New York City Trip Report July 11-13

Jul 14th, 2008, 11:15 AM
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New York City Trip Report July 11-13

This past weekend, I made my annual summer trip to New York. Summer is one of my favorite seasons to visit this city, as I find it to be the complete package of what I’m looking for-- more reasonably priced hotel rooms, relatively fewer people and the weather is warm.

My favored mode of transportation to New York is the train; I love the convenience of being able to get on in downtown Boston and off at Penn Station and avoid all the hassles that modern day flying entails. Again, strange as it may sound, summer is my favorite time of year to take the train from Boston to New York. The Connecticut shoreline has a vibrancy in the summer that is not found at other times of year. I love looking out and seeing all the boats in the water instead of wrapped up in storage, lines of cars getting ready to take the ferry from New London to Block Island or Long Island, shorebirds fishing and people out enjoying the beach and warm weather into the evening. I also enjoy the view of the Manhattan skyline you get as you approach the city and the train winds its way through Queens before disappearing underground. I departed Boston on the 3:15pm Acela Express and arrived Penn Station approximately 7pm. This time I was staying at the Marriott Eastside on Lexington Ave at 49th St, so I took the E train from Penn Station to Lexington Ave/53rd St and walked down to the hotel a few blocks from there. I arrived at the hotel around 7:25pm. This was my first time staying at this property and I thought it was fine. It is conveniently located about 2 blocks from the 51st St #6 train station on the Lexington Ave line and 4 blocks from the 53rd St V and E station. The room was about average size for New York (i.e. small), but I found the bathroom to be below average size. The bed was very comfortable.

For dinner tonight I opted to walk to Rockefeller Center and eat at the Rock Center Cafe. I have always wanted to eat outside there during the summer and enjoy the view of the Prometheus fountain. The area that is used as the skating rink in the winter, has tables set out in the summer for Rock Center Cafe, Rink Bar and the Sea Grill. I was seated in the section in front of the fountain and behind the bar area, so I did have a nice view of the fountain, but consequently it was very loud with music from the bar. I ordered a watermelon martini which was very good and garnished with a slice of fresh watermelon; it was a little sweeter than others I’ve had due to the inclusion of melon liqueur. The bread bowl was very uninspired—they were parker house type rolls, but rather dry. For the main course I had the sirloin steak topped with garlic butter. It is normally served with yucca fries, but I was able to substitute regular fries for those. The regular fries were tasty- thin and crispy. The dessert I ordered was the chocolate peanut butter cake. This is cylinder shaped with chocolate cake and peanut butter mousse and garnished with chocolate cookie crumbs and raspberry gelee. This was the least successful item I had—it lacked flavor and the cake was a little dry. Overall, I’m glad I ate there, as I enjoyed my steak very much and was able to soak in the atmosphere. The food is what I would call good- not great. If you are looking for a superb dining experience, then you will be disappointed. But if it is the fun of getting to eat in Rockefeller Center that you are after, then I think it is an enjoyable meal.

For Saturday morning I had reserved a 9am 30 minute cruise to view the waterfalls by Olafur Eliasson. The cruise is run by Circle Line Downtown and departs from South Street Seaport Pier 16. The cost is $10 and they take you in a loop to view all 4 of the waterfalls. There are very limited numbers of free tickets available for the various cruises, but they are very hard to come by. For the waterfall positioned under the Brooklyn Bridge the right (starboard) side of the boat is the best choice, but for the all the others the left (port) side is best. The cruise was nice because in addition to seeing the waterfalls you also get a chance to see the New York skyline.

