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Trip Report Trip Report: New York City July 6-8, 2012

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My annual trip to New York was this weekend. My preferred mode of transport is the train, as I enjoy looking at the scenery as the train travels south along the Rhode Island and Connecticut coast. If you are interested in taking the train, I think the best views are from the left side of the train (when facing forward) as you can see beaches, marinas, and nesting shore birds. Just before you get to Manhattan, the view of the skyline appears on the right side of the train and the train will then wind its way through the Bronx, over the Hell Gate Bridge and into Queens before disappearing underground.

On Friday I took the 3:15pm Acela Express out of Boston South Station bound for New York Penn Station. We arrived on time at 6:40pm and I made a connection to the E line subway to get to my hotel, the Marriott East Side. I purchased a 7 day unlimited MetroCard for $29. Even though I would only be there for 2 days, I bought the unlimited ride ticket since I tend to take the subway a lot and that way I don’t have to keep track of how much is left on the card. The basic 7 day card also includes trips on local busses or you can buy an upgraded 7 day card ($50) that also includes express buses. At $2.25 per ride, you only need to take the subway or bus 13 times to break even with the standard 7 day unlimited card, so it can be a good deal if plan to use public transportation a lot. Every time I go to New York, I am always favorably impressed with their public transportation system. It is so efficient compared to Boston and they are doing so many improvement and or extension projects. Boston’s transport agency can barely afford to run bare bones service, and they play a constant game of decreasing service while raising prices. I’m sure there are political forces and games at play in the NY system as well, that as a visitor I don’t see, but on the surface it is a much better run system.

The Marriott East Side is in a convenient location on Lexington Ave at 49th St and is near the 53/Lexington subway stop on the E train or the 51st St stop on the 6 train. I have stayed at this Marriott before and always enjoy my stays there. This time I booked one of the smaller rooms and received room 910. I dropped my luggage at the room and headed out again by 7:20pm for dinner. I opted to eat at one of my favorite restaurants, Brasserie. Many times I choose to have my first night dinner there as it is a short walk from the Marriott and located in the Seagram building. The décor is a bit spare/modern for my taste and the restaurant is sub-terranian, so there are no views but I enjoy the food there. This night I opted for a glass of the red sangria and I started off with the French Onion Soup. Typically it comes in a footed bowl (which is top heavy), but the waiter said I could also get just a cup so I decided to do that instead of the full portion. I also enjoy the baguette with a disc unsalted butter that they bring to your table. For the main course I got the Entrecote au Poivre which is a steak served with au poivre sauce with frites (unfortunately it is not the kind of steak au poivre where the cracked peppercorns are encrusted on the steak). The steak was very tender and the frites were nice and crisp, just the way I like them. I finished up the meal with a dessert of the chocolate beignets. You get 4 chocolate filled beignets with a side of chocolate sauce for dipping and a small scoop of cashew brittle ice cream.

After dinner I walked over to Rockefeller Center to take some photos at night. It was pretty crowded, I think even more so than usual. I spent a little time there and then ended up back at the hotel by 10pm to rest up for a full weekend of activity.

On Saturday I left the hotel by 8am and walked up to Central Park for a quick walk through. Next I walked down to the C train stop and took that to 34th St where I then walked over to the High Line Park. I had done part of the High Line a couple years ago but the part starting at 30th Street was not yet open when I last did it, so this time I wanted to see that section. I wanted to get an early start on any outdoor activities since it was supposed to get up near 100 degrees this day. I walked along through the many colorful flowers lining the sides of the path until I got to Chelsea Market. I then walked down stairs and into the market building. I always enjoy walking through there even if I don’t buy anything. There are a lot of neat vendors and the Amy’s Bread location has an open kitchen that you can watch through the picture windows as they prepare/bake the different breads. The building itself that the market is situated in has some interesting features as well.

