Central Park, taking a fencing lesson and playing ping-pong during my time in the Big Apple, despite some residual physical effects of my time in Boston and Philadelphia.
Only 240 crown-access tickets for the Statue of Liberty (I had ordered mine online about 10 weeks before my trip.) are issued per day, so I would be climbing her 354 stairs rain or shine. I got rain, which limited the view but not the fun. My crown-access group's ages ranged from 7 to 60, and we climbed nonstop to her crown in 15 minutes. I got a bit winded but attempted to pant sotto voce.
Eiffel designed the tower inside Lady Liberty to hold up her 62,000-pound, 3/32-inch-thick copper skin, one of the exhibits said. She arrived in America four years before Eiffel's other crowning achievement, Paris' Eiffel Tower, which opened the World Exhibition of 1889 in the City of Light.
I ended the day with a group fencing lesson at the New Amsterdam Fencing Academy (2726 Broadway between 104th and 105th streets). I had taken fencing as a theater major in college and loved it, so the chance to take three introductory lessons for $30 seemed a bargain even though I had time for only one lesson. I learned that a foil, an epee and a saber are the three fencing weapons, and my thighs discovered that this sport is far more physically demanding than climbing 354 stairs.
The next morning in Central Park, America's first public landscaped park, I discovered that I'm better at paddling a kayak than rowing a boat, but rowing provided a unique view of Central Park, which opened in 1857 but wasn't completed until 1873.
That evening a childhood passion was reignited when I played ping-pong at Spin, a 13,000-square-foot Flatiron District table-tennis club near Madison Square Garden. You don't have to be a member to play. Playing ping-pong is like riding a bike; once you've learned how, it comes back to you, even if it's been years. Celebrity table tennis pro Wally Green showed me how he plays ping-pong using his BlackBerry as his paddle. I had so much fun I would have stayed all night if it hadn't been for back-to-back walking tours scheduled the next day.
Swollen feet and knees aside, I trudged around Revolutionary New York with Big Onion Walking tours the next morning and saw where Washington took his first presidential oath of office at Federal Hall on Wall Street. By the end of the tour I was more than dragging. I wasn't sure whether I was feeling the effects of overdoing it or was having a heart attack, so playing it safe, I went to the emergency room at New York University. While I waited, I realized 50 may not actually be the new 30.
Diagnosis: Too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. My heart was fine, but I left with a prescription for Tagamet and instructions to take it easy.
So I canceled one planned walk on Saturday to ensure I could handle the Bike the Big Apple's Tour C: The Sensational Park and Soul Tour on Sunday that mixes Central Park and Harlem history with a stop at a gospel service.
During our leisurely five-hour, 14-mile ride, which took us round trip from Central Park through Harlem and back to the park near Strawberry Fields (the John Lennon memorial), tour guide Jesse McDonough shared the story of two pack rat brothers who lived in a Victorian mansion in Harlem. Collyer Brothers Park was named for the two recluses, who died in their own clutter in 1947. Homer, blind and disabled by arthritis, starved to death after Langley was killed by a booby trap he set to protect their privacy. After searching 19 days and removing 103 tons of debris, authorities found Langley's body. They also found newspapers stacked floor to ceiling, specimen jars with human organs, broken pianos, guns, toy trains and the chassis of a Model T. (Note to self: Clean house, pronto.)
Our group stopped at East Mt. Olive Baptist Church on 128th Street. Because my attention tends to wander, I loved dropping in for just the music part of a gospel service. We spent about 30 minutes swaying and clapping our hands, then made a small contribution to the church offering before departing.
It was good for the soul. In fact, the whole trip was (with the possible exception of the trip to the emergency room). I absorbed American history by being physically active. And anytime I lose rather than gain weight on vacation is fantastic. Usually the only thing that's lighter when I get home is my wallet.