The City That Never Sleeps

By the time I got through immigration, got my bag, and went through customs, Mom and Peace were waiting for me in the terminal. They were a lot more tired than I was, having started their day around 4am, and flown cross country. At least the time difference works in their favor. All the changes of pressure had given me an earache though, and we still had a long way to go to get to our hotel. We stopped for bathroom break and a water bottle and then hauled our bags up and down several escalators and elevators, including one broken escalator, to get to the air train that goes in between the terminals in the Newark airport. From the air train we had to get on the real train to get to Penn Station. (I had hoped we would be able to see Grand Central, but it didn’t work out that way.)

From Penn Station it was a 12 block walk to Times Square. We made it about as far as 34th St, (where we saw Macy’s) and then opted for catching a cab. That was definitely the craziest cab driver we had on the whole trip. Mom was not too excited about that, but after riding around in Haiti, it felt pretty tame to me. I enjoyed the City at night. Times Square is bright and busy and full of performers dressed up as superheroes and Sesame Street characters. It was a bit like Tokyo and a bit like Hollywood Boulevard, but bigger and flashier than either.

We stayed in the Marriott Marquis, right in Times Square and directly across from the Minskoff Theatre where The Lion King plays. It’s about 50 floors high with a rotating rooftop restaurant. (Which is unfortunately about $80 a plate. We didn’t get to go.) It has this crazy system of elevators, most of which are glass. You have to punch in your floor number and then it assigns you one of the 20 or so elevators. We had to get to the 8th floor just to find the lobby and check in. Our room was on floor 20, probably the highest I’ve ever been in a building. Sleep-deprived and exhausted Peace was not so keen on the heights.

The room was a nice, typical Marriott-style hotel room. The only thing that set it apart was the wall art that featured Times Square lights and Broadway marquees. There were two beds and a couch hide-a-bed, which meant I didn’t have to share with Peace, who is the queen of bed-hogging.
We were all kind of hungry and I was only one up for finding food, so I headed downstairs to Times Square and hunted down some New York pizza (Sbarro’s was actually the first place I found, but somehow it was a lot better than when I get it in the mall food court at home) and kabobs, which are available from street vendors on almost every corner.

One of the coolest things about NYC for me is all the cultural diversity. There are beautiful people of all shapes and sizes and colors speaking lots of different languages, people talking loudly and rushing and New York accents. I expected New Yorkers to be more rude, but I actually found they were usually really nice and helpful, just a little more abrupt in their manner.

On Friday we slept in more than I would’ve liked, considering all we had planned. Our first stop was Starbucks in the hotel, since we were all in need of a little caffeine at that point. Google helped us find the closest New York Bagel joint. Creatively-named Times Square Bagels was just a block away and the line going out the door of the tiny shop was a good sign that we’d found what we were after. I picked a plain bagel with strawberry cream cheese, while Mom and Peace both opted for lox. They were divine. By far the best bagels I’ve ever had. They’re perfectly chewy but they have a pleasant crunch on the outside. They were even better hot when we went back earlier the next day. The strawberry cream cheese was a favorite. It was almost like frosting, rich and creamy and not too sweet.

Looking back on that day, I’m not sure how we fit so much in. We started by wandering around Times Square, stopping at a Walgreens to pick up a couple of things and popping in at The Disney Store, the biggest Forever 21 (it had 4 or 5 stories I think) I’ve ever been in, and Sephora.  That day was probably the tamest Times Square we saw the whole trip. It’s fun because most of the street is blocked off for walking. We saw the TKTS ticket booths where they sell discount day-of Broadway tickets, even more street performers, NYPD officers who seemed to be doing more photo ops with tourists than actual police work, and dozens of little corner street stands where they sell purses, t-shirts, sunglasses and picture prints featuring various celebrities or Broadway posters. Random fact: I didn’t know that the ball that drops on New Year’s Eve is up there all year.

We wandered down Broadway and saw all the big theatres. Evita was running in our hotel theatre and every night there would be crowds waiting for Ricky Martin to come out. I didn’t have any celebrity sightings myself, except when we walked by the Newsies theatre, there was a crowd and I thought I saw Evan who was on So You Think You Can Dance a few seasons ago. I googled it later, and he is in the show, so it was probably him. Mom saw someone who claimed to be Snoop Dogg one night, but it wasn’t confirmed if he was the real deal or not.

