NYC: (Mostly) Solo, and (Mostly) No Top Tens!

Old Oct 5th, 2015, 11:34 PM
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NYC: (Mostly) Solo, and (Mostly) No Top Tens!

TRAVELERS. Myself (40-something) and for the first weekend, DS (19), who flew in from his university town enthusiastic for a couple of days of real food and a little sightseeing, all paid for by Mom. We both arrived on 11 September, a rather significant day in NYC. 

Times Square is best appreciated when jet-lagged, and so DS and I made our way there on our arrival afternoon. The overdose of lights and sounds and people in every shape, size, color and animation are barely noticeable when tired! We found a pub for dinner, but alas, being stateside meant that DS could not enjoy the craft beers on offer and had to make do with a milkshake.

AIRLINE. Air travel was AirBerlin to JFK from Vienna via Dusseldorf. My outbound was on 11 September, and in Dusseldorf a rather agitated man was causing quite a stir at the gate; his one-way ticket and lack of the appropriate visa had raised a flag with the attendants, and he was not cooperative. Everyone at the gate seemed to be thinking the same thing, “Um, dude, do you realize what the date is, and to where you are flying?” Police eventually escorted him away from the gate.

AirBerlin has a crazy scheme where one can pay extra for an aisle seat; bid to have an empty adjacent seat in Economy; and bid for a Business Class seat. On the outbound I successfully bid for a Business Class seat at a much reduced cost. Unfortunately, on my day of travel I lost the seat because the previous day’s flight had been canceled and those travelers with “higher” status bumped me back to cattle-class, where I at least had an aisle seat. Rather disappointing. On the return I “won” an empty adjacent seat in the two-seat Economy section for a mere extra €100, and could at least stretch out and sleep a little.

AirBerlin service was fine; if anything, the menu offerings were better than I expected (at least on the outbound). The main outbound meal was “chicken or pasta” with some sauce; the snack before landing was a curried (?) cole slaw with chicken strips. Personally, I would never serve an in-flight meal containing turmeric, where the likelihood of a splash and resulting permanent stain is high. I did like that the flight attendants distributed bottles of water to everyone, though. The inbound food is not worth discussing.

GROUND TRANSPORTATION. For the subway I purchased a 7-day unlimited pass, a genius move. Though I had carefully planned daily itineraries so as to not criss-cross the city too much, temperatures reached mid-80°F each day and it was nice on occasion to skip a few blocks by catching an air-conditioned train and not fumble about to add fare to a card.

For above-ground transportation I relied on Team Geox Respira: black ballerina flats with “urban hiking soles,” and a pair of Geox casual, athletic-type shoes. According to my iHealth app I walked on average, 7 miles each day, so it was wise of me to leave my wedges at home.

LODGING. My Queens apartment was in a house owned by the person from whom I rented, and was a few minutes walk from the subway station near the end of the F subway line. Surprisingly the evenings were very quiet, save for an occasional siren or loud auto. While the area was definitely not for a xenophobe, I felt safe walking home alone on the couple of evenings that ran past sunset. The streets were lively; the downside being that there was a great deal of litter, something I don't understand. The commute to Manhattan ran about 35 minutes, so it's not really an ideal place for a first-time visitor to NYC, but I am not a first-time visitor, and I knew that when I rented.

EATING/DINING. That I would eat well while in NYC was a given. Any cuisine I desired was not more than a few subway stops away; within walking distance of my Queens apartment I could choose from Guatemalan, Turkish, Indian, Pakistani, Jamaican, Asian, Southern or chic-chic Hipster food, or default to whatever the day's special was from the "Healthy Guru" grocer (really, more like a Whole Foods pop-up) in the storefront of my building. 

Smorgasburg Brooklyn was a highlight for the two of us on Saturday. Set in the East River State Park and with spectacular views of Manhattan, we had but one small complaint with this "Woodstock of Eating," that being the sheer number of choices! We were like kids in a candy store... "Naked" (sans roll) Maine lobster, sprinkled with lemon and best enjoyed with craft root beer…grilled short rib topped with a bone marrow and roasted tomato salsa…Pierogis and pickles...though, the pierogies were not quite up to my (Polish-heritage) standards.

