We arrived in New York on Saturday, but Sunday was our first full day to explore. Our exploration starting point was SoHo, but I learned you can go from one neighborhood to another in a span of blocks. We wandered down one street checking out some shops and craft vendors; when we looked up the light pole banners indicated we were now in Little Italy. After crossing the street and walking down several blocks full of Italian shops and restaurants things changed again; the signs were now written in English and Chinese characters, a sure sign we'd entered Chinatown. We backtracked one block, and were magically back in Little Italy.
|The gift shop merchandise was touristy Italian,|
but all the shop clerks were Chinese!
There were no other people in the group, so for the next 90 minutes we had a private tour, and learned much more about the area than we would have on our own. Our guide, a woman about my age, really knew her stuff. We heard stories of the Italian immigrants struggles and gang violence. She pointed out several buildings that had historical significance and took us in into two churches--St. Patrick's Old Cathedral (declared a basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010) and Most Precious Blood Church (which now serves a Vietnamese congregation).
We ended our tour back at the museum. After we thanked our guide and gave her a nice tip Tony and I headed off to an early Italian dinner.
The next day our explorations took us to Lower Manhattan. After lunch we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, then found the nearest subway station and took the train back to Manhattan. I thought our plan was to return to the Financial District to do more sightseeing, then go to dinner at a restaurant that a friend had recommended. Tony and I were looking at a map of the subway system on the station wall when a man approached us and asked us where we wanted to go. I was a little surprised when Tony told him the Staten Island Ferry. (That was on our list of things to do, though, and it's good to be flexible, so I didn't say anything.)
The man pointed us in the correct direction, then started to walk that way himself. As he passed me I made a comment about how the stereotype of rude New Yorkers wasn't true. He smiled, then began talking with us and for the next hour became our personal escort. We learned he'd been making the trip from Staten Island to Manhattan for decades, having retired from a civil service job before starting a second career teaching at a local college. He shepherded us from the subway to the ferry terminal, then talked with us while we waited for the next boat. When the ferry arrived he showed us his favorite spot to sit (on a bench outside on the back side so the boat blocks the wind), then pointed out all the sights on the half-hour trip.
|View of Manhattan from the deck of the ferry|
When the boat docked we walked off with him, then he said goodbye and went on his way. Tony and I stepped ouside for a couple of minutes, then returned to the terminal to wait for the next ferry.
Highlights of Vacation Day 4:
- Got breakfast at a bodega
- Open-air bus tour of Uptown and Harlem
- Ate lunch at a diner
- Took subway to the American Museum of Natural History
- Went back to the hotel for a nap
- Got tickets and saw the Broadway musical Jersey Boys
- Found a grocery store and bought granola, yogurt, and fruit for next day's breakfast