Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Welcome to Gotham...

Good evening. You may remember me from my last New York City Trip Blog, written from March 25th – April 1st, 2006. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here: http://www.bigappleadventure.blogspot.com. It’s good for a story or two, however it’s not a prequel to this trip blog. :o)

In anticipation of the Martin Luther King Day weekend, I’d asked Ibeth last month if she wanted to take a trip to New York City. She had mentioned that she was interested in going for the holidays, but she didn’t want to alone and didn’t know if she could afford it at such a crowded, busy time. So when I let her know that flights were relatively inexpensive for the MLK weekend, she told me to go ahead and book it! We pre-arranged a few activities to do while we were there, but the rest of the plan was just to try to absorb as much of the city as we could in a short few days. Excitement was building as week as the trip approached, and we could hardly contain ourselves by Friday afternoon…

And so, without further ado... My trip blog.

Friday –

I got permission to leave a little early from work (a whole 15 minutes – wow!) so that we wouldn’t be rushed getting to the airport. Ibeth was a little worried that we wouldn’t have enough time. Our flight was to leave at 5:47 pm, and she said she was told that we should be there at least two hours before. So we left town at around 2:15 and excitedly drove up to Raleigh and the Raleigh-Durham airport.

Sure enough, we got there with plenty of time. I’d already checked us in online the night before and printed our boarding passes. Since neither of us had luggage to check (we were trying to travel light to avoid this!) we breezed right through to security. I was worried that I had too many “liquids and gels” than they normally allow, but I tried to pack them carefully so as not to get yelled at by the security. It was no problem! Ibeth had a bigger bag than I did, and they briefly looked through hers, but we both ended up getting through without much difficulty. We really didn’t care though… our adrenaline was pumping and we were in good spirits as we anticipated the weekend ahead!

Ibeth and I waiting to board our plane to NYC!!

The flight to NYC was on time, and we even landed at LaGuardia a little early. Ibeth had never flown at night, and she had and aisle seat. Of course, at night there isn’t much to see below except for random clusters of light, and she asked me more than once “Where are we?” Like I had a clue! It was too bad that the pilots didn’t fill us in on their routes like they sometimes do. He did announce, however, when we were beginning our approach to the airport, and told us that we’d soon be able to see the lights of Manhattan outside our window.

When I went 4 years ago with Tina, we flew in and out of Newark, New Jersey during the daytime. I remember that on arrival, sitting near the front of the plane, we were told that we’d see the island on the right side. We were sitting on the left side, and Tina nearly leapt over me and across the aisle to see out the window. (Good thing she was buckled in!)

This time, we were told we’d see the city best out the left side of the plane. Wouldn’t you know it, we were sitting on the right side. So this time it was Ibeth who was stretched across me trying to get a glimpse of the lights as we landed. We did see Times Square and the Empire State Building from where we were, which was very exciting!

Landing in LaGuardia, we deplaned right onto the tarmac. We had to wait for Ibeth’s bag (she’d ended up checking it planeside) and shivered as we realized that it wasn’t as warm in NYC as it was in Raleigh (duh). Then it was through the terminal and outside again where we caught a taxi to take us over the river and to our hotel.

The taxi ride was an experience, as it was the last time I was in the city. There was a little TV in the backseat that on some local news/information channel. I kept watching our fare total in the bottom right corner and wondered how much the ride would cost once we got to the hotel. We weaved in and out of the streets as we made our way from the Upper East to the Upper West Side, and finally to 87th street and the Belnord Hotel. With tip, we paid $36.00 for our taxi ride.

The hotel lobby was nice enough, like the lobby of a small apartment building, I guess. The clerk at the counter checked us in and handed us our room keys. We were originally in room 505, but when we got to the room, we realized that they’d made a mistake. Our reservations were specifically for a room with two-twin beds, and this one only had one double. We explained the mix-up to the clerk, who seemed apologetic, but said that there was nothing he could do to help us out since all the rooms like that were occupied. He told us to come back the next day and talk to “the manager” who might be able to help us out, or offer some sort of compensation. We were disappointed, but determined to make the most of whatever we were given and not let it ruin our weekend.

The room was TINY! It literally was no bigger than 10x10. The bathroom was a third that, with just enough room for the tub, toilet and sink, with about a square foot to spare. There was a tv and a nightstand, and a small closet. And that’s it! It’s a goo thing we weren’t staying longer and brought more stuff!

