New York - the sky is the limit

Getting there

My husband was on a business trip to Washington so I decided to join him for in New York for a romantic getaway without the kids.

I flew Etihad, which was a long flight with a poor selection of entertainment and movies, but I always bring a book as a backup for cases like this.

I got on a bus from the airport to Grand Central where Ognen, my husband was supposed to meet me. He was coming from Washington on a bus, with the plan being we meet at Grand Central. Considering that it was the first time in NYC for both of us, I spent some time waiting at the bus stop while Ognen was trying to find me. Once we met up, we went to our AirBnB in Harlem.

Central park

As our AirBnB was very close to  Central Park, the first day started with a walk through it. It’s just an amazing place to walk around with so many beautiful sight seeing spots. A lot of joggers, bikers, kids playing around, but also silent spots for relaxing and self reflection. From time to time you can hear musicians playing under a bridge where the acoustic is better.

The park is designed in such a way that you are not aware that there are roads are going under it, a design decision made in order to prevent cutting the park in any way by roads. As we were approaching the main entrance more and more tourists appeared. Horse and bike carriages are available for rent, and the first skyscrapers appear in the background and you know that you entered Manhattan.

Maya - rent a photographer

The guy that started it all

Central park

As our AirBnB was very close to  Central Park, the first day started with a walk through it. It’s just an amazing place to walk around with so many beautiful sight seeing spots. A lot of joggers, bikers, kids playing around, but also silent spots for relaxing and self reflection. From time to time you can hear musicians playing under a bridge where the acoustic is better.

The park is designed in such a way that you are not aware that there are roads are going under it, a design decision made in order to prevent cutting the park in any way by roads. As we were approaching the main entrance more and more tourists appeared. Horse and bike carriages are available for rent, and the first skyscrapers appear in the background and you know that you entered Manhattan.

Getting the best out of New York

The two best decisions we did while there were getting the “New York Pass” and a weekly metro ticket.

The first day we walked more than 20km and we were dead after that. Considering all of the places we wanted to go with our legs gone, it was clear we needed a mode of transportation. In NYC the metro is the fastest and cheapest method of transportation. Try getting in a taxi and getting stuck in traffic, and you’ll find out why.

If you want to make most of your time in NCY and see the majority of the attractions, then we suggest you get the New York Pass, which is not cheap but it is worth every penny.

A lot of attractions are included and by the end of the trip we saved at least 50% from the regular prices and had fast lines when visiting most of the attractions. And believe me, those lines can be very long.

We headed directly to Times Square but to our surprise, it doesn’t look like square at all. It’s very crowded with lot of shining screens and advertisements all around, and some public event seems to be happening whenever you pass by.

For the rest of the trip we were going around the square to avoid the crowds.

Empire State Building and Top of the rock

Our NYC pass included the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Top of the Rock observatory. So we did both, Empire State Building during daylight and Top of the Rock at sunset. Be prepared to wait in lines even if you have “skip the line” ticket. New York is all about waiting in lines. You need to go through a security scanner every time you enter most of the attractions with almost all of the them having good free WiFi once you go in. The view from the both places is stunning, although the Empire State Building has a better observation deck by my opinion.

What was interesting for me is that you cannot see or recognize the Empire State Building when you are close to it. If there wasn’t a sign at the door we would have missed it.

Top of the Rock, as the name implies, is at the top of the Rockefeller Center, which is also where the well known Christmas Tree stands with the small ice skating rink that is open to public during the winter. It must be wonderful there around Christmas.

Kids, this is the view from the top of the Empire State

Top of the Rock

Navigating New York like a New Yorker

After day or a two we learned how to navigate the city. It was easy. From downtown to uptown the street numbers increase, while the 11 avenues start from the UN Quarter (1 Avenue) and end at the Intrepid museum. The central avenue is the world-famous Fifth Avenue (5th Avenue).  All streets to the East of Fifth Avenue are know as xx East yy Street (e.g. 40 East 47th Street) whilst streets to the west of Fifth Avenue are styled xx West yy Street (e.g. 40 West 47th Street). The Avenues are very long, some stretching over 100 blocks. Some Avenues have alternative names:

Fourth Avenue is now mostly Lexington Avenue, Park Avenue and Madison Avenue Sixth Avenue – Avenue of the Americas, Seventh Avenue – Fashion Avenue, Eighth Avenue – Central Park West, Ninth – Columbus Avenue, Tenth – Amsterdam Avenue, Eleventh – West End Avenue, and of course there is the Broadway Avenue that goes diagonally through Manhattan right through the heart of Times Square.

So it is easy to change streets and avenues, all you need is a sense of direction or a good offline map of New York.

