My idea of an epic travel adventure involves a lot of hiking, scenic views and unique cultural experiences. Of all the places on my travel list, New York City was never one of them.
I had this preconceived notion of tall ugly buildings, noise pollution, air pollution, yellow taxis and Broadway Musicals – none of which I cared to experience.
My friend Katie, who I worked with at The Saratoga Special last summer, decided to up and move to New York City in the fall (a very brave and commendable move, I might say). “Can I come visit?” I asked jokingly one day over text. “Of course!” was her reply.
Of course I wasn’t serious. At first.
For those of you who know me well, you’ve probably heard about my love for Frank Sinatra music more than once. Good ole’ Sinatra sang me tunes of love and encouragement throughout a very grueling fall semester. He also sang an easily recognizable song about New York City.
Maybe it was the insane amount of homework, or the stir-craziness from being cooped up inside during the winter, or Frank Sinatra himself that went to my head a little bit. But the cogs starting turning in my brain, and I found myself buying plane tickets for two trips in succession: first to Lexington, then to New York City.
Having just returned from this two week adventure a few days ago, I can say that I was wrong in excluding NYC from my list of scenic and cultural places where you can go hiking. Not only is the infrastructure and architecture absolutely mind-blowing, but the city has the best people watching I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Plus, according to my phone, I walked approximately 60 miles in the seven day period I was there. So I was not one bit guilty about the copious amounts of juicy, salty, sweet, carb-alicious food I ate during the trip.
There’s absolutely no way I could break down every moment from every day I was in NYC, but I did my best to squeeze in the important parts.
I flew into LaGuardia airport on a Friday evening and took a share-ride shuttle to Rockefeller Center. Although the shuttle was packed with people and heated far beyond comfort by everyone’s breathing, I was fortunate enough to sit by three lovely British students. They told me about their adventures to Paris, Spain, Thailand, Mexico and a multitude of other countries. According to them I should add backpacking in Thailand and hitting up the bars and beaches in Spain to my travel list.
After dropping off my luggage at the restaurant where my friend works, I explored St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the most stunningly beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. It seemed like an appropriate place to start the night, and I took a few moments to sit in a pew and thank God for my safe travels.
After perusing Rockefeller Center, I followed the flow of people through the streets until I turned a corner and found myself in Times Square. Nothing can prepare your senses for the barrage of colorful flashing lights on larger-than-life billboards, thick food smells and cacophony of horns honking and people calling out.
The food smells won me over and I bought a chicken gyro from a Halal food vendor. I ate it in the middle of Times Square while a guy preached of word of God over a megaphone while waving a sign nearby. I felt like I was starring in a new movie called “Culture Shock,” or something along those lines. But it was a really cool experience.
I ended the night by riding the subway for the first time. The average commute to work for the average New Yorker never failed to feel like a Disney World ride to me.
My friend Katie, who I was staying with, lives in a predominantly Spanish-speaking part of Harlem. I savored the diversity and the sound of people speaking Spanish as we walked through the tiny grocery store near her apartment.
Next up was the Museum of Natural History. We hit it at a time when families were pouring in, so we contended with a lot of wild children to see exhibits, and dodged stressed-looking moms and dads pushing strollers. I couldn’t help but feel a little childish excitement when I saw “Rex” the dinosaur, made famous by the movie Night at the Museum.
We made it through a good portion of the museum without trampling any toddlers (or being run over by a stroller, for that matter). We jogged across the street and through Central Park, grabbing empanadas from a street vendor on our way to see the Broadway musical Chicago. I’m not a theatery kind of person, but Chicago was very captivating with its risqué story line and costumes.
The rest of the night was spent dining out, exploring Columbus Circle, the Nike store and giant Apple store on 5th Avenue.
Top of the Rock, meaning top of the Rockefeller building, was first on our list for Sunday. The overwhelming 360 degree view of what my grandpa calls “The Cement Jungle” made me marvel at what humans are capable of creating. The man-made landscape of enormous structures that stretched over the horizon had its own sort of magnificence. But I refuse to describe it as beautiful. In my opinion, nothing man-made will replace the splendor of nature.
