But if I had to choose a single destination where I’d be held captive for the rest of my time in New York, I’d choose the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
– Tim Gunn, American fashion consultant, television personality, and actor
Our second full day, we planned a trip to the American Museum of Natural History – the kids are big fans of the Night at the Museum movies – and catching a New York Mets game at Citi Field Park. I’ll admit that I was lukewarm about going to the Natural History Museum. At every natural history museum we’ve attended in past cities, I would check out the exhibits for a bit and then sit down and hang out until David and the kids were done looking around. While the Natural History Museum (Central Park West at 79th Street, 212.769.5100) was impressive in terms of its fossil and mammal halls, I still could only take so many dinosaurs and mammals in their natural habitat. I will say that the dioramas, which were beautifully rendered, were my favorite parts of the museum.
One of the current exhibits, The Dark Universe, was shown in the Hayden Planetarium. Featuring detailed scenes based authentic scientific data, the movie “celebrates the pivotal discoveries that have led us to greater knowledge of the structure and history of the universe and our place in it – and to new frontiers for exploration.” Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, well-known science communicator, and current Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, narrated the show. David and the kids really enjoyed learning about the revelations and mysteries of the universe that science has given us through space exploration. I enjoyed the cushy seat and air-conditioned room – a welcomed respite after walking around the museum’s expansive floors.
Citi Field Park: Mets versus Pirates
Our evening event was a night game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets in their fairly new ballpark, Citi Field Park, located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in the New York City borough of Queens. Citi Field Park, which was completed in 2009, replaced Shea Stadium. Ebbets Field (Brooklyn, 1913-1957) served as inspiration for the main entry rotunda and exterior façade made of red brick, granite, and cast stone. With a 41,800-seat capacity, Citi Field Park also contains the 3,700-square-foot Hall of Fame & Museum, which displays memorabilia, interactive kiosks capturing great moments in Mets history, and highlight videos celebrating the Mets biggest feats, including the 1969 and 1986 World Series championships. This stadium reminds me of the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards in that the stadium is tall and you look down into the playing field, as if you were at the top looking down into a bowl. It makes for a cozy atmosphere.
We got to see Andrew McCutchen – sans his famous dreadlocks – and his Pittsburgh Pirates play against the Mets, who were led by former Oakland A’s players, starting pitcher Bartolo Colon and left-fielder Yoenis Céspedes. Yes, Jacob got a Mets Céspedes shirt. The Mets dominated the game, leading 5-0. Unfortunately, we left the game midway to return to our apartment to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers beat our beloved Golden State Warriors. Jacob didn’t want to leave the park; we should have heeded his request because the Pirates came back in the eighth and ninth innings to make it a game, although they came up short in the end, 5-6. Our cuisine for the day was as touristy as you can expect – bland museum food and ballpark hot dogs. But it’s New York, which meant that it was pricey museum and ballpark food!
The other Met: Metropolitan Museum of Art
On our third day, we returned to Central Park to take in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, 212.535.7710), which was nearly an all-day experience, though it still wasn’t enough time to see everything. We spent a good deal of time looking at all the Impressionist paintings. The Met is home to so many famous paintings – Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, Edgar Degas’ ballet dancers in paintings and statues, Édouard Manet’s Boating, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies and Rouen Cathedral – and all the major painters – Mary Cassatt, Alfred Sisley, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Georges Seurat, Johannes Vermeer, Paul Gauguin, Diego Velázquez, John Singer Sargent, and El Greco. Not unlike my Modern Museum of Art experience in New York a few years back, I would walk into room after room after room and see all these famous paintings that I learned about in my art history class in college.
The Temple of Dendur
The kids’ favorite exhibit was The Temple of Dendur, an Ancient Egyptian temple built by Petronius, the Roman governor of Egypt, around 15 BC. It was dedicated to Isis, Osiris, and two deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain, Pediese and Pihor. Neither tomb nor tribute to a pharaoh, the cult temple honors the Egyptian religion’s gods and mythology. In response to the U.S. government helping to save many Nubian monuments from going under in the floods when the Aswan Dam was built, the Egyptian government gifted the temple to the United States in 1965. Many cities vied to house the temple in their museums, but in 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It took nearly 10 years for the sandstone temple, which was disassembled and shipped in 661 crates, for the complete temple to reach New York City, and the exhibit wasn’t fully open to the public until 1994.
In 2015, through research, surveys and analysis of painted objects in the museum, the Met Museum Media Lab was able to determine the original colors of the temple, as temples in Egypt and the Ancient World were often vividly painted vividly. Since the temple was built during the reign of Augustus Caesar, two scenes on one of the walls depict Augustus wearing the traditional pharaoh garb. Interestingly, the temple bears three different graffiti marks made over the course of a few thousand years – some words written in colloquial Egyptian script in 10BCE, Greek Coptic Christian inscriptions in 400ACE when the temple was briefly converted into a Christian church, and “Leonardo 1820” by travelers of that year. The temple is displayed in The Sackler Wing in such a way that mimics the temple’s location in Egypt. The reflecting pool in front of the temple represents the Nile River, while the sloping wall behind the temple represents the cliffs of its original location. The wing’s designers positioned the glass on the ceiling and the wing’s north wall to be stippled in order to diffuse the light and make it resemble the lighting in Egypt. You can actually rent out the wing for weddings and other special events, which I’m sure costs a pretty penny, but what a way to impress your family and friends, eh? All in all, it is an impressive exhibit.
David and I love sculpture, so we spent time admiring the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts wing. What’s an exhibit without a Rodin? Of course, there were many Rodins to appreciate here. The Met clearly deserves another go around, so we expect to come back and make sure we cover the wings and rooms that we breezed through.
We ate lunch at the American Art Café at the Charles Engelhard Court on the first floor, which afforded us views of Central Park on one side and views of the Neoclassical facade of the Branch Bank of the United States, originally located on Wall Street, inside the museum. On the opposite side, we also enjoyed our courtyard view of the Louis C. Tiffany-designed entrance loggia at Laurelton Hall, his country estate on Long Island. In between, 19th-century marble and bronze sculptures are adorned throughout the court, with the centerpiece being the gilded Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Central Park by horse
Since the museum is across the street from Central Park, we wandered into the park and walked around at first and then in search of a horse-drawn carriage. This has become a staple of our urban vacations for Isabella’s sake – taking a tour by horse. We did so twice in Philadelphia – in Amish country and in the city. Once we found horses and carriages galore further down 5th Avenue, we got a tour of one part of the park, which included the zoo, pond, and buildings in the background that were made famous in movies. Isabella even got to lead the horse for part of the tour.
We closed out the day with dinner at Uncle Boons (7 Spring Street, 646.370.6650), a Thai restaurant in the NoLita (North of Little Italy) district not too far from our apartment. The food was good, but the portions were tiny (advertised large plates were in fact small, for example). It seems that many of the restaurant spaces here are tiny and tables are packed as a result. We found the noise level too high in many of the restaurants we patronized. But you can’t beat New York for the variety and the number of restaurants to satiate your hunger after a busy day touring.