Cruises

Another good ways to see the beauty of Manhattan are the river cruises. Just like the observations desks, we opted for one day and one night cruise. The NY pass had a day ticket for the ferry that we used to circle the route. From the other cruises we chose the night cruise and this one was far better. It has an unrealistic view of the shining skyscrapers, all of them special and unique. Plus you see the bridges and pass under.

Do this at sunset for an amazing view

Brooklyn Bridge

The most interesting bridge for us was the Brooklyn bridge, where we took a bike tour. The bridge is very long (1.5km) so it was a good decision. It spans over the East River, linking Manhattan and Brooklyn. With massive masonry towers and a web of cables, this suspension bridge is instantly recognizable even to many who have never been to New York. The wooden pedestrian walkway is in the center of the bridge and elevated above the road lanes. You will enjoy outstanding views of the surroundings including Manhattan, Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

Statue of Liberty

Near the Brooklyn bridge in Battery park you will find the ferry that runs to Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty soars high above the ground. It is the best known symbol of New York and the United States. It is advisable to plan your trip a bit in advance if you want to go into the museum, the pedestal levels or the crown of the Statue of Liberty, as there are advanced security clearings that have to be done by applying online.

But this long-time international symbol of freedom and liberty will awake feelings from the moment you see it from the ferry. There’s all sorts of great photo opportunities here all around the island, and in case you get hungry, you can also have lunch there.

From Liberty Island the ferry stops at the Ellis Island, once the nation’s foremost federal immigration station, and now the site of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Over 40% of Americans today can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. Be aware that security scans are  performed prior to boarding the ferry.

9/11 Memorial Plaza and the World Trade Center

Another emotional place is the World Trade Center with the 9/11 Memorial Plaza and 9/11 Memorial Museum. A tribute to the past and a place of hope for the future — the 9/11 Memorial Plaza is alive with twin spirits of remembrance & renewal. The 8-acre park is a supremely contemplative sanctuary, composed of a grove of nearly 400 white oak trees, and the largest manmade waterfalls in the United States. Set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers, each pool is approximately 1-acre in size. The names of every person who perished in the terror attacks of February 26, 1993 & September 11, 2001 are honored in bronze around the twin Memorial pools.

PATH, the metro that goes to New Jersey runs from the World Trade Centre and It is located four floors below ground level.

Financial District

In this same neighborhood, the Financial district of NY is the Wall Street. You will easily spot the crowd waiting in lines to make a photo with the Charging Bull. Legend says that you’ve got to rub the nose, horns and testicles of the bull for good luck. These parts are touched so many times by tourists that they shine.

Grab the bull by the horns

... or by the balls?

Grand Station

The Grand Station was built in 1871 by the New York Central Railroad and is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms. The interior is beautiful and there with it’s clock that supposedly is worth more than $10 million. So even if you don’t intent to travel by train, just peek inside to visit this amazing place.

UN building

Lucky us, During our stay in NY, there was an annual UN summit. All of NYC was full of every possible security force we’ve seen in the movies, from police men, army, and a couple of them not wearing any tags. Police with dogs sweeping the streets for… whatever. Choppers circling overhead, streets were being closed and traffic redirected. For few days an entire section of the first avenue was totally closed, even for pedestrians. So September may not be the best option to see the UN Quarter. The closest we got to it was about one block, so that’s where we took our photos from.

Indoor activities

Madison Square Garden

From indoor activities we had a group tour at Madison Square Garden. It is a state of the art arena that can easily be turned in to a basketball field, and ice pool, a concert hall etc. They showed us the VIP rooms with direct access to the designated arena seats, the changing rooms of the players, the exclusive apartments for the VIP guests and walked us through the sections and levels of the arena. What was remarkable is that every seat no matter where it is has a clear view of the podium. I am not a huge sports fan, but I was amazed at the ways this arena can transform over night, as well as the luxurious changing rooms, or special VIP sections. I highly recommend it.

Wax museum

The wax museum Madam Tussauds has a great collection of wax people. From politicians, musicians, movie stars etc. We’ve been to a couple wax museums throughout the world, so this is not the biggest one we’ve seen, but definitely an interesting for a visit and it works late. We can’t resist the urge to goof around and make funny photos. If you have the NYC pass, you can use the fast lane here and skip the crowds.

Intrepid museum

The Intrepid museum has a great collection of planes, a submarine tour as well as interactive exhibits such as the Apollo lander, testing your skills as an astronaut and much more.

Due to the limited people that can go in the submarine, there is a long line to enter, but the tour has a guide so everything is well explained. The torpedos are still there. Submarines are very limited in space, both height and width, so it’s not recommended if you are claustrophobic or if you are really tall. There are other interesting activities to do around, so take your time.

