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Labor Day Weekend 2013

Boy did we ever have an action packed weekend in NYC…the US Open, a nice dinner, the Book of Mormon, the Cloisters, the Moma, visiting friends, interesting subway rides and more!

Both Deb and I had uneventful trips into the City which is always nice when traveling from different parts of the country.  It was so fun to see each other again after a several year hiatus.  We opted for the Sofitel Hotel on 44th between 5th and 6th, mostly due to its location to the main events we had planned…the theatre and tennis.  It was perfect.  Only 3 blocks from Grand Central, it was an easy subway ride on the 7 train to Flushing Meadows.  It was also only three blocks from Times Square, thus an easy walk to dinner and the theatre, but also out of the noisy riff raff.

After freshening up, we started Friday night with a drink at the hotel bar before heading uptown to Debby’s cousin’s bar…Draught 55.  Here, we met Debby’s cousin Emelie and her friend Trish for a fun girl’s night out.  The bar offers a variety of beers and tasty food.  The night of laughs included a shock to see SMU playing on national TV in a NY bar on Friday night.  Somehow I think they made it on ESPN because they were playing Texas Tech, but it’s a step in the right direction since the death penalty in the 1980’s.

While we could have turned the night into something wild and crazy, we wrapped up at a reasonable time because our main reason to visit NYC over Labor Day was to see the tennis, and we had a full day of it ahead.  The gates opened at 10 and the tennis started at 11, so we left the hotel around 9 to plan for the 37 minute subway, walk and any challenges we may face with public transportation.  While I’ve visited NYC several times, and I’ve learned the neighborhoods, know the subways run one way and the buses run the other, I can honestly say I generally walk or cab it everywhere, so I didn’t know the public transportation system very well.  Grand Central Station wasn’t too conducive to learning it!  We walked into the train station and couldn’t find a kiosk to buy subway tickets.  Finally, we asked someone where to get subway tickets, and he replied, “In the subway station” and pointed around to the left.  Once we found the kiosk we slowly pecked through the screens to get a single ride instead of investing in a metro card, and wandered toward platform 7.  We just missed the train, but one comes every 5 minutes, and I was happy with waiting to give myself a second to get my bearings.  I knew we’d need the extra time to figure the subway out the first time!  We passed several stops on the way to Flushing Meadows, hopped off the train, crossed the bridge, stopped at the security check and then enjoyed the venue…first stopping for a few pictures and then grabbing a banana and nutella crepe!

We strolled beneath the winners alley marked by flags decorated with the players’ pictures and year they won.  We window shopped at the merchandise stores and purchased a $5 guide listing the players matches and times.  It’s not like golf, they don’t hand out a free pairings at the entrance, but later we did learn we could look everything up on our phone for future reference.    We held grounds passes for the day, so we could go to all outside courts and get into all the stadiums except Arthur Ashe.  We decided to start at an outside court to watch a few players practice and to be very close to the action.  When the tennis started at 11, we were seated about five rows up from the court (we could have gotten on the front row if we wanted), and we watched 27 seed Kuznetsova play Pennetta from Italy.  They ripped ground strokes back and forth so fast that sometimes it was dizzying to watch from so close.  I expected Kuznetsova to run away with the match, but Pennetta was the one who moved on to the next round after overcoming a wrist injury from early in the year.

From the outside court we paid for some over-priced lunch and enjoyed the shade before we filtered in to the Louis Armstrong Stadium to watch the number 2 seed Azarenka play Cornet.  We watched from a much higher level which kept us from having to move our head from side to side.  We ended up camping out in Louis Armstrong until we left at 4 because the next match Isner vs. Kohlschreiber, and I was curious to see if the crowd would cheer for Isner in this match since they cheered for the French Monfils in his previous round.  All the matches were competitive, with some extended rallies and a few exciting vollies.  For our first experience at the Open, we felt like we picked some good tennis and couldn’t wait for the night matches at Arthur Ashe tomorrow…our next round to see!

For our next adventure, we were hopping the subway back to midtown for dinner and show, and luckily only blessed with mariachi music for one stop http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7k8yM9FhHg .  On a side note, we weren’t sure as to when the day session ended for tennis and asked one of the Open volunteers who said, “If you stay in one of the stadiums and don’t move, they won’t check your tickets and you can stay all night.”  Funny, we were actually trying to leave early, and he was telling us how to cheat the system.  We know for the future!

Our dinner was at Becco, a Midtown Westside Italian restaurant.  Joe Bastianich, a judge on Masterchef was behind the bar, which thrilled Debby. The restaurant looked small at first, but after weaving through an obstacle course in a narrow hallway, we came to two more rooms, one lit by a large sky light.  Tables were fit into every nook like a jigsaw puzzle.  Debby ordered the veal parmesan and I had chicken limone.  Though we had a miscommunication on our order and trouble with our waiter, our food was delicious and the outcome was smoothed over on our bill!

