New York City Trip Report! (part 1 of 3)

Old Oct 6th, 2009, 06:08 PM
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New York City Trip Report! (part 1 of 3)

Hubs and I just returned from our first non-baby vacation since our son was born two years ago. We spent a romantic, exciting week in New York City! Read on for the trip report. (If any of you are planning a similar getaway to the city, I hope the info will be helpful!)

Day 1
We got to NYC mid-afternoon and took Super Shuttle from the Newark airport to the apartment we rented. (We chose to fly into Newark because the flight times there matched our desires most closely). They picked us up at the airport and dropped us off at our apartment door for about $35. (A cab would have cost $45, plus tolls and tip.) Our little studio apartment was spacious, clean, and much quieter than I thought it would be. (We were on the 9th floor, which helped.) We booked it through Homeaway.com, which we've used to book properties before. The apartment was near Times Square on 41st Street. If we'd been a few blocks farther downtown, we would have been in a gritty neighborhood. As it was, though, we were super-close to attractions and a major transportation hub, and we got the place for a steal.

After getting settled and freshening up a bit, we headed out to Times Square, which is a total assault on the senses. It's crowded, gaudy, and full of tourist traps. A hot mess. But we had to go and check it out. That night, we stopped for dinner at Nizza, a wonderful little place on 9th Avenue. I had a delicious arugula salad, the broiled clams, and a glass of wine, and hubs had the veal. We really loved this little place. There were a ton of great little restaurants on 9th Avenue - delicious, reasonable, not too crowded. It became a favorite place for us to troll for lunch and dinner.

After that, we went to an improv comedy show very much like the old "Who's Line Is It, Anyway?" television show, over at The Broadway Comedy Club. (Yep, we got hustled there by one of those hawkers in Times Square. Totally fell for that one, but we didn't have plans that night, and the show was funny, so it worked out.) Lots of audience participation.

Day 2
We awoke to rain. After a lazy morning, we headed out to the Upper West Side for a delightful lunch at Savann. I had a delicious salmon fettuccine with tomatoes, scallions, and a light cream sauce. Hubs had a GORGEOUS steak sandwich. Loved this little place, too. They brought these sweet little rolls and muffins out to you when you were seated. We wanted to try the bistro next door (Nice Matin, I think?), but we didn't get back over there.

We then went to the American Museum of Natural History to escape the rain. And what an escape it was! I LOVED this museum! We gave short shrift to the "people" exhibits, but we covered pretty much all of the animal exhibits, including the amazing dinosaur skeletons. What I really enjoyed about this museum is that the building itself is historic. In addition to the scientific value of the actual exhibits, the facility presents the visitor with a wonderful, evolving idea of what a museum should be, and how that ideal has changed over the course of American history. Riveting. Before leaving, we also stopped by the planetarium to catch the current show. It was short and very entertaining!

Since we'd spent virtually all day at the museum, we were starving by the time we left. We ate dinner at Bella Vita, a boisterous, crowded little Italian restaurant a few blocks off Times Square. I washed down my heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs with a nice glass of cab sav, but the pizzas and the salads looked absolutely amazing, too! Prices were cheap.

Day 3
We started Monday with an early trip to the Empire State Building. We got there at around 9:15 a.m., and we'd already bought our City Passes online (which include admission to the history museum, the Empire State Building, the Met, and many other must-see attractions), so we didn't have to wait to buy tickets. As a result, we absolutely whizzed up to the top of the building. The Empire State Building is a beautiful structure, and it's obvious that it was built to impress. (Take a look around the lobby. Not only is it razzle-dazzle, there are images of the silhouette of the building everywhere. I wonder what Freud would have to say about that . . . )

Views from the top are amazing (You get a great view of the Chrysler Building, in particular.), and I was really glad we'd decided to do this early in our trip. It helped us orient ourselves in the city as we explored later in the week. We got the audio tour with our City Passes, and I thought it was extremely informative. Hubs and I took goofy pictures of ourselves at the top that look strikingly similar to the goofy pictures we took of ourselves atop the Eiffel Tower in 2002. (That's us - goofy for at least seven years, and counting!)