After this I walked up to Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. This original location of the chain is my favorite, as you can sit outside in the park and enjoy your food. I ended up getting there at 10:30am and sat on a park bench waiting for the 11am opening time. People started lining up at about 10:50am and soon the line was fairly long but seemed to move quickly once they opened. I got my usual single cheeseburger and a lemonade and this time I got a Fair Shake. The Fair Shake is vanilla frozen custard blended with coffee (apparently it’s fairly traded coffee—hence the name fair shake). I like the fact that the burgers are not huge—they are the same size as any other fast food type restaurant. The fact that they are not large restaurant size allows you to leave room for a shake or a concrete.

The next stop on my agenda was to be the Museum of Natural History. I wanted to do something air conditioned to stay out of the heat of the day. I took the R train to 42nd St where I then changed to the C train to 81st St/Museum of Natural History. You can enter the museum directly from the subway station which is a nice feature. However the line to get in took about 20 min. I purchased a general admission ticket plus one of the special exhibits, Creatures of Light. I had been to the museum once before when I was maybe 7 years old so it was as if I had never been before. There are 4 or 5 floors of exhibits and it’s nearly impossible to see everything in one visit (especially on a crowded Saturday). I concentrated on the North American mammals until it was 1:30pm and time to go to my reserved time for the Creatures of Light exhibit (they time the tickets for this). COL discusses bioluminescence and the organisms that have it. After this I went to the dinosaur rooms which were packed and kind of hard to enjoy/read the placards with so many people. Next I looked at the African animals exhibit and then the Indians of the Northwest and finally ended my visit with a visit to the section that covers the Big Bang theory. All in all I spent about 3 hours in the museum.

I left the museum and walked over to Levain Bakery on W74th to get one of their legendarily large cookies. I got the dark chocolate peanut butter for myself and some chocolate chip to bring home to family members. These cookies really are large—probably the size of my fist. The chocolate peanut butter was delicious! Very rich and fudgy and so large that even I could not finish the whole thing at once so I wrapped it for another time. I continued walking through Central Park over to the East side. By this time my feet were tired so I got in the 6 subway at 68th St and took it to 59th St. From there, I walked to 61st St where I felt the need to purchase a cupcake from Sprinkles. Everyone always raves about Sprinkles being the best cupcakes etc and since I am a cupcake person (actually a dessert person in general!) I felt the need to try these since I’ve tried many of the others and we don’t have a Sprinkles in Boston. I selected a vanilla cupcake (vanilla cake with vanilla frosting) and took it to eat later that night. Got back in the #6 subway down to 51st St, where it was just a short walk to the hotel to cool off. It hit 97 degrees according to the weather so it was nice to sit down and cool off before dinner.

After a quick rest at the hotel I walked down to Grand Central Station to take the S shuttle over to Times Square. From there I took the #1 train to Franklin St where I walked over to Bubby’s for dinner. I had a margarita, the homemade potato chips with blue cheese sauce and the macaroni and cheese for the main course. The mac and cheese also came with a side salad which I didn’t really need. For dessert, which is the whole point in going there for me, I got the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie. The pie was good—graham cracker crust with a layer of chocolate and then peanut butter filling. The rest of the food was pretty good but not as good as I remembered (I’d been once before). I think if I went again it would just be for dessert.

I got back in the subway and took the #1 down to South Ferry where I had planned to get the 7:30pm Staten Island Ferry. The 7:30pm ended up being canceled so I took the 8pm. The ride to Staten Island takes 25-30 min and lots of people will rush to be on the side that the Statue of Liberty is on (which is the right hand side when leaving Manhattan and the left side leaving Staten Island). You may also be able to go out on the open deck on the stern of the boat (not sure if all the boats have an open deck in the back as there are different designs). Once you get to Staten Island you will have to disembark the boat and go back around into the ferry terminal to get on the next one. In my case the next one was 9pm so I had a 30 min wait in the terminal.

Upon getting back to Manhattan, I got back in the #1 train and took it to Rector St where I walked a couple blocks up to the World Trade site to see the new Freedom Tower construction closer up. I then continued walking uptown to the E train at World Trade Center and took that back to my hotel. Now was the time to try the cupcake I had bought earlier at Sprinkles. My opinion was it was good, the cake was moist and flavorful but there was too much frosting for my taste. Sprinkles cupcakes are medium sized---I’d say they are bigger than Magnolia and the like but smaller than Crumbs. Anyway, from my perspective it was not the gold standard in cupcakes but it was tasty and I’m glad I tried it.

