A few months back, Jaime and I went to New York City for a weekend and I had promised to write about it here, but of course I never got around to it. I did, however, start the post. It’s just stayed as a draft. We absolutely adored NYC. Even Jaime, who is a fan of the clean, organized Washington D.C. (he’s like one step below being OCD) loved the ruggedness and dirty-ness and chaos-ness (yes, i just invented a word) of NYC.
NYC was special for me because, up to that point, it was the first city Jaime had not been to either, so we got to explore and experience everything together for the first time. In one weekend, there was no way we could have done everything we wanted. But, for our first time and for the amount of time we had, I feel like we did a lot. Hopefully, I can give you guys some insight on the things we did right, and the things we did wrong for whenever you go to NYC!
We left on a Thursday about 5:30 p.m. from Union Station in D.C. By the way, if you live in Washington D.C. or anywhere within four hours of NYC, you should consider going by bus, especially if the alternative is driving. The cost for the roundtrip was something ridiculously cheap like $25 each and four hours later, we were dropped off right in the middle of Times Square. It saves you the hassle of driving, it’s cheaper than flying or paying tolls, and its better than finding parking in NYC or paying ridiculous overnight parking fees at any hotel. Anyway, it was like 10:30 pm when we got there and the city was buzzing. Though I’ve seen thousands of pictures and movies, nothing could have prepared me for the actual experience. The biggest cities I’ve ever visited: Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, London, I remember all of them being relatively quiet by 10:30 p.m. Not NYC.
Within 15 minutes of being there, we got to go on our first NYC subway ride! My impression: it was dirty. And I mean, I know cities are supposed to be dirty and gross and nasty, especially the metro but this was something else. Even the air felt dirty. And yet, I wasn’t grossed out by it, but enthralled (that’s pretty much how I felt the entire weekend in one sentence). In comparison, I’m sure many of you can kill me for saying this, but sometimes I don’t feel so enthralled by Rome’s dirty-ness. I just feel dirty (however, I attribute this to the fact that I came here knowing this wasn’t a vacation or a weekend getaway, but a place of residence).
Anyway, we took the subway all the way to Brooklyn, where we were going to stay just for that night. Our original plan had been to leave on Friday, but we changed plans last minute and the hotel we were staying at in Manhattan for the rest of the weekend couldn’t accommodate us the extra night.
Brooklyn was so close yet so far from what we had just seen. It was like another planet. The streets were dark, lonely, empty except for some pretty colorful characters. It was almost midnight but Jaime was just itching to get his hands on his camera and start taking pictures, so we went to the Brooklyn Bridge Park to get some pictures of the skyline. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was almost 1 a.m. and I was dead.
The next morning, we woke up extremely early (for me, anyway, which means it was around 8 am) to get started as early as possible with our exploring. We began by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Financial District of NYC. As soon as we were on the other side of that bridge, the craziness began.
Crossing the street in NYC is a hazard, as I’m sure everyone knows, and I learned that the trick is to walk with purpose. If you hesitate and take a few steps back, someone is bound to get pissed, or worse, run over. I know this from personal experience. When we crossed the street, I sort of hesitated but then decided to cross at the last minute and some taxi driver started screaming, “GET OUT OF THE WAY, YOU DUMB F***!!!” Far from being offended, I thought this was absolutely hilarious.
We passed by the Federal Reserve, the New York Stock Exchange (where I was hoping to at least hear the bell at the opening of the stock market, but alas it’s not possible 🙁 ), and the Charging Bull on Bowling Green before heading to the Central Park area to do a quick hotel switcheroo to the Essex House Marriott by Central Park.
The tour guide also knew her stuff. Apart from giving us a history of the UN, she also shared with us information on the UN’s work, including UNICEF’s school-in-a-box kit. I had never heard of this before and this was really eye-opening. UNICEF has trunks filled with all kinds of school supplies that allow children to continue going to school in places where natural disasters or other circumstances have left them without school buildings. This school-in-a-box program isn’t just used in third world countries, but even in the U.S. during disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
See that little red cup by the box? The guide explained that in places where parents don’t send their kids to school because they need their kids to work at home, these cups are used to feed the kid and the parents have one less mouth to worry about feeding at home. As an extra incentive, little girls get an extra red cup of food (rice, grains, or beans, food that is nutritious, yet cheap) to take home because parents are usually most reluctant to send them to school. The most gut-wrenching part: it only costs $50 to feed one child for an entire school year.
We also went to the New York Public Library, which is absolutely gorgeous. If Miami had had a public library like that, I would’ve been there all day, err day. We managed to squeeze in all this and a nap before going to the Rockefeller’s Center Top of the Rock to catch pictures of the city as the sun was setting and during Jaime’s prized “blue hour”.
