24 Hrs In Nyc

August 26, 2007|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,Special to the Sun

With all due respect to Frank Sinatra and his swaggering saunter of a song, "New York, New York," if there's one thing better than waking up in a city that never sleeps, it is never sleeping in a city that never sleeps.

While planning my latest visit to Gotham, my list of everything I wanted to see, eat and buy grew so long, I realized my only choice was to disregard any need for that waste of time called slumber. Because I planned to visit on a Wednesday, the city's already vast menu of activities expanded further still, offering the opportunity to see both a Broadway matinee and a theatrical performance later that evening.

Sleep, I soon decided, is for suckers.

Brave talk. But could I make it? Would I survive a nonstop 24 hours of biting at the Big Apple? Hedging my bets, I made a reservation at The Pod Hotel, a new spot geared for thrifty hipsters, where my berth of a room was clean, stylish and shockingly small. (I expected more for $89.) As things happened, I didn't see much of this cubicle.

What follows, then, is my day: a round-the-clock dash of Manhattan merrymaking, or Gotham-A-Go-Go.

9 a.m.

Since Barney Greengrass opened in 1908, this restaurant has allowed generations of Upper West Siders to start their days with prodigious breakfasts of "Jewish Soul Food," meaning smoked fish, bagels and cream cheese. Over the past century, luminaries such as Groucho Marx, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Nora Ephron have all lingered here, sipping coffee while perusing The New York Times.

As I sit down with my paper, I overhear three old men loudly debating whether or not a Barack Obama presidency would be good for Jews. (Their tentative verdict? Yes.) I order an omelette with sauteed onions, along with a side of sturgeon and Nova Scotia Lox. The portions are such that by the time I finish, I realize I will probably want to skip lunch.

10 a.m.

A pleasant walk of a few blocks south and east, along tree-lined streets of residential brownstones, brings me to the American Museum of Natural History, at the front of which is a triumphant statue of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback. You may already be familiar with this revered cultural institution from last year's movie, A Night in the Museum, starring Ben Stiller, or you may recall how fondly it was visited by Holden Caulfield, protagonist of J.D. Salinger's classic novel of 1945, The Catcher in the Rye.

What most fascinates me is how the museum combines dioramas unchanged for many decades (here are my old friends, mannequins from the Kwakiutl tribe), alongside up-to-the-moment attractions such as the space show Cosmic Collisions. Newest of the 46 permanent exhibitions is the Hall of Human Origins, which offers a cleverly curated introduction to paleoanthropology, or the study of early humans through fossil evidence.

As I gaze at a 40,000-year-old Neanderthal skull and learn more about early hominids such as Lucy, Turkana Boy and the Peking Man, I marvel anew at how multi-trunked is the family tree of which Homo Sapiens (um ... that's us) are only the latest, green sprout. Scholars now believe that one of the main reasons we prevailed over other hominid species was because of our ability to share information through expressions such as writing and painting.

11:30 a.m.

I wonder about this key role that artistic creativity played in the development of the human species when, after a quick taxi ride through Central Park, I arrive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One could easily spend a whole day here, tracing the development of humanity from cave paintings to Andy Warhol.

On this visit, though, I limit my attentions to the new Greco-Roman wing. These glorious galleries opened in April, the culmination of a 15-year, $220 million project, and display more than 3,500 objects from the Hellenistic period to the Late Roman Empire.

Highlights in these light-filled halls include statues of Hercules and Dionysus, an enormous head of the Emperor Constantine, and an Etruscan parade chariot decorated with scenes from the life of Achilles. There's an indoor fountain as well as a tessera floor modeled on that of the Pantheon in Rome, with pieces of hand-cut Italian tile laid in sand bedding, without grouting.

1:15 p.m.

Headed to midtown, I jump on the subway. You can't really say you've been to New York unless you've at least tried to master the city's underground mass transit system. For most trips, taxis are not only much more expensive, but also take quite a bit longer.

It's actually pretty tough to get lost, I find, as tracks are clearly marked "Uptown" and "Downtown," and nearly every station has a large map of the subway system and the street configurations above.

Note: The subway has been transporting riders since 1904. Stations are safe, but a bit dirty -- you may even spy a rat or two scuttling about the tracks. In the right frame of mind, this only adds to the thrill.

1:45 p.m.

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