After 13 Years, We Returned to the Big Apple

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Dec 1st, 2013, 07:01 PM
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After 13 Years, We Returned to the Big Apple

After a 13-year absence from New York City, my husband and I decided to revisit this special place from November 21-25, to celebrate his birthday in the city where he was born. To help other Fodors fans, I’ll share general observations, some details about the shows, museums and parks we saw, our hotel, some restaurants and transportation.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

Some of the things I love about the city are still true. Hearing so many languages, it always feels like the crossroads to the world. And where else can you stop at a window to watch a small class learn how to make pie crust? Where else can a narrow niche shop survive, like Rice to Riches, that only sells rice pudding?! (At 37 Spring St., it’s near Lombardi’s pizza, and the funny signs alone are worth a stop.)

What changed in 13 years:
• Times Square – The displays are much more digital and dazzling. (Many, many years ago there was just a cigarette ad with smoking coming out a hole, a steaming cup of coffee, and a glass of soda being filled.) New red stairs/bleachers at Duffy Square are filled with people resting or taking photos, and there are many people wearing costumes (Elmo, the Statue of Liberty, etc.) that you could take your picture with for a price. In the evening, it was a human traffic jam.
• Taxis – TV screens in the back seat and using a credit card machine. Note that the lowest tip option if you use it is 20%, so you could always tip with cash.
• Subway riders – Everyone used to carry a folded-up newspaper to read while sitting or standing. I especially enjoyed seeing foreign language papers. Now almost everyone plays Candy Crush or checks Facebook on their phones. Also, now you can actually understand some of the announcements, which always used to be unintelligible.
• Subway musicians – I remember people playing guitars and singing, violinists and others performing in the subway halls. We only saw a few people playing steel drums where the trains stop. Either it was too cold or the rules have changed.

SHOWS

After Midnight (Broadway) – It’s a musical revue, like a night at the Cotton Club. Nonstop singing and dancing for 90 minutes. When it ended, my husband said, “That’s it?!” He’d have seen it again right there. He wanted to see this one for his birthday so we got tickets before we left home and sat in the center of the back row, rear mezzanine, which was fine for a big musical.

Once (Broadway) – Great music, Irish dancing and a touching story. I really enjoyed this one. A band performs on stage for a half hour before the show begins and you can stand in line to buy your drinks at the bar on stage and linger. (Soda is $10.) At the Seaport TKTS booth we bought half-price tickets to an evening show, fourth row, center.

Murder for Two (off-Broadway) – This is a very funny musical comedy with two actors. One plays a police officer and the other plays multiple murder suspects. Got half-price tickets at the Times Square TKTS booth an hour before the matinee (no lines!) and sat in the fifth row of the small theater.

Men in White (off-off Broadway) – Although Broadway and off-Broadway shows get most of the attention, there are tens of thousands of excellent actors in the city, and many of them perform in small companies like The Seeing Place Theater, a repertory company with a tiny theater on W. 54th. The play won a Pulitzer for Drama in the 1930s, and the actors did an outstanding job with this revival. There are dozens of such shows in the city, and for very little money (we paid $10 and left a nice donation in the jar) you can have a great, intimate theater experience. Sodas were $2 and after the performance, the director and several actors were available in the lounge. We got tickets online in advance. Before your next trip to the city, visit the NY Innovative Theater Awards web page for a list of current shows by small companies.

HOTEL

We were thrilled with the Best Western Plus Seaport Inn. As soon as you walk in, you feel at home. You can smell warm cookies and you check in sitting opposite a receptionist at a desk. We were greeted by a friendly man who chatted with us while waiting for the computer to process information. We told him we hadn’t been to the city for 13 years and when he asked why we’d returned, we said it was my husband’s birthday.

As he gave us our room key cards, he said he’d given us a complimentary room upgrade for my husband’s birthday, on the top floor with a terrace and an outstanding view of the Brooklyn Bridge!

I’d made reservations months before our trip, but happened to check prices one week before we left. They were lower, and I noticed a special rate for stays of three days or more, so I cancelled our reservation and made a new one, saving $132.

A breakfast buffet is included with the room (make your own waffles, cereal, yogurt, fruits, pastries, etc.)

The neighborhood felt safe and has a lot of character, with brick buildings and cobblestone streets.

