A mere 96 hours of travel is but a teasing taste of contentment for a wanderlust soul, like tempting a sugar-starved dieter with frosted cake before ripping it away after one bite. And a long weekend in New York City doesn’t quite meet the standards of my typical off-the-beaten-path destinations. But, as I am handicapped by “the job” and other commitments, I’ll take any type of adventure that resets my wayfaring spirit button. This includes Friday night trips to Chicago, an autumn afternoon curled up with National Geographic…or a frenzied four-day glimpse into the Big Apple’s hodgepodge of locales, eateries, and glorious lights. Only this time, I was able to share my globe-trotting zeal with my mom by my side.
The two hour trip from O’Hare to LaGuardia was simple. We boarded American Airlines at 7:30 a.m. with our carry-on luggage and arrived in Manhattan just before the clock struck 12:00 noon. Though I adamantly researched shuttles and buses into the city, I either A) didn’t want to make mom walk the extra blocks dragging a suitcase or B) had to admit that I wasn’t entirely sure where we were going in the city just yet. Give me a day to learn the streets, please. Therefore, we jumped into a waiting taxi queue (no line) and stared at the towering buildings as our driver slid through traffic and dropped us off at Hotel 17.
Note: Though Hotel 17 is idyllic and exudes a 1920’s charm, it is certainly not for any uptight, claustrophobic hotel stayers. The rooms were small, the wallpaper peeling, and the shared, but always clean, communal bathroom was down the hall. Also, the two men that split the rotating front desk shift needed a touch more charisma – or at least a smile once in a while.
Hitting the NYC Streets: Our 3.75 days were full and…just full. We rose at 7:30 a.m. to shower, a check of NYC weather on CBS (funny how the CBS studio was just a few blocks away), and were soon bouncing out the door to find coffee and breakfast. Luckily we had PERFECT – mostly sunny- weather, and we saw the best that NYC had to flaunt on a glorious fall weekend.
Day 1- Downtown, Financial District, Hell’s Kitchen: After dropping our bags off at Hotel 17, Mom and I meandered down Broadway to the Financial District. Wall Street was uneventful and dreary. I expected to see swarms of business suits or perhaps even a run-in with Mr. Trump. Not so much. We peaked inside Trinity Episcopal Church and then stood outside the NYC Stock Exchange to absorb the number-savy, Mensa vibes radiating from the building.
Not wanting to be late for our date with the Phantom of the Opera, we headed towards the Theater Distract and Time Square via the oh-so-easy-Subway. I did take a few wrong turns and had to reorient myself with “Uptown” vs “Downtown” more than once on this trip, but I think I have the green line and yellow lines pretty well navigated by now.
Times Square was everything I had heard it would be. Crowds….just plain masses of people moving in no particular rhythm, so many lights, and lots of crazy noise. I, for one, cannot stand crowds. Too many people make me especially anxious and my OCD kicks in to full tilt from full-blown annoyance. A few picture snaps and a quick circle turn were all I needed before heading off Times Square into Hell’s Kitchen to find dinner. We passed block after block of Italian, Argentinian, and Japanese food before finally settling on Thai cuisine at Yum Yum, Bangkok restaurant. Dinner was “yum yum” with just enough spice and plenty of wine. Our evening was then made complete with a trip to our first Broadway show, The Phantom of the Opera. I’m embarrassed to say that I was unaware of the actual story behind the famous theatrical tale, but the show was truly magnificent. The singing, the theatrics, the displays and special effects – just WOW!
Day 2- Staten Island, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 5th Ave: Day two began with breakfast at Joe Jr’s Diner and an entire pot of coffee. Much to the chagrin of my friends and boyfriend, I’m an old school fan of paper city maps and have yet to welcome GPS technology or silly phone apps into my life. Give me a coffee-stained, well-used map anyday and I’m a happy girl. NYC was no exception and on a much-needed caffeine high, we set off for the downtown ferry terminal with my trusty map tucked in my pocket.
