Over thanksgiving, with work as busy as it gets, I turned to Dale and said “I’ve always wanted to go to New York City at Christmas time”. Within a few hours he had the trip booked, and we were counting down that days.
I had zero time to plan an itinerary (which I think is essential to any travel I do just b/c I like to maximize seeing and doing as much as possible!) so we were really just winging it.
The day we arrived it was colllllld and rainy. We dropped luggage at the hotel, grabbed lunch, and just roamed around. First on the list was to get the metro card and start figuring out the train. Riding the subway is one of my favorite parts of the city. There’s a whole other world down there. I sit or stand on the ride and look around to try and imagine where everyone is coming and going. Who is local and who is visiting. Okay that one is pretty easy to tell. But it’s just so fun to imagine a backstory for everyone. That first day we ended up around central park, hitting up a few Starbucks which are literally on every corner, Trump tower, and museum of natural history. Finally we ended up back near the hotel and walked around the corner to see radio city music hall and from there found the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Oh the excitement. Nothing can get you into the Christmas spirit than seeing the beautiful tree, ice skaters to the side, and a building lit up with Christmas lights set to music.
Very close to the the Rockefeller center is a gorgeous cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Like I said, I had zero planning going into this trip so even though this is obviously a must stop place, we had no idea and stumbled across it. It’s one of those things you see and it just takes your breath away. I only had my cell phone camera on me at the time so this is definitely a place on the must stop list for some other photos in the future. Truly it’s so much detail, far too much to take in at one time. https://saintpatrickscathedral.org
It was SO cold, and we had been out in the weather pretty well most of the day given our 6am flight so we headed in to rest up for the next day. Since the hotel was in times square, it was always really fun just walking back. So much to see all over the city, but times square is just always buzzing.
The next morning we started out at Bryant Park. It was super close to the hotel and always a sweet place to go hang. There is the fountain that was partly still frozen, and the ice skating rink is directly behind it. It was a magical little area that we bounced to and from several times throughout the next few days.
I have a friend who lives in Manahattan so I was frequently hitting her up for restaurant options. Local food is one of my fav parts of travel. This day she recommended Angelo’s pizza for lunch. HOLY COW. I’m not a huge pizza fan, but this was seriously the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. http://www.angelospizzany.com
After lunch we went straight to the 9/11 memorial. One of my friends reminded me to buy tickets online prior to going to any of these places just b/c it was SO cold and you could easily wait for quite some time OUTSIDE in the elements just to buy tickets. We purchased the city pass for 3 items. There are other options to get more than 3, we just didn’t think we would have time to do more than that on our short trip. We purchased the city pass online right before walking up and as my friend said, we were sent right in and yes the line was long had we needed to purchase tickets there.
Before walking in you get to see pools where the name of everyone who died in the attacks are inscribed. The air, the sound, the names – it’s all so emotionally moving and just continues on as you get to make your way into the museum.
Once inside, you’re faced with pieces of the tragedy that automatically take you right back to that day. It’s hard to even believe that it’s been 15 years. I have to be honest, with my little planning of this trip I had no idea what to expect in this museum. There’s really no way to describe what all you see and feel. You start out by this board and you can hear different voices telling their point of view from that day. From the beginning it’s a challenge to hold back tears as you listen to the heartache. And you think back to your own moment when you heard the news and saw the destruction.
The artifacts were so incredible to see first hand. The middle photo is the remainder of the slurry wall which was a retaining wall originally built to hold back the hudson river. The column on the right was the last remaining column that was removed from the site. It’s covered in thousands of markings and tributes placed by family members and friends of the victims.
“The Last Column” became a symbol of loss, remembrance and of the community at ground zero and was ceremoniously removed from the site on May 30, 2002, to mark the end of the recovery effort. The beam returned to the 9/11 Museum in 2009.
The experience of the 9/11 memorial and museum was something you can’t describe in words. Just go do it. When researching more info about the artifacts writing this blog I realized we missed seeing a few things. So this will be on my list to go back and do another time. Also I just happened to see on their site, they have an interactive experience here: https://www.911memorial.org/interactive-museum-experience Check that out if you can’t get to it in person.
