New York: The Museum of Natural History

The MoNH is an icon. Alongside the Empire State Building, Central Park and Times Square, it’s something you know about long before coming to New York. We spent a day there and it was a good amount of time. There were four ‘extras’ you could pay for so we bought the deluxe ticket for $38 each. A tip if you’re going with a group – go to the same cashier together when you arrive as they allot you a time for each special exhibit and we had to go back to get Sean’s session times aligned with ours. The staff were very happy to help though and it only took a couple of minutes.

There’s a big gap in the ‘wow’ factor between the new exhibits and the old. A lot of the old stuff is basically huge dioramas that look quite faded, but still have a certain charm for all that. The first hall we walked through was African animals, with taxidermied versions of many animals we’d seen roaming the Serengeti earlier in the year. Sean had just been to the zoo too so he’d seen the animals live as well.

The new and special exhibits are fantastic though. First off we saw the frogs. They were definitely a highlight of the day, partly because the names and signs were kind of amusing…

How unflattering. And it wasn’t even that dumpy. Or at least, no more dumpy than any other frog.

Zombie frog is coming to EAT YOUR BRAINS!

But most because there were poison dart frogs!!! This is very worthy of multiple exclamation marks because poison dart frogs are possibly the most brightly coloured animals in the world, outside the bird and insect kingdoms.

How could something so deadly be so adorable?


So many! The yellow ones are the most deadly, poisonous even to touch – although in captivity they do not eat the same food and do not develop toxins.

I’ll take 10 thanks.

I could’ve spent all day looking at the frogs but it was time to move on. Next we went to the planetarium, where we watched a movie about the expansion of the universe and dark matter. I learned about red and blue light but I still don’t get how, no matter where you are in the universe, everything appears to be moving away from you. The movie was voiced by Neil Degrasse-Tyson.

After the planetarium was the live butterfly room. They had some species I hadn’t seen before but it was much smaller than Cairns or Melbourne Zoo, unsurprisingly, as it is not a permanent exhibition. No photos of butterflies because I seem to be unable to take decent photos of the stupid things.

Last of the special exhibitions was whales. It was a large hall with movies playing, skeletons and a lot of Maori history and things from NZ. They showed whales being dissected and a lot of awful stuff about how rubbish in the ocean is killing them. It was pretty depressing but necessary for people to know. Not as depressing as the news, in the frog exhibit, that there is currently a ‘death wave’ of fungal infection that is killing 96% of frogs as it passes through South America and is expected to continue across the world.


Apart from the temporary exhibits I quite enjoyed seeing a few dinosaur  skeletons and a giant turtle shell and bones. I had no idea they grew so big!

He looks so happy!

You can’t evolve to the point of having things like this on your head and then be surprised when your species dies out. I wonder how many got caught on trees and just couldn’t disentangle? And you can forget getting through doorways.

If I lived in NYC I’d think about becoming a member here. So much interesting stuff, and the crowds weren’t prohibitive either. I learned quite a lot and definitely left without seeing everything. I haven’t even posted pictures of the minerals section, which was also excellent. So if you’re in the city be sure to check it out!

New York: The Metropolitan Art Museum

If you pay the entry fee for your visit to The Cloisters (you can choose not to donate, but if you do I think it’s about $27) then you get free entry to the Met on the same day. So after catching the slow, slow bus from the stop outside The Cloisters (if you are reading this and thinking of doing the same thing I urge you to take the slightly longer walk back to the subway as the train is about 3 times faster) to Central Park, where the gallery is located. If you catch the train you get more time to see the gallery and also leave it before the closing time of 5:30, which is when twenty million people hit the streets of New York trying to get home. I recommend not trying to use the subway during peak hour unless you like being rammed up against strangers. Which probably does appeal to some people but they’re the ones making it even less appealing for the rest of us.

On arrival, the facade of the building is extremely impressive and imposing – very similar in some respects to the British National Gallery. Unlike the BNG though, there is a solid line of hot dog vendors right out the front.

The Met houses a huge and diverse collection of art. After looking at the map we (Sean, Luke and myself) agreed on a meeting time out the front and then wandered around, heading for the things that most interested us.

