Maria A. Karamitsos and her family recently took a trip to the Big Apple. Come along as they explore the city, and enjoy New York Greek hospitality.
In a New York Greek state of mind…
My husband, Peter, and I, along with our daughters, ages 10 and 8, were in a New York Greek state of mind, as we recently explored the Big Apple. Perhaps you followed our adventures on Facebook. It seemed that everywhere we went, we found something Greek — or rather, it found us! The weather was amazing — unseasonably warm for February — we ditched the coats, got out the sun hats, and went exploring.
There’s so much to do in New York, and we barely scratched the surface. But we spent 4 really amazing days hanging out in the Big Apple, and we can’t wait to go back.
On recommendation from Chef Diane Kochilas, we checked out Ousia. With its chic decor and world music playing over the speakers, this was no ordinary Greek restaurant. Think upscale lounge, with a fantastic menu — and an even better wine list.
There was something on the menu for everyone, and our daughters felt pretty cool hanging out in the “lounge” atmosphere. The crowd was eclectic, which suited the vibe perfectly.
Ousia, 629 W. 57th Street. 212.333.2200
Greek signs and sights
My daughters marveled as we strolled through Manhattan — they saw Greek businesses, Greek signs, Greek-inspired architecture, and heard people speak Greek. We didn’t get to Astoria, but they saw lots of Greek influence.
Seeing Lady Liberty
One morning, we took the #1 train from the 42nd Street station down to the World Trade Center. Yesterday, we told you about our VIP tour of St. Nicholas Shrine.
We walked to Battery Park to board the ferry. The ticket lines were long, but moved fast. Purchase online and skip the wait. The security line is actually the longest part. While in line, we met a woman from Greece who was studying in Virginia. Her mom was visiting from Greece. We enjoyed chatting with them, but lost them as we went through security. Limited tickets are available to tour the crown. Definitely purchase those in advance.
We didn’t have a lot of time, so we elected to not disembark at the Statue of Liberty. Next time for sure! The boat did stop there, and we took pictures. My father tells a great story about his arrival in America, and the statue figures prominently. I wrote an essay about it once. While docked in front of Lady Liberty, we called my dad. How cool to have him retell the story to the girls, as we stood there, gazing upon this statue that has welcomed millions of immigrants and visitors to the U.S. I couldn’t help but imagine my father seeing it for the first time, and the impression she made. He was disappointed that we didn’t find his moustache. You’ll have to read the story to find out what that means. If you will see both attractions, plan about 4 hours, start to finish.
Walking in the footsteps of our ancestors
When my father came to the U.S., Ellis Island was closed. But my maternal grandfather came through in 1906. My husband’s grandparents did as well. Abandoned for years, but lovingly restored in the 1980s, Ellis Island is a must-see for all. Today, it’s an immigration museum, history center, and more. There’s so much to learn and explore.
As we entered the Registry Room, I could almost hear the roar of the new immigrants waiting in line to be processed — full of excitement, and certainly anxious about what was ahead. Their presence is palpable. I first visited Ellis Island in 2006 — 100 years after my grandfather arrived. As on the first visit, I slowly took it all in — what was he thinking as he stood in line? How long did he wait? What was his experience like?
We told the girls about our grandparents’ arrival. We were walking in their footsteps. It’s a profound experience.
We learned about the registry process; not everyone was accepted. Some people were sent back to the country of the origin, while others went on to pursue their American dream. We toured the exhibits, and the girls identified Greek artifacts.
How fun to find a family portrait of the family of my friend and one of my favorite authors, Harry Mark Petrakis — before his birth, and before his family came to America. We found Greek children’s shoes on display, and a page of an old West Coast Greek newspaper exhibited with other ethnic journals.
The girls particularly enjoyed finding the name of their paternal grandfather on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. My papou’s name is not on the wall, because my family didn’t know about it. Perhaps that’s why Greeks are underrepresented in the museum. Nonetheless, this is a must-see for everyone.