After that, we legged it up 5th Avenue to the New York Public Library. Now, I'm sure many people go to New York and never feel the need to visit the New York Public Library, but it was important to me. I observed the lions, standing guard over the library's entrance and keeping a wary eye on the street traffic. Then, we went inside and poked around. There are a few public exhibits inside on the library's history and restoration. In addition, I wanted to take a peek into the reading room, which is probably the most beautiful room inside a library that I'll ever have the occasion to be in. Huge windows let the sunlight stream in, there are gorgeous chandeliers in addition to table lamps, and even the roof is decorated, painted with the sky and clouds. All of this, plus loads of books. Heaven.

We grabbed lunch on the go and walked further up 5th to arrive at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I have been to many old churches in Europe, and St. Patrick's offers much of the same feeling. The arched ceiling seems impossibly high, and a bevy of small altars in front of statues of saints and the Virgin Mary provide places for visitors to make donations, light candles, and offer prayers. There is some beautiful statuary in here.

We crossed the street in front of St. Patrick's to check out Rockefeller Center. It's a large complex of buildings that houses television studios, shops, and performance venues. We had planned to take the Stage Door Tour at Radio City Music Hall here, but I have to admit that by this time, we were pretty pooped! Instead of the 1-2 hour tour, we headed back to the apartment to take a load off.

Later that day, we ventured out to Grand Central Station so we could see the rush-hour traffic hit. We parked ourselves in an out-of-the-way location and watched as people ran all over the terminal, lugging bags, listening to their headphones, and looking terribly worried they'd miss their next train.

The terminal itself is a feat of architecture. You can clearly see what parts of the structure are older and what has been added, and I loved the painted, illuminated ceiling. I was getting a little hungry by this time, but we had dinner plans with friends, so I satisfied myself with a fig balsamic gelato from the dining concourse. (By the way, there is no excuse to be hungry at Grand Central Station. There are tons of cheap, tasty options in the dining concourse, as well as a few nicer restaurants on the ground floor.) We stepped outside while I licked my cone to get a better look at the Chrysler Building from up close.

After that, we headed to Gyu Kaku on 3rd Avenue to meet up with some friends for dinner. We loved this place. You basically sit at a table that features your own little grill in the center. You order raw meats and veggies, then you can cook them yourself on the grill. It was fun!

I started with a mango mojito and the delicious house salad. Then, hubs and I ordered Chateaubriand, garlic chicken, and sausages (which were dang good), as well as broccoli and mushrooms. I finished up with a great crepe/cream/green tea layered dessert (which tasted soooo much better than it sounds). This place was a little spendier, but we ordered ALOT of food and drinks. I think our tab, including tip, came to around $100 per couple.

More to come . . .
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Old Oct 6th, 2009, 06:12 PM
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New York City Trip Report! (Part 2 of 3)

Day 4
On Tuesday, we woke and rode the subway aaaaalll the way down to South Ferry so we could catch the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island ferry. We had the chance to walk through Battery Park while we were down there, and it's a lovely little public green space. Tickets to the ferry were included in our CityPass and, again, because we were early, we boarded the boat pretty quickly and were on our way! Views of the statue on the approach are beautiful, and you get some great views of Manhattan from the water as well. It was sunny and a bit breezy on the water, very pleasant.

When we arrived at Liberty Island, we strolled around the perimeter, admiring the statue, the views, and the weather. (The statue was actually alot smaller than I thought it would be. And did you know that the metal sheathing that makes up the exterior of the statue is only the width of two coins? Amazing little tidbits of info all over the place up there.) However, we later realized that what we SHOULD have done was get right in line to go inside the museum located in the base of the statue. By the time we decided to do that, the line was heinous. We decided to skip it and head straight for Ellis Island on the next ferry.

