New York City: Museum of Natural History and 9/11 Memorial

So day 4 of the trip and we’re still working through the CityPass.  Definitely a testament to the system and NYC that we’re still hitting major tourist sites all the way through.  We had thoughts of trying to finish the book today, taking in both the American Museum of Natural History and a Circle Line Cruise, but thought better of it and figured we’d focus on the former.

American Museum of Natural History
After last night’s failed Empire State Building attempt, we planned to sleep in as much as was reasonable while still allowing us to miss major crowds.  The museum opens at 10 am, so we were able to walk the dogs, hop the subway and get out pretty much right at the museum.

Founded in 1869, the museum is beyond comprehensive in terms of covering every aspect of pre-human civilization, the world of nature, space, geology and some aspects of human history.  I’d say there’s something there for everybody – and there is – but you’re definitely looking at more of a “Can’t Miss” if you have kids than if you don’t.

We started the day at the Hayden Planetarium, taking in the Dark Universe show.  Narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and outlining the basic structure of the universe, and what an infinitesimal small part of it actually makes up the physical rules in which we live, the 30 minute show was definitely the highlight of the day, both in terms of showmanship and material.  Everything else varied a bit.

Actually, that’s the wrong way of putting it.  It was all excellent, but a lot depended on what you had seen before and where.

For instance, the human civilizations part of the museum were interesting and gave you a good idea of the way different parts of the word developed.  That being said, none of the artifacts were more impressive than those you’d find in the Met.  The displays of animals in the museum were also impressive and quite realistic, though if you’ve been to one of the better zoos of the world, it was a bit underwhelming.  The geodes section was neat, and the history of the earth section was also impressive.  The dinosaur skeletons were pretty amazing but, again, if you’ve seen some skeletons before, nothing was really blowing you away.

Now, all of that said, if you’ve never seen a natural history museum before, or if you are bringing kids to New York City, you’re not going to find a better one than this one.  That said, if I was going to pick a trip highlight, this might not be it.  Maybe it just came at the wrong time.

We made the trip back to Roosevelt Island for some dog walking and picked up some sushi from Fuji East to eat at home.  We were still pretty zonked out from the day before, but we weren’t willing to cut the day short at half-day, especially considering what we’d be seeing next.

The 9/11 Memorial
So it’s obviously not a stretch to say the 9/11 attacks were the defining event of the century so far.  I happened to be working on a cruise ship when I heard the news, and was then quickly ushered up to a crew meeting where I was informed we’d be performing a “Charlie” drill in the kids centre.  Basically, we’d be looking for any suspicious packages.  While, in hindsight, being scared of finding some random package in the kid’s centre of a cruise ship seemed a bit far fetched, when you’re in the moment – THAT moment – you’re going to get a bit freaked out.

So, having never been to Ground Zero and vaguely remembering going by the base of the Twin Towers back when I was a kid, this was a must-stop.

The first stop was the tiny St. Paul’s Chapel, not that far from the memorial.  It became the defacto prayer centre for the victims of the attack, and it still holds more memorials than you would expect for a building of its size.  A chalice and hands forged from steel that was taken from the wreckage, photos of people and stuffed animals from when people held vigil, art, photos… it really is a sobering reminder of the tragedy of that day and, if it was the only thing that was left of the site, you’d think it might almost be enough.

Of course, then you get to the site.

The reflecting pools, waterfalls, the names… all the names.  It’s funny, because there were a few people who were made “famous” by 9/11 (the passengers of Flight 93 came to mind) and I ended up finding their names, but not because I sought them out.  There’s a compulsion to see, if not read, everybody’s name at the site and do the full walk around the pools, in spite of the fact that it’s obviously devastatingly sad.

There’s signs all over the place warning about proper behaviour, and guards to keep watch, and everybody does go about their way in a respectful manner.  Realistically, it’s one of the world’s largest grave sites, if for no other reason than so many remains will never be found.  Truly sobering.

Now, they’ve opened up a museum near the site, and I’ve been told it’s awesome.  Maybe it’s the fact that I lived the history, or the $20 price tag, or the lack of distance between the event and now, but I wasn’t interested in going it.  Maybe a few years down the road, it might make more sense to check it out, but not today.

What made no sense, in the context of what we had just seen, was what we did next.

Let’s go… shopping?

Century 21
So retail therapy seems like an odd thing after the 9/11 memorial, but geographically, they’re real close.  Century 21 is basically Winner’s on steroids, venom and PCP.  Massive amounts of clothes for massive bargains.  I didn’t have the energy for it, but Daina was off to the races, picking up shorts, socks, shirts… pretty much anything.  Odd way to close out the day, and a bit overwhelming if you’re not in to shopping at that particular moment.  We did get some more of New York’s famous customer (non)-service, as a parade of cashiers who didn’t seem to know what they were doing closed and opened lines at whim, taking forever to go through everybody’s pile.  Admittedly, there were some big piles.

We had thought about going out again that night, but by the time we got back to Roosevelt, we were done.  Another nice dinner at the Riverwalk Cafe and that was it for us.  More adventures tomorrow!

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