The view was spectacular and at the very top, you don’t have a glass wall in front of you, so that’s where you get the reallyyy good pictures. We got there early enough to be able to set up Jaime’s camera and tripod (oh yes, this really does happen this way). The hilarious part was that of course you have a bunch of photography professionals, amateurs, aficionados, whatever, up there to do the same thing. So the top of the windowless space is pretty much a tiny square, where everyone is trying to squeeze their way into getting a picture of themselves with the skyline. Every 10 feet or so, there were these flat ledges, where a photographer had battled it out to set up his tripod and camera. And God protect you if you try to elbow your way into any of those ledges.
Anyway, back to Central Park. This was an experience for us. As well as a test of how strong our marriage is in the face of adversity (I’m still not sure if we passed or failed). Obviously, we knew Central Park is huge. Too big to see everything in it walking (and of course, us being the way we are, we have to see everything). So we figured we could do something we don’t usually do and rent bikes to go through Central Park. But, I had one condition: I wanted to rent a tandem bike. My reasoning? Well, they are just adorable and also for my own safety. It’s not that I don’t know how to ride a bike, but I’m just not very adept at it. And truth be told, I have never ridden a bike on the actual streets before and specially not a street with many other bikers, runners, and horse drawn carriages. So I figured, with a tandem bike, we can both ride, see what we want to see, and I could use Jaime’s bike expertise.
How wrong was I? It started out fine. I couldn’t see anything over Jaime, but we were riding. Then, he started complaining I wasn’t pedaling hard enough. But of course, it’s kind of hard to just telepathically know how hard or soft he wanted me to pedal (I guess this is something experienced tandem bikers learn with time).
Then, the problems began.
Central Park has a main road for the bikers and anything on wheels, and then it has the little winding roads throughout the park for the pedestrians. Even though on a map everything looks far away, when you’re biking the main road kind of bypasses everything quickly.
Within the first five minutes, we had passed the statue of Balto the Husky, which we wanted to see. This main road is only one way, so we also couldn’t turn back. We debated for a bit and kind of just gave up on Balto for the moment.
Then disaster struck.
At another stop, I was put on tripod-holding duty and…I dropped it…. and it got a tiny little scratch. Dun Dun DUNNNN. Ten minutes of screaming and silent treatment-ing later, Jaime was swearing that he was never going tandem biking ever again!
But then we passed the Bethesda Fountain and Jaime needed a picture of that even though he was pissed. He took a picture of us in front of the Fountain but not without reassuring the world he was pissed. Here’s the final product:
In the afternoon, we took the metro to the south(?) end of the island, where you take the ferries to go to Ellis Island. I thought I was above all tourists that need to go see the Statue of Liberty up close so we planned on saving a little money and not taking a ferry ride. We really just wanted a picture of the Statue of Liberty so we can just take the picture with a long camera lens from the island, no?
Let me pause for a moment so that everyone in the world that has ever been to NYC laughs at us.
Turns out I’m not above all other first-timers in NYC and I did need to go see the Statue of Liberty up close. The Statue of Liberty looks absolutely minuscule from Manhattan, even with the long camera lens, so we just ended up being the first-time tourists in NYC who didn’t see the State of Liberty. No worries, now we just have an excuse to go back :).
Then, we walked to Ground Zero and saw the 9/11 memorial where the World Trade Center once stood, which was sobering and impressive.
One of the coolest things for me was their Survivor Tree, a tree that stood in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and survived the destruction. Someone managed to save it, replant it elsewhere and nurse it back to health. Now, it stands in the World Trade Center Memorial site and you can even see the difference in age between the trunk of the tree and the new branches that grew after. It’s a symbol that not everything was destroyed and we can grow back stronger than ever.
At night, we went to Times Square. Okay, sure, this is possibly the most cliche tourist place in the entire world, but I’m in NYC. There’s no way I’m not going to Times Square. My experience is that even though its loud and full of people and I’d probably never go there if I lived in NYC, you have to see it at least once in your life. Personally, I had a lot of fun. We visited some of the stores, I got to take about 50 pictures with the Naked Cowboy and I even participated in a “flash mob” (disclaimer: this is no Glee episode, so it wasn’t very good, but it was fun anyway).
I also pushed my way to appear in the big screen in Times Square ;).
On our last day in NYC we window-shopped our way through Fifth Avenue before catching the bus to take us back to D.C. We also went back to Central Park because, you know, we could miss going to the Statue of Liberty, but we CANNOT miss getting a picture of Balto the Husky :).