Friday, April 06, 2007

Tour De New York City - Part 2 (Upper tip of Manhattan)

Part two in my tourist series. This one actually has gems that most tourists (or even NY residents) don’t see because they are mostly unknown. For example, some one recommended visiting Grant’s tomb. I responded “Grant’s tomb, wait that is here…”

Columbia University Campus
For those who know me, I like visiting college campuses (especially old ones). Well how could I resist Columbia University which is not only very old (founded in the 18th century as King’s college) and Ivy league as well. A little know fact…the ivy league was originally founded with four universities (I think Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Brown?). The roman numeral for four is IV, hence ivy (eye vee) league was dubbed.

As expected, the university campus was full of very old colossal buildings. For fun you could try to wander around with a book bag and coffee to go cup and try to fit in with the natives in their natural habitat. I already feel smarter for being there.

On the NW edge of the campus is a huge church. Seriously, huge church! Since it was palm Sunday, my mother and I ventured inside (careful to hide our cameras since our jeans and backpack combo outfits didn’t already scream TOURIST!). I have rarely seen chapels with that high of ceiling. The part that blows my mind is that people still attend services there. I guess I would be awestruck being in that place every week.

I give it a grade B just because any grade lower is not acceptable at an IV league school.

Grant’s Tomb
Just a block from Columbia’s campus is Grant’s tomb. Now when someone asks you “who is buried at Grant’s tomb” you can respond “no one”. The former president and his wife are laid to rest there, but they are in above ground coffins (crypts). On the outside, the monument looks huge. On the inside, it is tiny. This makes me believe that the building is secretly housing additional covert government documents and services. Hmmm…was those eyes in the painting really following me…

Any chance to squeeze in learning, they take it. Fortunately, the historians at the tomb only put interesting tid-bits. Civil war…blah, president…been there, drug addict….what! Turns out the old guy had cancer so they hopped him up on cocaine and opium. Plus he was flat broke after serving as president because retired officers and former presidents didn’t have a pension/retirement plan. He had to hurry up and write/sell his memoirs just so the family could eat.

The best part of the monument is the view. It is built along the water’s edge with a lengthy park behind it. I predict it will be gorgeous come spring.

I give it a grade B- because sneaking history lessons into my sight seeing is….well sneaky.

The Cloisters
Take the “A” train all the way to 190th street. Yep, we are talking about the upper most tip of the island. The Cloisters is an authentic French monastery from the medieval times that was sent over piece by piece by a rich man (most likely Rockefeller since a lot of items were from his collection). You first enter a grand park that is full of winding paths and landscaping. In a month the place will be gorgeous with flowers and trees in bloom. The park is located atop a large up cropping of rock because you can look over the edge of a cliff to see the river and highway below.

The Monastery is full of medieval artifacts like paintings, architectural columns and details, arches, tapestries, stone sarcophagi, and monk written/copied manuscripts. The famed “unicorn” tapestries are there. Everything from the walls, chapels, and artwork are dated from between 1000ad and 1600ad. Yep, this shit is old.

The building contained several terraces and walking gardens that have great views of the park or the river (or New Jersey if you care).

I give it a grade A because beautiful stuff like this was able to emerge in a time where stoning to death and burning by bonfire was an acceptable means of execution.


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