Our son Colton is spending his second summer in New York City so, when our younger two children decided to go to camp for the same two weeks, we decided to go during that time to visit our eldest. We wanted to be able to spend time with him and to also have some time as a couple while we were there. He served as an excellent personal tour guide. He has learned the subway system and has found lots of wonderful, air-conditioned coffee shops.
We had taken him to NYC for his sixteenth birthday trip in January of 2010, so now we have been there together through the cold of winter and the heat of summer. It gets much colder there in the winter than here in the south and nearly as hot in the summer but the great difference in impact is that you are out in it up there walking from place to place. Here we walk from the car to the building or never even get out in the weather with a garage at home and at work.
We managed to buy my husband's airline ticket with Skymiles and mine with VISA points so our only cost for flying was the $25 baggage fee per checked bag per way. We got direct flights and were slated to be in NYC by 9:15am. Our returning flight was to leave at 8pm so we would be getting our full money's worth out of the hotel for those days by having a full day on both ends of the trip. Our flight ended up being delayed so we arrived in NYC about noon. This confirmed the lesson I learned the last time we went there and that is to not have firm plans the day of your arrival--nothing you have tickets for or that starts at a certain time. Between flight delays and travel exhaustion, your plans need to be flexible on arrival day.
We walked to the baggage claim and my suitcase was the first one out and arrived just as we did. My husband's followed soon after and we were out the door. Jeff had arranged for a driver to take us to our hotel. Mario was polite to play his music softly but I do need to teach him some driving etiquette. All in all, a smooth trip...for NYC.
We checked in to the hotel and I became puzzled when Colton called and asked if we were almost to the hotel where he was waiting for us. It didn't take long for us to realize that we booked a different Fairfield Inn than the one we spent much time choosing on TripAdvisor. Come to find out, there are three Fairfield Inns in midtown. The front desk was gracious to allow us to spend just the first night there and then switch over to the hotel we had intended to book. They actually made the arrangements for us.
Colton finally found us and showed us the way to Lemony, a Greek place he likes for their French-fry-laden yeeros (and, yes, that's how they spell it). On our way there, I saw many flower shops. They put tons of plants and flowers out on the sidewalk every day and create walkways through them. How I would love to live near such a place and make fresh arrangements with their unusual flowers! There were fabric shop windows that gave me similar longings. No sooner did I get past the wonderful smell of flowers than I saw a homeless couple fast asleep on the sidewalk. That's how it is in the big city: something wonderful followed by someone's horrible reality in constant sequence. For the next four days when we were walking the streets, I would breathe in a different smell with each breath: flowers, coffee, urine, laundry soap, B.O., perfume, trash, cinnamon, exhaust, etc. The same with sounds and sights. It trains you to expect anything next.
We then made our way to Stumptown Coffee. I do not drink coffee but my men said that it was good stuff. It was a very hipster hangout with a large back room where people were talking and working on laptops.
This may be where we took our first subway ride of the week. We each had a 7-day unlimited ride ticket that cost $32. We used it a lot while there and got our money's worth. Houston Street is pronounced House-ton. Just so you know.
Off to Battery Park we went where we saw Lady Liberty in the distance.
We continued on around until we found a shady place to sit and talk. We then made our way to the 9/11 Memorial where we saw the two fountains memorializing the victims of 9/11.
They are waterfall fountains built in the footprints of the twin towers. The sound of the constant water creates a peaceful, serene atmosphere. People would talk but no one was being loud. I wasn't prepared for the tears that came. This was the WHERE. I know the WHAT, the HOW, the WHY, and the WHEN, but it was the overwhelming WHO that was too much to consider: the thousands that died undeservedly and unexpectedly and the families and friends who still mourn them. We all mourn them. It was beautiful to see every name carved in the memorial. Every life matters. The new One World Trade Center tower stands tall and represents resilience but the theme of respect rang loud and clear to me.
The trees planted on the grounds are from the states that endured the attacks on 9/11 and it was neat to see the survivor tree--the only tree that withstood everything that went on in that place in 2001.
We then went to see the Oculus, a new subway station still under construction that costs $4 billion.
It is massive. It connects directly to Brookfield Place. This is a very beautiful, new, expensive mall (unless $1200 shoes is your norm). There is a gourmet food court on the second level where I shared a fantastic barbecue sandwich and Dirty Fries with Colton from Mighty Quinn's Barbecue. We realized we never bought the phone charger we needed that day so Colton took off to SoHo to get one. Jeff and I wandered around Le District downstairs, a French market. There we found many wonderful pastries and chocolates. I bought a variety box of teas. We enjoyed some of the pastries and graciously left a bite of each for Colton. We wandered outside and rested while watching people walk, jog, skateboard, and ride bikes along the battery. It was a beautiful evening.
