next time!

For dinner, we picked Bar Primi which is an Italian pasta shop in the border of NoHo and the East Village. We had dinner with our great friends Carrie and Jason, who we knew in Shanghai. You may remember we had dinner with them last year and the year before as well! Our other friends, Gary and JoAnn, had already made their way to Florida for the holidays.

We did a bit of family-style here, where we ordered a set of things and we all tried a little. We started off with the stuffed meatballs in sugo, the burrata cremes with peperonata and ciabatta, and the ricotta crostini with hazelnuts and truffle honey. The burrata wasn't my personal favorite of the 3 although it probably was one of Tom's favorites. All were good and I really liked that we had 4 people so that we could try all of them.

We then went with 3 different pastas: the spaghetti pomodoro with parmigiana reggiano, the cavatelli with bolognese and ricotta, and the fiore di carciofi (artichoke flower). The last one was written about as one of the most buzzed-about items and it seems only available at dinner. Long ribbons of thin pasta are stuffed with an artichoke and cheese filling and then put into a broth of pecorino cheese, bacon, and lemon. The bright acidity cuts nicely through the richness of the sauce. It was definitely my favorite of the 3 pastas. I actually forgot to get the pictures when the pasta's first came and so they are partially eaten (sorry, my bad!)

Then dessert! Carrie and I shared the hazelnut gelato, which was very nutty! as well as a glass of a digestivi called "luxardo abano", which is a medium-bitter digestive obtained from the infusion of herbs such as condurango, cardamom, cinnamon, bitter orange peels, cinchona. It was pretty good although strong .. I'm not used to having these types of after-dinner drinks. Jason had the Affogato with Fior di Latte, which basically means "drowned flower of milk" .. ice cream or gelato that you "drown" by pouring espresso over it. Tom went light, having a few spoons of the hazelnut gelato and then his own digestivi.

And here are a few of the group of us at the end! It is always great to see Carrie and Jason and chat about how things have changed since moving back to the US from Shanghai, and remembering certain aspects of life in Shanghai with those who we shared those memories with.