Katie and I stopped at Grand Central Station, Macy’s and the New York Public Library on our way to the Empire State building. Grand Central has this amazing ceiling that simulates stars and various constellations. I loved everything about it, from the bustling people to the vintage appearance.
Snow began falling before we even reached the Empire State building. The visibility at the top was limited, but it was still a humbling experience to look down at the itty bitty cars and even tinier people. A reminder of how miniscule we are in this world.
The final stop of the evening was Chelsea Market, a classy looking mall of sorts with unique little shops and restaurants smashed together. Most everything was rather expensive, but I found Fat Witch brownies for $1.50 apiece, so I was satisfied. Never argue with cheap chocolate.
Monday was supposed to be my day to hit up Aqueduct Racetrack and get my racing fix, but the races were unfortunately canceled due to weather.
Katie and I went to the 9-11 Tribute Center and received a tour of the memorial from two survivors of the terrorist attacks. The experience was humbling, to say the least. I realized how little I knew about the attacks and the scope of the devastation. The memorial is a must-see in NYC, and just to clarify, we visited the Tribute Center, not the Museum. I wish I could have seen both, but we couldn’t do it all.
The tour ended at the Brookfield Mall, which sits on the shore of the Hudson River. The mall had been destroyed during the 9-11 attacks and rebuilt.
Katie and I parted ways, and while she went to work I rode the subway to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had forgotten to check the museum hours, to it closed right as I arrived. It was so cold out that my phone turned off. Worried that my phone would die while I was trying to make plans with another friend, I walked almost a mile to the Apple store on 5th Avenue and spent an hour charging my phone and playing with a fancy iPad. After locating a Starbucks and unthawing with a cup of hot chocolate, I spent the rest of the evening catching up with a friend while exploring random NYC streets and eating pizza.
I made it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (before it closed this time) with another friend from NYC. We didn’t even get half way through in three hours. It was huge, and a person’s brain cannot possibly comprehend that much art at one time.
We headed out and took the subway to Fulton Street. We walked through the 9-11 memorial again and saw the Wall Street Charging Bull.
My friend and I parted ways, and I took the subway back to Katie’s place. She was still working, and I hadn’t realized how early it was. All her roommates were also gone, so I had nobody to let me into the apartment. I’m not familiar with Harlem, and walking around in the dark by myself didn’t seem like a great idea. I spent the next two hours eating stale carrot cake from a Dominican bakery down the street (I got to order in Spanish, so it was worth it) and loitering in McDonalds. I bought a coffee and sat next to the window, watching the other characters who were also seeking refuge from the cold.
This was another humbling experience. I was waiting in McDonalds until someone could let me into the apartment where I was staying. Other people were waiting in McDonalds for nothing at all, because they had nowhere to go.
Katie and I set aside an entire day to take the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. This was by far my favorite part of my entire NYC experience.
Although not as large as I expected, the Statue of Liberty was beautiful, and I could have spent the entire day in the Ellis Island museum. My great grandfather on my mother’s side came through Ellis Island when he immigrated to the U.S.A. from Norway. It was incredible to learn about the entire process each immigrant went through before they could enter the U.S.
Katie and I watched the sun set as we waited to board the ferry back to Battery Park. We returned to shore right after the sun snuck under the horizon, and the lights of Manhattan shone brightly, creating a magnificent skyline.
We dodged through streets of the Seaford District on our way to see the Brooklyn Bridge, which was magnificent against the night sky.
My final day in New York City couldn’t have been more perfect or relaxing. Katie and I perused Greenwich Village and walked along High Line Park, a walkway built over a set of abandoned railroad tracks. We ate more food and walked through Central Park one last time to see the castle that overlooks the Great Lawn. We ended our adventures outside of the Natural History Museum, ducking into the subway tunnels for one last “Disney World ride.”
The city that never sleeps had me plumb wore out, and I was ready to get home. Especially with the approaching winter storm. I took a shuttle back to LaGuardia early in the morning and enjoyed my final glimpses of New York City’s streets and towering buildings. The sun illuminated the skyline as we cruised to our final destination.
We drove through a giant tunnel whose name I don’t know, past cemeteries and ugly industrial sites. The airport came into view.
After dragging my vagabond shoes through the heart of New York City for a week, my little town blues were melted away, and I was ready to return home and prepare for the next adventure.