Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NYC Notes: Our 3rd {3} Day Visit

Ahhhh...New York...the city that never sleeps.  That only partially applied to our 3 year old.  And besides some struggles getting him to sleep, and staying asleep, we had a pretty fantastic 3 days in the Big Apple.  Yesterday I talked about where we ate.  Tomorrow will be all about the Amtrak ride, we've done 3 round trips (or about 100 hours), so we kinda know what we're doing there.  Today is all about everything else.  Everything we did in our less than 72 hours in New York.

I've found that when people find out we were going or just came back from New York they have one of two reactions: "I want to go there!" or "I never want to go there."  Most people are strongly one or the other.  Regardless, it seems to be a destination that fascinates everyone to some extent.  It's a place we've all heard of, know something about, and have an opinion on.  I love talking about New York with pretty much anyone: comparing spots with people who have been, giving advice on places people should visit, or convincing anyone why they should go in the first place (my mother falls rather strongly into the latter...I'm working on it). 

Our first two trips were pretty similar to each other because when we took my sister and her friend, they wanted to see all the big tourist things (Statue of Liberty! Central Park!) that we did the first time, although we did some new things too.  This time I was on the lookout for free, easy, and new things to do with a 3 year old.  Of course we visited some of our favorites: Times Square, Central Park, Rockefeller Plaza, etc. but did a lot of new things too.   Here we go.

First: Where we Stayed:
The Manhattan at Times Square
790 7th Avenue

On our first trip we stayed at Broadway and W. 53rd and loved being in Midtown.  We were easy walking distance to Central Park, Times Square, and Rockefeller Plaza.  We were right next to a subway stop.  It was a perfect location.  We planned to stay there the second time but things got changed last minute (literally, we were in New York when we found out) and ended up downtown, right next to the Brooklyn Bridge.  It was fine but we had to take the subway almost everywhere (beside the Brooklyn Bridge, obviously) and that made our Jamba Juice in Times Square a little harder (although, of course, it still happened every night).  We also were gone from the hotel for 12 hours at time every day because it was so out of the way to go back.  This time I was set on staying in Midtown again.

I spent many hours searching all sorts of hotel booking sites, looking for something in our ideal location in our price range.  It was tough.  Midtown is not cheap because it is so touristy but I was dead set on staying there.  I knew we'd want to stop at the hotel more frequently with Luke and it would just be more convenient anyways. We booked our Amtrak when there was some deal going on which made it $100 cheaper than planned which meant we could spend a little more on a hotel which put The Manhattan in our budget.  It had the best location for the best price.  Simple as that.  
We booked through Groupon, partially because we got 9% back through eBates but also because it gave us the best price and cancellation policy, just in case we got a baby.  The reviews weren't all fantastic but most of them were decent and we figured how bad could it be?

And it worked out perfectly.  The location was fantastic.  We were about 8 blocks from the entrance to Central Park, 2 blocks from Times Square (we could see the New Years Eve ball from the sidewalk in front of our hotel!), 2 blocks from Rockefeller Center, and 2 blocks from a subway stop.  It was a PERFECT location.  We walked to all those places, more than once.

The rooms were a little dated but nothing that was concerning.  Not huge but plenty big enough for the three of us.  Despite being the most we've ever paid, per night, to stay anywhere, it wasn't the nicest hotel room we've ever had but that's fine.  It was clean, comfortable, and convenient.  Exactly what I was looking for.  And we got to ride an elevator many times a day which might have been all Luke was looking for in a hotel.  I would definitely recommend to anyone looking to stay in Midtown.

Now onto the other things we did, besides sleep and ride elevators.

Wednesday, May 11th
The Amtrak so helpfully took us to Penn Station in the middle of Manhattan,  We walked FOREVER through the station to get the subway line, bought our MetroCards, and got on the subway uptown.  One of the many things I like about Midtown is how easy it is to get around.  The streets are almost all numbered: Avenues run north-south and Streets east-west.  Once you figure out this general grid it's almost impossible to get lost.  I had also spent a lot of time making very specific instructions for how to get to most of our destinations (Take this subway line to this subway stop, head north on this street 3 blocks, turn right, etc.) and so finding the hotel was very easy from the subway.  And from the bright lights as soon as we came above ground, we knew we were in New York.

