June 8, 2012

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 3, The Final Installment)

Alas, we've come to the final post (for now!) about the best place in the world, New York City... If you're entering the story a little late, be sure to catch up on the adventure before proceeding:

Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 1)  and  Still My Favorite Place... NYC (Part 2)

After our first long day in the City, Becky and I took a day off to visit with my family. Truth be told, this is the reason I love NY so much. The city has magic and appeal, but when you add that to a wonderful, loving family? Nothing beats it.

Being married to the military has its advantages, but one of the major drawbacks is being separated from family, be it your spouse or extended relatives. What I've noticed, though, is the separation makes reunions that much sweeter.

So despite the glamour of city lights, my best moment in NY was when my dad (who lives 8 hours away from NYC), surprised me as I stepped off the plane.

Me and my dad

Yep, I cried. You would have too, don't deny it!

So, while the visit changed my plans a bit, it was all for the better. I was able to see my dad, my grandmother, my cousins, my aunt, and (as he'll tell you) my favorite -always picks me up from the airport - uncle. A break from the hustle and bustle was just what I needed before another busy afternoon in the city.

The next day, Becky and I hopped the train back to Manhattan, but this time we had a stowaway... my dad. His train was leaving from Penn station that morning. It's never easy to say goodbye, and (you guessed it), I naturally cried all over again. After breakfast together, my dad left for home while Becky and I meandered toward the Fashion District, snapping photo after photo as we walked.

The day was overcast, with rain expected at any time. We hurried down the streets, anxious to capture what we could while we could. Billboards and advertisements caught my eye, impossible to miss.

The sheer size of these promotions will blow you away. Billboards wrap around buildings, they light up or change colors. Everything that can be done to capture the consumer's attention, it is done and done big. Half my time in NY is spent apologizing, mostly because I tend to stare up at the buildings instead of watching where my feet are going. I'm probably really lucky that no one has pushed me in front of a cab yet!

Somehow though, we managed to make our way into the famed Fashion District. I would say I am definitely not a fashion expert, but I can appreciate those who are. I mean, hey... I watch Project Runway! (Feel free to snicker, point your finger at me, and then laugh uproariously. I understand, truly).  

Ok, so I know very little about fashion, and what I do know is based on various reality TV shows. However, I absolutely loved our impromptu walking tour. The advertisements, the shops, the fun things in the windows... it's worth a quick look-see, whoever you might be, regardless of your expertise (or in my case, inexpertness).

Seeing the City on foot is (in my opinion), the only way to fly. When you take too many cab rides and subways, you miss out on the pulse, the smells... the sheer life that's moving all around you. You may see the same thing more than once, but it's always from another angle, a new perspective.

Some of the sights we wandered past were:

See, it's worth some slightly sore feet, right? We walked past most of these sights in about 45 minutes of aimless meandering. Imagine what you could do with a plan...

Actually, Becky and I did have a plan. A vague one, to be sure, but a plan nonetheless. With storm clouds threatening overhead, our first goal was to hike the Brooklyn Bridge without getting soaked!

When Becky mentioned this on her list of "must do" things, I was... surprised. No one has ever asked this of me before. Usually, everyone has the same list (if you're thinking of visiting, I bet some of them are on yours!):
          1. The Empire State Building
          2. The Statue of Liberty
          3. Rockefeller Center
          4. Central Park
          5. Broadway and a show
          6. Ground Zero
          7. St. Patrick's Cathedral
          8. The Met

There are other things on the list, and they vary some from person to person. Some of these were also on Becky's list. But no one has ever included a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, at least on their first visit.

This is one of the many reasons why I love Becky. She thinks outside the box.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

Despite the bit of rain falling on our heads, we loved our walk. In fact, this unusual request turned out to be my favorite part of the trip! Lesson learned.