The Staten Island ferry is a free trip by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Starting from Whitehall Terminal near Battery Park, the ferry takes about 25 minutes to cross the waterway to Staten Island’s St. George Terminal. The ferry departs every half-hour and is a fantastic way to see the harbor, the spectacular skyline of Manhattan, and, of course, the majestic Statue of Liberty. Following a quick jaunt around Staten Island, we literally ran back to St. George Terminal, slipped through the closing doors, and hopped onboard for the return trip.
Upon returning to Whitehall Terminal, we covered many miles weaving in and out of NYC’s hotspots. A walk through Battery Park, a stroll along the South Street Seaport, a hustle across the Brooklyn Bridge, a peek at the 9/11 Memorial and Tribeca, and a quick coffee refueling at Starbucks filled up the rest of the morning. Then it was time to head back to “Uptown” for Saturday afternoon mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral followed by The Newsies, our second Broadway show of the weekend. Of course, we had to stop by Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center along the way for some candid moments. The Newsies was simply fan-bloody-tastic. Again – no true words to describe it. (I should point out that I still watch the original VHS Newsies movie with Christian Bale. Long before The Dark Knight and The Fighter, he had a fan club….albeit a very small one.)
Day 3 – Central Park and the Upper East Side: Central Park was alive with joggers, dog walkers, and strollers on Sunday morning. We enjoyed breakfast by the Loeb Boathouse and set off to explore the nearly 850 acres of NYC Central Park grounds. No, we didn’t walk clear around Central Park, but we did find a few less trodden paths and plenty of ducks to enjoy. The Metropolitan Museum of Art borders the Upper East Side and Central Park along 5th Avenue. We couldn’t pass up a moment to gawk at our favorite artists and the MET has some of my most loved collections: Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and more. My mother and I both realized we are somewhat of “Impressionist Snobs” as we had no desire to see the Asian, Native American, or Contemporary Collections, though I’m sure they were spectacular. Perhaps I’ll become interested in textiles and metal helmets later in life, but until then, give me the water lilies, sunflowers, and ballet dancers from my favorite men.
Lunchtime brought us to a cozy, yet bustling cafe, along Park Avenue. I had the most fun engaging in some intense people watching by guesstimating average incomes (and clothing labels) of my fellow diners. Mom then proceeded to become best-friends with the restaurant owner who pulled up a chair and sat with us for a bit. He asked us what our plans were for the following day, and after pulling out my map (tee-hee), he pointed us towards SoHo and Greenwich Village for some thrift shopping and artsy boutiques.
Cocktail hour arrived much too quickly. Unfortunately, the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza was closed for remodeling. Though we had intended on enjoying some wine and a glorious Manhattan view at this famous 65th floor bar, the kindly security guard directed us towards the Marriott Marquis along Times Square instead. Complete with a huge wall of floor to ceiling windows overlooking Times Square, the bar at the Marriott Marquis offered expensive, but tasty cocktails and a simply fantastic view of bustling Times Square. I believe we spent more money on our wine and hummus appetizer than we did on any other meal during our NYC stay, but the scenery and atmosphere were certainly worth the extravagance.
A night with the The Jersey Boys rounded out our Broadway experience. We purchased these tickets last minute at the TKTS booth on Times Square and had some great seats in the orchestra seating area. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons have quite a story to share.
Day 4- Lower Manhattan, SOHO, Little Italy, Chinatown, Greenwich Village: We spent our final NYC day exploring SOHO and the tiny, eclectic neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan. Little Italy and Chinatown were colorful, loud, and vibrant with restaurants, fish markets, and souvenir shops. Little Italy had some especially delicious looking menus, but we didn’t have the few hours necessary to fully enjoy a sit-down meal on this visit. It also seemed to be the ideal neighborhood in which to shop, though nothing was truly Italian. We purchased some scarves (made in India), some Christmas ornaments (made in China), and a few souvenir t-shirts (made in Thailand).
With just a few hours remaining on our NYC weekend, we tuckered down on a shady bench in Union Square for some final moments. Chess players touting $5 games lined the sidewalk, and the lunch crowd brought Whole Food’s to-go bags here to soak up Autumn’s final rays of sunshine. A nearby farmer’s market sold fresh bread and organic apples, and excited pups frolicked on a tiny, but suitable, square of grass. New York simply waltzed around us on it’s interminable, yet bedazzling carousel.