After the cruise I walked over to the World Trade Center site and walked the perimeter. There are some vantage points where you can see inside where they are working but most areas you cannot see in, as they have construction mesh fencing up. You can see well from the World Financial Center though.
After this, I went back uptown via subway and walking, to have lunch at the New York Milkshake Co. They are located in Dag Hammerskold Park between 1st and 2nd Ave on 47th St near the United Nations. It is a small glass building with an outdoor seating area. The menu consists of grilled cheese sandwiches with a choice of several kinds of cheese, cold sandwiches, burgers, baked goods and milkshakes. I ordered a grilled cheese with cheddar and a chocolate shake. On the menu board it says you can add protein, peanut butter, or oreo for $1.50 extra, so I wanted a chocolate shake with oreo, but when I ordered they said you could only have oreos if you had a cookies and cream shake (cookies and cream ice cream). I pointed out that the sign said you could add oreo to any shake, but they said don’t do that. I think they need to update their menu board. Anyway, if you are planning to eat it there, they give you a number to place on your table and then bring the food out to you when it’s ready. It took about 10 minutes. The sandwich was quite good—it was more like a panini than a traditional grilled cheese, as it was made on one of those panini presses that makes the bread corrugated in texture. The milkshake was good too, but I think it’s hard to mess up a milkshake. Overall, it was decent, but I didn’t think it was anything special and wouldn’t make the trip over there for it specifically again—it’s a little out of the way of most things and it was not worth going out of the way for. I would eat there again if I happened to be in that area for something else though.

After lunch I went back downtown to do some fabric, ribbon and other notions shopping, as I like to stock up on items I can’t get at home. If you are into this sort of thing, the stores have so much variety that it can be overwhelming. Luckily I’ve been doing this sort of shopping for a couple years now and I know what I want to look for at each store, so that makes it easier. I always hit M&J Trim, Mood Fabric and Daytona Trim. I also like Tinsel Trading and the Store Across the Street, but unfortunately they were both closed this trip. Usually, I also back and forth across the streets from about 36th -39th between 7th and 8th Ave and end up finding other stores I like, but can never remember the names.

After my afternoon of shopping I went back to the hotel to drop my bags off before heading to Blue Smoke for dinner. I had made a reservation on Open Table, but found it was not necessary since it was early at approx 5:45pm. I was seated right away and ordered a watermelon margarita, BBQ potato chips with blue cheese dip and a half rack of the Kansas City style spare ribs. The margarita was a little different than I thought it would be—it was more tart than I expected, as it is garnished with a slice of charred lemon. The chips and dip I ordered were very good—slightly warmed BBQ chips served with a blue cheese dressing type dip with bacon bits on top. I am not a BBQ aficionado and I found the ribs to be very good. There were 6 ribs and each had quite a bit of tender meat on it. There were different sauces on the table as well—Sweet and Spicy BBQ sauce, Original BBQ sauce, hot sauce and magic dust dry rub. I used both BBQ sauces with the ribs and enjoyed both. I wish they had labels on the sauces explaining the taste or style of each one, as not everyone is a BBQ expert. I think the Original has a mustard base and the Sweet and Spicy is well---sweet and spicy. For dessert I got the Chocolate Layer Cake. The cake was moist and served warmed, so the icing was soft, melty and delicious.

Since it was still very early by the time I finished dinner, I got back in the subway and went down to Little Italy where I got an Iced Mocha at Ferrara. I have been to Ferrara before and was thinking of instead trying Caffe Roma for a change. Upon looking at Caffe Roma, I decided I prefer the atmosphere of Ferrara better—at least for indoor seating. Caffe Roma has outdoor tables, which Ferrara does not, but I think the inside of Ferrara seems more pleasant, though much busier than Caffe Roma which is smaller and darker.

After cooling off with my coffee drink, I went back in the subway to go up to the Empire State Building. I had been to the Empire State Building many years ago but didn’t remember it that well. It was approximately 7:45pm when I arrived and the lines were long, as has been reported here before. I had considered buying my tickets ahead of time online, but in the end did not pre-reserve and wished I had. The first line is for security, which everyone must pass through (took about 30 min). The next line is where those who had pre-reserved tickets were able to peel off separately. The ticket line took another 20 min. There is a separate fee for everything—if you just want to go to the 86th floor main observation deck, the cost is approx $17. If you want to also be able to access the 102nd floor (which I did) you pay an additional $15 (approx). They also try to sell you maps and audio tour guides, as that is the only way to know exactly what you are looking at since there is no signage up there. After the ticket line you move along pretty quickly and get in an elevator which takes you to the 80th floor. After disembarking that elevator, you must wait in another line for a different elevator to take you to the 86th floor. This line was moving so slowly (I think I waited about 20 min), they eventually opened a stairwell and told us that those who wished, could walk up the 6 stories to the 86th floor. This is what I ended up doing. Upon arriving at the 86th floor you are able to exit out onto the open air observation deck. There were a lot of people out there and it is hard to get a good spot to take photos from, but if you are patient, people do eventually move and you can get into their spot. After having my fill of the 86th floor, I went back inside and was able to take a separate elevator to the 102nd fl. It was much less crowded up there and it was easier to see, though it is not open air.
The total time for the trip down again was probably about 20min. All told, my time spent at the Empire State Building was approx 2 hours—90 min of which was spent in lines. I strongly suggest buying your tickets ahead of time—they are not dated if you buy ahead, so you can use them anytime during your stay. If you want to save money, then going to the 86th floor and skipping the 102nd will be a fine experience. You don’t see anything from 102 that you can’t see from 86. However, 102 is nice because it is less crowded. I have also been to the Top of the Rock 1 or 2 years ago and found that to be less crowded and the observation areas are larger. If you only have time for one viewing experience while in NY, time may be better spent at the Top of the Rock, as you will likely spend less time in line and more time enjoying the views.

