New York City—center of the universe. No clearer a hub for culture, commerce, and of course, crazy tourism. The sights and "points of interest" are among the most famous in the world and with them come tourists. New York is so popular among travelers, allowing yourself to be shamelessly touristy is an experience as authentic as any other New York lifestyle, I would argue. The ability to slip right into the environment and become just another commuter adds to the appeal of this great city.
In March, we visited New York for 5 days (really 3.7, but who is counting?). Both with a spirit of celebration (for Cindy's birthday) and recovery (for nursing a red-eye and a head cold), we approached the city with a positive but measured attitude. Happily, New York would take care of us throughout.
We took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York, witnessing the sun rise just 20 minutes before landing.
On the flight, I only slept the distance from Colorado to Iowa (on the digital map). I'm always over-optimistic about sleeping through red-eyes. When we landed, we lumbered tiredly towards the AirTrain, slopped onto the E train, and rode out to Manhattan. For all of our exhaustion, we were overcome with a sense of adventure when we surfaced in Midtown among the locals as they executed their morning routine. We had made it!
We went to our hotel and dropped off our luggage. Even though it hurt to keep our eyes open, we had nearly 6 hours to explore the town before we could check into our room. Step one was to acquire caffeine, and fast. Step two was to start walking and see what we ran into. It was at that point that we found ourselves in Rockefeller Center.
While I could hear the 30 Rock theme song in my head, we admittedly caught Rockefeller Center at a dull moment. The Today Show crowd had already dispersed and the ice rink was mostly empty. This wouldn't have been so disappointing if it weren't for a nippy wind hurling between the buildings. The wind made it impossible to appreciate the gorgeous art-deco architecture adorned with paintings and statues. We sought refuge in a Lego Store but soon chose to move on when noticing that Times Square was a few blocks away.
Times Square is Times Square. It is terrifically iconic and active and appears in front of you exactly as you would imagine (after watching every movie set in New York, ever). The juxtaposition of modern glass towers looming overhead, framed by bright and animated LED signage, all above sidewalks filled with dumpy character knock-offs was absolutely charming. When we arrived, a marching band was amping up a growing crowd, competing with noise from a construction site across the street. We moved on to the other side of the hourglass-shaped landmark for more photos before continuing on. We knew we would be back to catch a Broadway show and figured the tourist hotspot would be even more exciting at night.
We continued down 42nd Street in the direction we started, pausing momentarily in Bryant Park to sit and daydream. We carried our jet lag like a sack of bricks and it was evident we were leaking energy with every step. What better way to reenergize and wake up than with a library, right? Right???
Contrary to perhaps our better judgement, we decided to check out the New York Public Library, which looked prestigious and regal with its two lion-statues, "Patience" and "Fortitude", guarding the front of the building. Or are they sleeping? They might be sleeping. Either way, we went in and after wandering around a bit, we were offered a free, hour-long tour of the building. Both hoping to kill time to check-in and unwilling to say no to the quaint old-person pitching the tour, we agreed and were sticker-ed with a few other tourists.
For all of my groaning, I happen to rather enjoy the tour. It gave me a much higher degree of appreciation for the building and its public utilities. My personal favorite room was the "map room". As a student of history who loves to meander through Google Earth, it was the perfect crossing of two of my interests. There was also a great exhibit on World War I which caught my fancy.
After the library, we continued further down 42nd street until arriving in front of the Grand Central Terminal. Of course, we didn't recognize it as Grand Central Terminal but rather as "that place where the Avengers finally gelled as a team to take down the invading Chitauri forces". That's the funny thing about being a tourist in New York—you have an awkward familiarization with places from the movies you have seen them in.
After bickering about lunch for a while (we were both in a tired/hungry/critical mood) we settled for an uncomfortable cafeteria and nourished ourselves. This calmed us down to the point we could manage to enjoy a walk through the Grand Central Terminal, admiring its famous central timepiece and the map of stars across its teal ceiling. Once on the other side, we walked down Park Avenue until eventually reaching our hotel. It was an hour before check-in but our recent spat proved it was time to call it a morning and settle down.
