March 10, 2012

New York State of Mind

I had never been to New York City until last weekend.  Growing up and seeing it in movies and on television, it was very magical to me.  I love big cities, so how could I not love New York?  What I didn't know is that many people do not share my magical dreams of the "Capitol of the World."

Maybe it's a Midwest thing and people are a little afraid, but before we went, I had many people warn me that it was scary, expensive, smelly, dirty and everyone was mean.  I shrugged it off and as soon as our plane landed at LaGuardia airport, I had forgotten all the warnings.  I was ready to feel the magic...

Driving into the city should have been scary, but my friend, Andy, picked us up at the airport and delivered us to midtown Manhattan with ease.  He waited until we were checked into our hotel and then he took us shopping in stores I am pretty sure I was under dressed for and for the most expensive lunch in a deli called Benash near Times Square.  His salad was $25.00.  Justin & I split a cheeseburger that was a measly $16.00 and a pitcher of beer - happy vacation.

We headed to a small bar down the street named P.J. Carney's and had a few cocktails and then Andy headed out of the city where he had business to attend to.  It was great to see him and catch up.  Here we were, in the middle of Times Square, with no agenda.


Checking something off my 30 before 30 list was way more exciting than I could possibly imagine.  Standing in the middle of Times Square was pretty uneventful, so we found another small cocktail bar and hopped up to the counter.  We shared some friendly conversation with our Scottish bartender and the nice woman next to us joined in.  She was from Melbourne, Australia and was visiting her brother-in-law and his family for her 4 week holiday.  She had never been to New York either and was seeing her first Broadway show.  She was very friendly and shared some of her adventures over the years with us.  She has been to Japan many times to snowboard and said it is a must at some point in your life.  We stayed and had some appetizers and chatted for a while and by the time we left, it was dark.  We found a night time tour bus and bought a two day pass.  We boarded the bus and saw much of the city lit up.  We were pretty exhausted from our long day, so we found a few slices of pizza and headed back to the hotel to call it a night.


Day Two - Friday in the city.  We used our two day bus passes and hopped on for the downtown tour.  We had the best tour guide named Deborah.  She called us "Minnesota" all morning and we were brave enough to face the 40 degree weather and sit on the top deck of the bus so we could take pictures.  She even guessed that I was a housewife fan and took us by the Zarin fabrics store.  Even though, Bethenny will always be my favorite, it was cool seeing something that is ALWAYS on the show.


One thing I didn't think about before our trip was the fact that so many of the people we would encounter were so close to the World Trade Center on 9-11-01.  Our tour guide told us her story.  We drove by the hospital that many of the victims were taken and she said that when it happened, she jumped on her bike and headed towards that end of town to see what she could do to help and to try & find her loved ones.  She said that turning one corner was like crossing into a whole different universe.  All of a sudden, she was riding into clouds of ash and there were people running everywhere.  I can't even picture it in my head.  The tiles in this picture were near the hospital and it's a local memorial for the victims that day.  So simple, but so beautiful at the same time.

We crossed through all the different neighborhoods that make up Manhattan.  We found some beautiful houses that we wouldn't mind living in. The tour took us down near Battery Park, which Justin and I knew immediately that we would need to return to during our weekend stay.  We saw the United Nations building and a few different Trump towers.  Our guide was full of stories and random facts - that's our favorite.  We barely even used our NYC book.  She took us around the Chrysler building, which I think was her favorite because she gave us about 7 different good photos opportunities.  It is such a beautiful building.

Once we got around the Chrysler building, we switched over to the Uptown tour.  It was less interesting because it was an automated tour guide that we just listed to on headphones.  We went through Harlem and saw Grant's tomb.  We got our first good look at New Jersey.  We passed by Macy's and some of the well known department stores.  They took us around Central Park and museum mile.  Once that tour was done, we started to walk.  We set off from 55th Ave and headed downtown.


After walking about 20 blocks, we were in the Greenwich Village area and found a small restaurant called Waverly Place.  We each got a soda and shared Chicken Souvlaki.  I love when Justin lets me pick something weird.  He actually really liked it, but probably wouldn't have ordered it because the name is funky.  I LOVE Greek food.  After Waverly Place, we walked a bit more and found the neighborhood that we had been searching for.  Washington Square Park was near the place that I had longed to see more than anyone else in NYC...