My strategy with galleries is generally to walk into each room, pick one or two works in each that catch my eye and spend a bit of time studying those, rather than trying to see every work in detail. If it coincides with the placement of a bench, all the better;).

Our first stop was the armoury. There were suits of armour, both dress and field, for people and several suits of horse armour. There were a few Japanese suits and even one Indian. Lots of swords, guns and other pieces made it a very interesting display.

My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father – prepare to die!

Next Luke and I wandered to the Japanese section. There we found my favourite single piece of the day, a taxidermied deer encased in clear glass spheres. It looked a little like a giant Christmas tree decoration, very light and ethereal. I don’t generally find Asian art very interesting (old art, I mean – new is a whole different story) and there were many examples of calligraphy, which are hard to appreciate without some sort of background knowledge. It was a shame there were no textiles displayed because I really love Asian fabric designs.

Don’t ask me what it means.

Next we moved onto the modern American artists and they were brilliant. I don’t remember the names of any of the artists but there were many stunning paintings in realist and impressionistic styles. The names of art periods in the US seem to vary from Europe so I’m not entirely sure what to call them but there were incredible portraits and landscapes that Luke and I both admired greatly. We had a bit of a chat with one of the guards about how the gallery moves paintings that are bigger than any of the doorways. I didn’t realise oil paintings rolled up so easily.

We walked quickly through the post modern and ancient art sections and the only other art that really sticks in my mind was a very large Tiffany window that was a rainbow of colours and depicted a fantasy landscape scene. The gallery had it mounted so it was back lit and very impressive… almost gaudy in fact.

By the end of the day my feet were absolutely killing me. There’s something about shuffling around galleries that makes my feet more tired than walking many more kilometres at a fast pace. In fact I’m finding New York has been harder on my feet that anywhere else we’ve been. My ankles, for the first time in my life, are starting to ache every day and I think it’s from rushing up and down all the concrete subway stairs. Then last night we were one of the last groups into a comedy show and had to stand for the whole thing – after being on our feet since lunch time. I think I spent about 10 hours on my feet that day. I used to do that at work nearly every day (I’m a teacher) but not having any carpet to soften the blow makes a huge difference. Anyway, we’ve lain in bed half the morning today. Hopefully that will help!

New York: Days 1 and 2.

Our first morning in New York we wandered out into the street feeling, as we’ve said many times now, like we’d wandered onto a movie set. Yellow cabs! Yellow buses! Brand names we recognised but have never eaten/shopped at! People in Halloween costumes! It was all so new and yet so familiar. Actually, apart from the iconic stuff, the area where we’re staying looks a lot like Melbourne – hipster cafes, vegetarian restaurants… it’s like a giant Fitzroy but with stoops and subway stations.

Beep beep!

Our apartment even has one of these retro/racist dime-store Indian statues out the front. Reminds me of Seinfeld every time we arrive home.

We had breakfast at an old-style deli, replete with an entire staff of old men. Since that meal I’m yet to see a woman doing anything more than cashiering at a deli. What’s with that? The meal we had was ok and the establishment was charming – swivel seats along the chrome counter, booths etc. Next we acquired a phone card. This was probably the highlight of our service experience in the first three days. All the staff were smiling and having fun and were very polite and pleasant. I cannot say the same for most other places, particularly eateries. You’d think smiling at customers cost money here. Then we walked north. We found the Flatiron Building, which looked great but the sun was in the wrong spot to get a decent photo. Then we walked through the library. We got up to Times Square, which was pleasingly gaudy and over the top. So many flashing signs – it was more Tokyo than Tokyo.

We bought comedy tickets from a guy on the street as seeing a comedy show was pretty high on our list of things to do. After escaping the rain in a slightly grotty deli we walked back down to Greenwich. Lots of people were on the streets dressed in their Halloween costumes. I had a secret hope that this was actually a normal New York day but sadly it was not, and the following day everyone was back to their all black uniforms. A bit like Melbourne, really. Anyone with a bit of colour really stands out in the crowd.

This lady is out to prove even New Yorkers aren’t immune to fashion faux pas. Double denim? Sister, please!