As we were leaving the museum, we saw this really funky building off to the side. We both decided to go check it out. Walked through the doors to find it was a subway station (I guess?) It felt like we were in the future or a movie. It was unexpected and super cool! I’ve found out now it’s the Oculous building. It’s like a call, restaurants, architectural interesting building, and subway all rolled into one. Check out this link to see inside: http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/6/11168484/inside-the-oculus-new-yorks-insane-looking-4-billion-train-station
After the museum, we went back to Bryant park to meet up with some friends who were ice skating. Dale and his daughter wanted to ice skate, but there were too many people on the rink for my non existent skating skills. So I decided to find a spot nearby to get out of the 25 degree weather. My Florida blood is just not cut out for that consistent cold! While waiting in a nearby coffee shop, my friend who lives in Manhattan invited me to her work to wait with her until dinner with the group. I got the grand tour of her office …which was definitely one of the highlights of my trip! We walk around the city and try to imagine the real lives there….which windows are businesses and which are apartments. So to see an office and their creative spaces was just so fun to me. Not to mention time with my friend catching up!
We met up with the crew for dinner at Qi which happened to be right across from our hotel. We had no idea it was even there due to the super odd sign out front and scaffolding covering it up. We all love Thai food, and this restaurant was a must return for me. Their pad Thai….ammmazing. The decor was really great too. http://www.qirestaurant.com/timesquare/ I actually went back at some point during the trip. Such yummy food.
Really on each trip, I try to take at least one photo on my “big camera” that I’m proud of and would want to hang on my wall at home. The process of finding and executing the shot is seriously no fun for anyone but me. It takes FOREVERRRRR. So I went off on my own with a few ideas in mind. Central park was first on the list because I knew Bethesda fountain was on my shot list. Central park is so huge with so much to see. I started the day early so didn’t feel rushed. It was nice to stumble upon places rather than have blinders on with only the destination in mind.
One of my favorite parts of this day was walking around the park and coming through this “tunnel” I called it. I could hear voices as I entered singing beautiful Christmas Carols.
I came out of the tunnel to find Bethesda fountain. The water had been turned off (which means no cool slow shutter shot) and there were people everywhere. I just wasn’t feeling it for my photo opportunity. So I just sat on a bench nearby and took in the moment. I roamed around Central Park a few more hours before decided to grab some lunch and head over to Brooklyn. Finding a lunch spot meant heading out of the park and into the buildings a few blocks. I ended up in a non touristy part of town and settled for a really great mom and pop pizza place. Finding a bathroom in NYC is tough. Even if it’s a deli or restaurant or even starbucks, it doesn’t mean they have a public bathroom. So this day I decided on my lunch spot as to who would allow me to use their bathroom. I’m super bummed not to remember the name of this place b/c the food was amazing. The whole feel of the place is that it was family owned and had been for generations. It wasn’t fancy, there was little space anywhere to even move around, but the food was delicious. If I lived nearby I would be there often. Especially for a huge piece of stuffed pizza for $6! And they let me use their outlet to charge my phone. I’m on a mission to find out the name of this place…
With a charged phone and food in my belly I left for Brooklyn. This was my first trip over that far so I really had no idea what to expect. I had a few shots in mind. I wanted to photograph the city from across the river. I wanted to shoot Brooklyn Bridge from on top of the bridge. And I wanted a shot of the city and the bridge together. Not too much to ask right?
When I came out of the subway, figured out a way towards the water, I came upon a beautiful view of the Brooklyn bridge with the most amazing sunlight on it. It was the perfect way to view the bridge – glowing orange with the sunset directly on it. It was awe inspiring. As I turned the opposite direction, I caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty off in the distance with the sun glowing behind it. Oh it was such an amazing experience. I needed to get over to my spot for photos before the sun went all the way down so I had to book it on over there. But I tried to soak in this moment just as much as possible.
(pardon these shots just being from my cell. I really had to hurry to where I needed to be for sunset photos!)