Next we headed past Bryant Park to the Garment/Fashion District. Our only stop there was Mood, the fabric store they go to on Project Runway. It was cool, but just not the same without a bunch of designers racing through to pick out their fabrics while Tim Gunn looks on, reminding them of their time limit.

After that we headed to Koreatown, which was one of my favorite stops on the trip. It was just like Korea, except that there were people of other nationalities walking by too. All the signs were in Korean, there were karaoke places and spas and BBQ restaurants. It only takes up a street or two. We started at Paris Baguette, where we stocked up on cream cheese and sweet potato pastries and got some green tea and persimmon drinks. It was exactly like a Paris Baguette in Korea and I got a coaster as a souvenir.

We made it down one side of the street and saw a Kyo Chon chicken, then headed back to find some BBQ for lunch. A nice Korean lady directed us to a food court where the cheapest options were. They had all kinds of Korean food. The one disappointing thing is the prices. It was at least $12 for a plate that would’ve been $3 in Korea. There was a cooler for Melona bars, but it was sadly empty. Fortunately I’ve found an Asian market at home where I can get them. There was a bookstore with all the souvenirs ton of K-pop stuff. It was connected to a Face Shop, one of my favorite cosmetic shops. There were phone stores everywhere, and I broke down and bought a white Panda phone cover with two pandas on the front/top and one on the back. It’s super cute and just like the ones I eyed in Korea. There were a couple of shiny accessory stores. We decided to double back and stopped at Kyo Chon. Now Peace understands why I’m always craving it when they eat it on Korean dramas. I had forgotten how good it was. After eating our way through Koreatown, we were getting pretty tired. We made a quick stop at an H&M and then caught a cab back to the hotel.

We spent the few hours before the show relaxing, organizing our stuff, which we had left kind of trashed late the night before. For whatever reason, Titanic was the best thing on TV, so we watched most of htat. Mom made a run out for salad, pizza (better than Sbarro’s) and of course, New York Cheesecake in strawberry and carrot cake flavors. It was pretty amazing. The only thing I don’t like about it is the crust, which is a little soggy, but the cheesecake itself is so creamy and amazing.

Then we got dolled up, grabbed a couple pictures and walked across the street to the Minskoff Theatre for The Lion King. We all wore black dresses. My goal was too look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (Which I watched before going to NYC. I actually thought it was kind of weird and not what I expected. But Audrey was satisfyingly glamorous.) I was disappointed to see that not many people dress up to go to Broadway shows though.

Since I have so much to say about the actual show, I’ve put in a separatepost.

After the show, we had a lot of fun taking some pictures with a very enthusiastic Spiderman street performer. Apparently Ryland was unimpressed with the photos though. He told Mom he knew that was, “just a teenager in a costume.”  

Peace didn’t sleep well that night, so she needed some more rest and we altered our Saturday plan. We went back for Bagels: Round Two. I tried out the tomato herb cream cheese, but it just wasn’t as good as the strawberry. Mom and I did some more wandering around Times Square area and I bought a nice picture with three different Audrey Hepburn poses on it for $10 from a street vendor. We decided to go to TKTS and pick up discount tickets for the matinee of Mary Poppins. We got a picture with a slightly creepy dressed-up Batman on the way. Ryland was a little more excited about that one.

The New Amsterdam Theatre was incredibly beautiful. It has all these Shakespearean carvings and paintings. Mary Poppins was good, but it certainly wasn’t The Lion King. The plot was apparently more like the books than the movie is. They had cut out or changed a few of my favorite scenes, like when Burt dances with the penguins, the carousel and the laughing on the ceiling scene. I guess some of it isn’t accurate to the books or practical on stage. Stepping Time definitely made up for any shortcomings however. It was a huge, crazy, tap dancing extravaganza. Burt was in a harness and tap-danced his way all the way around the proscenium, while singing. We looked in the program later too and saw that he wasn’t even the regular guy, he was an understudy!