We went for supper and then stopped back through Times Square on our way to get Jamba Juice.  Luke seemed completely unfazed by Times Square and all the people.  We were a little more nervous, giving him a long talk before we left the hotel about how he had to hold one of our hands AT ALL TIMES.  And he actually did really well with that, even when I was gripping him so tight I left red finger marks on his hands.  Never even complained.  He liked New York from those very first moments.  And I was so excited to be back in Times Square, Manhattan, New York.  We've been there enough times that there is a familiarity to it, almost comforting in the massive sea of people.  I've never seen Times Square even close to being empty and the constant noise, lights, and crowds are reassuring to some extent.  It makes it really feel like New York.

Tried to get to bed early since someone (Luke) didn't sleep well on the train (Luke) and kept his mother from sleeping much either (Luke).  Stinker.

Thursday, May 12th
First up was riding the Staten Island Ferry to get a good look at the Statue of Liberty.  We had already taken a car (to the train station), and two kinds of train on this trip, why not throw in a boat?  Matt and I had climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty on our first trip and it was one of our favorite parts.  It was closed due to a hurricane for visit #2 and then Luke isn't tall enough to climb now (have to be 4 feet).  So the boat was the closest we could easily get and we'll save the crown climb for when he's a little bigger.
It was almost a 30 minute subway ride to the southern tip of Manhattan and then a quick walk outside and into the Ferry terminal.  We missed the 10:30 ferry by literally 10 seconds (I was not happy about that) but we did get a chance for a snack and our first view of Lady Liberty from the window.  Never gets old seeing her.

The Ferry is supposedly for commuters to/from Staten Island...but I doubt many people on our ride were commuters.  It's popular with tourists for the exact reason we were there: free, easy views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline.  Again, free.  Exactly in our budget.

The ferry ride was about 30 minutes and the outside balconies facing the Statue of Liberty were CRAZY on the way over.  Amazing the ferry didn't tip over because it felt like every single person aboard was crammed into that tiny section.  We were able to get a few pictures and then moved to a much less crowded area.

I was a little anxious about making the immediate return and not being stuck on Staten Island for 30 minutes waiting for the next ferry so towards the end, when the Statue of Liberty and skyline were tiny specks on the horizon, we made our way towards the end of the boat so we could be among the first off and then rush to get immediately back on.  Most people have this same plan but we still, running, made it back on the next ferry (the exact one we had just disembarked) with plenty of time. 

Then another 30 minute ride, more snacks, and we were back in Manhattan.  It wasn't the same as being on the pedestal in the crown of the Statue of Liberty but since we had already done that this was a good substitute.  I would absolutely, 1000% recommend crown or pedestal tickets (smaller kids can go that far) if you have the time but this is a good second option (as well as cheaper and quicker).

We stopped at the hotel to pick up the stroller and then headed out for important things: food, cookies, and Central Park.  We stopped by the Love sculpture on a slightly veering path to Central Park to the hotel.  I just learned, thanks to Wikipedia, that the original of this is in Indiana!  This one was at 55th St and 6th Ave and right on our path that included stops at Earl of Sandwich and Milk Bar on the way to Central Park.

We entered Central Park at the southeast corner and those entrances are always pretty busy, probably especially because this was a gorgeous day: 75° and sunny.  We got past the initial crowds and ate our lunch on park benches before beginning our Central Park wanderings.

We only paid for two "activities" this whole trip, not including food and subway passes.  This carousel was one of them and cost...a whole $6 total.  Luke was thrilled to ride, especially with Dad (I've ridden the one at our zoo with him a few times).   It's pretty easy to keep him happy sometimes.  It was a bit of a bummer that Matt had to pay to ride with him (our zoo lets parents accompany their kids for free) but oh well.  It was still only $6. 

From there was more wandering in Central Park.  You could easily spend days there and still not see everything (and maybe get lost multiple times) and we usually do a whole, long afternoon on each trip.  We see many of the same things, every time, but it doesn't matter because Central Park is pretty awesome.

Very high, maybe highest, on our list of things to see on this trip was the spot where we became parents, in the middle of Central Park.  I'm sure babies have been birthed in Central Park but I doubt many other parents become parents in Central Park, to a baby hundreds of miles away.  I was pretty sure I remembered where it was (Central Park is HUGE.  It's easy to get a little turned around) but then we kinda stumbled on the spot and instant chills.  We went over everything that happened, eating our ice cream, returning the call, telling Matt.  (Full story here)  I almost cried.   We did know about Luke (not yet named Luke) before we were in Central Park.  We had known for a little over 24 hours that there was a possible baby out there waiting for us.  But Central Park is where we found out we were picked and where we say we became a family, even if we didn't meet our sweet little baby for another two days.

