For months I’d been planning to take the hubs on a surprise trip to NYC for our anniversary and the time had finally arrived. Since getting away without the kiddos often means shorter trips, I was bound and determined to cram as much as possible into three days. And by three days I mean fly in on Friday and out on Sunday. So basically we had one full day. We got this, Saturday. No pressure.
I had big plans, y’all. I’d scheduled this day out to the hour including estimated transition times, where we’d be when we got hungry, the top recommended places to eat in each area, directions from one point to the next, ETC. We were going to cram every bit of New York we could into the one full day we had. (Plus try to squeeze in the things we missed the afternoon before when our travel day exhaustion won out…easy peasy.)
Saturday’s adventures were supposed to start with our first subway ride to the bottom of the island, and then we’d work our way back north, spending the afternoon exploring Central Park before heading back to the hotel to get ready for an evening in Times Square. Well…after waking up not-so-early-ish (the room darkening shades had it going on) and then having a minor mishap at our very first stop, I realized I’d waayyy overestimated our ability to scoot around Manhattan.
On the Way to the Bottom
Once we left the hotel, we realized that if we picked a different subway station than the one I’d chosen originally, we’d be able to walk past all of the places we missed the day before without completely blowing the schedule. It wouldn’t exactly be the full experience, but at least we wouldn’t stay in a hotel a few blocks away and never even snap a pic, right?
I gotta tell you: if you get the opportunity to get on up and moving early one day, TAKE IT. The city was still sleeping off its Friday night hangover, it was a little chilly (which is always exciting when you’re from the South), the sidewalks weren’t crowded, and we basically got to pretend we had New York all to ourselves.
After getting the required tourist shots, we needed to find the best way to get to the Staten Island Ferry in the least complicated manner. This would be our first subway venture and for those of you who’ve never used one before, there’s a good bit to *know*. For instance:
- You can be at the right station, access it using the wrong entrance, and end up on a train heading in the opposite direction than you wanted
- Knowing the difference in Bronx-bound and Brooklyn-bound is significant
- There are MetroCards to use and kiosks to purchase said cards and correct ways to scan them to get through the turnstiles
- You’re probably never going to understand the automated voice that tells you the current arrival point so don’t expect to use it as your cue to exit
- Some trains are “express” and go right past the station you needed to get off at (which as you can imagine is a bit of a What The…?! moment)
- Sometimes you’ll have to switch trains mid-trip to get to a certain spot
- I’m almost positive that some subway entrances are not intended to be found. They’ve basically been disguised as cellar doorways and places where your mama told you to stay away from. I felt like the idiot chick in the horror movie that always runs to the basement.
All that to say, I did my research (a lot of it thankfully) to try to avoid any unnecessary stress and, although we still had a few “I DON’T KNOW YOU FIGURE IT OUT” moments, I feel like we pretty much rocked the transportation during this trip.
Statue of Liberty…almost
I like to call this part of our trip “The Encounter with the Crazy Ticket Lady Who Almost Made Me Cry”. So we make it smoothly to South Ferry Station where I’d planned to board the free Staten Island Ferry (which would take us right past the Statue of Liberty, we’d unload and then get right back on to come back). I’d been given advice on where to stand for the best views coming and going and, although it wouldn’t be as cool as actually seeing Lady Liberty up close, I thought it would be the best way to handle her with our limited time schedule (and it would cost us nadda so….).
We climb out of the subway station, look around to take it all in, when a Whoopi Goldberg look-a-like in a uniform with an ID badge asks if we’re headed to the Statue of Liberty. This seemed like classic “do you want to buy a watch” New York so I tried to tamp down my Southern manners, avoid eye-contact, and keep walking. But homegrits stepped in front of us and raised her “badge” saying she worked there and I started doubting my earlier assumption. The following conversation went kind of like this:
Ticket Lady: “I SAID, are you going to the Statue of Liberty this morning?”
Brian: “Uh, yeah kind of?”
Ticket Lady: “Do you have your tickets?”
Brian (looks at me): “We’re just taking the boat past it.”
Ticket Lady (in a demanding tone): “What boat?? If you want to see the statue you have to have a ticket. DO YOU HAVE YOUR TICKETS?”
Brian: *blink blink*
Me (I got this): “We’re not doing the full tour, just taking the ferry past it.”