From the hotel, it’s a 15 minute walk to two subway lines, and a mile from the 9/11 Memorial. There are many restaurants and markets in the area, along with a TKTS booth.

This is getting a bit long so I’ll cover museums, parks, restaurants and transportation tomorrow.
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Dec 1st, 2013, 09:40 PM
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Not long at all! Keep going. I'm enjoying your report.
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Dec 1st, 2013, 11:16 PM
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lovely start. looking forward to more
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Dec 2nd, 2013, 05:55 AM
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Great report! I totally agree with your observations about changes from the past. Looking forward to the rest of your report. Thanks for sharing!
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Dec 2nd, 2013, 01:45 PM
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Thank you for the encouragement!

Now, I'll wrap up with museums, parks, restaurants and transportation…

MUSEUMS & PARKS

The Museum of Natural History – We hadn’t been here in at least 20 years but returned for the special exhibition, The Power of Poison, and Dark Universe at the Hayden and stayed for six hours!. We got there 20 minutes after it opened and there was a very long line at the admission’s desk, where you can pay less than the suggested cost. As an alternative, turn left after you enter and use one of many ticket kiosks that allow you to buy general admission and timed tickets for special exhibitions at the suggested rate. Attendants will help you if needed. The poison exhibit is quite theatrical and fantastic, with several interactive displays, including a big “enchanted” book. When you turn the blank pages, words and images appear, and when you touch certain spots, they become animated! The planetarium show was very good, but there was so much scientific information I felt like I should take notes! Don’t miss the big hall of African mammals, which is as awesome as it was when it was installed in the 1930s.

The Frick Collection – Although we used to visit the city regularly, we’d never been here, but were drawn this time by Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, which will be there until January 19, 2014. (If you saw the movie a few years ago, the maiden really does look like Scarlett Johansen!) We arrived just after they opened on a freezing day (temperatures in the 20s with severe wind) and the line stretched around the corner so we suffered for 25 minutes. We hadn’t realized that Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. are “pay what you like” days, which attract more people. What an outstanding collection they have, with three more Vermeers, Rembrandt, Gainesborough and many more great artists. The building itself is a work of art, too. Don’t miss the clock collection. Note that if you do not check your coat you will not be allowed to carry it around the museum. The guards are vigilant about it. And if you find the explanatory signs hard to read (they are printed on paper that matches the wall color), don’t get too close, as the guards will ask you to step back. We should have used one of their free audio guides.

The Morgan Library – We’d been here once, but the museum doubled in size during our absence. Of special interest this time were exhibitions about Edgar Allen Poe and DaVinci, as well as some Salinger letters. We especially enjoyed the Poe area and were struck by his tiny, extremely neat handwriting and the fact that his poems were often introduced in newspapers.

I must say I was happy to have just turned 65 because the senior discounts at the museums are wonderful!

The High Line – What a great addition to the city! This elevated former freight train track, now a one-mile long park, offers a nice perspective on everything. There are a good number of commissioned art pieces along the way, and you notice that many buildings you’ll pass by are art pieces themselves. Benches offer resting spots. We were there on a cold but sunny Saturday and it was not over-crowded.

9/11 Memorial – We paid our respects the last morning of our trip. The design is moving and brilliant – two squares (the footprints of the towers) are bordered by the names of the victims, and water cascades down 30+ foot walls onto a flat area, disappearing into a square black hole in the center, and a building (under construction) has mirrored glass reflecting the life that continues. Rows of swamp white oak trees will provide shade in the summer. You can save time by obtaining timed tickets online in advance. You’ll pass through security that is much like an airport’s process. We entered when it opened at 10 a.m., avoiding over-crowding.

RESTAURANTS

We are not foodies, nor do we drink, and our diet is heart-healthy, so these factors influenced where we ate. With the exception of Lombardi’s, which we’d planned to visit, all were chosen after reviewing the menus posted in the window:

Lombardi’s Pizza – 32 Spring St. – We shared a fabulous large Margherita pizza, a treat for my husband’s birthday. The crust is chewy, the service good and the restaurant full of character. Get there early to avoid long lines.

The Paris Cafe – 199 South St. – A charming little bar and restaurant in the Seaport area and once frequented by Thomas Edison, Buffalo Bill and Teddy Roosevelt, among others. We loved the grilled chicken sandwiches and the hearty garden salad that accompanied it.

