Thursday, July 23, 2015

New York City: My Experience

Hello, hello! I know it's been a while since I've had a real-time blog post around here, but seeing as I've been exploring a new-to-me city, I hope you guys can find it in your hearts to forgive me. And I'm trying something new as I recap my trip to the Big Apple. Instead of taking you day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute - because I feel confident that would bore you all to tears - I'm going to talk about some of the things I noticed, some of my thoughts, some of my tips and tricks, and anything else that comes to mind, using my experiences to do that.

Above all else, you will need a good pair of walking shoes. I mean seriously. I'm not a member of the FitBit fam, but I would have loved to know how many steps I took over the course of the five days I was in the city. In fact, the walkability level was one of my favorite parts of being in the city. If it was feasible to walk, I walked. Even if it wasn't so feasible to walk, I walked. Mainly because ...

... the subway system was confusing! And normally, I'm good at that kind of stuff. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I had the Barcelona system down. And I figured out London and Paris and Washington D.C. relatively quickly when I was there. But I found myself on the wrong subway a couple of times. In fact, I found myself in Brooklyn twice in one day without even meaning to. But in my defense, my usual route apparently gets rerouted on the weekend evenings, and I guess I didn't register it after the ten times the conductor announced it, but whatever. Luckily, I found my way back home safe and sound. Anyway, back to the walking and the shoes. You will walk a lot. It's how you'll find some of the most hidden gems. And you don't want an uncomfortable pair of shoes to ruin that for you. My trusty little Chacos treated me so well, and my feet didn't hurt a bit. Well, maybe a little bit here and there. But nothing debilitating. And I also want to note that I am a huge fan of public transportation. I spent not even $30 on Subway fares, which is a small fraction of the amount I would have spent had I done the Uber or taxi thing.

You know how it's so unbearably hot in Houston these days? Yeah, it might be worse in New York City. Not because the temperatures are higher, but, well, I'm not entirely sure why, to tell you the truth. There's not much of a breeze, parts of the city don't smell fantastic, but then again, I did far more walking in New York than I will ever do in Houston. What I'm trying to say is, if you are going to visit New York City, especially in the summer, bring a reusable water bottle of some kind with you, unless you want to risk dehydration. I was so overheated on Sunday (and so unbelievably sweaty) that I had to stop into some random building to ask if I could sit in there and cool off for a second - sidenote: New Yorkers aren't that mean. This guy was more than willing to let me cool off, even offering me water. - and when I finally made my way to my destination - the High Line - I stopped halfway through my walk to lie down in the grass and take a nap. I was exhausted, and it wasn't even noon! And I had a bit of a headache, which I definitely attributed to not drinking enough water. Thankfully, an hour-long nap in the shade cured that right up. What I'm trying to say is - HYDRATE!

Next to my nap spot
Speaking of Houston, New Yorkers pronounce it wrong! I'm totally kidding, of course, but New York City just has a completely different feel than the city that I live in and love. New York is fast-paced, it's all hustle and bustle, and people are very much worried about themselves and only themselves. No one is paying you any attention, which is a real shame because if there's one city that would give people a lot to watch if they would just look up every once in a while, it's that one. I feel as though I screamed "visitor" when I smiled at people on the street, because I rarely got a smile in return. There were no hard feelings; it's just not something that happens there. New York and Texas are so very different, on so many levels, but they're two great places nonetheless.

And something that makes New York City far different from Houston is the obesity level. I know why you don't see many overweight people in New York City. At least, you don't see many overweight locals in New York City. One reason for that is all the walking, yes, but it's also because there are so many incredible fitness opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of. I myself took a SoulCycle class - which absolutely kicked my booty - as well as two Physique 57 classes. They're out of this world expensive if you were to take them on a regular basis, but they often offer first class specials, and even new client specials, so I took full advantage. Physique 57 is very similar to Pure Barre, in that it combines cardio, strength training, and stretching, and it very much works your entire body to the point of exhaustion. And because I don't do workouts like this as often as I probably should, I was very much feeling the burn. It wasn't easy, but I loved it. The instructors were knowledgeable, energetic, and always willing to correct - in a positive way. And great news for those of us who don't live in the select few cities home to the workout, there are workout DVDs that bring the workout to your home. And it might be one I actually check out. Added incentive: Celebs like Kelly Ripa, Erin Andrews, and Zooey Deschanel swear by it. And we all know that they're rockin' their bods. 