The eating continued throughout the week…Onigiri, freshly grilled to order (a surprise treat!),drizzled with Sriracha cream and wrapped in seaweed…lamb sliders and mint tea at a Moroccan restaurant…a breakfast in Central Park of chorizo and potato wraps from a Spanish food truck…Mexican tacos and an iced hibiscus flower lemonade from the taco truck at the New York Botanical Garden.  The truck was the culinary part of the Frida Kahlo exhibit, an excellent complement to an equally excellent exhibit. And on it went, to include deep fried pickles and my favorite comfort food from the Whole Foods salad bar: spicy fried tofu. One meal, though, was especially anticipated: a Pastrami on Rye sandwich from the 2nd Avenue Deli—an epicurean highlight of my week and where DS and I ate before his return to dorm food.

MUSEUMS. It is near impossible for me to visit NYC and not spend a few hours at the Met. (During my visit the Sargent exhibit was running, lucky me!) Wandering back, I was drawn to the French Consulate for Cultural Affairs building, wonderfully covered in ivy and whose doors were open to reveal a marbled rotunda. Once inside, I discovered that the first floor contained a French-language bookstore, where I picked up a couple of gifts for DD.

I toured The Cloisters on a spectacular weather day of blue skies, light breeze, and just the barest hint of autumn color. This was my first visit, and I was most appreciative of having had the nice weather, as the walk from the subway station to the grounds would be unpleasant, and not all that scenic, otherwise.

The only other museum I attempted to visit was The New York Historical Society. Looking forward to viewing the Audubon Bird Print collection, I was visibly disappointed that the gallery was closed for renovation (website information be damned), and though the kind clerk refunded my entrance fee and offered to let me see the rest of the museum, I was not interested. I walked over to Zabars from the museum and picked up a few “comfort food” snacks, headed to Central Park and people-watching for an hour or so before carrying on with my day. Not an ideal outcome, but snacks from Zabars and a walk through Central Park is never a bad idea.

OTHER SIGHTSEEING. With DS having only half a days' worth of sightseeing time on Sunday, we maximized the visit by touring parts of Lower Manhattan, including the 9/11 Memorial and the Financial District.  From the WTC subway station we walked past the construction sites for several of the WTC towers underway, and along a path where developers had placed a large mural for visitors to sign.  Reading many of the messages was heartening.

The 9/11 Memorial consists of large pools that sit at the sites of the original Towers 1 and 2; each are bordered with the inscribed names of those who perished in the attacks. Surrounding the memorials is a park filled with trees, and the resulting space, we thought, was extremely well done. Adjacent to the memorial is the 9/11 Museum. We lived a couple of miles from the Pentagon in 2001; our memories of that day and the subsequent ones to follow are a personal "museum" for us, so we did not tour the museum.

Obviously Charging Bull has to be visited. During those silly Occupy Wall Street months (years?), the bull was protected and visitors were not allowed near. Now, it's back to being a NYC tourist destination. The queues/gaggles to pose with the bull were orderly; DS and I amused ourselves with the people-watching while we waited for our turn. While most tourists posed with the front end of the bull, others preferred different to “grab the bull by the (fill in the blank)” at the back end for their photos. Interesting.

LIBRARIES. The Morgan Library was sumptuous. Who would not want to curl up on one of J.P. Morgan's velvet sofas with a book from his West Wing Book Vault? Alas, one is not even permitted to touch the furniture. A special exhibit was running at the library in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first release of Alice in Wonderland.  Many original sketches and notes were on view, some of which could be photographed.  Well done, I thought.

On another afternoon I lingered in the NYCPL.  Between the reading rooms and the special exhibits, only the hopeless could not be inspired to read after visiting this space.  If we lived in NYC, poor DH would have to fetch me from the city's libraries each night. The kind folks who staff the NYCPL Map Room would call and request him to, "Please collect your wife. She is asleep again with her arms around the Giant World Atlas book and we can not wake her."  Most unfortunately, the Main Reading Room is under restoration until 2017, so I shall have to wait to see the room again.

MARKETS. As a lover of food, I would of course seek out markets in New York.  On one particular early morning I made my way to Manhattan's Chinatown. (I am reserving the "real" Chinatown in Flushing for the next visit.)   Rather serendipitously I had watched a food documentary during my week in New York on what goes on after dark in the city. No surprise, the city is alive with vendors moving practically everything comestible around the while New Yorkers sleep. And sure enough, my early morning visit to Chinatown caught the crabs still pincing and the frogs still hopping. I also spied a few "pop-up" vendors were plying their wares, as well. Conch meat, anyone?  Fresh turtles for soup, perhaps?

