We made it to NYC! After a relaxing month in Virginia, we felt the hustle and bustle of NYC the moment we got off the plane. There is certainly a buzz here, and I am more than excited to explore what NYC has to offer!
Where We Stayed
We stayed in Long Island City at the Wyndham Garden. The hotel was located within 8 minutes of the E line which is one stop away from Manhattan. We were able to get a deal from Hotels.com, plus cash in on two free rooms as a loyalty member. Long Island City had plenty of restaurants near our hotel, and was a clean and safe area.
How We Got Around
We landed in JFK and relied on the guidance of blogs and other internet readings to get us to our hotel. We hopped on the AirTrain towards Jamaica station. At Jamaica station you can make connections to the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) or hop on the Subway. To exit out of the AirTrain you will need and AirTrain ticket, which you can buy at a machine for $5.00, plus $1.00 for the ticket. We had read that at the time of this purchase you can also add your Subway pass. That is true to some extent. We had already planned on buying the 7-day unlimited pass for $31.00, however, this was not an option at the AirTrain kiosk. They had a basic, pay as you go ticket. We ended up paying the $6.00 to exit out of the AirTrain station and walked to the Subway kiosk and spent $32.00 for the ticket and pass. Little did we know, if you had $5.00 cash you could’ve just handed it to a vendor near the exit to buy a ticket without the dollar surcharge. In the end our lack of knowledge costed us $2.00, which isn’t much, but still avoidable for all of you! The Subway ride from JFK was less than an hour and not bad at all.
If you are going to stay in NYC for a while, the unlimited week pass is worth it for $32.00. A normal ride on a subway or bus is $2.75 regardless of distance or time spent on train. On any given day, Steve and I hopped on the Subway 3-5 different times. For us it made sense to buy the pass.
To assist us in our planning, we used the free app, Transit, as well as Google maps. We found that it was more useful to pull both directions up and compare. There were many times that train closures were not reflected in Transit or Google.
My comparisons to metro rides are of BART (SF), the Metro (DC), the Tube (London) and the Paris Metro. I was expecting the NYC Subway to be a bit gross, but the trains are clean, and the electronic screens make it easy to understand. My advice – be vigilant and mindful of others.
Our Favorite Eats
When you think of NYC, I think of – Pizza. We wanted to make sure to get plenty of Pizza before we traveled international. If you know Steve well, you know that Pizza is one of his core food groups, so he was more than eager to eat Pizza numerous times on this trip. Although we ate at numerous great spots, I want to highlight our favorites:
- OTTO Enoteca e Pizzeria – This place was recommended by our good friend Ted and it didn’t disappoint. Owned and operated by famous chef Mario Batali, the menu ranges from classic pastas and pizza to more adventurous pizza. There are plenty of options for vegan, vegetarian and carnivores alike. My pizza had goat cheese and caramelized onions, while Steve chose one with some spicy pepperoni. Steve couldn’t resist affogato, and I was delighted with the milk chocolate gelato. OTTO is a short walk from numerous subway stations and from Washington Square Park.
- Roberta’s – We happily met Steve’s friends, Keller & Melissa at this Brooklyn establishment. They serve local beer, thin crust artisan pizza as well as other pastas and salads. Their menu changes regularly. Delicious food – it is worth the long wait.
- L’inizio Pizza Bar – This restaurant was a lucky find. It is near our hotel, and we were hungry and happen to walk in and experience amazing cheap pizza. Steve had buffalo chicken and I had a classic cheese. Delicious, cheap, and was close to the subway.
- Lombardi’s Pizza – They claim to be the first pizzeria in America. Although many dispute this, this place keeps getting nominated for being one of the top pizzeria’s in town. We shared a pizza and an Italian soda. It wasn’t our favorite pizza of the week, but still a contender. If you decide to come here, know they only accept cash.
What We Did
New York City kept us busy! We did a lot for the short time we were there, without managing to burn ourselves out. In the city that never sleeps, you can be sure to find something to do that fits your budget and interests.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – NYC is home to 100 museums, and a lot of them have special free nights. We decided to take advantage of MoMA’s free Friday nights (4pm-8pm), us and a few thousand tourists! We arrived shortly before 6pm and were immediately overwhelmed. To come in on a free night you will need to get a ticket at the desk, located on the 53rd street. Getting the ticket was easy once you manage to maneuver around people. There is a long line to check bags in (anything much larger than a large purse will need to be checked) but luckily our bags were small enough to get in, saving us 30 minutes in line.
MoMA is home to 150,000 individual pieces. You can spend all day here easily. We spent two hours here focusing on the 4th and 5th floors – modern art from 1880s to 1960s. Although we prefer early modern art, it was cool to see an Andy Warhal original. Some of our favorites included pieces from Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh.
I should mention, MoMA is much more than modern art. They also have a focus on film, architecture and design, and a massive library. We only visited two floors dedicated to art, with a brief visit to a special exhibit to modern furniture.