As for SoulCycle, I felt like a total n00b. The front row attendees' legs were moving so fast that I couldn't even dream of keeping up. I was a little put off by how close the bikes were to one another, but luckily my 8:00am Monday morning class wasn't completely booked. Those two things aside, I still left a sweaty mess, and I certainly feel as though I got in a great workout. Would I pay $34 per class on a regular basis? Probably not. But the people who love it, love it hard. And I understand why. The music is fun, the instructors are high-energy, you really do get a total-body workout, and so many celebs are full-on addicts. Katie Holmes, Lady Gaga, and again, Kelly Ripa are a few who pay this high price tag. But it very clearly pays off.

As for what I did. Oh, of course I hit almost all of the main tourist attractions. Upon my arrival on Friday morning, I immediately hit Central Park. Which was unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. Talk about a magical, magical place. First of all, it's huge. It would take hours to cover the entire park, but I did my very best to see as much of it as I could. From the Conservatory Water where you can rent a motor boat, 

the South Pond containing the ducks that nagged at Holden Caulfield, 

endless sculptures like this one featuring Alice in Wonderland,

the Carousel that Holden Caulfield (can you tell that I like Catcher in the Rye?) rode around and around and around,

and so much more. The greenery left me in awe, and I even ordered food from a Halal street vendor and sat in the Central Park grass and ate it. Dogs were everywhere, and I felt like I was anywhere but the hustlin' bustlin' city. Peace amidst chaos. And one of my very favorite attractions.

After Central Park I hit the MET. That's the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for those of you who aren't in the know. Not that I'm a museum junkie. Because I'm far from it. But this museum was something else. Too big to do all in one day, I had to pick and choose. I didn't know much going into it, so I just sort of wandered through. I started out in the Greek and Roman wing, where I ran into my good friend Homer - English teacher dreams - 

and my not-so-good friend Voldy. I promise I took the rest of the museum seriously.

I then wandered into the Robert Lehman wing, because Van Gogh's 'Irises and Roses' was said to be there. And they were breathtaking. Pictures weren't allowed, but trust me when I say that this is my kind of art. I really enjoyed much of this wing, Claude Monet and Augusta Renoir's work, in particular, and I spent a fair amount of time just wandering, admiring art that I don't usually give much thought to on a regular basis.

The American wing and the Egyptian wing both took up quite a bit of my time, as did the Arms and Armor wing. I hit the European paintings a little bit, but it had been a couple of hours by this point and I was fading fast. I wandered up to the MET rooftop, which was packed to the brim, but offered one of the most spectacular views, before calling it a day.

I found myself in Times Square, where I promptly crossed a New Year's Eve in Times Square off of my bucket list. It was a normal Friday night, and this place was crawling with people. This place was tightly packed, dirty, loud, and full of chaos. I just have no other word for it. I sort of nixed the Broadway show at that point, knowing that I didn't want to be alone in Times Square late at night. You just never know with that place. Strangely enough, I found myself walking through Times Square more times than I care to admit. To be fair, it is very convenient, and full of anything you might need.

Grand Central Station is next on the list. Even if you have no reason to take a train anywhere, I absolutely suggest making Grand Central Station a part of your itinerary. I don't know much about architecture, but I know enough to know that this place has absolutely stunning architecture. I actually took a train from Manhattan to New Rochelle to visit my Granny's plot at Beechwoods Cemetery, but if you don't have a destination in mind, at least visit the Whispering Gallery. I didn't have a companion this time around, but it's one of New York City's most hidden gems.

