Friday night, as I planned our Saturday morning, I learned that Sym’s and Filene’s Basement had closed and gone into bankruptcy protection. That left Century 21 just around the corner from the hotel, TJ Maxx, and Daffy’s.  But before our shopping would begin, we made a spontaneous decision to visit the 911 memorial. The line zigged right in front of our hotel. We had thought about sneaking under, but the concierge said that the hotel would give us free passes. We were in the first 100 people who were let in on Saturday morning. It’s  a strange process. You are queued up like at a busy airport, winding your way through amaze that then takes you by the hotel, through a makeshift alley around the construction zone, then detoured into a security screening area. Then we waited for the gates to open.

I remember going up the old WTC tower. I chickened out on going up on the rooftop because it was so high. It was my first adult trip to the big apple and I was scared I’d get mugged so I bought disposable cameras. By the time we got up to the top, I realized I had no more pics and had to buy another disposable camera for something crazy like $15. The last time we were here, the site was just a big hole. Now two towers have risen from the ground, and the site of the former two towers are deep with cascading waterfalls. One of the highlights was the pear tree that survived on the former site. It was replanted while they prepared the memorial and then returned. You can see where the old growth and new meet.

After visiting the memorial, we set off for Century 21, where NosyNeighbour once again lucked out on two leather belts for $16, plus some socks. Only Daffy’s brought results for me: pants and a top. And all that shopping took more time than expected, with our getting back to the hotel about 15 minutes before our Apple Greeter was to arrive.

Our greeter was going to meet us at 1 p.m. We would be able to identify her by the big red apple button on her shirt. She looked like she’d rushed out the door and just made her subway to meet us. She was surprised we signed up for a tour given how many times we’ve been here. She usually takes people to Greenwich Village, but she decided on Columbia University for us because we’ve already seen most of the south of Manhattan.

It was a long ride on the local train, but it gave her a chance to tell stories about our destinations: Columbia University and the Cathedral of St. John Divine, thought to be the world’s largest Gothic cathedral.  We also learned that our guide is a huge L&O fan, and loves spotting New York scenes in movies and ads, especially when New York doubles for another city, usually somewhere in Europe.
When we left the subway, she pointed out  the diner featured in Seinfeld. And I learned that Seinfeld was filmed in LA. You learn something new every day.  St. John the Divine  had been on our NYC bucket list for a while, but having a local take you around brings extra treats like meeting the peacocks that live in the church garden. After visiting inside and out, we set off for Columbia, where our greeter went to school.

Then she took us to St. John the Divine church. It’s been on our list for a while. But we would have missed the peacocks that live in the garden at the back. Two beautiful birds cawing out to each other. Even got to see one with the wings puffed and spread out. The inside of the church is massive with small chapels spread around its head. NosyNeighbour noticed a few interesting bits, such as a  screen for the organists to see the crowd. The stained glass was beautiful, and small chapels surrounded the main cathedral hall. We overheard part of an organized tour and learned that somebody had stolen a statue from an inner church wall.

On our way to visit a small French Catholic church not far from St. John’s, NosyNeighbour noticed a small young girl spraying a water bottle at passing pedestrians. She wasn’t shy; I even managed to capture her mischievousness.

Our guide studied liberal arts, including French, at Barnard College for women in the 1950s. She was so excited to have Canadians who speak French to practice with.  She told us some personal stories, pointing out the “French House” that used to be an insane asylum before the university was built. Then we walked over to Grant’s Tomb. It was in a surprisingly big building for a tomb, very grand with large American flags draped on the outside. And skateboarders doing tricks on the edge of the grand walkway in front.

Following our afternoon with the greeter, we made our way over to pier 11 to take the free ferry to the Brooklyn Ikea for supper. This year, they’d added a stop at East 34th Street, and the schedule was a bit off, but we managed to get onto the first ferry that arrived. New Yorkers are so good about queuing. It was a bit disappointing not to have pasta available, which was the whole reason we went there. But our meal was still a good value at $21 for two. We both had the fish meal, shared a side of mac and cheese, and cake for dessert. Unfortunately this Ikea is not licensed. So that’s one thing Ottawa has on New York … beer at Ikea!

After our meal, we went back to the hotel to take in the view at the top. On our side of the hotel was a rooftop sun terrace. The views looked south towards Battery Park. On the other side, where the World Trade Center Hotel is located, was a restaurant with an all year outdoor deck looking on to the WTC site and 911 memorial. We had decided to just go for a drink. Our waiter was completely flustered and only able to focus on one thing at a time. He wasn’t well organized either. When we ordered two beers, he didn’t ask if we wanted glasses for them and had to make extra trips as a result. We watched him run around focused on one task at a time as clients waited for everything. When he was focused, it was good service, but he really should choose another profession.

We headed back to our room, excited for the tour, but tired from all the walking.

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