Our hotel.

By this time it was way past dinnertime, and so we went outside in search of food. Our hotel was right near Broadway, and so we went up there. The first place we spotted – a hot dog cart – excited Ibeth so much that we had to stop and have a real New York hot dog on the street. Tina, they were just as you’d remember them! We walked a little farther up the street to check out the neighbourhood. I saw Zabar’s on Broadway and 81st and wanted to take a peak inside, but they had closed at 7 pm. We were still hungry, and so we stopped at a little pizza joint about a block and a half from our hotel. Ibeth got a slice, and I felt in the mood for some soup. It was great chicken soup and really hit the spot (and warmed me up!). Stomachs fuller now, we went back to the hotel and called it a night.

I don’t think either of us slept very well that night, and it was likely because we were both trying hard not to disturb the other. I set my cellphone alarm for 7am, because I knew we’d want to get an early enough start to the day. We had every intention of squeezing as much experience into the 2.5 days that we had in the city as possible.

Saturday --

We left the hotel around 8:30 am, but not before we spoke to the manager at the front desk. He was already aware of our problem, and told us that if we had our bags packed, they would move them into a new room – as per our reservation – during the day. We made sure that he knew that we picked this hotel for its convenience, facilities and price and that our sleep the night before had been affected and thus our day ahead. We hoped that we’d have something more suitable by the time we got back in the evening.

We stopped off at Starbucks for some morning nourishment and headed off via Subway to Times Square!

It was just as I remembered it the first time I visited. Really awesome and beyond imagination. If you haven’t been, you have to go to understand. If you have been, you know what I’m talking about. Since this was her first time, Ibeth was awestruck, and took pictures of every possible angle and orifice. Reminded me a little of Tina four years ago. Of course, I had to take pictures, too. The weather was nice, a little chilly, but there was no snow and the sun was shining -- though how one would know amid the buildings is a mystery!

Ibeth content in her favourite spot!

We made our way up 7th Avenue to 48th Street. My eyes were fixed on an advertisement in the distance. It was pointing the location of the M&M Store. I don’t know if we missed it last time, or if it only opened since we’d been there. The store is entirely devoted to the M&M franchise – absolutely everything you can think of is branded with the famous logo! Unfortunately, once we got to the store, we realized that it didn’t open for another half-hour. Neither did the store across the street – the Hershey’s Store. Bummer. Actually, most of the stores in TS didn’t open until 10 am. Only some of the restaurants and the souvenir shops were open. So we took advantage of doing a little trinket hunting. Personally, I wasn’t looking for anything. Ibeth wanted a keychain, but had trouble picking one from the plethora of selection! She also wanted a t-shirt (you know which one – <3) but decided to wait to find the best deal. When we finally got back to the M&M store at 10 am, we were only there a short while before Stephanie texted me and said she was 10 minutes away.

Stephanie is no stranger to this blog. In fact, she was likely one of the first to read it! We go way back ten years… and more! We spent some time together in Dallas two years ago when we both visited our other good friend Joanna and her family. Steph lives in PA, and so when I told her we were coming into the city, she said she’d drive up to spend time with us. She’s so lucky to live only an hour away – but still this was her first time making the trek alone. She parked her car in NJ and hopped on a bus. We found her at the Port Authority terminal – well, after a little bit of hunting and texting to help us locate each other. God bless the internet, and God bless cellphones!
Advert outside the M&M Store...

One the three of us were united, we hopped on another subway headed downtown to Chinatown. We wandered up Canal street, trying to fight the crowds, take pictures and “browse” without slowing down. It’s a remarkable marketplace. If you should interest, or even accidentally make eye contact with anyone – they’re all over you in a nanosecond and won’t let up until you buy something! There were vendors on the street holding pictures of those knock-off designer handbags. If you paused, they’d be whispering in your ear “Coach, Gucci, Louis Vitton”. Apparently, if you were interested, they had a spot “in the back” where they hid the bags. Don’t go to the back unless you’re 100% interested, because I’ve been told that they won’t let you leave until you buy something!

We were too thrown to actually stop and buy anything, so we made a loop around a few blocks and found a restaurant to eat at. After replenishing ourselves, we hopped on the subway again in search of the Empire State building. Neither of us (Ibeth, Steph or I) were really interested in waiting in long lines to go up to the top. We just wanted to stand at the corner and peer up. So we walked up Park Avenue until we spotted it. We continued onwards to see if we could locate Rockefeller Center. Thought we did, but were proven wrong. Soon enough, we ended up in Time Square again, and this time we were able to spend time in the M&M Store and Hershey’s, plus Toys R Us and a couple more souvenir shops. Ibeth got her t-shirt.

