New York City Charm

Seeing as the BFs (ooooh, now fiancé! I should start using that) birthday, and mine, are five days apart, this year we decided to head to New York City for a weekend.

We’re lucky because the Fiancé can take time off whenever he would like (within reason – it can’t interfere with deadline work obviously), and I have a schedule where I’m off every Friday afternoon. So we booked a flight leaving around 2 pm and landing in NYC around 6 (after a layover in Toronto).

We flew into Newark, which we’ve done before. While a little out of the way, it’s extremely easy to take public transit into the city. There’s a rail link with NJ transit that costs $13USD, and takes about 25 minutes.  The train stops at Penn Station, and from there you can transfer to the subway.

This time we were staying in Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan. We had booked our hotel with hotwire.com, which we’ve used before. We ended up at the Boro Hotel, which was lovely. While the room was small, the floor-to-ceiling windows, along with bare wood floors and white linens, made it seem light and airy. The bed was comfortable, and the floor quiet – we never heard any of the other guests. We also had a small balcony off the room.

The hotel provided breakfast for the guests each morning.  It consisted of muffins, pastries, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, granola and toast, as well as coffee and juice. While we enjoyed the breakfast, I was glad that we would only have two, as the choices seemed like they could get a little boring for much longer.

20151205_100656The hotel was one subway stop away from Manhattan, so Saturday morning after breakfast, we headed over to Central Park. We wandered through the park, stopping to watch the skaters on the ice rink (which was weird, as the temperatures that day hit about 10C) before making our way to the Museum of Natural History.

20151205_115054We’ve been to NYC four times, and this was our first visit to the museum. The entrance fee was $22, and can be bought from a kiosk just inside the doors. It was a madhouse in the entryway, and at no point did we have to show, scan, or otherwise validate our ticket. (Honestly, we probably missed a line somewhere for that). Our first stop was in the African Mammals exhibit. Seeing as we’re going to Africa in only a few weeks, you would think we wouldn’t have spent a lot of time there, but it was interesting to see the recreated dioramas of the wildlife and vistas.

After that, we headed into the African peoples exhibit, then to the top floor to see the dinosaur exhibit. We first wandered through the rooms with mammal skeletons, before heading into the dino rooms. From there we headed to the third floor, to see more of the African mammals. At that point, we were getting a little overloaded with information (and to be honest, people) so after a detour through the museum shop, it was back outside.

20151205_175121We headed down towards the East Village, popping into an Irish pub for some lunch and pints first. We went in and out of shops as we winded our way through the streets. We found a Christmas shop, selling old fashion ornaments from the 40s and 50s, so we popped in to pick up a few. We eventually made our way to Katz’s Delicatessen, where we joined the throngs of people buying smoke meat sandwiches. We were lucky enough to snag a table, so we sat down to enjoy our massive sandwiches. We could only finish half, so we packed up the rest to have for dinner later at the hotel.

20151206_095147The next day we tried to sleep in, knowing that it would be a late night, as our final flight home (from Toronto) was just after midnight. We took a walk around Long Island City and Astoria, eventually ending up in Socrates Sculpture Park, before heading to the subway, and getting off at Canal street. We meandered around, having lunch at the Lafayette Café, and then to the Brooklyn Bridge.

What an exercise in frustration this was! The bridge was packed with tourists, who would stop randomly in the middle of the path to text, Facebook, tweet, or just in general to get in the way. Pair this with a fear of heights, and I could not                                                                                       get off that bridge fast enough.  Once we were in Brooklyn, we sat in a park, before finding a pub for a pint.

We got to Penn Station around 4:30, and had to wait a few minutes for the train to arrive. They don’t announce what track until the train is actually there, and then it’s a stampede as everyone tries to get on. My advice is to aim for one of the cars further up – most people try to get on the first car or two, so you’re more likely to get a seat if you keep walking along the platform.

At Newark, we stopped in at Art and Lounge, the lounge available to Priority Pass members. We had some dinner, and sat in chairs far more comfortable than the ones at the gates. We also had better food, and unlimited drinks, as well as wifi. Well worth the $99 sign-up fee, and $54 to access the lounge ($27 each)

Our flight to Toronto was uneventful, but unfortunately we had more than enough adventure on our flight to Ottawa. The flight was delayed by a half hour because of a faulty starter (basically.) After being checked out by mechanics, the plane was manually started externally, and we were on our way. We arrived in Ottawa at 2 am, were home and in bed by 3, and alas – I was up at 6 am to go to work. The fiancé was lucky enough to sleep in until 8:30!

New York, New York

As always, pros and cons (or the tl;dr version) is at the end of the post.

I’ve always said that I didn’t want to go to New York City.  Not because I have anything angainst it, but past experience says I’m going to hate it.

Cartwheel in 2001

Right before I went to Paris (the first time) everyone said, “Oh my god, Paris!  I loved Paris!  Soooooo amazing.  You’ll love it!  You have to _____.”  Fill whatever in there.  Sit at a café and people-watch.  Go to the Louvre.  Go to Rue Moufftard.  I did it.  And it was……ok.  Just ok.  It wasn’t this amazing city that I absolutely fell in love with.  It was ok, but not life-changing.  (Except for the cartwheel that I did in front of the Louvre, which I then repeated nearly 10 years later when I went back.)

Cartwheel in 2010

And I hear the same comments about NYC.  “It’s amazing!  You’ll love it!  The shopping!”  So NYC has always been a “pass” in my books – it’s close, I could go with little trouble, but meh.  Let’s go to…Chicago instead.