We took a cab to Little Italy and spent the evening down there. We drove through SoHo, which was really pretty. I’d like to go back and see more of that area someday.  Little Italy was so pretty. All the streets were full of people and there were red, white and green decorations which made it feel like Christmas. We were pretty hungry and got some dinner at the first place we saw. We started with a breadcrumb stuffed artichoke in a lemony white wine broth topped with melted mozzarella. Mmmmm….it was one the best things I’ve ever eaten. We shared chicken and cheese ravioli in a pink vodka sauce and some pesto artichoke pizza for our entrees. We walked down to see the Mott St house where my great-grandma Jean was born. That area is getting invaded by Chinatown and there were some sketchy places and a stinky fish mart. There was a lot of cheap shopping. I got some sunglasses and Mom and Peace got some pretty summer scarves. We went in a fun little kitchen supply store.  We ended by grabbing some gelato from Ferrara’s to go. I got hazelnut and tiramisu and Peace got pistachio. I can’t figure out how they made it so pistachio-y.  

Peace went to bed, but Mom and I went back out to see Times Square at night for a few more minutes. We went to Times Square Toys R Us because Ryland wanted us to bring him back a toy. It was huge and crazy and chaotic and there was a ferris wheel and a huge animatronic Jurassic Park T-Rex. We found a light saber for Ryland and a Lord of the Rings Lego set for Gabriel.

On Sunday morning we started, of course, with strawberry bagels and Starbucks. We had to pack up our stuff and leave our bags with the bell boys at the hotel. We walked from Times Square and passed lots of famous 5th Ave sites like Saks and Radio City Music Hall. There was a big street market down there and we stopped and shopped. I got a couple of nice bangle bracelets.

We went in St Patrick’s Cathedral just as a mass was starting so we stayed in there for a few minutes. It was so beautiful. We decided that we had enough time to stop at American Girl Place. That was actually one of the most fun things we did. We were definitely the oldest girls there, but it had been a lifelong dream of mine, and I wished I had my doll with me. They even have the doll hospital and salon! Peace and I each decided to buy the mini doll that corresponds with our big doll.

We took a cab to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and ate our leftover pizza on the steps. We started with European paintings and sculpture and saw Monet and other impressionists, Van Gogh, and my favorite, Degas. I love his dancer sculptures especially. There was a lovely Joan of Arc Art Nouveau play poster.

 I got really tired out and hungry, so we stopped at the cafeteria for some tea and fruit. We went through a lot of the American Wing; saw a beautiful Tiffany mosaic fountain, a George Washington portrait and a Ben Franklin bust, Crossing the Delaware, which is actually huge. We happened to come out in Arms and Armor which we had really wanted to see. It was a lot of awesome medieval suits of armor.

After that we spent some time in the gift shop. I got several post cards to decorate my room with. I also picked up vintage magazine cover picture of Times Square from a street vendor. We walked to the edge of Central Park and rested for a few minutes.

Getting to New Jersey was quite a process. We had to go back to the hotel to get our bags, so we decided to get some more bagels. We rested in the hotel lobby for a few minutes and then took a cab to Penn Station, where we took a train to the Newark airport, where we took the air train to the parking garage, where the Alamo rental place shuttle was, which we rode for 7 minutes to the rental place in Newark. From there we proceeded to get lost for a few minutes but eventually figure out to get on the freeway and drive about an hour, to get to my great-great-aunt’s retirement home, where we picked up the key to the house we were actually staying at.

We did stay at the retirement home and visit for a while. My Aunt Net Net, as we call her, is very Italian and very New Jersey and very rich. It’s only because she gave us a big chunk of money last year that we were able to take the trip. For having all that money though, she’s kind of a hoarder. She had saved all these little bags of chips and cookies and muffins (she can’t eat them because she’s diabetic) to send us home with.  My mom says she’s always been like that. But she’s sweet and quite a character and I enjoyed our visit.

We got to stay the home of some cousins who were on vacation for Labor Day. I was afraid it was going to be one of those super nice, super clean houses where you can’t touch anything, but it was actually really homey. It was nice to spend the evening relaxing, watching cable and eating ice cream.

On Monday we went to Ellis Island. It took a little navigating to get to Liberty Park, where the boat departs. Once we got to the Island, we decided to get our gift-shopping done first. I grabbed a couple more postcards. We looked up the records of our Italian relatives that came through there. We were able to see them but it cost $7 to look up the actual ship manifests. I was able to do that for free at home.

There were lots of interesting displays; old passports and baby shoes and charter line posters, inspection rooms. We went through the main registration room. We were all feeling kind of tourist-ed out by then, so we didn’t stay too long. The boat went by the Statue of Liberty on the way back.

