(Note: As we learned only a few days earlier on our tour, The Declaration of Independence was actually signed on July 2nd. It took until July 4th to get the last minute edits in. So we shoot fireworks to celebrate slow copy editors)
In any case, we had everything planned. We were going to take the subway down the Q line to Brighton Beach, to see the Russian Area of town, hang out and eat, then go over to see the Coney Island rides, play on the beach, and stay for the evening fireworks. We had been on the Coney Island Facebook page, and a day of outdoor events was planned. There were going to be hot dog eating contests, performances, music, and a bunch of random stuff.
We caught the Q with no problem, and it was a long ride through town. It was cool to speed out across the underground of Manhattan with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was then above ground most of the way, and we could see the neighborhoods of Brooklyn change as we went, with the signs and graffiti changing languages as we navigated the various neighborhoods. Once we saw Russian Graffiti, we knew we were there.
It was not, at first sight, a terribly pretty neighborhood. We were right under the elevated tracks, so expectations were low, and the city stooped to meet and exceed those low expectations. It was dirty, busy, and a real trip to the late 1970s. We thought things might improve as we moved away from the station, and things did. There were some great food shops and Russian Delis, a couple of nice souvenir shops, but the restaurants were very high scale. We recognized a few of these from the TV series Russian Dolls, and they looked good.
We walked to the Boardwalk, and it was stunning. The beach was clean and beautiful, the boardwalk was in good repair, and stretched out towards the rides that we could see over Coney Island. A long Russian restaurant faced the boardwalk, with covered outdoor seating, and a fair crowd building for lunch. We walked for a bit in and out of town, but headed back to the restaurant. Looking over the ocean, we could see dark clouds coming. Then raindrops.
We ducked into the restaurant just in time for the sky to start opening up. We got a nice table with a view of the water, and a view of the World Cup on TV. (Damn Germans) We looked at the menu, and it was a fantastic collection on classic Russian food. Yulia ordered up a spread of the best, right as the real rain started. Everyone was chased off the beach into the picnic shelters or restaurants, and water bounced off the boards into our table when the wind was right.
We buckled down and ordered more drinks.
The food was amazing. When I lived in Moscow, we only went to true Russian restaurants a few times, and this was on par with the quality of that food. We had some nice wine, stuffed chicken, a Russian style chop salad, I don’t remember what else as we kept ordering as an attempt to outlast the rain. After a napoleon cake for dessert, we were full, and the rain slowed enough that we could attempt to run towards Coney Island. We had checked the Coney Island Facebook announcements, and they weakly claimed that the fireworks would still be on. I looked into the sky and knew better. Unless this broke, there was no way you could see anything through these clouds.
We were soaked in just a few seconds, and ducked out of the boardwalk into town, to get some building cover and go under the Metro line for a bit. We made it past the Aquarium, which had a Metro station that looked like it still was badly damaged from Ruinstorm Sandy, and kept going. Shortly after, we were in Coney Island. The rides were still going, and people were there, but most were heading out of the beach and for the trains home.
We went up to look at the boardwalk, and it was pretty neat, even with the rain. We grabbed Sasha a sweatshirt at one of the vendors as she was frozen. It had a cool 60’s motif and was worth the inflated price. We gave up at that point, there was no way that we could make a day on the beach in this weather, especially since I was still unsure that there would even be a show with this weather. We walked off the boardwalk, and once you were into the town of Coney Island, you could really see how run down it was. The boardwalk had seen a lot of rebuilding, but the town looked like the set of “The Warriors” (note: Coney Island actually was the set of The Warriors. They sell shirts and magnets advertising this.) So many buildings were boarded up, beat up, or broken it was really shameful. You could see through this how beautiful this place once was.
We got into the Coney Island Subway (which was one of the original BMT stations and was really beautiful) and caught the Q home. With the bad weather we thought about catching a show instead. Once we got close to Times Square I checked the TKTS app, and everything that we were interested in was sold out. We headed back to the hotel.
The rain was not quite gone, but clouds were still really thick. We all showered and changed to warm up, and I looked out our window over the city as I tried to come up with a new plan. We knew that the city had a big display over the Brooklyn Bridge. Our hotel had a deck on the roof, and I thought we might be able to see something there. I went to the concierge to check. The concierge told me that we couldn’t see anything from the roof. And there were no other displays planned on our side of Manhattan.
I looked out the front door of the hotel and the rain had stopped. It hadn’t cleared yet, but it was looking like it just might. I went back up to plan with the group. Sasha really, really wanted to see fireworks. I doubted that we could get a full view of anything, but figured that we might try to find someplace on the south end that had some view. So we headed out again.