Playwrights Tavern – 202 W 49th – A very nice place with an Irish flair and good service. We loved the herbed salmon dinner.

Da Tommaso – 903 8th Ave. – We were pressed for time so we just had fettuccine, which was very tasty.

Scarlatto – 250 W 47th St. – Fantastic rigatoni with meat sauce. We’d have had seconds if we had time! The minestrone and Caesar salad were very good.

Iron Bar – 713 8th Ave. – We had a blackened chicken sandwich, chicken Caesar salad and shared a slice of lemon cake and enjoyed everything. A long wall of TV screens is tuned to assorted sports. Check out the sleek red and black bathrooms!

Museum of Natural History Food Court – About what we should have expected from a cafeteria, including barely microwaved turkey burgers. The museum has a café and a separate lunch room for school groups.

TRANSPORTATION

Subways – As seniors, we used reduced fare Metro Cards, which you must buy from a station agent, and not all subway entrances have them. After showing your Medicare card, you receive a special card for $2.50 and good for two trips. If we visited the city more often, we’d apply for a refillable card.

Metro-North (New Haven Line) – We live in the Hartford area and enjoy train travel, and with the senior discount and travelling during off-peak hours, it was cheap. That said, the parking garage was $18/day, eating up most of our savings.

So, all in all, it was an excellent trip and we won’t wait another 13 years to return.

I hope this information has been helpful whether you are planning your first visit or are a regular.
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Dec 2nd, 2013, 02:02 PM
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Great report. I'm a native New Yorker but moved away in 1980 and have been back a few times, but the last time was probably 15 years ago. I'm looking forward to a return visit in September so it was great to read your report.
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Dec 2nd, 2013, 08:26 PM
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Hi, "sluggo"! I just wanted to thank you for giving such a nice mention of our theater company in this post. We at The Seeing Place work so hard to bring quality theater to our audiences in New York City for a price anyone can afford, and it's an honor to be included in such a helpful and heartfelt review.

We love meeting our patrons after each show, so if anyone reading this comes to our theater please do stick around and say hello! You can find out about our season here: www.seeingplacetheater.com.

Happy holidays, and thanks again!

Erin Cronican
The Seeing Place Theater
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Dec 3rd, 2013, 12:06 PM
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I really enjoyed this report. I'm in the middle of planning an annual trip to New York with my friends from college, and I'm researching plays, so I'm going to check into your suggestions.

That said, I miss the big billboard in Times Square that used to blow smoke rings. As a child, I thought it was wonderful.
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Dec 3rd, 2013, 12:46 PM
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Thanks, everyone. I'm happy to contribute to the wealth of knowledge on this board.

Erin - My husband and I said hello to you after the show. We were the ones who didn't realize one of the actors (Frank) was in it and we knew his wife. It's nice to hear from you.
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Dec 12th, 2013, 06:57 AM
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Its about time I went back to NY. Its actually one of my most favorite cities in the world, had some amazing times there.

"Subway riders – Everyone used to carry a folded-up newspaper to read while sitting or standing. I especially enjoyed seeing foreign language papers. Now almost everyone plays Candy Crush or checks Facebook on their phones. Also, now you can actually understand some of the announcements, which always used to be unintelligible."

I giggled at this as I too have noticed this more and more. People are either glued to their phones or iPads. I visited Orlando recently and instead of seeing people using cameras like myself everyone seemed to have a massive iPad and was using these to take their holiday snaps. I myself own a iPad but wouldn't take it on holiday to use as a camera - not like you can just slip it in your pocket when you don't need it.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 05:43 PM
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Great write up - one FYI to those using this report re: taxis:

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You can also enter a tip, in any amount, manually using the CC machines. The pre- programmed options are there for speed and convenience but are not the only choices available.
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Jan 19th, 2014, 08:14 PM
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Great report -- thanks for writing it!
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Jan 19th, 2014, 08:29 PM
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Thank you for such an accurate report.

A couple of side notes. At the Paris Cafe the railing at the bar used to be heated, so the men from the nearby Fulton Fish Market could warm their hands.

The rice pudding place called Rice to Riches, was almost closed down when the owners were arrested for money laundering.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/22/bu.../22salkin.html
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Feb 21st, 2014, 08:17 PM
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IMDonehere, thank you for the info about the café and the pudding shop.
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Feb 21st, 2014, 10:26 PM
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No problem.
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