But then a few months ago I received an email from Porter Airlines with a huge discount.  Buy one ticket, get the second free.  So the BF and I tossed around a few ideas – go back to Halifax?  We both loved it there, but we’d both been there a few times.  Chicago?  Could do.  Washington DC?  Also a possibility.  Then the BF suggested NYC.  And I thought….for $275, why not?  We could go for a long weekend.

So we went.  We booked a hotel with Hotwire – you get an amazing discount (we got a 2.5 star hotel on Central Park for $70/night) but the kicker is that you don’t know the name of the hotel, or the exact address (you know the area, but not which street) until after you book.  It turned out great for us – the hotel was small (80 rooms), clean and comfortable.  There were lots of restaurants around (and most were in the $15 – 20 a plate price range), and the subway was only 3 blocks away.

As always, there was a….situation….at customs.  I have never, in my life, ever, had a normal experience at customs.  Normal for me is something strange happening – not bad strange, I’ve never been detained, but strange as in “Well you’re wearing glasses, and in your passport you’re not!  Are you sure you’re you?  Have a good trip, miss”.

This time, it was my boyfriend going through in another lane from me, before me.  When he mentioned he was travelling with his girlfriend, the customs agent yelled out to me “Is this your boyfriend?  Do you want me to deport him?  I can you know!”  Yep – right there, in front of hundreds of other weary travellers, I’m yelling out answers to a border official.  From the line.  That’s my life.

Anyway, once in New York we took the afternoon to wander the neighbourhood we were in.  We ended up having lunch/dinner at The Ellington (just found out it’s a newly opened bar!)  Good food, great staff, great beer – and they spelled draught right!  Straight to this English teacher’s heart.  We crashed after dinner, and didn’t wake up until 10:30 that night, so we decided to stay in, and rest up for the next few days.

Friday morning saw us up early, and out the door by about 8:30.  We picked up coffee and breakfast foods (egg sandwich for the BF and croissant for me) at Zanny’s Cafe on Columbus Avenue before heading to Central Park for a walk through.  Our ultimate destination was the Central Park Zoo, which we hit at about 11 a.m.

Central Park in early spring

The zoo is small, but perfect for kids.  There are indoor exhibits (lizards and birds), and a few outdoor ones as well – namely the sea lions (who, it appeared, are always ready to play to the crowd), the polar bear, the snow leopard and the red pandas.  There’s also a children’s zoo not far away, and admission is included.  Bring plenty of quarters, to buy feed for the goats, pigs and alpaca.

Alpaca!

After that it was a dash to Pier 6 on the East River, where we had made a reservation to take a helicopter ride over the city, with Liberty Helicopter Tours.  It’s $180 for a 15 minute trip, but it’s so worth it.  We flew over the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – actually we made two passes, so that both the righ-t and left-sides of the helicopter got a good view.  Then it was back down the East River towards the financial district, mid-town (and Time Square) and then Central Park.  The helicopter stays over the East River the entire flight, you don’t actually fly over the city, but it really is a lot of fun.  We definitely recommend it as an activity if you have the budget for it.

The helicopter blades were spinning.  Scary.

Our pilot, and another passenger

After the helicopter tour, it was a quick subway ride up to Times Square, where we got out and wandered around (so many people!), before heading to Empire States Building.  We opted for the fast track route, at $50 a person.  Big mistake.  It’s normally $25 per person, but you end up standing in an hour long line, so we though to by-pass that and go straight up.  It’s cramped quarters at the top, and it was windy and cold by the time we got there, after the Skyline Ride – a very 80s feeling explanation of the building, and then a “ride” where the seats move, as if you’re in an airplace.  I say give it a pass.

View from the Empire States Building, just after sunset.

After that it was a quick rush back to the hotel to change and drop off our souvenirs, a quick rush to a curry house nearby for a fantastic spicy dinner, and then to Comic Strip Live for a comedy show.

Comedy shows are always hit or miss.  This time, the host was fantastic, the first comic was great, and the others….meh.  Some hits, some misses. We paid $15 each, plus there was a two drink minimum, again each.  It was worth it, I think – we had a few laughs at a comedy club in NYC, what’s not to like?

The next day, our last day, was a free day.  We had decided to not book anything, and just play it by ear.  This time we headed to Starbucks – not for their coffee, but their free wi-fi.  Good tip for travelling – if you need to look something up on the internet, and don’t want to pay through the dataplan, Starbucks is great for their free wi-fi.

sadly, this place was not open when we went by

We ended up taking the subway to Greenwich village, where we wandered around, before heading towards Chinatown.  About midway, somehwere in Soho, we decided to do it “pub crawl” style (it didn’t help matters that it was cold and windy again.  We wanted some place to warm up) so we popped in and out of pubs along the way, having an appetizer and a pint at each place.  We did hit Chinatown, but then promptly left.  The crowds of people were just incredible!  Memo to self:  Saturday around noon in Chinatown is crazy.

After that it was lunch in Little Italy, a walk to Noho, then back to Soho (then back to Noho, while trying to find a pub to stop in) before getting back on a subway to head to the hotel.

TL;DR version:

Pros
– Liberty Helicopter Tours
– New Yorkers are friendly, who knew?!?
– Astor on the Park is clean, generally quiet, and comfortable
– Comedy Strip Live
– Greenwich village is great to wanter id
Cons
– Empire States Building, if you’ve done other tall buildings (e.g. The Sears Tower in Chicago)
– Subway system can be confusing
– Most shops/restaurants open late on the weekends – 10 or 11 a.m.

– Astor on the Park has thin walls, if you’re a light sleeper