That evening we met up with Luke’s friend Sean, who has come down from Montreal to see the city and hang out with us a bit. We had a drink at the bar downstairs from our apartment and then walked a few blocks over to watch the Halloween parade. It was not at all what I expected. I’d thought, this being America, that it would be all glitz and glam and big budget. But it was quite the opposite. There wasn’t even much co-ordinating of dance or costumes. Mainly the parade consisted of people in their home made stuff walking along between floats sponsored by radio stations or local businesses. The best group was the first lot, who had done a Pink Floyd arrangement of mechanical rabbits and flying clocks.

One of the less blurry photos.

After an hour and a half and a whole lot of blurry, hand-held photos, we fought our way through the crowds and found a table at a nice restaurant and had a chat over dinner. Then Sean made his way home and we collapsed into bed.

The first thing we did the next day was meet up with my friend Robert who was, fortuitously, in NY for a couple of days, visiting from Oakland (and hopefully we’ll get to hang out some more there). I’d never met Robert in person before but we’re friends through blogging and other mutual friends… it’s a long story. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t have friends online how you manage to stay in contact with people for over a decade and yet never meet in person – you’ve either done it or you haven’t. Robert turned out to be just as lovely in person as online and we all got on very well. We had breakfast at a place he’d found and I tried ‘corned beef hash and eggs’. Corned beef hash is basically chopped up silverside that is then fried in a big mess. It tasted fine but looked kind of like it’d already been chewed. We were given complimentary orange juices but they were the tiniest juices I’ve ever seen – only slightly larger than shot glasses. It was weird.

After food we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.

All the perspective lines!

Somehow, after drinking more coffee than I thought was possible, Robert seemed to grow increasingly tired. Then after we had a sit by a fountain and a chat and said goodbye, Luke also felt really tired. He’d had four coffees, so obviously he’d gone through the point of super awakeness and out the other side. He did say he felt NQR.

We caught the subway back and had a rest. It’s a bit sad that I need so much rest time but I feel that it’s better to just face it and have lie downs rather than burn out. Besides, we had a comedy show to get to that evening.

We walked up to the comedy show, getting a bit confused by the directions the guy who’d sold the tickets had given us. He’d pointed north west from his spot in Times Square and saying ‘just over there’. In actual fact it was 10 blocks further north. We’re staying further south than 1st Street and the comedy show was on 53rd street. It was quite a walk. Fortunately the north-south blocks are pretty short but it was still about 5kms away.

Before the show we met Sean for dinner. He’d been ticking off the sights he wanted to see but warned us against the Guggenheim, saying it was pretty boring. He wanted to spend the evening planning and declined a free ticket to the show – possibly a good idea as it was not at all what we’d been led to believe. The guy we’d bought the tickets from had said it was a taping for Comedy Central but it turned out to be four stand up comedians who were ok – one was pretty funny and looked kind of familiar. One of his best bits was about toilets. I laughed a lot but I’m starting to think I’m developing some kind of weird toilet obsession because everywhere we go the toilets are the thing I want to write blog entries about. I wished I’d been tagging all the posts where toilets are mentioned so I could check on whether it’s getting to a disturbing level.

Anyhow, the show! It was a small stage in a basement and you had to buy two drinks, which were pretty expensive. The ticket to get in gave you an extra entry for free but with drinks it worked out to be about $30 each. We looked online afterwards and the reviews for ‘Broadway Comedy Club’ weren’t great. We’re going to try to find somewhere different and hopefully see something better. Annoyingly, it’s ‘Comedy Week’ here right now but we didn’t know so we didn’t buy tickets to any of the really great shows that are on. D’oh!

We caught the subway home. It was packed – I stood next to two guys who’d just been to see an MIA concert and were covered in coloured powder. They were very friendly, unlike the people who sounded like they were about to punch on at the other end of the carriage. Despite the subway stations here looking like entrances to hell’s prison (bare concrete, everything looks dirty and there’s bars up to the ceilings to stop people getting on for free) it seems like a pretty easy system to navigate, even if the numbered and lettered lines are a bit sad after the elegant (Angel, Victoria) and hilarious (Cockfosters, Mudchute) names of the London underground stations. Plus here you don’t have to swipe your card upon exiting the station. How eminently sensible. We tumbled into bed, once again exhausted.