Our hotel was super-minimalist and yet perfect for our needs. It was like a private, luxury hostel, if that even makes sense. Our room consisted of a box with a bed in it and the bathroom was even smaller; the shower had just enough room to stand in and you had to be careful to not let your bare-back touch the hot lantern opposite of the faucet. Still, I found the room to be charming in its own way and as it was situated on the building's corner, we had great views to the north and the east!
We unpacked our stuff and fell into the bed. We told ourselves "just a little nap". With painful tiredness and the last-stand of a head cold I picked up in California, I should have known that at 3:00pm, we would be in for the night.
The next day we woke up early to stroll through Central Park and see the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. This day happened to be Cindy's birthday and hoping to make it extra special, we chose this night to see a Broadway show. Inspired by a hilarious performance at the Tonys and hearing good things, we chose to see A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which was absolutely wonderful. Even in the nose-bleeds, we had a fantastic view in the tiny Walter Kerr Theatre.
Just before the show, we treated ourselves to some perfect Italian food at a small, welcoming joint a few blocks away and strolled around Times Square at night, lit up and brilliant.
With a belly-full of beer and garlic knots, the evening could not go wrong and we went to bed thrilled with New York. The following day, we would catch a train to Philadelphia to meet Cindy's friend Jose for a nice day-trip. Soon thereafter, we would be back in New York.
So far, everything we had visited has been in Midtown, around the center of Manhattan. On our fourth morning in the City, we took off towards the south of Manhattan to see the most famous of New York landmarks, the Statue of Liberty.
[Jahaungeer's Note: Our visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island will constitute its own blog post at a later date]
When our ferry docked back at the tip of Manhattan, we went off in search of food and found ourselves strolling down a large pedestrian corridor right towards the nearly completed One World Trade Center. We ducked into an upscale food court and enjoyed one of the nicest meals of the trip before deciding to head across the street. At the risk of sounding overdramatic, it felt like paying our respects at the National September 11 Memorial was proper and necessary.
The Memorial was beautiful and haunting, drawing attention to both the people who were taken from their families and the buildings who were taken from New York and by extension, the rest of America. It was also surrounded by an active construction zone but enough of the architecture was taking shape to see the vision coming together (the unique wing-shaped building is the PATH transportation hub). Lastly, there was the National September 11 Museum. The queue was long and admission was $24, so we chose to skip it but we were able to see steel framework from the original Twin Towers through the window.
After visiting the memorial, we caught a train back to our hotel. We rested a bit and then went out for pizza, which was a New York bucket-list item. We were then back at the hotel to prepare for our final day.
I had actually visited most of these iconic places as a child, on a family-trip to New York. While it was wonderful to revisit them as an adult, and through Cindy's eyes, I knew I wanted a "new to me" experience. On our last day in New York, we had a departing flight at 8pm, giving us plenty of time to experience just a little bit more of the city. I knew I wanted to check-out an icon I had not yet seen—the Brooklyn Bridge.
Following anonymous internet advice, we took the subway out to Brooklyn in order to walk across the bridge towards Manhattan, with the entire Manhattan skyline glowing in the morning sun. It was great advice.
While on the Brooklyn Bridge, we started to plan out our remaining few hours in New York. Looking across the bridge, we saw the Empire State Building centered in the skyline. Despite every instinct and intention to stay away from what was unanimously labeled a tourist trap, we knew that visiting the tower would be the perfect way to cap off our trip to New York City.
The Empire State Building's online site announced a 45-minute wait to get to the top. It would prove to be almost 90. Despite this, and the fact we each paid $32 to essentially ride an elevator, the experience and the employees were nice and so we remained patient. When we reached the 80th floor, there was one remaining 6-story elevator (with its own queue), so we opted to take the stairs. Our efforts had finally paid off!
The Empire State Building was the perfect conclusion to our trip to New York City. It was like a greatest-hits reel, where we could see everything we enjoyed over the last 5 days, from up above.
From there, we would return to the hotel to pick up our bags and catch the E-train back to JFK. There, we would flick-on the camera, looking, laughing, and reminiscing as we reviewed our trip-photos, waiting for our plane.
To see more of those photos, check out the gallery below!: