New York City is a bit of a difficult place for me to write about. It managed to get its clutches in me when I first went years ago, and every time I go back I love it just a little more. It’s a mad, swirling mess of humanity packed into too small of a space, but somehow, that’s part of its magic.
From the crowds overrunning Fifth Avenue to see the lights, to the homeless people huddled in the halls of the subway station, to the grumpy Italian selling pizza in Flushing, to the parents wrestling strollers through doors and crowds, there’s always someone new to watch. I love riding the subway and feeling like a minority as I listen to the smorgasbord of languages surrounding me. I love feeling like I can travel the world just by taking the subway a few minutes.
As I told you last week, three of my friends and I planned a trip to New York City to see the Christmas lights, and to eat all the food. As the months passed, our excitement grew to extravagant proportions, and it was almost certain the trip could not live up to our expectations. But I am happy to tell you, it exceeded them, even so.
I’m not a great travel blogger, and I don’t have lists of all the places and prices and lodgings you must try, but I’d like to give you a little taste of our trip, and of why we came back home feeling starry-eyed and like it was all just a wonderful, wonderful dream.
Since we were, in fact, tourists, and since one of us hadn’t seen the city before, it was necessary that we go to a lot of the tourist stops and see the sights. After all, tourist traps are popular for a reason. We packed quite a lot into our two and a half days there, and I’m still reeling just a little from everything we saw and did.
The New York Public Library was closing, but we dashed through, gaping at the grand arches and ceilings.
Grand Central Station looks just like the kind of place you’d expect to see an elopement happening. I wanted to stand there for much longer and people watch.
Washington Square Park had a temporary art display which granted one of my favorite pictures of the weekend.
The Flushing mall food court was an intoxicating swirl of smells and flavors and languages.
Beck & Stone had a gorgeous office, perfect for chatting with a friend and resting our weary feet a little while sipping on coffee and fancy water. 🙂
The Brooklyn Bridge was COLD and windy, but lovely as always.
Visiting markets in cities is one of my favorite things to do, and Chelsea Market is my favorite of them all. Meandering hallways, decked out with lights and holiday displays, and packed with good things to eat and smell and see. It’s perfect.
Times Square, since everyone should see it at least once.
The Rockefeller Tree, which looked dwarfed by the Rockefeller Building, but is actually massive. And it was snowing while we were there!
The Staten Island Ferry, which I’ve wanted to take for ages, gave a great view of the south end of Manhattan, as well as the Statue of Liberty. Best part, it’s free.
If you like books, put The Strand Bookstore at the top of your list. It has eighteen miles of winding shelves, and there wasn’t enough time to even get properly started there.
One of the worst parts of visiting the city is that there’s never enough stomach room for all the amazing foods I want to try. Seriously, name an ethnicity, and you can almost surely find their food within reach. And it’s not just the ethnic food- although that is my favorite part- New York also knows what they’re doing when it comes to bagels and pizza and cheesecake, and there simply isn’t time for it all! But let me show you some of my favorites from this time. Forgive in advance my overuse of adjectives. I can’t help it!
The currywurst from Chelsea Market was such comfort food. I hadn’t thought of combining curry and sausage and an egg, of all things, but this was the perfect breakfast to fortify us for our long trek that day. Now, if I could just find a good recipe to make this at home…
Andrew Beck recommended a little Italian joint called Adrienne’s Pizzabar around the corner from his office, and we were all so impressed by the pasta and bread we ate there. The portions looked small, but were surprisingly filling. And the setting was perfect, but more on that later.
If you like Asian food, let me recommend you go to the food court in the mall in downtown Flushing. The first time I went, I bumped into someone and apologized in Spanish, my default language for another country. 😀 It really does feel like leaving the country to go. You probably won’t be able to read much of anything on the menu, but walk around and look at the pictures, and with any luck, you’ll find something delicious. We went on a mission to find dumplings and bubble tea, and both of them were exactly as they should have been, delicious.
After the mall, we had to have ourselves a little pizza too, to finish filling up. After all, you can’t go to New York City and not eat pizza, am I right? Aside from the glowering employee behind the counter, and the cheese burns on the roof of my mouth, it was fantastic.
One of my favorite spots of the whole weekend ended up being kind of an accidental find. We were chilled and exhausted from a long day of walking through crushes of people, and we happened to find a little Irish pub to warm our bones. We were tucked into a cozy corner in a basement, and served burgers and the best onion soup I’ve had to date. The white-haired proprietor came to our table to chat a bit with his thick Irish accent, and made us feel thoroughly welcomed. Definitely on my list of places to go back to.
We happened to stay just a few blocks from a Blue Bottle coffee shop, and although I am definitely not a coffee snob, I was very impressed with the coffee. We made a little tradition (if you can call two mornings a tradition) of stopping there for coffee, then heading a few blocks down the street to Bagel Bob’s, where we would sit and sip our coffee and eat our bagels.
Bagel Bob’s is a tiny little spot I found on my last trip which serves the best New York bagels in a hectic, pell-mell fashion which somehow works. Everything I’ve tried there is delicious, although I’ve steered clear of the tofu spread. Bleh. I was happy to introduce my girls to it, and even happier when they liked it as much as I did.
I didn’t expect to feel quite as much like a wide-eyed kid as I did. Of course, I’ve been hearing and reading about New York City Christmases for ages, but nothing quite prepares you for actually going and experiencing it yourself.
From the little things like the parade of tiny snowmen we encountered in Central Park, to the larger-than-life extravaganza of lights and trees and store windows on Fifth Avenue, I kept finding myself at a loss for words to describe just how wonderful our time actually was. We were blown away by the beauty and grandeur and wonder of it all, and kept feeling exactly like we were in a Hallmark Christmas movie ourselves, minus the romance of course. 😀
If you have the time and aren’t claustrophobic in big crowds, please go see Saks’ Fifth Avenue’s display of windows and lights. I felt I could have admired it for hours. The theme this year was Snow White, and the windows showed her story, step by step. It was fantastic, and I only wish I could go back and examine it slowly and carefully, when I’m not rushed. We stood across the street and watched the lights and listened to the grand music, and were exactly as thrilled as if we had been seven years old.
One of my very favorite times of all was when we got off the Staten Island Ferry, and discovered to our delight that it was still snowing and looked like it intended to keep at it for a while. We went to the Italian place I mentioned earlier, Adrienne’s Pizzabar, which was located on a quaint, cobblestone street.
We were seated by the window, and we looked out at the snow falling on the stones, as we warmed our toes and filled our bellies with cheesy pasta, and we could hardly believe it was real. We had hoped for snow, but didn’t actually think it would happen, and certainly not at such an ideal time and location. I like to think it was God’s special little birthday present for Lynette (everyone, tell her happy birthday!).
And saving the best for last…we splurged and got tickets to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was blown away by the special effects and the props and the music! It’s honestly a little hard to describe without gushing, but let me just say, if you have the opportunity to see a Broadway show, take it.
We have affectionately dubbed our little group “The Race of Joseph”, based on an L.M. Montgomery quote. We’ve spent many popcorn filled evenings together, discussing everything under the sun, but we had never traveled together, which always brings out a different side of people. I am happy to say that it was the best group possible. Everyone was jolly and determined to have a good time, and nobody complained about damp feet or smelly subways or lumpy beds. And speaking of beds…
Somehow before our trip a joke got started about me weeping into my pillow until it started to mold. Untruths, I tell you! but hilarious nonetheless. It kept amusing us all weekend, but the clincher was Saturday night, when I turned over my pillow at our hotel, and it was actually moldy. We screamed with laughter.
New York City is the perfect place to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations, and we were particularly amused by one man behind us. “It broke down, I’m telling you, my Uber broke down. Yes, my Uber broke down, it broke down! My Uber broke down!” he said. Lynette turned to me, “Did he say his Uber broke down?”
The Little Moments
People love to rant about the rudeness of New Yorkers. It may be true that New Yorkers don’t throw “Honey” and “Baby doll” into every other sentence like southerners, and they may not say “Bless his heart” as much, but I’ve had serious doubts about the veracity of their reported coldness. I’m happy to say that this weekend strengthened those doubts even more. Everywhere we went we encountered little moments of kindness, the kind of thing that restores your faith in humanity a little. We encountered…
The mother who held up her little girl as the train approached so she could wave at it.
The couple waltzing in the grimy subway station, just because.
Andrew, who took time from his busy day to show us around, chat with us for a while, and recommend our favorite restaurant.
The man who held the door for a dad with a stroller, and was thanked three times for it.
The self proclaimed “Bathroom patrol” who said that there should always be twice as many women’s bathrooms, and told us we should definitely use the men’s if we need to.
The Irish restaurant proprietor whose good-natured humor made our meal twice as jolly. “Don’t listen to anything I say,” he said. “I’m so politically incorrect I shock myself.” And as we left the restaurant, “Are you leaving me? Story of my life.” All in a thick Irish accent, of course.
The man who proposed to his girlfriend on the ice at Bryant Park, much to our delight.
If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate your stamina.