I finally found the perfect spot for one of my shots. Got all my gear out to set up, and I was missing a piece to my new tripod I had purchased earlier that day from B&H. My normal tripod is huge and heavy so I went in search of a travel tripod. I was missing the screw to hold my camera steady on top. I was so upset. I had just traveled an hour over and was not going to even get my shot! I tried sitting my camera on the rocks, but it definitely didn’t work at that angle. I searched my book bag three times before I found this missing piece in the corner of my bag. Hooked it up and with VERY little light left I got set up.
I didn’t notice until I got the images on my laptop back at the hotel that you can see lights of the moving boats in between the pylons and the city. I’m pretty excited about this shot, and I’m stoked to have it on my wall at home.
This is the shot taken with just my cell to show the difference using a slower shutter.
I decided to forgo the other two shots I wanted over there for now. I wanted to see the Rockettes that night so I knew I needed to get tickets booked and get back to the hotel. Once I realized that only really expensive tickets were left for the show I decided to try again for the next night. I still had 2 items left on my city pass and knew I wanted to take some slow shutter pics from on top of the empire state building at night. Chance I and headed over to the ESB around 11pm after they were done with Wicked on Broadway (which they said was amazing).
Empire state building experience was awesome, and I’ll definitely go back again. I read the lines to get up top are SUPER long and you’ll wait forever. I can’t speak for other times, but going at 11pm sure made a difference. There was zero waiting time in any lines. It struck me how quick the elevator ride up was. 80 floors went by in no time. From there you catch the view out of the windows and see some great photos of the ESB being built. You can take another quick ride up to 86th floor. We walked around the inside to look through the windows again before working outside. We were so excited to go outside, I don’t think either of us put our gloves or hat back on so walking out and getting smacked in the face with the bitter cold especially the wind from being so high up. It was tough. I had my tripod confiscated at security before coming up so again I tried sitting my camera on a ledge for stability trying a slow shutter. Again it wasn’t the angle I was going for, but my anxiety was through the roof that my camera was going to fall off the ledge and hit someone below. So I just gave up and snapped a few on my cell.
I did get this shot on my big camera which is not so exciting, but with the slow shutter you can see an airplane light in the distance. It looks like a shooting star above the city lights.
We had seen the view from all sides several times and were freeeezing. Chance was back inside so I asked him if he was ready to go. He said he wanted to go back out and take one more lap around but put his phone up and just try to not take pics and take in the moment. I was thankful for the reminder as well. I can stay so caught up in what photos I want to take. Sometimes (most of the time) I forget to just put it all away and see it all with my 2 eyes and let it just process in my brain as something beautiful in front of me. Not what angle I want or settings I should be on. So we walked around the deck one more time and I happened to look up and see the colors of the building above me. I said “CHANCE LOOK UP!” And he was in awe too so both of us couldn’t resist grabbing our phones and snapping a photograph. Sometimes you can’t resist…
(note you can’t go up to 107th floor on the city pass. It’s an extra fee we weren’t aware of. And you must go back down to purchase it.)
I had already asked the crew to go back to Brooklyn Bridge with me so I could get the night time shot I wanted and take photos walking on the bridge without as many people around. So we took the train over, walked over to the water and still I couldn’t find a way to get where I wanted for the photo I saw in my head. By this time it was probably 1AM and not the safest time and place to be wondering around. We finally found the way to get ON the bridge so we took our walk. It. Was. Amazing…perhaps one of my top 5 moments of the trip. I don’t know if it was the cold, the fact that no one was around…I don’t know. I just couldn’t stop saying how amazing it was. It was really cool walking along and then seeing the Empire State building from afar when we had JUST been at the top 2 hours prior. Such a different vantage point.
It was just too freezing to get my real camera out so pardon my cell pics. We made our way back to the subway station to head back to Times Square. Hopped on the train, got moving, and Chance was the one who recognized we were going the wrong direction. Navigating the trains and schedules is tough! We hopped off at the next station and waited for the train going back the other direction. I think we got in bed around 2:30am that night. I’m quickly reminded how I’m not a youngin’ anymore and can’t hang that late!