I remember during that phone call and the slight daze we walked around in the rest of our time in the park, that someday we would bring that baby back to New York, to Central Park, and we'd finally be a family at the spot we became a family.  And to have it finally happen was a little emotional and mind blowing.  We have "getting Luke" memories all over New York, it's impossible not to remember all that was going through our heads while we visited.  But this is the main place.  Where we became a family and finally got to show that not so little baby.   I still get chills just thinking about it.  Definitely my favorite moment from the whole trip.  (For anything wanting to see "our" spot - it's behind Heckscher Ballfields #5).

Now, onto other, much less emotional parts of Central Park.  We walked through Sheep Meadow.  Apparently a popular sunbathing spot (it was hot but wasn't hot enough for me to want to strip down!).  Matt was wishing he had packed shorts though at this point. 

One of the Central Park spots we visit every time is Bethesda Terrace (seen at the end of the first Avengers movie, Enchanted, Elf, the series finale of Gossip Girl, and probably 1000 other things).  It's always busy, we've seen a bride & groom getting pictures done every single time (no matter the day of the week), and usually some big bubbles (which Luke really liked this time). 

The stonework around the Terrace is pretty incredible.  We are reimpressed every visit.   Luke admired the Angel of the Waters fountain:
You can't see in that picture but lemur was admiring along with him.

Bow Bridge is near Bethesda Terrace, another place we stop every trip.  This is overlooking the Lake and the Upper West Side which contains some very expensive real estate.  The contrast of this mostly nature filled park next to some of the priciest real estate in the country amazes me every time. 

We've stopped at Belvedere Castle on both our previous trips but, both times, got there right after their 5pm closing time.  This time we were early enough to get to go inside and take in the views from the top (which isn't that high but is the highest point in Central Park).  The stairs were very narrow (definitely one way) but at least there weren't many of them. 

The castle overlooks Turtle Pond where, on trip #3, we saw turtles for the first time!  (Our previous trips were October and early April, on much chillier days, not prime turtle season.)  This pond overlooks the Upper East Side. 

By this point it was getting close to supper time so we headed back in the direction of the hotel.  We stopped at the Alice in Wonderland statue and Luke enjoyed some brief time running around it (literally in this picture).  This statue is near a small pond used for floating sailboats which is neat to watch, although we got there too late to rent a boat. 

We walked back down The Mall which has these gorgeous, old trees that almost completely cover the walkway.  It's almost always busy when we've visited but still peaceful being surrounded by trees.  We also stopped for ice cream here even though it was suppertime BUT it had been a really hot day of walking around the park. 

We exited the park at the same spot we had entered a few hours earlier.  It was rush hour time and we were walking along 5th Avenue.  It was very loud, crowds, traffic, taxis constantly on their horns...and Luke fell asleep in the stroller.  We were impressed he was able to sleep through all the noise!!  But also, really glad he was taking a nap because he needed it after being up much later than usual and no usual naps!

Stopped back at the hotel (love being in Midtown!) and then walked to get our supper, followed by some walking around Times Square and stopping back at Rockefeller Plaza for our Jamba Juice which we finally got to enjoy in Times Square.  Captain America: Civil War was being advertised very heavily in Times Square (seen to the right in the below picture) and up until that point we had completely forgotten we had seen that at the drive-in less than a week earlier.  With Mother's Day, my sister's graduation, and our long day on the Amtrak in those days in between it felt like much longer ago!

Friday, May 13th
(I literally just realized as I wrote this this it was a Friday the 13th.  At the time I was just thinking about how it was our 10th anniversary.)

First up was beating the rain.  I was checking the weather obsessively in the days leading up to our trip and freaked out to various levels.  It went from predicted perfect weather (no rain) to rain every day, to rain just Friday afternoon.  We could deal with that.

We got on the subway and went to Soho so we could get macarons.  We've seen some different neighborhoods on every trip and I love seeing places where I think "I could live there" (with no knowledge of the rent prices or the size of the apartments).  But you feel like this is where real people live instead of the tourist craziness of Midtown/Times Square.  This was somewhere in Soho or near Union Square (where we went to the GreenMarket as mentioned yesterday). 

We were on our 3rd subway ride of the day to get to the High Line.  It's an elevated subway line that was last used decades ago.  It was turned into a park about 10 years ago after sitting used for years. 

I had read a lot about the High Line in my many searches for "free things to do in New York" and once again, free was right in our budget.  I also liked the idea of checking out a different neighborhood and part of Manhattan.  We finally saw the Empire State Building while walking along.

And there were some pretty views:

In places you could see the rail lines (like above).

