Monday, March 18, 2013

The Would-Be Archeologist in New York

Times Square

For me, travel is an archeological dig.  On the surface of a place there are the things we expect to find: the statues, fountains, buildings, and parks we see on every tourist website and in every travel guide.  Those things are fine, but they usually have very little to do with the everyday life of a place, and they tend to leave me wanting to run to the nearest hole-in-the-wall diner for a slice of something real.  So, I see an "attraction" like the current-day Times Square as the top layer in my dig.  Everything is obvious, commercialized, boring.  Once I emerge from the subway at 42nd Street, I can't wait to walk a few blocks over to get to the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market.  There, the real fun of the dig begins.  I get to meet locals, haggle for bargains, and discover unexpected treasures. 

Hell's Kitchen Flea Market
A box of chandelier crystals at the flea
Treasures at the flea

I love getting a little lost in Greenwich Village, finding beautiful, one-of-a-kind shops I've never heard of, and eating cannoli at a local neighborhood bakery.

Incredible offerings at Pasticceria Rocco in the West Village
Venus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I also love wandering for hours at the Met or the Public Library, finding exhibitions by chance (like the Mary Cassatt prints at the library right now).

In the Reading Room at the NY Public Library

The beauty of traveling in a place like New York is that one's "digging" involves looking up as much as it does looking down--up at the cornices and pilasters and water towers and skyscrapers.  I especially like to stop, turn, and look back at where I've just walked, so I can see it from another direction.  I find some of my favorite discoveries this way.

And last but not least, seeing a city from above is always a good way to get a sense of its scope and scale.  I highly recommend taking the Roosevelt Island Tram (next to the Queensboro Bridge).  Mr. Magpie and I took it at sunset, and the views of Manhattan as we headed over the East River were spectacular.  It only takes a few minutes to get to Roosevelt Island, and then you can go exploring there or hop back on the tram and head back to 59th Street.  

View from the Roosevelt Island Tram at Sunset

Here are few links to some of the highlights from this last trip to New York, in no particular order.  I can't wait to go digging there again soon.

  • Kalustyan's ~ A fabulous spice and specialty foods market in Murray Hill.  
  • Pasticceria Rocco ~ Traditional Italian bakery on Bleecker Street in the Village
  • Cafe China ~ Unique and beautiful Chinese food in a 1930's Shanghai atmosphere on 37th St.
  • Alloro ~ Experimental Italian food--I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but the food is wonderful and fun--on the Upper East Side.
  • Chelsea Market ~ For a quick and delicious lunch for after you've been walking the High Line, stop by Chelsea Market in the old Nabisco Building.  Yes, it's for tourists, but it's lovely, and the food selection is great. 
  • Hell's Kitchen Flea Market ~ It wouldn't be a vacation for the Magpies without a trip to the flea.
  • The Frick ~ An awe-inspiring collection.
  • The Morgan Library ~ I can't believe I'd never been here before.  Book, library, and manuscript lovers must go here.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art ~ Always, of course.
  • The Mary Cassatt prints at the NY Public Library ~ they'll be up until June 23, 2013.
  • Washington Square Park ~ Yes, I love Central Park, but there's something magical about Washington Square.  It's a great place to have a picnic lunch, people-watch, listen to the various street performers, and get a strong sense of the neighborhood.  
Next trip: We'll be heading to the Neue Galerie and Cafe Sabarsky as well as the Noguchi Museum!


  1. I would love spending time here. My recent trip to SF was exploring by city bus. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the exploring. Your trip to NY reminds me of the fun I had on the other side of the country. The flea looks spectacular and I would love Mary Cassatt.

    1. Your SF trip sounded like it was so much fun, Marilyn! I've never been there, and it's high on my list of places to visit next.

  2. Thanks for the terrific photo tour. With kids in tow, our trips to NYC are all about the well-known sights. It must be lovely to wander about and find hidden treasures.

    1. That makes so much sense, Jeanmarie. I'm grateful that when I was a kid the grownups in my life took me to those well-known sights! I'll never forget going to the top of the Empire State Building when I was nine. What a great experience it was!

  3. We are kindred spirits, Gigi as what you just described is totally the way I like to travel. Wandering and getting lost are my favorite things to do. Experiencing the "everyday" of a new town and new cultures is the best! Sending love and hugs to you, my friend! xxoo

    1. Oh, Cathi, why doesn't this surprise me?! We are fellow wanderers and lovers of the treasures to be found in the everyday. You are the best, my friend! xo

  4. What a great post about the magic of travel.

  5. I want to return to the Noguchi museum and watch the bio video again. Amazing place.

    1. You're making me want to go there even more than I already did! Can't wait for the next trip.

    2. I saw in the NYT today that there is a new movie out which focuses on his mother's life. I believe Emily Mortimer plays her role. Could be interesting...

  6. Ooh! I loved your post today! I went to New York for my honeymoon and its my favourite place in all the world, such atmosphere, and every corner you turn you recognise a scene from a film. We went to a Flea Market too, not this one though, we stumbled upon one and I bought a brilliant framed photograph, did you buy anything? You didn't tell us!

    Hugs Jane

    1. Wow, Jane, a NY honeymoon sounds idyllic! And stumbling upon a flea market when I'm traveling is my idea of heaven. I did buy some neat vintage house numbers at the market. Not my own house numbers, but just pretty ones to display with my other collections. :)

  7. Exactly how I like to travel and visit new places! and fortunately for me it is exactly how Mr O likes to travel too...well except for the flea that is:)

    I love the Neue Gallery...and the Morgan and the Frick! The nice thing is they can be visited over and over and never be the same:) Will try to remember the names of those restaurants!


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