Sunday, I checked out of the hotel and gave them my bag to store for the day before walking up to Central Park to walk around. I’m always at somewhat of a loss for things to do early mornings since many things don’t open until 10am. So, I usually end up walking around Central Park one morning per trip. It’s always a nice walk though and today was no exception as I took in sights such as the Lake and Bethesda Terrace, the Mall, Sheep Meadow and the Pond.

After my walk I took the subway down to Madison Square Park for lunch at Shake Shack. Over the years Shake Shack has become one of my “must dos”. I love the flavor that the burgers have and always enjoy the frozen custard. I got a single cheeseburger and a Shack Attack concrete, which consists of chocolate frozen custard, hot fudge, valrhona chocolate bits and brownie pieces swirled together and topped with chocolate sprinkles. Luckily, since I arrived shortly before the 11am opening time, the line was not long for ordering and it was even quicker for food pickup.
My next stop was the New York Transit Museum located in Brooklyn. I took the R train to Court Street and made the 5 minute walk to the museum from there. This museum is located in a subway station that is no longer used. You walk down to the museum through stairs in the street, just like you were entering the subway. You purchase your ticket from an old wooden ticket booth and then proceed through the museum. The exhibits range from information on the building of the subway, payment through the years (tokens vs. metrocard), old turnstiles and exhibits on buses and bridges as well. The museum also has about 12 vintage subway cars on display and open on the lower level. I’ve always had an interest in rail travel, so I enjoyed the museum and spent about 2 hours there.

After leaving the museum, I decided to walk around Brooklyn Heights since I’d never been there before. I walked up and down some of the fruit streets—such as Pineapple and Orange and the along a part of the promenade along the water. I ended up at the Fulton Ferry area and decided it was time for a snack. I went to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and got a cup of Butter Pecan. It was very tasty, but the line was incredibly long and seemed to move exceptionally slowly for some unknown reason. Since I was already over in Brooklyn, I decided to keep walking along Water Street through DUMBO. While there, I stopped into Jacques Torres Chocolate to get some cookies to bring home. I got Chocolate Chip and Mudslide (chocolate chocolate chip with nuts) and they were both delicious. The mudslide was very dense and fudgy while the chocolate chip was moist and chewy with tons of chocolate. After walking down a few more streets in the DUMBO area it was time to make my way back to Manhattan, so I got the F train at York Street. Since by now it was approx 3:30pm and I had to be back to the hotel by 5pm to get my bag to get back to Penn Station for my train home, it was time for an early dinner/snack. I got off the F at Broadway/Lafayette and transferred to 6 uptown (have to exit the subway station, cross the street and pay again in order to go uptown on the 6 from this station—otherwise you can only go downtown). Anyway I got off at Astor Place and walked a couple blocks to Pommes Frites. The premise of this place is they serve french fries with a variety of dipping sauces. Each sauce is 75 cents and the fries come in 3 sizes. I got a regular size with BBQ sauce and peanut satay sauce. The problem is, the shop is very small with only a couple tables and they were all filled. Not being familiar with the neighborhood at all, I couldn’t recall any parks or any place I could take them to eat, so I ended up heading back uptown on the subway and going to eat at the tables that are set up along the side of the New York Public Library along 5th Ave. Luckily, since the fries were fresh and hot to start with, they survived the trip uptown without significant cooling. The fries were good, but I wished they were crisper and I especially enjoyed the peanut satay sauce. I would definitely go to Pommes Frites again and try more of the sauces.