We took the A line down to Fulton Street. This put us near the 9/11 memorial, so we decided to walk through. Construction is still crazy in the area, so we had to circle a pretty big block to two to get to the entry of the park. Sasha was amazed as we walked in. She had asked before where the World Trade Centers were, as when you looked across the city it was really hard to imagine space to fit two gigantic missing buildings. But once in the park, you see the empty spaces of the foundations, surrounded by the names of all those lost, and water endlessly cascading down. We took time to reflect and collect ourselves, then walked over to Fire house 10, across the street from the site. The entire side of the firehouse is a memorial to the firefighters lost on 9/11. I got some dust in my eye and we left. 3,000 didn’t need to die. 100,000 more afterwards didn’t need to die either. It’s a damn waste.
We moved on through the financial district, looking for something or somewhere to get some food and a view of the fireworks. It was pretty empty until we got close to the waterfront. Then we found the crowds. And the Security.
The whole waterfront facing Brooklyn was cut off and secure, police were moving massive crowds along, but we could see no entry into the waterfront. We got close enough to see the waterfront through the barricades, and it was packed. There was just no way this was going to work.
I waved the girls over to a side street and checked the map on my phone. I tried to figure out a better location. This was not going to be easy as I was trying to outsmart the rest of the island of Manhattan. Queens or Brooklyn? Sure. But this was Manhattan. I was going to have to put some effort into this. From what I could tell, if we went to the far side of Battery park, we should be able to see the upper fireworks, and might be able to escape the crowds as well. It wasn’t that far of a walk, so we cut across the island.
Part way we found an *awesome* party street lined with restaurants with tables and flags and the works. We almost stopped there, but it had no view of anything. The food looked amazing, so we decided to come back another day and kept going. The streets on the south end of the island are the oldest, and that means that they are narrow and disjointed, so we were walking a fairly irregular path to move across, but finally we found our way to Battery Park.
The crowds here were really light.
We were getting hungry, so finding a pub or something to hide in until the party started seemed wise. I pulled out one of the Nokia apps on my phone that let you look at a Augmented Reality town with restaurants and points of interest through the phone camera. It showed a place in the park across the street, Wagner Park. I looked in that area, and it seemed empty. We headed over. Sure enough, hidden in the middle of the park was a little Italian place. It was odd. There were people around, but no more that would appear to be a usual crowd. Same with the park. We went in, and asked for a table. They had space on the deck out back. It was a covered deck with open sides. There was a fantastic view of The Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. I walked into the park just a bit as Yulia and Sasha sat down. You could see the sky pretty clearly, so I thought that we should be able to catch at least part of the big show here.
But what interested me was that everyone in the park, which still wasn’t that many people, were sitting down and looking over towards the Statue and Ellis Island. I was missing something. I asked our waiter if there was another fireworks show planned. He said no with some indiscriminate accent, and went about his business of not taking our order. We sat and I could see that Sasha was disappointed that we didn’t have a better view. Really, what could we do? At this point we had food and cover if the rain came back, and should be able to get a view of at least part of the show. And I assumed that something would happen neat the Statue of Liberty, as all these people seemed to be watching.
I got a drink and appetizer order in with a different waiter eventually, and this seemed to piss off our waiter enough that he finally came over and took the rest of our order. A few small fireworks were visible over New Jersey, and these were nice to see. Our wine arrived, along with the appetizer, and I checked my watch. There was at least a half hour before fireworks would start behind us, so we BOOM.
Something serious lit up over New Jersey, and it wasn’t a tire fire. The people who were waiting in the park, facing what I thought was the wrong way cheered. I wasn’t sure what happened, then a huge display started going off behind Ellis Island. Apparently, the main display for New Jersey was over Liberty Park, right behind Ellis Island. The folks in this park had come over from Jersey to watch the show. No one in New York had any idea about it. Our waiter ran past our table into the park to watch the show. Great service that. Sasha lit up and went into the park as well. I swapped seats to Yulia and Sasha had a better view. And the display went on. And On. And kept getting bigger. It was really amazing. It went on long enough that Sasha came back, and even our waiter did too. We finally got food and ate while this show continued. After a seriously long time, this show had a grand finale and finished. With that done, we could see and hear the New York show. From the park you could see the upper fireworks, and they were good. I’m sure it was fantastic from one of the better viewing areas.
We ate until the food and fireworks were done. It was a total stroke of luck. We walked from the restaurant to the main street north, and hailed a cab home. There were no crowds in our area, and we got back quickly. It really worked out for the best, and Sasha got her fireworks.