Ellis Island turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the trip. The more I explored it, the more I realized that it was this part of the attraction that gave the statue meaning. We started on the ground floor, where we learned all about immigration to the United States over the past century or so. Then, we moved upstairs to the huge Registry Room, where immigrants were initially "processed" after landing at Ellis Island. The exhibits on the second floor were heart breaking. Gaining access to the United States was not an easy process. After a long, expensive, often arduous ship voyage, immigrants lined up in the Registry Room so they could be assessed. Officials did this to make sure immigrants were healthy, able to work, sound of mind, and otherwise equipped so they would not become a burden on the state.

At the museum, you could pick up phones throughout various parts of the exhibits and hear the voices of immigrants, telling you in their own words about their experiences at Ellis Island. Some of the stories were sad, some of them were hopeful, and all of them really spoke to the indomitable spirit of this country. It made me proud to be an American.

We were getting a bit hungry, so we bought lobster rolls and fries from the cafe at Ellis Island and ate them on one of the stone picnic tables overlooking the water. A lovely lunch!

That evening, we gussied up and headed to Uncle Nick's on 9th Avenue for dinner. We had huge, delicious Greek salads and a huge mixed appetizer plate loaded with Feta cheese, pita bread, tzatziki, taramosalata, grape leaves, olives, grilled octopus, kaftedes and more. All for about $30. (No lie.) The whole purpose was not to fill up too much before hitting the theatre scene that night, but I don't know if we truly succeeded!

At any rate, we finished dinner and then hoofed it to the Gershwin Theatre for a thrilling performance of Wicked. First of all, I really liked the Gershwin. They had little exhibits on theatre history throughout, as well as signed photographs of stage and screen legends all over the walls. And once the curtain went up, well, I was good and truly hooked. I've read the book that the stage musical is based on, and while many liberties certainly were taken, they did make for a dazzling live production. It didn't hurt that the two leads were phenomenally talented and that the costumes were a fanciful delight. The show was also very self-aware, a tactic seen often in more modern work. References were frequently made to The Wizard of Oz movie, currently in re-release. Very, very entertaining!!

Day 5
Wednesday was Met day. We took the subway to 79th Street, then cut through Central Park to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Along the way, we got to explore the Shakespeare Garden, poke around in Belvedere's Castle (Views were great from up there!) and even snap a few photos of Cleopatra's Needle! (I photographed its twin on the banks of the Thames in London a decade ago. It was eerie to be taking pictures of it again in the here and now!)

When we got to the Met, we headed straight for the Egyptian galleries. The Temple of Dendur is completely surreal, and standing in front of the sarcophagi was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Giving the Egyptian exhibits their due worked up my appetite, so we stopped for lunch at the Petrie Court Cafe and Wine Bar (which was a bit pricey, but yummy and convenient, with views to Central Park). I had the special - a delicious pork roast with horseradish potatoes and braised cabbage. I topped it off with a yummy apple crisp, and we were ready to tackle more of the museum.

We decided to head towards the Medieval galleries next, which featured some wonderful religious art. Then, we just HAD to slip through the armor galleries. (Those really reminded me of the armory we visited in Spain. But the Met had more pieces on display, including some of the most gorgeous firearms I'd ever seen. I mean, if I had a rifle with an ornately-carved wood grip, capped at the butt end by a finely illustrated Native American in sterling silver, I might just take up hunting, kwim?)

Lastly, we tripped through the European sculpture and decorative arts galleries, which smacked of the Louvre. Whole rooms from French palaces and English country estates, re-created on this side of the Atlantic. Mind-boggling.

All in all, we covered the better part of the first floor (including two sculpture gardens, which were soooo beautiful). We also went up to the roof to see the modern installation there. I was absolutely sick when we had to leave, but we had dinner reservations and show tickets for that evening. At such time as I return to NYC, the Met will be one of the first places I go.

Incidentally, going to the Met made me very proud. I've been to several of the "big" European museums, and none of them could touch the Met for holdings, layout (it was easy to find everything, the art was beautifully displayed, and even though there were tons of people there, I never felt crowded or rushed), and guest services. (Bathrooms, shops, restaurants - everything was everywhere. Mighty convenient.) People of all nationalities were there, admiring one of the greatest museums in the United States. Nice.

