Waking up in our Brooklyn hotel on New Year's Day was surreal. After having a Starbucks breakfast, we headed over to our new hotel across the Brooklyn Bridge in TriBeCa. From there we traveled over to Little Italy and Chinatown, which was a cultural eye opener. New York really is a melting pot of ethnicity, the signs of these shops were all in Chinese or Italian. My dad was telling me that Chinatown is encroaching on Little Italy because when an Italian restaurant goes out of business, Asian families would snatch up the property. So the lines between Chinatown and Little Italy are really blurred.
My favorite characteristic about Little Italy is that they keep up their Christmas decorations after New Year's Eve. Maybe it was just me, but I thought the whole Christmas season whizzed by this year and it was nice to savor it a little more up until Epiphany (the Catholic celebration of the Three Wise Men arriving at the Nativity scene). The restaurant owners are also really fun to talk to, they stand outside their cafes and try to entice you to chose their restaurant over the expansive array of options. We ended up choosing a relatively new restaurant called the Italian Food Center.
I loved the exposed brick and shelves of glasses in the Italian Food Center. My favorite style of interior design is when old classic constructions meet modern streamlined touches. We ate calamari with marina sauce for an appetizer, then a sausage pizza for our entree. The pizza had pesto artfully spread across it, which tasted as neat as it looked. Everything they say about New York style pizza is true, it's made of an extremely thin crust and you have to fold it to enjoy it.
After exploring Little Italy, we took a cab to Battery Park to take a ferry over to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. While waiting in line, we met a trained squirrel who was there to entertain patient ferry passengers. That's not the only animal I saw during my time in NY. To my disgust, I saw a rat scuttle out from under a building and nestle under a bunch of stuffed garbage bags. Then there were the pigeons, which populate the city more than the millions of people do.
The ferry ride was quick and charming, which was a refreshing surprise compared to the ferries in Seattle that are packed to the brim with smelly, annoyed commuters. Seeing the Statue of Liberty come into view was one of those weird moments when history comes to life. You see the Statue of Liberty in books, in movies and in art, but seeing it in person is something else.
One cool thing I learned about the statue is that it was gifted from France and was originally completely copper. Naturally, moisture rusts copper, and the green color you see is the result of weather warping.
Across from Liberty Island is Ellis Island, where immigrants historically came to get their documentation approved in order to enter the United States. Surprisingly, my family is also connected to this place. My mother's side of the family, the Scafidis, immigrated from Sicily to New York (and eventually to Portland). The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is exactly where my great grandparents passed through years ago. I took a picture from one of the windows looking back at the Statue of Liberty and imagined what it must have been like to be so close to America and the promise of freedom and yet be so far away. The immigrants that were not allowed to come into the nation (either because of disease or lack of documentation) had to stay in the boarding houses of Ellis Island until they could board a ship back to the other side of the Atlantic.
The museum was beautifully fascinating. Filling the ancient rooms were stories of immigrants past, factoids about their travel and interactive art features. I wasn't expecting such an educational experience being in New York, but hands-on learning is always a welcome surprise.
Before nightfall, we attempted visiting the One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. The Freedom Tower is almost finished, but not quite. The building is the tallest in the NYC skyline and certainly one of the most impressive. I love the design, I think it really embodies American strength and power. The 9/11 Memorial includes two reflecting pools and a garden, although we didn't get to see any of it because of the massive line there was to get in. Admission is free, making it a popular attraction for tourists. We also passed by Wall Street which reminded me of the 1987 movie that stars a young Charlie Sheen. One thing I couldn't get enough of is the eclectic architecture. If I had the time (and the permission), I'd explore every single one of those towering buildings.
For dinner, we went to The Odeon, a restaurant in the TriBeCa neighborhood. It's French-inspired menu and retro dining room was an exquisite experience. My sister and I both ordered a croque monsieur et frites each. The croque monsieur is essentially a ham and cheese sandwhich with melted cheese on top. It was served with fries and dijon mustard. For dessert, I ordered the crème brûlée and it was literally to die for. The flavor and texture was perfect and the caramelized sugar top coating added a satisfying crunch.