I have seen the Peanut Butter Company featured on the Food Network many times before and just knew that it was meant to be that Justin & I find this magical palace of Peanut Butter when we were in New York.  It is a very small shop, but all the employees were singing songs from Wicked and making great recommendations on what to order.  We decided on the Elvis which has roasted bananas, honey and their homemade crunchy peanut butter on wheat toast.  We shared a grade soda.  It was amazing and exactly what I had been hoping for.  I love it when a place meets your expectations and then knocks them out of the park.   Check them out at www.ilovepeanutbutter.com.  We hung out in Washington Square for a little bit and laughed about the fact that we had been eating about every 15 blocks as we explored the city.


The other piece of important information that our lovely tour guide, Deborah, gave us was regarding the World Trade Center Memorial.  We didn't know that visiting required reservations.  It just opened in September and for a while, only families of the victims were allowed.  When they opened it to the general public, the reservations came in quickly and it was near impossible to go on short notice.  We were bummed, but figured we would just have to see it the next time we can.  Deborah told us that they had been having a slow week because it isn't really tourist season and they didn't fill up all their reservations, so she told us to approach the people at the front gate and ask if we could be on standby.  They handed us a ticket and we waited in a small line for about 4 minutes and then we got it.  Finding words to describe this is really hard.



While you are in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, all you are able to hear is the sound of the water in the memorial.  It's almost eerie.  You can't hear the people talking around you, you don't hear any taxis honking or construction work going on around you.  You only hear the water.  They are still building the Freedom Tower and it is a beast, located right next to the memorial.  I included a photo of what it looks like currently.  It is a very cool building because the final plan looks like two buildings have molded together to form one.  It's very symbolic.

Justin & I walked around both the north & the south pools.  There were people taking photos in front of it and there were people standing quietly with their fingers over a name - possibly a loved one or even just a stranger - and it's very emotional.  I really feel lucky that we were able to experience this during our trip there and I recommend that everyone take some time and experience this.


Freedom Tower as of 3-2-12
Another recommendation is to try and make it towards the end of the day.  It doesn't stay open very late, but we were there when it was starting to get dark and the way that the fountains light up at night cannot even be captured with a camera.  Seriously, took my breath away.

As we reached the street and back to the hustle & bustle, we decided to make our way back down to Battery Park to check out the view of Lady Liberty in the nighttime.  The camera had died and we didn't have batteries at that moment so that was something we had to take pictures of with our brains.  We found a place right on the water called Pier 17 and there was a bar named Sequoia.  We had the bartender serve us his signature drink, which I guess was called Pirate Hurricane Punch (I felt like we may have accidentally landed at the Jersey Shore), but we enjoyed it and sat out on the water.  It was so quiet there as well.  There were only about 5 people in the bar at 8:30 on a Friday night.

We left there with sore feet and were determined to take the subway for the first time.  We quickly got over that idea when we realized that we were only blocks away from Chinatown & Little Italy.  We decided to keep moving on our blistered feet and see what good food we could find.  We wandered through the streets of Chinatown, window shopping for chopsticks and silky pajamas.  We walked into a Chinese Market and the first thing we saw were chicken feet.  We decided that wasn't really the food we were looking for.

We finally found the 2 blocks that are now Little Italy.  Every single restaurant has someone out front that tries to pull you inside.  That gave me a weird feeling.  We weren't super hungry, but both decided that dessert sounded good and we hadn't really indulged in sweets in the two days we had been there.  We asked a nice man where to find the best desserts and he immediately shouted out FERRARA.  This place started in 1892 and it was the real deal.  We sat down at a table for two and stared at a super long menu and had no idea.  We told our server that we wanted Cannoli and maybe something new.  He knew just what to bring us.


It was the most amazing dessert.  So much mousse and sugar and creme and Italian names I could not pronounce.  I think if I had to pick my favorite kind of food, it would be Italian.  I mean REAL Italian.  Once we left Ferrara, we found the Subway and headed back to the Hotel.  Another early night, but we had a fun food filled day and our feet were in ROUGH shape.  We soaked them in the bathtub and fell asleep watching Nick at Night - man, we are party animals.

Whew, this blog post is long.

Day 3 - Saturday, Justin & I woke up and got coffee and got ourselves brand new shoes.  We felt like we were walking on clouds.  We were lucky enough to meet up with Justin's friend, Dave, that he hasn't seen since he left California 15 years ago.  He came up from the subway and greeted us with a big smile.  He is a bit of a foodie as well, so we were in for a whole bunch of treats.  We started in the Upper West Side at a little spot called Cafe Ronda.  Justin tried their Wellington which was an english muffin with filet mignon, spinach, egg and cheese.  I tried three bites and was in love.  Dave also recommended the Baked Eggs, which I ordered and they came still bubbling with Parmesan Cheese.  They were amazing.  My mission is to find a place around here that has the same dish and try it.