From a Farmer's Market at Herald Square, a made-to-order Greek Salad was the perfect dose of vitamins and energy I needed to shop the afternoon away; and from the Union Square insanely-organic Farmer's Market, a ridiculously overpriced and ordinary-tasting grilled cheese sandwich. No doubt the cheese came from a cow that was milked while listening to classical music by a hemp-fiber wearing farmer in a gender-neutral barn made of recycled timbers.

One morning I set out for the trendy Chelsea Market, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the Food Network "celebrity chefs" that tape their shows in the floors above. No such luck, though I did enjoy checking out the "trends," like farmstead meats that are "Meaty” and “Farm to Table” restaurants that are pretty much like every restaurant in Central Europe.

PARKS AND GARDENS. Following my disappointing attempt to view the Audubon collection at the NYHS, the shady and green spaces of Central Park made for a pleasant part of the day's rearranged itinerary.  In the Strawberry Fields of Central Park one can find tourists lined up to pose at the Imagine mosaic. Unfortunately, also lined up around the mosaic are John Lennon wannabes singing the song, rather terribly. 

A relatively new park is High Line, a converted above-ground train line no longer in use. A genius idea, I thought.  Judging by the number of people walking with me, I was not alone in my assessment. The park runs for almost two miles along the west side of Manhattan, from Bowery through Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen, ending where the Upper West Side begins.

On my final day in NYC I visited the New York Botanical Garden, not just a park with pretty flowers, but a National Historic Landmark spanning 250 acres and over 1million botanical species, all organized nicely and reachable via the little tram that moves through the park. A highlight of my visit was the Frida Kahlo exhibit of both her art and her (simulated) garden at Casa Azul. In 2009 DD and I had occasion to see the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, so seeing Kahlo's works was a nice complement. The garden is out in the Bronx, an easy 20 minute ride on the regional train that runs along the tracks and lines that Cornelius Vanderbilt built his wealth upon. 

MISCELLANEOUS OBSERVATIONS. I hated, hated, hated, the Arctic air-conditioning in stores, restaurants, and on the subway. We have lived in Europe now for four years, and to move from hot to cold and back again is something I have not missed. Why does the air-conditioning have to be so dramatic?

I loved the display of the Red, White, and Blue. Yes, we arrived on 11 September, but the colors continued to fly all week. In Austria the flags are only brought out on 1 May and the Austrian National Day in the fall, so, thank you, New York!

I made the mistake of turning on the television in my apartment on the first morning after DS departed, and felt my IQ drop with the morning talk shows. I switched to an infomercial on, “Why You Should Own a Pressure Cooker” and felt my IQ rise substantially. After that, no more morning television.

“PSL” (Pumpkin Spice Latte) seemed poised to take over Manhattan. Hopefully this hipster-speak will kill the evil that is this syrup.

I tired quickly of ecological-minded statements printed here, there, and everywhere. “16 Practices that Protect Our Farms” on a grocery bag and “Sushi with Ethics” printed on my disposable chopsticks; and so on. Does anyone read this? Or care? Based on the amount of litter left behind after a Labor Parade along 5th Avenue we passed by on one day, I’m guessing the answer is, “no.”

As always, I love NY! Until next time…
fourfortravel is offline  
Old Oct 6th, 2015, 04:41 AM
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What a great trip report! You hit some of my favorite places, like the Cloisters and the Highline. I've started anticipating my next visit.
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Old Oct 6th, 2015, 05:40 AM
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Glad you understood and enjoyed NY.
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Old Oct 6th, 2015, 05:57 AM
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Terrific report, and spot-on observations. I appreciated this as much as I do your posts/threads from Austria. Thanks!
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Old Oct 7th, 2015, 07:00 AM
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IMDonehere, I think it takes several visits to NYC before one begins to "understand" the city. So, I am a happy to be novice for as long as it takes.

elberko, thank you! I am growing ever fonder of my adopted country with each day trip and weekend outing!
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Old Oct 7th, 2015, 11:31 AM
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My daughter is flying AirBerlin from Dusseldorf to JFK in December.
Do you know the baggage allowance? I couldn't immediately find a link but will have to check this before she travels.