As an addition to the Intrepid museum (you need a separate ticket) was a special Star Trek exhibition, which was one of the best indoor activities we had. It was hilarious. Running diagnostics on a sick Klingon at sick bay, learning Klingon while the virtual Klingon yells hard on you about your stinky pronunciation. Visiting the bridge, sitting at the captain chair and solving different tests that at the end tell you in which sector you can be recruited. They recruit me at command, while my husband was a nice addition to the engineering. Pretty much the same setup that we have at home.

She's a torpedo...

Star Trek!

Engage

Damnit Jim, I'm just a doctor!

Get to the choppa!

How astronauts brush their teeth

Houston we have a problem

Museum of Natural History

If it’s raining outside then the American Museum of Natural History is a great choice. It is one of the largest  museums in the world with its 28 interconnected buildings that house 45 permanent exhibition halls, in addition to a planetarium and a library. The museum collections contain over 33 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts, of which only a small fraction can be displayed at any given time. Whatever you are interested in, they have it and you can spend an entire day walking around.

Here, have a bone...

Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

Metropolitan museum, or simply the Met, is the largest art museum in the states and together with MOMA are a must see for all the art lovers. We saw them both and enjoyed some very good pieces of art, even though we are not very artsy people.

Food

There are a lot of restaurants around the city especially around 8th and 9th Avenue. What we learned is always to check the Health Department grades on their certificate  posted on or near the entrance. A is superb bill of health, B is ok and everything below B means don’t go inside.

We got lucky that during our stay Italians were celebrating the Feast of San Gennaro downtown in Little Italy and there was an open food market with all the Italian best meals and desserts.

Hop on / hop off busses

We tried the hop on, hop off busses two times and it was ok, but sometimes you get so stuck in traffic you can see snails passing you by. Don’t use them if you are planning to be somewhere at certain time, as traffic is quite unpredictable. Otherwise, this is a nice way to discover the city with the two routes of busses going downtown and uptown.

The Ride

All of the mentioned above (except the metro ticket) was included in our NY pass. But the most interesting experience was “The Ride”. We kept hearing about it, about how it’s such a great deal, but still were not able to grasp what exactly “The Ride” is.

The Ride is a super modern big bus with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and stadium style seating. You’re not actually looking front like in a normal bus, but rather your seats are facing the windows, just like in a movie theater. The buss is fully loaded with the best audio, video, and wireless technology to amp up what’s happening onboard while keeping connected to what’s happening outside. As you are now basically sitting as if you were in a cinema, and your screen are the windows looking outwards, they made the streets of New York your stage, with lots of surprises and guest appearances. While the bus drives, you have award-winning comedic hosts entertaining you while the bus tries to navigate through Midtown Manhattan and Times Square. The hilarious hosts are trained in improvisation so that each performance is fresh depending on what’s happening on the street that day.

The sidewalk is your stage, and the show is awesome!

Harlem

As our AirBnB was in Harlem, we got to see a bit of a contrast between that and Manhattan. As you going above 100th st, the scenery starts to change. If in Manhattan you were able to walk into a store and get any goods you wanted, here every store has bars and the demographic changes. At night a lot of youngsters bring sound systems on the walkway and play hip hop. It is loud and vibrant. People here stand and talk at the street and life is slower. We felt safe at our place and had no problems, but also stood away from the drunks and weird looking people.

Crazy New York

While we are on weird, New York has it a lot of it. People going and talking out loud, some strange performances at the metro, people arguing with themselves, naked people at Times Square etc. After a few days we stopped noticing them. People in Manhattan are always in a hurry so don’t stand in their way. Generally they are friendly and will help you, but we were generally addressed people on a smoke break, or policeman. Policemen were very friendly and helping. They even took photos of us for few times when we asked them nicely.

I asked one army soldier to take a picture with him at the WTC and he didn’t mind, he just covered the badge of his name with his hand. There’s a lot of construction around Manhattan and it can be very loud at times. In general, NYC is a very loud city. The traffic is crazy most of the times and that’s why the metro is always a better solution.

The metro runs smoothly, always on time and it is properly marked. During rush hours the trains tend to be crowded but they have more trains to accommodate for that. It is not the cleanest metro system and you can see a rat running around or get indulged in some “wonderful” aroma,  but it serves the purpose and it’s the fastest and cheapest way of transportation.

We did not have any time left for us to see the other neighborhoods. I have a feeling that we only scratched the surface of New York during our 10 days there. We need to go back someday and discover more of it, one of the best looking and most exciting cities in the world.