My new pal...

We finally found our way to Rockefeller. Watched the skaters for a little while and popped inside the NBC Experience Store, where Steph bought a Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien magnet before they became a collectors item. We decided to walk up to 5th Avenue and ended up in Saks (laughing at the outrageous prices), rode the escalator in Trump Tower, and drooled over sparkly things at Tiffany’s. When we finally stopped moving, it was obvious to all three that we were tired of walking!

Outside Trump Tower...

We took the subway back to the bus station so that Steph could catch her ride back to NJ. Ibeth and I had tickets to a night tour with one of the sightseeing companies. We said goodbye to Steph with the promise that we’d see each other on Facebook real soon. Ibeth and I headed back to – guess where – Times Square for the third time that day. We grabbed a small snack (soft pretzel from a cart) and found a bench to sit on while we rested… and gawked.

Plethora of entertainment in Times Square....

The night tour was a couple of hours long, and it took us all around the city. We even went over to Brooklyn so we could see the skyline from across the harbour. We were a little disappointed that the bus didn’t stop in Brooklyn so we could get good pictures. It was hard to take them while the bus was in motion. Oh well… Our memories will be our pictures! We were dropped back off in TS at around 8 pm, and decided to make our weary way back to our hotel. We stopped off at a grocery store on the way and picked up some dinner. I had a great chickpea salad! As promised, the hotel staff presented us with a new room, 514, which was a fair bit larger and much more to our liking. So we settled in for the night, and it wasn’t long before we were both too tired to keep our eyes open any longer!

Sunday --

Up again between 7 and 7:30 am – or at least I was! I was dressed and ready to head out, so I told Ibeth I was going for coffee. The grocer we visited the night before had that, plus fruit and muffins for a nice little breakfast at the hotel. We eyed the weather forecast as we ate and realized that rain was likely by lunch, so we bundled up a little warmer and headed down to Battery Park to catch the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Ferry.

We waited in line to get through security before the ferry, and then another line to get on the ferry. I had purchased tickets to get into the monument and museum located in the pedestal of the Statue. However, we weren’t allowed to bring any bags or purses with us into the building, so we had no choice but to rent a locker in the gift shop. We weren’t the only ones, and the lockers filled up quickly. By the time we got to the head of the line to rent our locker, we found out that they were all taken and that we’d have to wait for one to be opened and emptied before we could go ahead. So we waited for about 10 or 15 minutes until a locker was freed. We stashed our stuff and took our cameras and headed towards the next queue for security. We were about halfway through that line when we saw a big group of people enter the area with their bags, etc. to stand in line. We were wondering what was up when we heard one of the security officers pipe up “You will not get through security if you have a bag or purse. Go back!” The others started arguing with her, telling her that the attendants in the previous room had told them to go ahead because there were no more lockers. A couple of guards came out – with their guns tucked under their arms – to check out the commotion. Someone disappeared for a few seconds and then came back and shrugged their shoulders and shook their head. We continued to wait in line… tired of waiting in lines… and were a little frustrated when a few groups were allowed to cut ahead of us in line because they had special wristbands. Whatever.

We finally got through security and into the monument. We took in some exhibits about the statue’s history and then followed the signs that led to the pedestal of the statue. There were several signs informing us that since the elevator was broken, the only way to make you way up to the pedestal observation deck was by stair… or stairs. 168 of them to be exact. Good grief. We were about to earn our lunch. After walking the entire day before, I’m sure we both heard our legs groan. What a relief to finally get to the observation deck! The security attendants there cheered for us, and then told us to look up into the core of the statue. My camera had already run out of batteries, so Ibeth took some shots on her own. We were told that if we wanted to go outside, we should do so soon before the rain started. Not so – as we opened the door out, we were greeted by a chilly wind and the unmistakable pat pat of cold rain against our skin! Needless to say, we didn’t stay too long out in that mess! Another 168 stairs down to Earth, and then a race through the rain back to free our bags from our locker. We waited for the ferry and decided not to go to Ellis Island. Another time, perhaps. Ibeth was happy with just being that close to the statue.