We rested for a little while. I got in the pool for a couple minutes, but it really wasn’t warm enough outside.  We spent the evening with Aunt Net Net, and took her out to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner.

In the morning we stopped and got some flowers for her and then took her to IHOP for breakfast. I brought my laptop along so we could show her some pictures when we took her home. We had a few hours in the afternoon to rest and pack before we had to head back to the airport.

We were getting the navigation down by then, but it happened to be a crazy rainstorm as we were driving back. We actually had to pull over at one point because we couldn’t see the road. We had to reverse the process by dropping off the rental car, taking the shuttle to the airport, and taking the air train to our terminal. Fortunately the airport wasn’t busy and it didn’t take long to check in, check our bags, and go through security.

The airport was really cold and we opted for Japanese for dinner, ordering ramen, dumplings and tempura vegetables, with some mochi ice cream for dessert.

The flight was delayed at least an hour because of the storm. Other than that it was an okay flight though. It was nice to have people to talk to. We had picked up some movies at Redbox before we left New Jersey, but my laptop battery didn’t hold out long, so we only made it through half of The Hunger Games. We had some snacks, napped a bit, and got anxious because the flight was so delayed we might miss our connecting flight, which happened to be the last flight home that evening.

We had this ridiculously chatty flight attendant who did all the intercom addresses. Seriously, I thought they just had a little scripted spiel they said for about the exits and oxygen masks, but she went into so much detail. We did appreciate her though, when she gave a heartfelt appeal to the passengers who didn’t have connecting flights. She asked them if they would remain seated so the 25 people who did could get off.

It worked, and we were off the plane very quickly. Fortunately our gate was in the same terminal. We did get paged though, telling us that our plane doors would be closing in six minutes. After that we started running, but we made it in plenty of time. Weirdly, there were four little planes leaving from that gate, and somehow Mom fell behind and almost got on the wrong plane. I’m glad she didn’t accidentally go to Canada. She wasn’t the only one though, a few minutes afterwards, two other people joined us on the plan that had actually gotten on the wrong flight.

That last little flight is always so quick. We did have a clueless (or at least exhausted) flight attendant who didn’t know how to work the lights on the plane. But other than that, it was uneventful. It didn’t take too long to get our bags, and we were home by 1am. Gabriel was up to greet us and I stayed up with him and built his new Lego set.

To conclude, my advice for visiting New York City:

-If you want to see a lot of stuff, don’t linger too long anywhere.

-Time it right to see what you want to see. We were a week too late for Shakespeare in the Park, a week too early for Fashion week, a few days after the close of the Prada exhibit at the Met, and happened to be there when the Fashion Institute at the Met was closed and all the dance companies were on tour.

-Eat! We went to Times Square Bagels, Sbarro, Starbucks, Junior’s in Times Square for cheesecake, some street vendors,(The kabobs were great, but I don’t recommend the hot pretzels. Just get a bagel instead.) Kyo Chon, Paris Baguette and the food court in Koreatown, Novella and Ferrara’s (I recommend the gelato but not the cannoli) in Little Italy, and the Met cafeteria. I don’t remember where our other New York pizza came from.

-See The Lion King!!!! This play like was a highlight of my life! Note that it usually sells out; buy your tickets when you book your plane tickets and hotel.

-Even if you don’t see Mary Poppins, try and sneak into the New Amsterdam and see it!

-Go to Ellis Island from the New Jersey side; it’s much less busy.

-Postcards make great, cheap souvenirs/wall d├ęcor.

-If you were ever into American Girl, make the time to visit American Girl Place—and bring your doll!

-For goodness sake, dress up for Broadway shows! If you don’t dress up for the best theatre in America, what do you dress up for?

-Use a phone with GPS. We would’ve gotten lost so many times without that!

-Wear comfortable shoes.

And things I would like to do if I go back:
A tour of movie sites in Central Park, the aforementioned Shakespeare and Met exhibits, and fashion week, spend more time in SoHo, find out if there are more interesting cultural areas, (like is there a  Little Ireland?)  eat more bagels, maybe see the Empire State Building, see more broadway shows, see The Lion King again, see The Lion King again, see The Lion King again, maybe go to the taping of a morning show, and see more of SoHo, not to mention the other boroughs, be on Cash Cab (which I’m told has been cancelled, drat!) and see Times Square on New Year’s Eve.