Dinner at Milos
On our last trip to New York in 2006, my husband and I dined at Estiatorio Milos. The experience left an indelible mark, and we just had to return. This upscale spot could be the most elegant Greek restaurant I’ve ever been to. Look for fresh fish on ice — just like in Greece. Select the beauty of your choice. We ordered fagkri, and it was to die for! It was so fresh, we felt like we were close to the water. It was light and simply prepared, because it’s a star on its own. A glass of Assyrtiko, some oktapodi, a little horta, and we were all set! The place was packed. We waited at the bar for our reservation, but it was so worth it. This is a place to see and be seen. We even had two celebrity sightings there — Dr. Oz; plus former New York Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Pricy, but worth every penny. Be sure to make reservations well in advance.
Estiatorio Milos, 125 W 55th St. 212.245.7400
Holy Trinity Cathedral
We took a taxi to the Upper East side, to visit the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. In Chicago, most churches are not set in actual neighborhoods, and they have parking lots, and open space. This was different. When we got out of the taxi, I wasn’t quite sure where we’d ended up. But there was the Cathedral, and the school building, right before us — in the middle of the block. Every year, weather permitting, 74th Street is closed for the Anastasi service, celebrated by Archbishop Demetrios.
My daughter Eleni took a photo of me on the stairs, under the Greek flag. I said, “Thank you, Eleni”. A couple of older gentlemen were passing by. To that, they shouted, “Bravo Eleni!” and greeted to us. She was tickled.
Inside, we lit candles and entered the nave. We sat for a bit, gazed upon the icons, and the stunning structure. We’ve seen it on TV, but it was an entirely different experience to be there. Too bad we couldn’t attend the Sunday service.
Father John Vlahos, the Cathedral Dean, was sitting in a pew with a parishioner, but took a moment to greet us. Father John is a Midwestern Greek, from Merrillville, IN. We received a warm welcome and open invitation to return anytime.
If you can’t attend the liturgy, stop in for a few moments to pray. What a welcome respite from the highly charged city.
Holy Trinity Cathedral, 337 E. 74th Street
Exploring the Met
From the Cathedral, we walked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We stumbled upon the Consulate and the Archdiocese offices. The girls stopped to admire the Greek flag outside the Consulate office, blowing majestically in the breeze.
We didn’t have a lot of time, and the girls wanted to see the Met. My girls are prolific artists and love to explore museums. They were immediately captivated by the facade. Angeliki, 8, considers herself an expert on the order of the columns, and will offer her critique when she sees one. Luckily for us, the columns at the Met passed muster. She even commented about its “beautiful Greek architecture”.
We could’ve stayed in there for a week. There’s so much to explore. We spent most our time in the Greek and Roman wing, and then briefly explored Byzantine art, and some paintings. Can’t miss the El Greco! Angeliki admired the art and couldn’t help but take about 200 photos. Both girls reveled in the priceless works of art, and all the stories they have to tell.
Some believe art museums are boring, but they haven’t truly experienced one. Take the kids; take the time to explore. Listen to the audio tour. Read the descriptions. There’s so much to discover.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Avenue
New York Greek author meet-up
One of the most memorable parts of our trip was meeting up with Gus Constantine, author of Escaping Cyprus, and Escaping Cyprus II. Readers will recall I’ve reviewed both books. After communicating with Gus for more than a year, we decided it was a great opportunity to meet. He and his lovely wife, Georgia, came in from Long Island to meet us for dinner. Effie Kammenou (author of Evanthia’s Gift and Waiting for Aegina) was supposed to join us, but ultimately couldn’t make it. What a great evening we had — like we were old friends. It was a great dinner, and we experienced some great New York Greek hospitality.
New York Greek: Manhattan style
My husband and I each had some work obligations, and with just 4 days, we didn’t venture out of Manhattan. We packed a lot in, including a Broadway show, a walk in Central Park, and brunch at Tavern on the Green.
The girls can’t wait to go back to New York. Chicago is a fabulous city, but New York has an entirely different vibe. There’s such a unique energy there. It’s so highly-charged, it’s like it’s on the verge of chaos at any moment. And that’s precisely what makes it so exciting. Next time we’ll take them to Astoria, where they’ll partake in an even more authentic New York Greek experience.
Go. Take the kids. Whether you go for the Greek “stuff” or not, there’s much to experience and explore. And New York Greek hospitality makes you feel right at home.
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