After resting a bit at the apartment, we headed out to Marseilles (again, on 9th Avenue! Noticing a pattern here?) for a delicious dinner. I was glad we had reservations, because the place was absolutely packed with the pre-theatre crowd. This charming restaurant is set up like a French bistro, and I had the mussels with fries and a glass of red. Hubs had a DELICIOUS steak, smothered in melted herb butter, and I nearly stole it off his plate! Service was prompt, friendly, and attentive. This place was a bit spendy, but completely worth it. I loved it, and I'll return when I'm back in the city.

Fully sated, we walked a few blocks to the Minskoff Theatre to see The Lion King. This show has one of the most moving intro numbers I've ever seen. And though the story and music was familiar, the way the production suggested the environment of the African savanna was remarkable. I loved, loved, loved the costumes, and they accentuated the beauty of the performers while also creating the world of the production. Brilliant. Also, the use of symbolism in this show was very nearly cathartic.

After the show, we stopped by Junior's for some authentic New York cheesecake. We tried both the plain and the raspberry swirl variety. I may be having some of this stuff shipped to me over the holidays! Then, we legged it back through the theatre district to our apartment. On the way, we bumped into Daniel Craig, James Gandolfini, and Bill Pullman. I am sooo not kidding. They are all in shows on Broadway, so by the time we left Junior's, they were out in front of their theatres greeting fans. We didn't stop, but dude, they were right there. (Gandolfini looked buzzed.)

More to come . . .
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Old Oct 6th, 2009, 06:17 PM
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Day 6
We slept late on Thursday, but when we finally got going, we took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked about half of it and got great views of both Brooklyn and Manhattan's financial district. There are plaques and little signs with information about the bridge's construction and history along the footpath, and I really enjoyed taking pictures of all the cool cable formations that make up the bridge's support system.

After that, we decided to swing by Chinatown, which was only a subway stop or two away. Have I mentioned my love of Chinatowns? Every time I go to a major city, I investigate to find out if it has a Chinatown. And if it does, I go there. Why? Not only can you find cheap souvenirs, you can eat DIM SUM! I absolutely LOVE drinking my sweet hot tea, letting the cup warm my hands, and pointing to delicious little steamed dumplings that are mine for the taking.

Anyhoo, hubs and I found a little place in Chinatown called Mandarin and had a great lunch, then we poked around all the cramped little shops and bought touristy souvenirs.

That night for dinner, we hit the street for a good slice of pizza. We ended up at Naples 45, a great Italian restaurant right behind Grand Central Terminal, in the bottom of the MetLife building. The restaurant imports alot of its ingredients from Italy, and everything else is made from scratch on site. I got a kick out of watching them toss the pizza dough.

We ordered two small appetizers - the meatballs (which were YUM) and the fried calamari (the best I'd ever had. IF ONLY they served it with a saffron garlic aioli, the best fried calamari dipping sauce EVER. Unfortunately, Naples 45 serves theirs with a spicy marinara. The sauce was good, but not a show-stopper.) Then, I tucked into a super pizza. It was very simple - just tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil - but all of the ingredients were so good that it was nearly perfect.

After dinner, we headed out to rue B (a little restaurant/bar on the lower East side) to meet up with some friends. It was their pick, and I honestly don't think I'll re-visit this place when I return to NYC. It's very far from any metro stop, they were out of half of the things on the menu, and the cheesecake that I had there wasn't very good at all.

We caught a cab back to the apartment and sank gratefully into bed.

Day 7
We lazed around our last full day in New York City. After a late breakfast, we went to Central Park. We spent some time at Bethesda Terrace, then we ran around in Sheep Meadow for a while. After that, we sat a spell at Strawberry Fields. The park is absolutely beautiful and, for all the greenery, it's pretty densely packed with attractions - statues, lakes, fountains, amphitheatres. There's just alot there. In the more touristy areas of the park (Bethesda Terrace, Strawberry Fields), there are lots of visitors, but the less high-profile areas just seemed to have a smattering of New Yorkers in them.