Ticket Lady: “What ferry?”
Me (starting to second guess myself): “The free Staten Island ferry.”
Ticket Lady (legit yelling at us now; people are looking): “THERE IS NO FREE FERRY! The ONLY way to see the Statue is to buy a ticket. The ferry you’re talking about is for COMMUTERS ONLY. People who live here.” (she all but said “stupid idiots…”)
Me (feeling panicky because I DID MY FREAKIN’ RESEARCH Y’ALL but maybe I misunderstood something so, desperately wanting to get away from this woman and consult The Google Machine to figure out where I went wrong, I grabbed Brian to walk away while Ticket Lady’s preoccupied with the next wave of people coming up from the Subway.)
Ticket Lady (catching us leaving out of the corner of her eyes; stops *mid-spill* to her next victims like some predator chasing her prey): “Where are you going??”
Me (almost crying with frustration but also dangerously close to a full-on Red moment): “We’re going to WALK AROUND the area. Is that ok with you?!” (complete with raised eyebrow)
And off we went.
So….needless to say we made a little detour, walked along the river for a bit while I got myself under control, consulted the interwebs to determine that yes, the ferry we wanted was free and accessible to the public, and realized that we had just been HUSTLED unlike any hustling job I’ve ever witnessed. I was actually pretty impressed. I KNEW to look out for these types of people. I’d done my research and asked friends who’d been to NY. But nothing can prepare you for just how good they are at their “jobs”. If they even catch a whiff of your uncertainty you’re doomed. No mercy. I say we were lucky to make it out of that conversation with our wallets intact. Heck, I almost went back and bought a ticket from her just for her excellent performance.
We Pink Panthered our way past old Crazy and finally snuck into the ferry station unaccosted. After grabbing some snacks for breakfast in the food court (it’s literally almost 10am at this point) we decided to up and scrap the ferry altogether and just move on. Seriously, it was bound to be anticlimactic after all that drama and we were already an hour and a half behind schedule. We DID manage to get some amazingly high-quality phone pics of Lady Liberty from the shore though (just squint your eyes and roll with it).
How to Meander Like a Pro
Next up on the itinerary was the business area, One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. First, we made a stop at Castle Clinton (NOT a castle by the way) in Battery Park and took a little breather after the ferry debacle (plus I’m a sucker for anything historical).
After that, we walked up to see the New York Stock Exchange, Charging Bull, and U.S. Custom House. If you’re into architecture, the city’s full of absolutely beautiful features. I’m sparing you guys the bulk of the pics, but I literally have tons of shots of doors, antique hardware, porticoes, alleys, you name it.
After that, we cut over to One World and took some time to reflect at the 9/11 Memorial. There’s really no way to capture the energy at this place. I tried pics from lots of different perspectives, but believe me when I say that unless you’re there, you’re not getting the full effect. It’s powerfully understated…and I think that’s what makes the impact stronger.
While we were in the area, we saw what I can only describe as a spaceship-type building that looked fairly small from the outside. Wondering if it had anything to do with the 9/11 Memorial, we went in to check it out and found ourselves on the upper level of a massive, below-ground mall, maybe? I kept picturing all those people ice-skating between the high-end stores. Technically the place is called Westfield World Trade Center and the futuristic spined architectural feature on the top is called the Oculus (which is what I heard most locals calling the whole place so my bet’s on it sticking). It was built for a cool $4 billion, does the opposite of blending in, and has at least 11 different train lines that stop there.
Anyhoo, moving on. It’s not even lunchtime yet and we’ve already knocked off what most people would probably spread over a normal day with our “quick take a pic and keep moving” wanderings. Unfortunately, walking the Brooklyn Bridge just wasn’t in the cards for this trip. But we did happen to see it while we were on that end of the island (just sadly didn’t get a decent pic).
Instead, we hopped on another subway train and headed towards Chinatown. I really debated whether or not this was worth our time because all I remembered from that trip I took with some friends my senior year in high school was haggling over a knock-off denim Kate Spade purse (which I used for years even after the label fell off) and being overwhelmed in all the closet-sized stores with tightly packed errything.