And as sad as I am that we have something like this, the 9/11 Museum and Memorial is an absolute must-do. I mentioned earlier that I am not much of a museum person, but I spent a couple of hours - and I easily could have spent all day - reading and learning and seeing and watching the events of that September day. I was brought to tears multiple times, and everything was done so well. It was very clear to me how much time and energy and effort went into putting this museum together, and that so many different people played such a big role in making it what it is. It is factual and emotional and respectful and dignified and educational and all things positive for something so truly devastating. The water features where the towers used to stand. It truly took my breath away. A most beautiful and moving tribute to those who lost their lives that day. I know I may have been only nine years old the day of the attack, but I will never ever forget the way the coverage made me feel. To experience it all over again was tough, or lack of a better word, but it was a very real and personal experience. One of the highlights of my trip, if that makes any sense.

And it's tourist central up there, but the Top of the Rock is a must-do. My pictures don't even do the view justice. I felt like I was quite literally on top of the world, and it hit me why it's so easy for people to fall in love with this city.

And to round out my tourist-filled trip, I couldn't let a visit to New York pass me by without an up close and personal glimpse of Lady Liberty. I ended up paying for a boat tour that took me under the Brooklyn Bridge and about 15 feet from the Statue herself. She really is an incredible sight to see, and stands for something that I think we sometimes take for granted - freedom, friendship, and democracy. 

The food. Oh the food. I could go on and on and on about the food. My biggest complaint about New York City is that I would stumble upon a new restaurant upon walking through the city, knowing that there wasn't nearly enough meals in the day to get to all of them. The food I did eat was marvelous, and I can honestly say that the food that I ate was the highlight of my trip. New York City is very much a foodie's dream, and though I didn't even come close to hitting all of the spots on my list, I already have a list started for my next visit. But here's the quick and dirty on the restaurants that I just adored -
  • Sweetgreen - Create your own salad. Much like Salata. This meal lasted me for two.
  • Chobani - Sweet and savory yogurt creations.
  • The Egg Shop - An entire menu devoted to eggs. Very Instagram-worthy. I'm definitely going to try and mimic some of the recipes.
  • Bread and Butter - Reminded me of Whole Foods. I loved it so much I went back twice.
  • Bareburger - Very similar to Hopdoddy, but there were far more hearty, beef-free options.
Quinoa burger
  • The Meatball Shop - Those chicken meatballs, though.
  • Pause Cafe - Small in size, but chock full of healthy options. The acai bowl was so refreshing on a hot summer morning.
  • il laboratorio del gelato - One scoop of the dark chocolate sorbet combined with one scoop of the coconut. To die for. Even though I finished it in a panic when I got notification that my flight had been canceled.
  • Cafeteria - Rose Sangria and sweet potato fries. The only two things a girl really needs.
And when all else fails, there's likely a Pret a Manger located on the very next street corner. And you're sure to find something that is both healthy and delicious. My kind of fast food.

In other New York noticings - you can not only spot the tourists by the way they're wearing their backpacks, but by who was carrying a selfie stick. You haven't seen selfie sticks until you've been to New York City. They are everywhere, but to be fair, everything is a photo-op. And speaking of photo-ops, New York City offers some of the best. What I found myself getting frustrated with was the fact that there were so many beautiful photos to be taken, but there were so many people in the way! I found this to be most true while walking the Brooklyn Bridge. A stunning piece of architecture and engineering, it has been dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World. Though I think the Astrodome will have something to say about that. But there were just so many people that I had a hard time capturing the absolute perfect picture.

Off the beaten path, I kayaked the Hudson River, ran to Brooklyn via the Williamsburg Bridge, explored independent bookstores, lost myself within the streets and avenues, and felt really grateful for the opportunity to visit one incredible city. Grateful for legs to carry me from place to place, grateful for an iPhone to direct me from place to place, and grateful for a cousin who let me crash at his hip apartment for the week.

New York City, you were good to me. You were a dream, you were magical, and you absolutely stole my heart. Five days wasn't nearly enough, but I know I'll be back. I've been bitten by the bug, and though I could never call the Big Apple home, it builds in you a feeling of excitement that just can't be matched. Rent prices are sky high, you will wind up paying an arm and a leg for your meals, and the city really doesn't ever sleep, but I fell in love with the place that two of my cousins and a few of my good friends get to call home. I was exhausted at the end of each day, but I felt more relaxed and peaceful than I have in a while. My last hoorah, and one well-spent!

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