We followed up brunch by visiting Jacques Torres, the famous New York Chocolatier.  Seriously, what a great investment.  I will be treating myself and all of my friends to this glorious chocolate as often as my wallet will allow.  CHECK IT OUT!  www.mrchocolate.com

We hopped on the subway and headed to Brooklyn.  Dave was determined to get us out of Manhattan and see some places that we would not have seen on our own.  We strolled through the neighborhood of Williamsburg and checked out some awesome stores along the way.

We ended our stroll right outside the Brooklyn Brewery.  They sell 5 beers for $20.00 and you can sample 8 different kinds.  We spent a good portion of our Saturday afternoon chatting with law students from So Cal as we shared a table.  Once we had a decent buzz, we were obviously drawn to some good New York hot dogs.  I got the classic, but Justin tried the "Chihuahua" which had slices of avocado and sour cream on the dog.  We were all quite satisfied with our choices and our adventure in Brooklyn.


We hopped in a cab and headed to Queens which is where Dave & his wife, Giana, live with their Chihuahua, Nero.  He brought us to a small establishment not far from their house to have a beer and meet his wife.  We had a nice dinner and got to know Giana better.  I had crab cakes that were quite wonderful and a little more beer.  Justin had a steak & cheese sandwich.  I even tried mussels for the first time, not a fan really.  We finished up there and we parted at the subway station.  Justin & I headed back into Manhattan.  We weren't ready to call it an early night like we had the last two, so we wondered around for a while. We ended up at the one and only Rockefeller Plaza.


This is exactly how I pictured this.  We went inside to see if we could still get to the Top of the Rock, but the ticket counter was closed.  The nice man at the front desk showed us around the building a little though.  The ceiling on the inside is a moving mural that really tricks your eyes.  It's impossible to show anyone with a picture of it, so I just recommend you take a minute to ask about it if you are ever there.  We didn't get to see Lindsay Lohan, who was pathetically hosting SNL that evening, but that was just fine with me.  We headed to the Carnegie Deli, which Dave has recommended and allowed ourselves to devour the largest & most expensive dessert tab I have ever had... at midnight.


Our last day, we tried to fit in the big things that we wanted to do that we hadn't accomplished yet.  Number one on the itinerary was Central Park.  We got coffee right away and headed to the park.  We watched some figure skating competitions, walked around the winding paths near the lake and checked out Strawberry Fields.




The park is absolutely wonderful.  The San Remo building, which are the two towers all the way on the right on the picture above, is a very expensive residence that has housed famous residents like Steven Spielberg, Tiger Woods and Bono.  I can see why it's so expensive with one of the best views in all of New York City.

We also admired the Dakota, which had one very famous resident who was killed in front of the building December 8, 1980.  John Lennon lived in the building with Yoko Ono, who still calls the building home sometimes.  We saw the place that he took his last breath and the memorial to him across the street in the park.  The architecture of the building itself is incredible and it also has a magnificent Central Park view.

We ventured from Central Park back into the city to climb 67 stories to the Top of the Rock.  We had heard the line was shorter and admissions were cheaper and the views were better when you compared this to the Empire State Building.  15 minutes later, we were standing on top of the building with glass walls and the open sky.  You could see all of Manhattan and so much more.




I was craving pizza again after this adventure, so we stopped at a place called Cafe Napoli, just off Park Avenue, and ordered large Mimosas and a 4 Formaggi Pizza.  We sat there with amazement at all the things we had done while in New York so far.

We decided that the best way to spend our last evening in the big city is to see a show on Broadway (part of my 30 before 30 list).  We headed to the TKTS booth in Times Square and got tickets to see Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.  We were also invited to have a glass of wine with my family's old neighbors.  Their daughter lives in NYC full time and she was one of my best friends when we were really little.  It had been years since we had seen them, so it was really great to connect.  Their apartment is in Lower Manhattan in the Gehry building (near the Brooklyn Bridge) on the 44th floor.  It had the most amazing view and was a corner unit.  There was a tad bit of jealously.  Here are the photos we took right from their Living Room:



They get to watch the Empire State Building light up every night.  We jumped on the Subway from there and made it just in time to start the show.  It was such a great way to end our trip to NYC.


New York City will be a good friend of ours.  We had so much fun.  We caught up with some old friends and even some new ones.  We ate such good food in so many different places.  We were blessed by a homeless man that was chanting in a fake language and using a lighter (pretending he was holding holy water).  We saw a man that was balancing his cat on top of his head... wish I would have gotten a picture of that.  We already have a list of things we want to do the next time we're here... trust me, we'll be back soon.

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Thanks for reading my ramblings. It makes my heart happy.