Traffic was a constant, even in this part of Manhattan.  Since the High Line winds through the Meatpacking District, instead of being one big block like Central Park, you never escape the city noise.  There are places in Central Park where you can honestly hear nothing besides the people around you.  That was not the case with the High Line.  And this was the quieter portion.

The last section has only been open less than two years.  This was the portion that was surrounded by construction.  It finished by winding around rail yards and next to a busy road.  It was not peaceful.  There were more cranes than we could count.  We had walked all 1.7 miles by that point (which didn't take long) and were also getting the beginnings of the rain storm.  Suffice it to say, it did not end well.  I mean, it was fine and I'm glad we did it but maybe it would be better to revisit once all the construction is done.
You can see the Empire State Building peeking around there!

I didn't even mention the art!  I told Matt I think we are too Midwest to get the art on the High Line.  It was all very modern and...weird?  I'm not a fan of a lot of modern art and this shouldn't have been a shock.  One "piece" was a bunch of sleeping bags filled with (what looked like) cement.  Those were under the line but visible in many places.  At first we thought it was an accident of sorts but then we saw multiples as we kept walking.  I don't get that one.

Another was a statue of a man in tighty-whiteys sleepwalking.  We walked past and, unfortunately, had to keep looking at it to figure out if it was a performance piece or just a statue (it was a statue).  I did not get the point of that one AT ALL.  Those are the weirdest ones I remember but overall...too modern for us.  (Sleepwalking guy on the third screen here...I wouldn't let Matt take a picture of it.  Sleeping bag filled with...stuff on the 4th screen)

So survived the High Line and went back to the hotel to dump the stroller, get a snack, and then go to the Star Wars Exhibit.  We hadn't planned on spending any money really on activities...until we heard about this exhibit.  I mean, it was a given we were going to go.

Real droids!  Matt and I got as close to that BB-8 as we could, trying to figure out if it was the one that could open to give the thumbs up in the movie.  We determined it wasn't.  We've read enough to know they made multiple BB-8s for different purposes but the sign didn't specify which BB-8 this was.  I wish it would have.  Same with the C3P-O and R2-D2. 

These were both Leia costumes.  (Last year one of the slave Leia costumes sold for $96,000 at auction, I'm assuming there were multiples and this was another.)

Chewie and Han Solo.  They had a replica of Han Solo in carbonite that did say it was an authentic recreation so we are assuming the rest of these were actually used in the films, although it was never specified in which ones or which portions.

The part I liked best was on Padme's costumes.  She got the best costumes of any movie and it was interesting reading more about them and seeing the incredible detail up close.  Her Episode II costumes were especially impressive (there were the most from that movie). 

Her wedding dress was definitely the most impressive.  According to the signs, it was made in part from an antique Italian tablecloth and was covered in beads, sewn on by hand the night before the scene was filmed.  It really was amazing and detailed. 

Matt may have been more impressed by the real Darth Vader.  Once he got over the initial thrill, and we were past the droids, Luke was mostly impressed by any exhibit with a button to push or a tablet to play on. 

This exhibit has toured multiple places but this was the first one to show costumes from The Force Awakens.  Rey in the foreground and Finn in the background (the slight bit of orange you can see was from a Pilot but did not specifically say Poe).  Rey has quickly become one of my (and probably many others) favorite characters.
This is only there a few more months and I would obviously recommend to Star Wars fans, anyone else would know to stay awake.  It worked out especially well that we could do this through the worst part of the rain.  It actually worked out pretty perfectly even if it wasn't how I ever imagined spending our 10th wedding anniversary.

We walked through a rainy Times Square to get to Rockefeller Center for supper.  The blue part under the Lion King sign is what used to be the TRL Studio and is now an Aeropostale.  Something that still blows my mind a little, that you can go (and we did last trip) in the old TRL studio.

The rain had cleared up by the time we finished with supper and we had nice final evening in New York.  We've visited Rockefeller Plaza often on each trip and it's one of our favorite, and very tourist friendly, areas.

Another favorite, The Lego Store, obviously.  It's pretty small.  Both FAO Schwartz and the Toys R Us flagship store in Times Square had more impressive Lego models (life sized Chewbacca, Storm Trooper, Batman, etc.) but we still always stop at the Lego Store (also, the other two are now CLOSED, another things that blows my mind a little because they were both HUGE and iconic stores.  I was especially surprised at FAO Schwartz, googling it after we walked past earlier this day and noticing it wasn't where I thought it should be (and formerly was).  They are owned by the same company and supposedly are opening up a new Times Square area store at some point (the old Toys R Us is becoming a Gap/Old Navy, according to my googling).  I was fascinated reading about both of these and the price of Times Square rents.  I may be more shocked/entertained/fascinated by these events than most people.)

