There’s no better time to visit New York than at Christmas. Everyone seems to be in a happy mood – at an accelerated pace, but happy just the same.
It’s been five years since we were in the city…enough time to forget what a pain it is to drive there. We managed to switch lanes at the last moment, when the Lincoln Tunnel “green” sign on our lane turned to a blaring red “X”, and, after searching several levels of the Port Authority Parking Garage, ditched the car and set out on foot.
I couldn’t help but notice the contrasts between home in Lancaster County and this day in New York City. New York assaults all your senses at once – the horns, the rapid movement of scores of people walking and cars bumper-to-bumper, the smell of a dozen different kinds of food – and most memorable this time of year – the smell of chestnuts roasting on street corners.
Lancaster County is certainly known for its smells too – the most memorable being the fertilizer that is spread on the fields, especially in the spring. Certainly a visitor to both NYC and Lancaster couldn’t help but notice the aromas. And the chimes from the church across from our inn is very much a part of the experience of Terre Hill.
Instead of the brick walkways of downtown Lancaster, we walked across metal grids, beneath which could be heard the roar of subway cars below the streets of New York. And there in front of us were two horses (hey, we have lots of those in Lancaster!). These belonged to the mounted police but were no less majestic and well-mannered than the ones pulling a buggy.
There is an “energy” about both places….Lancaster’s large vistas of farmland give one a sense of peach and calm. It makes you feel small compared to all that is around you. NYC’s energy is infectious and also makes you feel small in comparison – the vistas are mostly vertical, rather than horizontal, with buildings soaring into the sky.
There is a mix of cultures in both places – the Amish and Mennonites blending with the “English” in Lancaster. In New York there’s a diversity of cultures coming together. Because New York and Lancaster County are big tourist attractions, you are likely to hear several languages on any street corner in either place.
There is a juxtaposition of old and new – from the dazzling electronic billboards at Times Square – (there used to be just a few, now they are everywhere) to the classic art-deco architecture. There are brand new shiny skyscrapers next to century-old churches. The bike-riding couriers fight for space on the street with a limo that would easily seat twenty.
In Lancaster, the Amish travel by horse and buggy, and use the same roads as modern vehicles. And both the Mennonites and Amish use the shiny new roller blades. Stores along Route 30 offer the latest in everything from fashions to electronics.
We walked past the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, stepped in to sniff the aromas of what Dean and Deluca had cooking, admired the tree in Rockefeller Center and waved to the skaters. Times Square was very busy – but in less than two weeks this will seem quiet compared to the million people that will jam this intersection to welcome the new year.
Lancaster, too, has its busy places – the hustle and bustle of Route 30, the excitement of the new downtown Convention Center, Gallery Row and all of the places whose business it is to produce food – from hand-twisted pretzels to chocolate to ice cream. Amish and Mennonites love to skate on the ponds and streams. There is skating all winter at Clipper Stadium as well.
We ate lunch at Tony’s (Times Square) at 2:30 and were lucky to get the last of the tables. Everyone here seemed to be celebrating – there were big tables filled with folks and their shopping bags. Downstairs I passed a little girl dressed in a green velvet dress with white fur trim, and a waiter carrying a huge tray filled with glassware and then piled with linens, all balanced on one hand and carried way high above everyone’s heads.
The restaurant was a study in efficiency as waiters hoisted the table next to us and carried it over our heads down to the front of the restaurant…no matter, a new one soon appeared, was reset, and ready for the next customers. Drawings of Broadway actors and actresses lined the walls, next to a huge menu board. I loved my dish of Tony’s Chicken – a chicken cutlet in a balsamic sauce with tomatoes and basil and, I am sure, lots of garlic. Bruce’s Chicken Parmesan was probably the best we’ve had since eating in Little Italy. The pasta was perfect and the sauce and bread to die for. I would have been happy to sit all afternoon and drink wine – as we were quite possibly the only two people in the restaurant without an alcoholic drink in our hands. There is no better place in America to eat Italian food than in New York City.
Lancaster County also has its share of special foods – showcased at the immense smorgasbords offering Pennsylvania Dutch fare. The sight is not unlike what we found in NYC, with big tables of families and friends gathered together….sans the alcohol.
We walked past the theaters where we had seen so many Broadways shows, past Spiderman (opening in February), Minnie Mouse, two of the Muppets, and two people being interviewed on the street by a TV reporter. Lancaster, too, has its own grand lady of the theatre, The Fulton, where we’ve enjoyed wonderful performances. We also have Sight and Sound, a huge new theatre dedicated to Christian stories.
Looking at the perfect blue sky and the helicopter overhead, I couldn’t help but think of that day in September nine years ago when people were going to work and sightseeing….and then the world stopped. We, too, had a tragic day in 2006 when a gunman opened fire on a one-room schoolhouse in southern Lancaster County. Citizens of both places will never forget, nor will the world that watched these events.
This day was a study in contrasts and similarities. Both destinations are special treasures – found only in America.