The next morning the kids had plans to go to Central Park and the Met. Dale and I wondered around Central Park as long as we could before we had to get going for our 2pm showing of the Lion King. Seeing people ice skate in central park with the beautiful city in the background…it never gets old.
Lion King was so great. I didn’t want to spend too much time watching shows, and it’s tough to narrow down what you want to see when there’s so many great shows available. The opening scene was just as exciting as I hoped it would be. I couldn’t help but tear up several times. The actors did such a great job, the music was beautiful, set was amazing. I kept having to wake Dale up, but Caissen and I really enjoyed it. Right before going into the show I grabbed a hotdog from a street vendor right outside. It was delicious of course. The lady behind me had already gotten hers and she was very upset that the chili on her chili dog was cold. She kept yelling at the hot dog man about her cold chili and even insisted that I touch it to feel how cold it is. That’s a moment you think to yourself “hhhmmm is this really happening to me right now? I’m feeling a stranger’s chili”.
Dale and Caissen ran over to Empire State building right after the show b/c they wanted to see it in the daylight. I don’t think they made it in time, but we were to fly out the next day so they really needed to go in case the next day got too busy with packing and getting to the airport. So they did that while Chance and I went over to Grand Central terminal. I remember seeing it on my last trip and being in awe. I read on the trip advisor message boards that there was a way to get headphones there and take a self guided tour of the station. So I was really excited about doing that. Unfortunately we got there too late, and the rental equipment window was closed. There was a sign to download an app on your phone for a tour so I did download that. Although I didn’t get the time to do the tour. Chance had a friend visiting NYC at the same time so he left to go meet up with his friend while I hung out at the terminal studying the subway system. I’m so curious about all of the tracks underground, how they were built, who decided what directions they would all go. The whole system is so exciting to me.
Dale and Caissen returned from the ESB and we met for a quick dinner and decided we wanted to go ice skating in central park. Even just typing that puts a smile on my face. We ice skated in central park! As predicted, my skating skills were not up to par. But I’m proud to report I didn’t hurt anything. Dale and Caissen both did great.
We wrapped up around 9:30pm but none of us wanted to go back to the hotel since it was our last night in the city. We decided to over to the Rockefeller tree one last time to take in some Christmas spirit. They were telling me about a place they had been a few days prior that had the most amazing milk shakes. Google maps said one was nearby so we found it. It did not disappoint. This place is called Black Tap and it’s freaking awesome. You’ll leave with diabetes but it’s totally worth it (joke – I’m not being insensitive here…it’s just literally the most sugar you’ll consume at one time) The whole vibe is cool. Great 80’s tunes. Really yummy food (Dale ordered a cheeseburgers and fries whereas I went straight in for the milk shake). I figured walking 15 miles a day around NYC made it okay to splurge =)
We woke up the next morning and had to pack up and catch a flight out. Not without one last trip to starbucks and stroll through Times square… All in all it was a perfect trip. Going at Christmas time is hopefully something we get to do again. The sweetness of the season is so tangible. I didn’t want it to ever end.
Some overall thoughts:
The hotel – Westin at Times Square was nice. The rooms were loud, and I could hear everything going on next door which made it tough to sleep without a really loud white noise app right by my head. Staff and room services was great.
Transportation – I love the subway system. So I’m really great we did the 7 day pass for aprox $30. It’s so much cheaper than cabs.
I have no regrets about the sites we took time to see. I was disappointed that there wasn’t enough time to go see the statue of liberty so that will definitely get worked in for the next trip along with more museums for Dale. I downloaded an app for Central Park at the end of the trip. I was bummed not to see more of the park once I actually had some knowledge of the pieces I was seeing. So I’ll plan a full day for Central Park next time. Also I’ll go back and do the audio tour of Grand Central.
Tripadvisor forums are a GREAT way to plan your trip or get overall info. I didn’t get to check the board for NYC until we were ON the trip, but still it proved so useful. I always gain so much info from there so thank you to everyone who spends so much time helping us travelers.