When Colton returned, he showed us the way by subway to go to Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson. It was dark by then and we sat in the park and gazed at the beautiful city lights of New York. Colton pointed out the areas of town from top to bottom: uptown, midtown, the villages, and FiDi (the Financial District). Times Square was recognized by how it lit up the sky above it. We made our way back to our hotel and slept hard after a day of over 13,000 steps in temperatures in the upper 90's.
I awoke to construction noise and distant honking car horns. Mr. Wonderful got up and got dressed to go get the hotel breakfast for me. I felt like I could rest a long while more. Comfortable shoes are a must when pounding the pavement of a big city. My lack of energy would require a slower pace today. Alternating indoor (air conditioned) and outdoor activities and sitting and standing activities is also a good idea.
Our first item of the day was to switch to the right hotel. We walked it, thankful for suitcases with wheels. The new hotel was a great improvement: beside Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, bigger, nicer, newer. There was actually space to put our suitcases on the floor of our room!
Next we went to the original Joe's Pizza and ate it in Washington Square Park near the huge arch and watched children play in the fountain and listened to a bluegrass group. Shade was high in demand. We made the mistake of ordering a smoothie from a food truck without asking the price first. Our guide clued us in on how to do better next time.
We took the bus (which also used our metro card) to our next destination. It was an overall good experience to travel through town and see the sights seated and in air conditioning. At one point the driver had to slam on brakes because a vendor's cart got away from him and went into the street. My husband hurt his arm against the rail in front of him but it did not cause any ongoing problem. We walked through Little Italy and had some refreshing Greek yogurt at Greecologies. There are lights strung between the buildings and, as in many cases throughout the week, I wish I could have seen it at night although I usually was longing to nest in my bed with a cup of tea in the evenings. Little Italy was quaint and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street! Colton had told me about a coffee shop called Maman he thought I would like. It was French and used blue and white china. He took us there and he was right: I loved it! Their paper cups were printed in the pattern also. I'm going to try to replicate a quinoa dish I saw at a glance there.
Next up was Grand Central Station. The architecture is beautiful with thick mouldings and constellations painted on the ceiling. Colton told us how valuable each of the four faces of the clock are and how amazing it is that they weren't stolen back when the station fell into disrepair. Grand Central is the station that takes trains to Connecticut while Penn Station takes trains to New Jersey.
My men indulged me to look in Sephora on 5th Avenue. I have been watching a small makeup company named Besamé and the Sephora in our mall at home carries only two of their lipsticks. I was sure this NYC Sephora would carry the whole line but was disappointed to find that they carried the same two shades and nothing more. I bought the Red Velvet with some of my birthday money. Thanks, Mom and Dad! 💋
Colton had plans with friends for the evening so he took us to our room and gave instructions for taking the subway to our evening plans. We rested and freshened up, a little nervous to try the subway system without our guide. We learned quickly that it is not enough to know which train to take; you first have to know how to interpret the signs in the subway to FIND the train. It is important to know that there are layers of trains. There can be up to five levels of trains, over and below each other under the ground. This requires taking stairs or elevators or escalators to the other levels. After thinking hard and sending pictures of the signs to Colton, we finally got a "Yes" and got the right train on the first try. We had chosen a restaurant within walking distance from our event so we now could relax.
Rosa Mexicano had good reviews and turned out to be an excellent choice. We had reservations and were seated immediately. The two-story wall beside the stairs had water trickling down it and there must have been 200 little diving men mounted on it in varying stages of their dive. It was a large restaurant with a portable cart used to make guacamole tableside. I learned a new way to peel an avocado. The service was excellent and the food was very good. It was nice to have a little smaller portion so that we had room for dessert: warm churros (Mexican doughnuts) with chocolate and raspberry sauces. Yes, indeed!
Next we headed a few blocks over to the Lincoln Center for a free Mostly Mozart outdoor concert. We walked two sides of the block to get to the end of the line for admission (bag check) but it moved fairly quickly and we were in our seats in plenty of time. It was slightly sweltering but the sun was setting and there was an occasional welcome breeze. The violin concerto was remarkable and "Jupiter" was delightful as always. A ten-year-old (I'm guessing) ballerina took it upon herself to dance throughout the entire concert up and down the side of our section. Some of the older folks found her enchanting and some video-taped her. I wondered where her parents were. We hadn't chosen an evening of amateur ballet but of music. If everybody did.... That's the drawback of a free concert. Fortunately, I was at an angle to block her out and enjoy the orchestra. Now for the subway.
We did fine and met Colton at his favorite gelato shop called Amorino's. He has taken many guests there including missions teams so the owner greets him and calls him the Boss when he comes in. They even put a free macaroon on his gelato. That's good business. That owner works it and it shows. When you order a cone, they use two flavors and arrange the slabs to make a rose. So pretty and refreshing.
And that is the end of a 15,000 step day.
[See Part 2]