In the end, if this was potentially going to be Hubs’ only trip to the Big Apple, it was a no-brainer to go. And I’m glad we did. Grown-up eyes see a lot of things that teenager eyes miss. Like the open air markets. And the different styles of architecture and signage. The food. And the PEOPLE. Not just the people selling their goods, but the ones that lived in the area playing in the basketball tournaments in the park that was tucked between some buildings. I’ve never been to China so I have absolutely nothing to compare it to, but I loved being in a place that felt so completely different than home.
We got recommendations for a place to eat some authentic Chinese food at Shanghai Asian Manor (which means I got vegetable fried rice bc I’m nothing if not adventurous *cough*) and then swung through Little Italy on our way out of the area to grab cannoli for dessert. If we lived in the area, Little Italy would definitely be a frequent date spot. The alfresco dining, the twinkle lights that would be lit up at night and the music softly playing from the cafes was giving me all the feels.
On the Way Up the Island
After Chinatown and Little Italy, we made our way up Manhattan, stopping for a pic of the Flat Iron Building and a selfie in front of the Empire State Building. Let me stop here and say that most people wouldn’t dare come to New York City and not do the observation deck of the Empire State Building or at least Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center. But 1) tickets aren’t cheap (about $35/person), 2) the decks are usually pretty crowded, 3) we only had one full day to cram everything in, and 4) our hotel room was on the 32nd floor so I figured we had a pretty spectacular view already. All that to say we took a pick with it in the background, stepped into the lobby as we walked by, and kept on trucking. (FYI – after we got back and I looked into it, our hotel room was only a little over a third the height of the main observation deck of the Empire State Building…oops.)
Once we checked those major landmarks off the list, we hopped on the subway towards Central Park. I’d originally planned to spend the whole afternoon there meandering around using a self-guided walking tour I’d printed off the internet (just five more miles of walking…NBD). But at the last minute I decided we could use a quick stop in one of the museums flanking the park. Always the southerner, I was thinking we’d need some AC and quiet space by this point in the day.
We had to decide between the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Natural History Museum. It came down to the argument that we could see good Natural History Museum’s all over the place (a dinosaur’s a dinosaur, right?) versus seeing priceless art. Honestly, I’d probably still have chosen the dinosaur bones, but one of the reviews I read during planning mentioned rooms at the Met that were totally dedicated to historical decor and I wasn’t going to miss my chance to pretend I was in an 18th-century drawing room. (romantic historical fiction = guilty pleasure.)
However, that quiet space I’d anticipated? That’d be a nope. The museum was PACKED OUT. All the chatter echoed off the walls and ceilings in the cavernous rooms. And there was so much to see. Entire wings were dedicated to armor and sarcophagi and jewelry of different eras and parts of the world and empires and everything else you could imagine. I’m pretty sure you could spend an entire day if not more in the place.
As it was, after about 3 hours, I started to panic a little. It was a little too big and there were so many exhibits to wind through and so many people making so much noise and everytime you thought you were close to the exit you’d find yourself in yet another room full of stuff like some crazy shifting house. Needless to say, by the time I realized we NEEDED to leave, I was practically running to the nearest exit in order to breathe. Jess-0, Anxiety-1.
You guys, Central Park was one of the things I was most looking forward to. I’d originally planned to do a carriage ride that would take us around the entire park with commentary about famous areas, where popular movies had been filmed, etc. but I was hesitant to make actual reservations because I didn’t want to HAVE to be anywhere at any specific time. Plus it was about $150 and I may have mentioned before that I’m a little frugal, right?
Anyhoo, that’s how I settled on the self-guided tour that I printed out and brought with us. The problem was, by the time we made it out of the museum, the absolute LAST thing we wanted to do was walk 5 miles. And we’d pretty much reached our “taking in all the new things” limit. But we couldn’t NOT do Central Park. On this I was firm. Besides, we were basically IN it when we exited the museum. Our feet were throbbing to the point that we would have written a blank check to the carriage ride guide at this point, but a quick phone search showed that they were all booked up so even that was out. (Sidenote: my research said to give yourself a full day to see everything in Central Park and at least 4-5 hours just to cover the highlights.) By this time it was 4pm, our feet hurt, and I’m still trying not to break down in tears from having the museum close in around me. Not looking good for the full Park experience.
When it came down to it, we compromised between not wanting to miss it completely and utter exhaustion. We settled on walking down the eastern edge of the park as long as we could manage and then grabbing a cab when our feet caught fire.