Back to the Lego Store.  They had a place you could make your own minifig with bins of each part (hat/hair, head, body, legs, accessory) to go through. Matt's is on the left, Luke the middle, and mine the right.  Luke's favorite part is his guy's ax.  I spent the longest making mine, searching through the hat/hair bins for a long time, looking for girl hair and finding ONE of the hundreds.  And I had to have seen close to every piece.  I was not happy about that but oh well.  About the only souvenir we bought ourselves (not Luke, he got a few more).  Mine is looking at me on my desk as I type this!  I think she needs a name...

We got our final Jamba Juice for the streets of New York and spent our last nighttime in Times Square.  The lights amaze me every time and we've spent countless minutes watching them.  It's amazing how it can be as bright as day hours after the sun has set (also makes for easy pictures at night!). 
I've taken a similar picture on each trip, the other two times with my Times Square Jamba Juice but working with that we have here.  I always hate leaving Times Square on our last night.

And the view from the sidewalk in front of our hotel.  You can see the blur of the Times Square ball.  Fantastic location.

Saturday, May 14th
We woke up to clear blue skies for our last hours in New York.  We had spent a lot of time the night before figuring out how we wanted to spend our last time, with needing to check out of the hotel, leave luggage, and make our 3:30 train.

First was walking to Central Park, one last time.  

We, completely unplanned, walked past this Hope sculpture on our walk to Central Park, less than 2 blocks from the hotel.  I didn't even know it was there!  And we didn't even have to fight a crowd to get a picture. (Corner of 53rd and 7th).  It definitely is new since our first trip because we would have walked through this intersection many times.

This was just a cool building, along 7th Avenue, near Central Park.

We had stopped at a playground in Central Park the day before but I specifically wanted to go to this one because it was supposed to be one of the best.  We kinda stumbled upon it this day which was a happy surprise.  Heckscher Playground.  There was a lot more to climb on than a typical playground and Luke is finally big enough to handle these pretty well on his own.  And the views weren't bad either.

It was an absolutely PERFECT day.  About 70°, sunny.  It was snowing at our lake this weekend.  Snowing.  I heard it was 50° and miserable at home.  We lost a plant or two to frost while we were gone.  But in New York it was GORGEOUS.  Perfect way to end our trip.

We spent some there before venturing to more of the park. We walked back to "our" spot...where Luke tripped and barely scraped his head but, of course, it needed a bandaid.  Just trying to make things memorable, I guess.

And we finished our time by sitting on these large rocks, near where Matt & I had soft pretzels in our very first hour in Central Park 5 ½ years earlier.  Now this time we had our little buddy.  The little boy we had very much wanted since before that first trip.  On that trip I had wished for a baby on New Years confetti at the Times Square Visitors Center (which has also closed!).  It just took until the next trip for it to happen.  So special to share this all with him!

We stopped at the hotel for final packing, checking out, and leaving our bags before going in search of the elusive donuts and walking around Rockefeller Plaza.

St. Patrick's Cathedral.  We went in on our last trip.  It's pretty and seems so out of place on 5th Avenue!

Since we had bought Luke a turtle at the Times Square Toys R Us on our last trip (which we had planned to do before we even knew there was a chance we were getting a baby but then the timing was quite nice.  That turtle is on his bed, right next to him, at this very moment), we wanted to buy him something from Toys R Us again...but that store was closed.  So we searched for the next closest one which was a tiny one in a mall near the Macy's (as seen in the Thanksgiving Day parade) and the Empire State Building.  This may be as close as we've ever been to the Empire State Building.

(Luke got a Hot Wheels which we will probably soon forget which one came from New York.  And a Hot Wheels sized yellow taxi.  That one we won't forget.)

Another subway ride and walking through Times Square.

Luke may have gotten a stuffed BB-8 too.  It was only $10!  I had looked for them online months ago and they were much more!  And BB-8 is pretty awesome.

After that it was walking back to the hotel, collecting our luggage, saying goodbye to above ground New York, and taking the subway to Penn Station to get our last Jamba Juice, sandwiches for the train, and boarding for home. 

We had a FANTASTIC couple of days in New York and were planning trip #4 before we were even on the train home.  We will never run out of new things to see or places we want to revisit. Despite all my worries (and I worried about EVERYTHING), things went really well and Luke did great and it was just a really nice trip.  SO different from our beach vacation 9 months earlier but wonderful all the same.

We ♥ NY.

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