The Brooklyn Bridge is only about 1.1 miles long, so it doesn't take very long to walk across. Residents probably make the hike in less than 25 minutes, because they mostly just want to get to the other side. Of course, a runner can cut that time down considerably. The bridge also keeps a bike path, so watch out! Don't cross the line to their side of the bridge, or you may find yourself flattened.

For the average tourist, I suggest blocking out an hour for the hike. You'll want to read the plaques, discover the history. The views from the bridge will beg you to stop for photographs. It's likely you will hail down passing strangers to take your photo in front of the skyline. Seeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance? That easily adds another 10 minutes of oohing and ahhing.

Becky and I took our time, for sure. 

Of course, the bridge itself isn't the only benefit to the hike. On the other side is the borough of Brooklyn (hence the name, doh).

Although Becky and I didn't spend too much time in Brooklyn, there are many things to see and do there. Just as you exit the bridge, you see Brooklyn Bridge Park. Some of the park is still under construction, but there are many restaurants, recreation areas, dog parks, and playgrounds available for use.

Jane's Carousel

For example, I took this photo right off the side of the bridge. The carousel was donated in 1992 by Jane and David Walentas, and it is now operated year-round. I wish we'd had time for a spin, but Becky and I were on a mission!

Yes, that's right... a mission. A very important one, at that.

We were... in search of.... lunch.

I know lunch doesn't seem like an important mission, but it is when you're looking for Grimaldi's, known for some of the best pizza EVER.

The small restaurant is located under the Brooklyn Bridge, and it habitually has a line out the door. Even in the rain, a line quickly formed behind Becky and I as we waited for the pizzeria to open. Fair warning to all who stand in line: Grimaldi's is included on many of the city's sightseeing tours. There are busloads of people (literally, buses) that have lunch at Grimaldi's as part of their tour. SO, while we waited in the rain, a tour group piled in ahead of us, with no wait at all.

Luckily, there was still space for us! We took our seats at a table meant for four, but we weren't alone for long. Be prepared to share your table space with whomever was in line behind you! Grimaldi's packs them in, for good reason. The flow of people didn't cease whilst we were there.

But oh.... oh MY... the smell inside was heavenly. Tomatoes and basil, sausage and pepperoni... nom nom nom.You can watch your pie being made (translation for all the currently clueless: pie = pizza), or you can simply plop at your table and wait.

Becky and I were the plopping type. The rain soaked up some of our energy, and we were ready for a break. The pie didn't take long to be delivered, which was especially nice after waiting outside for the doors to open.

Our pie
Fresh mozzarella! Crispy crust! Chunky tomatoes!

I just wiped away a little bit of drool, seriously. You have no idea.

The pizza is hot, fresh, and yummily. Trust me here. If you happen to stop by this NY landmark, don't forget to carry cash... Grimaldi's doesn't accept cards. There was an ATM available for those who forgot, but you've been forewarned now. Try not to act like a tourist!

So, the pizza went a long way to revive mine and Becky's spirits. However, the rain was coming down all the harder as we stepped outside. Rather than risk pneumonia by hiking our way back across the bridge, we caught a cab. In this situation, catching a cab (if you can find one) is perfectly acceptable. I wouldn't lie to you.

What does anyone do after they've just eaten some of the best pizza New York City has to offer? They have dessert, of course!

THIS... this is one of my absolute favorite places in New York. Whether it had been on Becky's list or not, we were going. I never, ever miss a chance to eat in Little Italy. If I could, I would do nothing but eat here all day long. Awesome for my taste buds, not so great for my hips.

Another good reason not to take a taxi cab everywhere you go? The walking is good justification to eat whatever you want. At least, that's the reasoning I use!

Since we'd already eaten lunch, Becky and I stopped for something sweet. You'd be hard pressed to find bad food in Little Italy, so don't worry too much about what restaurant you're stepping into. Just follow your nose. For us, I really wanted to show Becky one of my favorite places for dessert and coffee, Ferrara's. Normally, I would sit outside and watch all the people wander by, but as a nod to the rain we wandered into the quiet interior.