Here’s the thing about NYC that I found most interesting. Sometimes it was like falling down a rabbit hole. Central Park was no exception. Highrises as far as the eye can see boxing you in on all sides – blink – trees and lush, green hillsides with people spread out on quilts, families walking their dogs, and stone bridges. It’s so bizarre. When we go back, I definitely want to do Central Park right. But I’m glad we squeezed in what we could (although 3 months later I’m still having foot issues from it).
When Bro Saves the Night
By the time we knew it, we’d reached the southern edge of the park and really weren’t too far from the hotel so we decided to keep putting one foot in front of the other until we made it back to the room around 6:45ish. If we thought we were exhausted the night before, we had no idea what night two would feel like. This was a bone-weary, feet throbbing, heavy-limbed type of tired. We literally fell onto the bed and I don’t remember anything else until the doorbell rang (you read that right, the DOORBELL; did I mention our hotel was super swank?).
As I pried my eyelids apart I could hear my brother and his girlfriend’s voices and as tired as I was, I’m SO thankful that they didn’t let us come all the way to their city without seeing each other. According to them, we could sleep when we got home. So up we got and out we went. At 9:30 at night (wild and crazy I tell ya!).
Despite my dogs barking and the heavy exhaustion, there’s something about being outside at night that can instantly put me in a good mood. I don’t know if it’s the drop in temperature or the fact that the air feels lighter or the way everything transforms to show you different faces and shadows, but it’s basically magic.
So out we went, walking (I think my feet were numb by this point) towards Times Square, taking in how the Cathedral was lit up and all of the twinkle lights at Rockefeller Center. The energy at Times Square was so much fun. Everything was bright, people were milling about all over the place, grabbing food from street vendors, shopping for souvenirs, taking pictures. Our local fam took us to Ray’s Pizza to grab pizza by the slice in a tiny sliver of a building that couldn’t be any bigger than 7 ft wide including the ovens. The pizza was amazing, the atmosphere was loud and awake and contagious, and I think I could have hung out all night.
But alas, all good things must come to an end. They had jobs to get to in the morning and it was already nearing midnight. We tried (and failed) to take a group selfie, said our goodbyes, and walked our separate ways. Hubs and I hit a souvenir shop for the required vacation goods and headed back to the Lotte NY Palace one last time.
The Last Day
The next morning I’d planned to eat breakfast at my brother’s restaurant, Dirty French in the Ludlow Hotel but it was a 30 minute subway ride from our place and we needed to be checked out and to Penn Station by 10. It was doable if we got out the door by 7am but all bets were off when we checked the clock for the first time that morning…at NINE THIRTY A.M.!!! Oops…
After a mad dash to get showers, throw some clothes on and stuff everything into the suitcase, we said goodbye to our fancy hotel room, caught a cab to the train station, and began the journey back home.
Points to Remember
- Phone maps are great as long as you can figure out which direction you’re facing. Otherwise, plan on a lot of guess-walking to see if your little blue dot moves towards or away from the magic blue line. *sigh*
- Streets run West and East (ish) and the numbers increase as you go north.
- Avenues run North and South and increase as you go west.
- Subways – do some research before the trip. There’s a little more to them than just getting on and off. It’s worth the prep time. Just sayin’.
- Sometimes it’s better to plan on your top 5 must-do’s and have a list of 10 optional filler items instead of trying to schedule in all 15. This way instead of freaking out that you’re off schedule and not going to make 3 or 4 stops, you’re excited that not only did you get to all of your must-do’s, but you were able to throw in 6 or 7 extras (do the math, it works). It’s a head trick, but an effective one if you’re OCD about things like I am.
- The Lady Liberty Hustlers are legit. Walk like you mean it or plan on getting attacked.
- Go ahead and start saving for a return trip because regardless of how long you’re there or how much you try to cram in, you’re not going to see it all. And you’re really gonna want to go back before you even get home.
So that’s it in a nutshell. We came, we saw, we survived (barely), but more than anything, we fell in love with the city. And we WILL be back. Would I recommend attempting to see everything in a day? Umm…that’s a big old fact negative ghost rider. My feet still haven’t recovered. But got a few days? Book that flight.
Until Next Time,