Sunday morning I walked over to Rockefeller Center by 8am to take some photos of the Channel Gardens. After this I walked over to the #1 train 50th St stop and took that up to 86th St. I wanted to arrive at Good Enough to Eat before 9am when they opened to avoid a long wait. I got there about 8:45am and there was already a short line! Once they opened I got a seat at the window/counter looking out at Amsterdam Ave. I ordered the Peter Paul pancakes which have chocolate chunks baked in and sprinkled with toasted coconut. They serve everything with strawberry butter which was quite tasty—it has a mild flavor, not too overwhelming. The pancakes were good but they could use more filling/toppings for my taste (I like my pancakes to be really full of chips or whatever they are supposed to be filled with and these were really just studded with chunks not full with them).

I walked down to 79th St to take the #1 to 42nd St where I changed to the Q train. I took the Q to Prospect Park in Brooklyn where I went to the Botanical Garden. The garden was nice—not the most spectacular I’ve been to, but a nice one just the same. I especially enjoyed the collections inside the Conservatory as well as the rock garden and the Japanese garden. After spending about 2 hours exploring each section of the garden I realized that the area map I brought with me did not include that section of Brooklyn. I knew I wanted to see more of Prospect Park and that I wanted to end up at Grand Army Plaza. Luckily once I got into the park, there were signs directing you to different areas and Grand Army plaza was one of them. My walk through the park to the plaza took about 30 min. Upon arrival at the plaza I admired the archway and the nice fountain that is there. My next stop was a walk up Vanderbilt Ave to Ample Hills Creamery. I got a double scoop: one of Dark Chocolate and one of Toffee Bar Crunch. The portions are not that big so a double scoop was not as large as it sounds. It was flavorful and creamy ice cream and they had several interesting flavors.

From Grand Army Plaza I took the #3 train to Chambers St where I then changed to the #1 to Christopher/Sheridan St. I wanted to go and walk around the West Village. My focus was W4th St and Bleeker St. I like walking around that area as there are lots of interesting shops on the streets and the side streets are pretty as well. Okay, now this is going to sound excessive since I already had ice cream today, but I stopped into Milk and Cookies on Commerce St. They sell all kinds of cookies and they also do ice cream sandwiches with your choice of cookie flavor and ice cream flavor. I got a penguin—chocolate cookies with vanilla ice cream (I figured this was my dinner dessert—I just had it early before I ate dinner). I continued on and followed Bleeker St to Sullivan St and then Houston and walked into Soho. I’d never really walked around Soho before. Again, I’m not a shopper but it’s still fun to see what stores there are. I walked up and down each street before getting in the subway at Spring St and taking the #6 to 33rd St. It was about 4pm by now and time for an early dinner before heading back to Boston. I walked to the 2nd Ave Deli and took a seat at the counter. They serve you a plate containing 2 types of pickle (a garlicky one and a more mild one), some sort of green tomato and some cole slaw. The slaw is vinegar based and I liked it quite a bit (I don’t normally like mayo based slaws, so this one was perfect for me). I ordered a pastrami sandwich on a club roll (like a baguette). You put your own mustard on out of a pot at each place setting. The sandwich was large and the pastrami was very flavorful and not too fatty like some can be. I could only eat half of the sandwich. Too bad I couldn’t bring it home. After your meal they serve you a small shot glass of chocolate soda to end your meal. I’m glad I tried this place as I really enjoyed both the sandwich and the accompaniments.

Back again in the #6 subway to 51st St. I picked up my luggage at the hotel and left there by 5pm via the E train back to Penn Station where I arrived in plenty of time for my 6:05pm train back to Boston.

Despite having been to New York numerous times over the years, there is always something else new to see or do. I always try to do some new things as well as repeat some favorites when I go. On a future trip I’d like to visit Coney Island, bike over the George Washington Bridge, return to the Bronx Zoo or go to the New York Historical Society.

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