A more traditional dessert might be tiramisu or cannoli (delish!), but I opted for carrot cake and a mocha cappuccino. My reasoning? The Hubs won't eat carrot cake, so I try to order it whenever he's not around. Sweet, right?

Well, whatever my justifications, that cake was worth it!

Once you've had your cake and coffee, take some time to wander the shops. They are total tourist traps, but you can find all of your 'I Heart New York' paraphernalia here for fairly decent prices. I usually pick up an item or two for whomever I've left at home.

From there, take a stroll around Chinatown... it's only a few blocks over.

Chinatown, NYC
Here, you can find more tourist shops with everything from traditional trinkets to watches and chopsticks. Don't be afraid to bargain! It's expected, and you can always get a lower price. If the shopkeeper won't budge, just head on down to the next shop. They will likely carry the exact same items, and may be willing to do a better deal.

Also be prepared for strange people to approach you on the street, whispering the names of fashionable designers in your ear... Prada, Gucci? You can find plenty of knockoffs on these streets. If you show an interest, you'll be led to a 'secret' place where you can peruse the wares. But be warned! I'm pretty sure it's illegal. Otherwise, why the secrecy?

If you haven't been arrested by this time, there are plenty of other sights to see in the City. Sadly for Becky and I, the rain continued to pour. After a bit of indecision, we snatched another cab and headed uptown toward the Museum of Natural History.

This museum is definitely worth a visit, rain or no. Anyone out there remember the movie, Night at the Museum, with Ben Stiller? This is the place. Oddly enough, the movie doesn't always resemble the museum, but there are some things that remain the same.

Remember this guy? He's still there. Along with dino-things, there are many other interesting exhibits. Of course, on a rainy day, everyone else has the same idea, so be prepared for some of the special exhibits to be sold out. If you arrive early in the day though, you shouldn't have a problem getting your tickets.

It seems an odd note to end our vacation on, but that was the end of our last day in NYC. Of course, Becky and I were off to Ireland the next day, so the adventure continued! No worries, I'll be getting around to that trip soon enough...

For now, though, I'd like to leave you with a few basic tips for your NYC experience:

1. It's always harder to catch a cab in the rain... take the subway if you can.

2. Eat in local restaurants... I know I've visited more than a few tourist traps on this particular trip, but venture outside of your comfort zone. It will be worth it, I promise.

3. When you're hailing a cab, be sure to look for the 'On Duty' light. Otherwise you're just wasting your time.

4. Don't try to do it all. Totally impossible, and you'll only get frustrated. Pick your top few spots, get to those, and be willing to explore a little.

5.  Your camera may not brand you as a tourist, BUT stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture will. Step to the side if you can.

6. Be smart... the city is not a hotbed of crime like some would have you think, but stay smart like you would in any other city. Don't flash a lot of cash, and don't let your purse strap dangle from your arm. I mean, really?

7. The natives aren't going to eat you. For some reason, people seem to think New Yorkers are mean/rude. This is simply not so. If you need directions, ask for them. 99% of the people are happy to help.

8. New York is more expensive than your home town. There is not a Walmart on every street corner. Deal with it, and try to avoid sticker-shock.

9.  Follow sidewalk etiquette... it's just like driving a car. Slower traffic stays on the right, and try to only walk two by two. Stay in your lane!

10. Pack your sneakers, get out and WALK! It's truly the best way to see this great city.

Walking down Broadway 

Have you ever visited NYC before? What did you think? If you haven't, what's on your list of must-see places?

Happy travels!!

1 comment:

  1. I am dying to visit NYC after reading your post! My only experience there is getting a flight canceled. It was a cool single night, but 1 on your 10 scale awesomeness of a tour! And your reminders at the end are great, especially for a camera carrying, "Look at that!", country cheapskate like me! :) Thanks, Allison! Awesome share :)