After enjoying the park for a while, we figured we'd seek out a New York deli for lunch. We ended up at Carnegie Deli, where hubs and I split the biggest open-faced Reuben sandwich that I have ever seen. I was only responsible for eating half of it, and I think I left about 30 percent of my portion on my plate. If only I'd been more discriminating, I would have had more room for cheesecake! (Their desserts looked DIVINE.) The place was packed, though I think alot of the customers were tourists. (The deli's proximity to Times Square definitely skewed the clientele.)

After that, we turned our attention to souvenir shopping. We picked up a bunch of campy stuff for the family back home, plus nabbed a few things for ourselves, at the big and gaudy Grand Slam shop near Times Square. Fun!

Then, it was pack, pack, pack. In the morning, we were off to Jackson again, where I was so excited to see little man that I nearly wept! We had a really great time, and I'm soooo glad that hubs and I decided to take some time out for ourselves. We've already decided that we'll return to NYC, for a shorter trip, some time in the future!
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Old Oct 6th, 2009, 07:24 PM
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What a fabulous trip report - it sounds like you had a blast, and your writeup was great to read.
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Old Oct 6th, 2009, 07:26 PM
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Bradshawgirl1, thank you for a most enjoyable trip report! You have a wonderful way with words and I found myself tranported to my favorite city as I followed your adventure. I'm so glad that you and your husband found time to take a trip alone without the little man. My husband and I have 3 kids who are now 18, 23, and 26 and we always made time to take a yearly trip by ourselves when they were babies. We missed them desperately every time we went away but we found that it was good for our marriage and the kids always survived without us.
Thanks again for sharing your week with us. I look forward to reading about your next trip!
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Old Oct 6th, 2009, 11:32 PM
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Great report. I felt I was there! You have whetted my appetite!
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Old Oct 7th, 2009, 01:21 AM
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Great trip report and great planning. Made me even more cranky with my friends who vetoed the MET on our recent visit.
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Old Oct 7th, 2009, 06:15 AM
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Great report, seemed like you had a great time.
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Old Oct 7th, 2009, 06:18 AM
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Great report...you took me back to one of my favorite cities...I felt like I was in Central Park with you!
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Old Oct 7th, 2009, 06:22 AM
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Great trip report. Come back soon!
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Old Oct 7th, 2009, 09:08 AM
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Fabulous report. I am copying your restaurant recs down,,they sound wonderful! I never did do the Brooklyn bridge all the times we have been to NY,,,maybe this mid Nov, when we go! That is very COOL about Daniel Craig and friends! I am SO jealous!
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Old Oct 7th, 2009, 01:57 PM
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Great report!!! Definitely made notes about the various restaurants you mentioned for when I go for my first time.
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Old Oct 10th, 2009, 11:31 AM
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So glad you guys found it useful! NYC is a GREAT city, and we'll definitely be back!
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Old Nov 20th, 2009, 07:30 AM
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I hope our experience is as wonderful as yours! Great report and fab. advise.
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Old Nov 20th, 2009, 08:24 AM
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Great trip report, bradshawgirl! Sounds like just the sort of trip I'd like to have when I finally get to NYC. Thanks for the all the great tips and restaurant reviews.
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Old Nov 20th, 2009, 08:27 AM
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Oh, one more thing - I thought I've read many times over that short-term (vacation) rental apts are illegal in NYC and are often a complete scam. How was the apt you stayed in?
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Old Nov 22nd, 2009, 05:05 AM
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We also loved Ellis Island and wept for the children who came by themselves on a boat to a new life.

Yes, please, more details about your apartment!
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Old Nov 23rd, 2009, 10:59 AM
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hi bradshaw,

i love your report! thank you for sharing!
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Old Jan 9th, 2010, 08:26 AM
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fantastic report--im a native (Bronx)but have lived in Atl for 25 years.We went back for our 40th and did lots of the same things.Love the city.BTW, there are some really great food spots overlooking the floor of Grand Central on the West end.Try them next time
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Old Jan 9th, 2010, 01:53 PM
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This report is amazing and so descriptive!
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