Nice report; I'm looking forward my trip to pick her up at JFK and to view the Christmas lights
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Old Oct 7th, 2015, 11:58 AM
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Great report. I especially loved your description of your grilled cheese sandwich. I have dined in a few restaurants such as those and have gotten sandwiches like that. I too am sure those cows were treated as such (I am the daughter of a dairy farmer who would have so enjoyed that description).

I must confess to having the Imagine picture taken in Central Park Strawberry Fields, and um....we did attempt the song. Tourists!! What can one say!!

Again, fantastic report. I cannot wait to return to NYC.
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Old Oct 7th, 2015, 10:53 PM
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sassy_cat, AirBerlin's baggage allowance, for Economy class, was one checked bag up to 23kg, and one (small) carryon, plus a laptop and handbag.
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Old Oct 8th, 2015, 12:53 AM
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Green markets attract self-important white people.

The A/C in the stores is often cranked up to attract customers. Stores used to keep their doors open so the cold breeze would lure people in, but I think there is a law against that now.

The Chelsea Market has a number of practical stores. We often shop at the fruit/vegetable store because the prices for Manhattan are good and the turnover very high. Oddly enough, however, the selection is limited. Amy's produces high quality bread and the fish store is this odd hybrid of practical and tourist as it sells scores of cooked lobsters to tourists but it has a wide variety. Since lobsters are messy, I am not sure I would it during a touring day. Prices have risen since its popularity increased>

The wine store has a good collection from Spain. And the brownie store is very good, as it better be, because that is all it makes.
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Old Oct 13th, 2015, 07:59 AM
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Great report! Let me know when you come to Flushing next time and we can talk Asian restaurants!
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Old Oct 13th, 2015, 08:31 AM
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There is a very pleasant way to walk to the Cloisters from the A station at 190th street through Ft. Tryon Park. I'm sorry you didn't go that way. I did just check the Cloisters web site and they recommend a different way to walk up the street. I don't understand that at all. Perhaps it's shorter? Anyway, I'm sorry you missed it.
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Old Oct 13th, 2015, 11:20 AM
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I really enjoyed your trip report, your observations about New York and the responses here. It is of course true you can have a great time staying more affordably outside Manhattan but it's surprising little we see this in trip reports.

I smiled at your observation about all the self congratulatory recycling messages. They all seem to be designed to make us feel fine about wasting the stuff in the first place. I'm amazed by how many cafes want to give you your drink in a disposable cup even if you're drinking it right there.

< felt my IQ drop with the morning talk shows.> This reminds me why I don't watch TV anymore! The "news" is just as bad here, with the exception of PBS.

I was glad to read about Air Berlin as they're now flying to an airport near us and friends of ours had a good experience with them recently.

Thanks again!
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Old Oct 14th, 2015, 11:28 PM
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ekscrunchy, I'll be returning with DD and her best friend (first visit to America!) in February. Let's talk Asian!

CharlotteK, I did walk through the park; I just imagined that the walk might not be pleasant in inclement weather. The views were quite pretty.
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Old Oct 15th, 2015, 12:47 AM
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ekscrunchy - I'd love to hear your Flushing tips too!
Heading to NYC for six weeks from mid-November...
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Old Oct 15th, 2015, 09:15 AM
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wtb, where do you stay when you go for that long a period?
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Old Oct 16th, 2015, 02:46 PM
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I really enjoyed this report, sounds like you got a lot out of your visit.
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Old Oct 18th, 2015, 05:59 PM
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I'm a New Yorker and I don't understand the arctic temperatures in stores either when it's summertime. Its colder than it is in the winter!
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Old Oct 19th, 2015, 06:32 AM
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Dianedancer, do tell. I am returning to NYC in February--should I expect to melt from the heat in the stores?
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Old Oct 19th, 2015, 10:59 AM
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Actually, yes. When I go to NY in winter, I expect to have to shed layers when I go from walking outside to inside of stores and restaurants!
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Old Oct 19th, 2015, 11:43 AM
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Great report!
So glad you enjoyed your visit to our fair city.

I look forward to your report of your visit in Feb.
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