After my quick dinner, I walked back to the hotel to retrieve my luggage and then took the E train back to Penn Station with about 45 min to spare before a 6pm train.
Miramar is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 11:40 AM
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Enjoyed reading your report. You had some great weather too! When does the diet start?
mclaurie is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 11:41 AM
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yk
 
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Enjoyed reading your trip report.

Interesting the way you put it regarding "fewer people" in NYC during the summer. I'd say it's true there are fewer locals in the summer, but there certainly are plenty more tourists to make up the difference!

DH & I were in NYC the weekend before you were, and we too went from Boston. Instead of taking the Amtrak, we took MegaBus. It was comfy enough and definitely clean and quiet. We bought our tickets 1 month in advance and it was only $28 round trip for 2! Can't justify the cost of the Acela when we can travel similarly for a fraction of the cost!

I too use OpenTable a lot, and I always make a reservation even though I knew it wasn't necessary. To me, there's no downside to making a reservation, and with the upside of collecting the OpenTable dining points.

Thanks again for sharing your trip.
yk is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 11:56 AM
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Lucky for me that since I spent so much time walking around while I was there-- no diet necesarry!

I still think there seems like fewer people in NY during the summer months, but the numbers seem to increase over the years with the strength of the Euro. In my opinion, the worst possible time to visit NY (as far as crowds) is the holiday season---throngs of people everywhere.
Miramar is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 12:57 PM
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mp
 
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Miramar, what a great report!

But a milkshake and a shack attack concrete within a day!!OMG! I'd need a week on the treadmill after your weekend!

I love M&J Trimmings - and I don't even sew .. . but just looking at the buttons and trim is fascinating . . . so many great things . . .

My son and husband will be doing the reverse of your trip in a week or so - coming up to Boston for 4 days, visiting friends and taking in some museums - they love burgers and shakes - any recommendations? They're staying in Cambridge, but are very flexible and comfortable with public transport . . .
Thanks!
mp is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 01:00 PM
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I can’t get over the fact that at some point during my posting and lurking here, the New York Millkshake Co. will actually be mentioned nor written up about in this forum. That small snack stand in our small park in Midtown east is where I usually grab a happy-hour beer and/or a hotdog if I spot some or any of the neighborhood guys loitering about just before I head on home from work.

I agree with you, though, that the place is not worth making a special out-of-the-way trip for, except during times when we have free outdoor concerts or some sort of cultural activities going on in the park. For us that eat /breathe/live/sleep the concrete jungle way of life, the park provides for some refreshing park-like ambiance. Anyway, thanks for coming over and writing it up. Also, next time try the burgers or hotdogs if they happen to be grilling them outside.

b_b
bill_boy is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 01:17 PM
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Wow... reading your post has made me hungry. I would need to walk back to Boston after those meals!
michelleNYC is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 01:49 PM
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I enjoyed your trip report. I live southwest of Boston so it is actually easier and cheaper for me to drive to New York rather than take the train or even the bus. But your description of the train ride was making me nostalgic, and the subways as well. I might take in the subway museum after reading your description.
Nikki is online now  
Jul 14th, 2008, 02:12 PM
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Great report of an action-packed trip.

<< I got off the F at Broadway/Lafayette and transferred to 6 uptown (have to exit the subway station, cross the street and pay again in order to go uptown on the 6 from this station—otherwise you can only go downtown). Anyway I got off at Astor Place and walked a couple blocks to Pommes Frites. >>

Next time, just get off the F train one stop earlier at 2nd Ave and walk 8 blocks north to the same Pommes Frites--slightly longer walk but no change of trains.
ellenem is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 04:43 PM
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mp--have your husband and son try JP Licks for shakes (frappes). They have great ice cream-- traditional flavors as well as more innovative ones. Located on Newbury St in Boston near the corner of Mass Ave.
Depending on where they are staying in Cambridge there is also Herrell's and Toscanini's.

ellenem- thanks for the subway tip-- maybe I'll get to use it on a future trip

The NY Milkshake Co definitely seemed to attract a more local crowd. Several of the people there all seemed to know each other etc.
Miramar is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 05:32 PM
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mp
 
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Thanks Miramar.
mp is offline  

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