We continued on to the Book of Mormon that was written by the creators of the TV comedy Southpark.  Anyone familiar with Southpark humor knew what was about to play on stage…a raunchy, sacri-religious, sometimes over-the-top, occasionally offensive, funny musical.  Through all the fun poking at fantasy land Orlando, liars, Mormons and their beliefs, the musical still offered a good overall message that anyone can make a difference in somebody else’s life, and everyone needs something to believe in.  My three favorite scenes had to be the opening with the doorbells, Hasa Diga Eebowai, and the ending play.  I definitely could have used the Hasa Diga Eebowai phrase recently when I got my money clip stolen and came a few hours away from putting Petey down before he had miraculous recovery.  What a great day!

Sunday, we headed toward Times Square to take the subway up to the Cloisters.  We stumbled across Brooklyn Diner.  The original is on 57th which I have been to several times.  Their food servings are enormous.  They are known for their pies.  Their booths include brass name plates etched with famous people’s names who have dined at the table.  We detoured in for breakfast.  Though the service was slow and the food was over-priced, breakfast was good and our waitress was super nice.  We finally made it to the subway, passing by a stage being set-up for Brazilian days and a quiet Times Square…hardly the amount of tourists, sesame street characters, or naked painted people as there were the previous night.  The subway dropped us at Fort Tyron Park in Washington Heights.  We strolled through the Heather Gardens in a light rain, stopped to admire some glass structures before finally weaving our way around to the Cloisters where we met my niece Connally who is studying engineering in her third year at Columbia.  The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was built in the 1930s and resembles several European medieval abbeys.  Sitting in the lovely park and overlooking the Hudson, it was hard to believe we were still in Manhattan.  I personally enjoyed the architecture of the Cloisters more than the Medieval Art and the famous Unicorn Tapestries, but all of it was really neat, from the intricate columns and limestone carvings to the crucifix to the gardens where we enjoyed a tea before heading all the way downtown to see One World Trade Center, the new high rise…1,776 feet tall…signifying the year the United States declared its independence.  We had hoped to see the 911 Memorial, but despite looking for information online, we missed that reservations needed to be made in advance.  We also visited St. Paul’s Chapel, a small church located next to the World Trade Center that survived the 9/11 blasts.  It is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use having been witness to the great fire of 1776 and host to George Washington on Inauguration Day.

The US Open night matches were calling our name, so we returned to midtown (now experts on the subway and having enjoyed another show…this time dancing to techno rap music  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpAhsfOcXic ), freshened up at the hotel, grabbed a delicious burger at Annie Moore’s, a pub next to Grand Central, and then headed out to Flushing Meadows.  After strolling around the grounds a bit, watching a few points of a doubles match, and browsing in the Wilson store, we found our loge seats in Arthur Ashe.  Given all the players and TV announcers talk about how electric the New York crowd is, we were surprised to see the stadium half empty at the start of the Djokovic vs. Sousa, especially since Djokovic is the world number 1.  The stadium slowly filled up, but anyone who was expecting to see a long match was sorely disappointed.  Djokovic absolutely took it to Sousa.  We cheered Sousa when he would win a point on his serve.  A part of me thought, that had to feel demoralizing to poor Sousa.  But at the same time, we tried our best to give him a burst of energy.  Sousa is a young, up and coming start from Portugal who was playing the biggest match of his life…it was apparent to the novice eye…though he never stopped trying and he was cute!

The next night match, while we thought would be more competitive between number 9 seed Jankovic vs  number 5 seed Li Na, was more of the same.  Li Na blew Jankovic off the court after taking six weeks off mid-season to improve her strength…something tennis players rarely do in the middle of the season.  It will be fun to see if any of these players make it to the finals.  Li Na is in the same draw as Williams, so she will face a strong force in the semis should they both make it that far.  In addition to seeing famous tennis players, we spotted a few stars in the crowd…Kelsey Grammer and Kevin Spacey got plastered on the big screen. When the match was over, we didn’t feel like following the mass exodus of people to the subway, so we spent some more time browsing some other shops and walking through the hall of fame before we finally hopped on the local train vs the express.  We found this to be acceptable because the express was packed like sardines and we got a seat.  Ten more minutes and a lot more comfort was fine for us vacationers.

Monday was our final day in NYC.  We meandered up Fifth Ave to St. Patrick’s Cathedral which while open was being repaired and covered by a significant amount of scaffolding taking away from its beauty.  It was still nice, and I lit a candle to help my dog-sitter find Petey who escaped from the backyard Sunday night and had been lost for over 12 hours…Hasa Diga Eebowai.

From the church was visited Rockefeller Center, a little too late to watch the Today Show, but soon enough to see the stage come down.  After a light breakfast, we admired the art in the Moma for a few hours.  The fifth floor was peppered with paintings by all the artists we both studied in school…Picasso, Dali, Miro, Monet, Manet and the list continues.  Andy Warhols and other “newer” artists lined the 4th floor hallways, while architecture exhibits and photography exhibits among other interesting art were displayed on other floors.  We stayed until 12:30 until we had to make our 1pm check out at the Sofitel.

After bidding farewell to Debby, I took a taxi to the Upper East Side where I got to visit my long-time high school friend Carroll and meet her 9 month old baby Amelia.  It was a fun way to cap off an action packed weekend in NYC!  And what made it even better is the rain held off until Monday, so we got to see the tennis, though we did get stuck in airport for a while.  Oh well, if that was the worst of it, then I’m on board to go see the Open again next year!

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