We wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge today and explore the different neighbourhoods of Brooklyn as well as a few flea markets, but with the cold rain slapping our faces we gave up on that idea and found our way to Grand Central Station to check out the Great Northern Food Hall, which the media in Denmark have been buzzing and fussing about for the last few months.
The Great Northern Food Hall
Now I’ve never really been a fan of Claus Meyer though I remember him as a television chef from when I grew up. He is the personification of the over hyped Nordic Food which has made my home town into a food Mecca for the elite. But he has always turned my hairs the wrong way.
However, proud of particularly the Danish breakfast treats (the real Danish pastry) and well aware that Danes are leagues ahead of New Yorkers in the appreciation of a real and good tasting hot dog, I was curious to see Meyer’s attempt at educating the Americans in regards to some of these essential food items.
I had read ahead of time that Meyer had been way to artistic with his hot dog stand and instead of offering actual Danish hot dogs to the masses he’d gone ahead and made a real classic Meyer by attempting to dose it up with all kinds of weird stuff. Thus, since it was early in the morning we kept ourselves to the Vanderbilt Hall where we got a treat of Danish tebirkes and porridge.
The first was just as it is back home and gets an A+ from this tebirkes aficionada. The porridge might have been good, but apart from the main chef at the stand bad mouthing the entrepreneur – that is Meyer – we were also served the porridge nearly cold. In comparison to what I know of American service by now that guy should be out on his ass. Even in Denmark where we prefer a more cold service that guy wouldn’t have kept his job long.
I might not like Claus Meyer, but no one bitches about him but me!
After getting cosy and comfortable at Grand Central Station we took the chance to see if we might possibly get a tour of the inside of the UN Headquarters.
Inside being the keyword as rain started pouring down. But we were out of luck and had to wait a day for the next tour on site.
At this point I was ready to just get home and under the sheets, but despite having changed rooms at the hotel the idea of spending the day there was far from pleasant.
The Met – Temples and Eggs
We ended up taking a bus into the Upper East Side where we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. The Met is one of largest museums in the world offering a permanent collection of more than 2 million pieces.
Amongst these is the entire Temple of Dendur, which the Egyptian government gifted to the US in 1965 after it had become obvious that the temple’s original location would be flooded by the building of a nearby dam.
The temple is reconstructed in the Sackler Wing where it lies with a beautiful panorama view of Central Park. The very idea that the museum houses an ancient temple helps to comprehend the sheer size of this place.
We could have spent hours walking around and studying the many exceptional exhibitions on show from all over the world.
To me the most interesting find in the vast collection were the Fabergé eggs on show in the European section. In particular, the beautiful pale pink egg bearing the title Imperial Danish Palaces Egg. The egg was presented to the czarina Maria Feodorovna on Easter 1890 by her husband Czar Alexander III.
Maria Feodorovna was born Princess Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. Most Danes know her as Dagmar.
Her older brother became King Frederik VIII of Denmark, her older sister Alexandra married the later Edward VII King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India, while her older brother was elected King George I of the Hellenes (Greece). Not without reason her father was known as the Father-in-Law of Europe, and many royal houses can trace their history back to him.
Dagmar herself saw her son and grandchildren killed during the Russian Revolution of 1917, and as such ended as the last remaining crowned person of Russia. But before these events she lived a life at the utmost top of society in Russia and Europe.
The Fabergé egg which caught my attention has hidden a folding ten-panel gold screen which shows some of Dagmar’s favourite Danish and Russian retreats. The thought of finding – among such treasures at the Met a tiny but priceless piece of ornament showcasing miniature pictures of Danish royal palaces seemed so surreal.
We waited out the heavy rain in the large halls of the Met and as the weather seemed to stabilise and only the grey cloud remained, we decided to shake up our schedule and take the subway to Harlem.
I had planned a Harlem tour full of Harlem history facts. Thus we started at 135th street station and St. Nicolas’ Park walking towards Strivers’ Row, which is a three-row radius of spacious town houses, known as brownstone-homes. According to the information I’d found beforehand some of the key players in the Harlem Renaissance and civil rights movement lived here.
Built in 1891, most of these homes remained empty until affluent African Americans (Strivers) bought them in the 1920s as Harlem became the centre of a ‘literary, artistic, and intellectual movement that kindled a new black cultural identity’ (History.com).
The movement has later been known as the Harlem Renaissance and was caused by a mass migration of black Americans from the South to Northern industrial cities during and after WWI. They came to the north and Harlem in search of jobs within the war-time industry and brought with them an artistic and cultural explosion as ‘strivers’ for a better future.
History.com offers a short introductory video on the Harlem Renaissance which is really nice: The Harlem Renaissance.
We continued from Strivers’ Row down to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd and the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which dates back to 1823. The congregation was started in 1808 as a way for black Americans to avoid the segregation in church and is one of the first and most influential African-American congregations.
Continuing down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd I must admit that I was surprised at how pleasant Harlem is and all the lovely brownstone houses. This is definitely a wonderful part of Manhattan and much more attractive than Midtown.
We ended up where everyone ends up on a tour of Harlem at 125th street – the commercial centre and beating heart of the neighbourhood.
Enjoying the atmosphere and the crowds of people who had overcome the grey weather we did a bit of shopping on 125th. I was particularly pleased with the GAP outlet store, which offered enormous discounts on clothes.
After having seen the shop assistant add discounts of up to 75% on all the items I’d grabbed I was pretty much whistling and exclaiming that this couldn’t get any cheaper.
To this our shop assistant grinned at us and added ‘We haven’t counted in the 25% off on all items yet’. What! I walked out of there feeling like I wasn’t spending money, but earning them. This place is definitely on my to do list if we return to New York.
We ended our day in Harlem with a late lunch at Sylvia’s, which is known for serving Soul Food. The late Sylvia Wood who ran the restaurant for more than 50 years was known as the Queen of Soul Food, so I’d figured a visit to her restaurant was the proper way to eat in Harlem.
The term Soul Food comes from Alex Haley’s recordings of Malcolm X and is used to describe the food which the Great Migration of African-Americans from WWI and up until the 1960s brought with them from the South to their new homes in the northern industrial cities. Sylvia’s and many similar black-owned restaurants have served as meeting places and social spots for the black community in for instance Harlem, serving up traditional dishes of the black south.
Strangely enough the cuisine originates not in the African roots of slaves in the South, but with the indigenous and native people of North America.
It is heavy food and probably not all that healthy to eat all the time, but it tastes amazing and Sylvia’s was a marvellous place to end our Harlem adventure.
Zofka (now dressed in GAP)