When we got off the ferry in Lower Manhattan, we were greeted by guys who were peddling rain ponchos and umbrellas. I’d already decided to by an umbrella as soon as I saw one. I could tell that it wasn’t the best quality, but anything that kept the rain off of us for a little while was a good idea. We headed back up to the next subway station, and I tried to point out the location of Ground Zero to Ibeth. We thought about walking to the site, but we were hungry, wet and cold and just wanted to sit down, eat and dry off for a little while. So we went back to our anchor point – Times Square – and had lunch (our most extravagant meal of the weekend) at the kitschy cool Planet Hollywood.
La Lady Liberty!

To be honest, I can’t really tell you what we did after that. I was hoping that we could have gone to the NYC Public Library and take a look around inside, but as it was Sunday, that building was closed (probably the only one in the city that was). So rather, we hopped the subway to Grand Central Station. We wandered, people watched and wandered a little more. The shops at Columbus Circle were after that – fancy, high priced shops that made us feel cheap and under dressed. Tired, we headed back to the hotel.

On the way back, we stopped at the same pizza place from Friday so I could pick up more of that great chicken soup. It was just what I knew would warm me up and make me relax. The owner put the cup in a paper bag with plenty of crackers, napkins and a spoon. However, on the way back to the hotel, the bag got wet. As we stood at the elevator to go up to our room, I felt the bag give and looked down to see my snack fall and spill all over the lobby floor! I was so heartbroken. I really didn’t want to go back out into the rain to buy more soup. I told the clerk at the desk that there was a spill, apologized and went sadly up to the room. I debated a little more, sucked in my lower lip and decided that I couldn’t be any more wet or cold than I already was, and that the only thing that would cheer me up was some soup. As I was leaving the hotel again, the clerk (same one) asked me where I was going. I sighed and told him I wanted to replace my soup, and he shook his head and said “That looked really good.” I asked him if he wanted some, and he replied “Sure!” and handed me some money. I told them they had other kinds, and he asked me to get him some lentil soup. So I set out for two cups of soup now. The owner of the shop was surprised to see me back, and I explained what had happened. He replaced my spoiled cup, plus a cup of lentil, and only charged me for one. How nice! (I put the paper bag into a plastic bag that I brought with me. Should have done that the first time.) Back to the hotel for a hot shower, some yummy chicken soup and again we were both asleep too early for a long weekend in New York.


Sob! Our last (half)day . Again I was up earlier than my friend, and so after I dressed I told her I was going for a walk and would be back in a half-hour. I walked up Broadway a few blocks, and then crossed the street and walked back down. I took note of a few places open for breakfast so that when I went back to Ibeth, I’d have some suggestions. The night before the only place I could think of was the McDonald’s on 82nd St. Even when I got back to the room with a few more suggestions, she still picked McDonald’s. Shucks. Oh well, it was cheap!

We had to check out of the hotel by noon, so we decided to stay close to the nest and wander towards Central Park. We walked around the interior of the park for a little bit, taking some pictures. Then we walked down Central Park West to 72nd street to see Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Building where Lennon was shot. There was a security guard sitting in a little booth by the corridor, and he was watching us like hawks as we snooped! A group of three was checking the spot out at the same time, and one put a bag down on the ledge near the building. The guard snapped out of his little closet and told her to pick it up right away. Wow! I wonder how much they pay him to do that?

Central Park path... (can you believe this is in the middle of the city??)

We walked back up 72nd to Amsterdam, and then back to our hotel. We chilled out for about 20 minutes and checked out right at noon. We found out that we should get 15% compensation on our first night’s stay because of the room mix-up. The clerk said Expedia should take care of it. I’ll keep my eye out for that, but I’m not holding my breath.

We went for the cheap transit option back to the airport and so hopped a bus. It was a decent tour uptown – past streets we hadn’t gotten to visit – and even through the Harlem neighbourhood. We grabbed some overpriced food at the airport and waited for our flight time. Both of us slept for most of the flight home – wishing that we could have spent three more days in such an amazing city!!

Wow – a six page trip blog! I wonder if I set a record on my last one??? I'll probably add a few pictures in the next couple of days... I'd do it now, but I've just spent 2 hours plus on this one post...

Edited on Jan 20th... Added some photos... Enjoy!

1 comment:

Steph said...

wow...you guys sure did pack in a bunch of stuff into your trip!!!

i'm glad we got to meet up! can't wait to do it again <3