Rockefeller Center & Top of the Rock – We walked from MoMA to the Rockefeller & Universal area. The short walk allowed us to check out Radio City Hall and Studio 6-B where Jimmy Fallon films The Tonight Show. Rockefeller Center has plenty to do: the famous ice skating rink, restaurants, and shopping. We enjoyed dinner and walking around the plaza to view various statues. I was excited to see Atlas.
Our Top of the Rock ticket was for 9pm. We had bought tickets ahead of time online for $32.00 each. We looked everywhere for discounted tickets but were unable to find any. For a 9pm start time, it took about 20 minutes to get through security and waiting in line for an elevator. The elevator drops you off at the 67th floor with the option to walk up to the 69th floor. The sights are unreal, and the wind was bone chilling! We saw the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and even the Statue of Liberty in the distance. We stayed about 30 minutes and decided it was time to leave so we could thaw out.
We had picked Top of the Rock over Empire State Building after reading several posts on TripAdviser. We were happy with our experience. Perhaps next NYC visit we will visit the top of the Empire State Building or the One World Observation Deck.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral – near the Rockefeller Center is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Built in 1879, and became a national historic landmark in 1976. Steve and I walked inside and were pleasantly surprised with how much it reminded us of the churches in Europe. It is beautiful, especially Lady Chapel.
Hamilton Grange – New York was home to Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton and his wife moved to the Harlem Heights in 1802. Their retreat home from Manhattan was affectionately called The Grange, after Hamilton’s family home in Scotland. Alexander Hamilton served as George Washington‘s aid during the Revolution War, writing on his behalf, being a diplomat, and advisor. Eager to show his leadership skills, he was appointed colonel of an infantry brigade and led a major attack on the battle of Yorktown in 1781. After the revolution he served as a lawyer in New York with the mission to protect all citizens; including past loyalists and African Americans. He was the first Secretary of Treasury and ensured the government paid off war debts, taxed imported goods and established a national bank. When he left office, the country had excellent credit and a strong economy. After office, he resumed his law practice in New York and often worked pro bono cases for African Americans. He defended a newspaper editor sued by Thomas Jefferson for slander, and ultimately won the case, which strengthened the First Amendment Rights. Hamilton was critical to the Jefferson and Burr Presidency, and his harsh words ultimately led to the duel with Aaron Burr that ended his life.
We visited The Grange in Harlem and was impressed at the amount of work that has gone into restoring this historic home. The original home was moved two times, to the current location. The last move was done by the National Park Service in 2008 to St. Nicholas Park. Considering the entire house has been move twice, it’s in decent condition. They are still working hard to furnish the bedrooms with time pieces and actual Hamilton furniture. One feature I really love in his home is the large windows that go down to the floor. Looking at the home, I could tell Hamilton really enjoyed being outside, there are multiple balconies on all sides of the house. We also enjoyed the 20-minute video and museum inside the house. If you decide to go, I would allot for 1-2 hours for your visit.
General Grant’s Tomb – Located near Columbia University, Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb is a sight to behold. The large mausoleum honors Grant, who saved the Union as a Civil War general, and fought inequality during his time as President. Grant is mostly known for his Civil War efforts, but his time as President had huge milestones for this country: the passing of the 15th amendment (guaranteeing voting rights to African American males), selecting a Native American to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, making Yellowstone America’s first National Park, and signing the Treaty of Washington (between US & Great Britain over boundary issues, securing peace between the nations).
The mausoleum is beautiful. As you walk up, you are surrounded by trees and the waterline. You will see “Let Us Have Peace” written on the entrance door. Once I walked in I noticed how similar it is to Napoleon’s mausoleum in Paris. The ranger confirmed my suspicions, it was modeled after it. There are flags from battles, and statues of fellow Union officers. There is also a visitor center nearby with exhibits on Grant.
Central Park – Nature within a city – I love it! I couldn’t believe how big Central Park is. You could spend all day there and still not see it all. We decided to hit the highlights we could from Mid to South Park. During our walk between destinations we saw hundreds of walkers, joggers and bikers – this community takes advantage of warm afternoons with outdoor activities. We walked by the boat house where you can rent boats by the hour, wedding parties, and picnic goers. Everywhere you looked, there was something going on. We saw the Belvedere Castle, Alice in Wonderland statue, the Bethesda Terrace, Strawberry Fields (and the famous Imagine Mosaic), Sheep Meadow and The Mall. I was being total fan girl status at The Mall, remembering all the scenes from Law & Order SVU and Sex & the City filmed there. Central Park has something for everybody – don’t miss it.
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace – Although, not the original home, it was reconstructed in 1923, and impressive all on its own. Roosevelt was born at this site in 1858 as well as his other 3 siblings. Roosevelt was a sickly child, suffering from severe asthma and was mostly educated by some tutors and reading any book that came his way. His family left the house in 1872 to go to Europe for a year, and returned to a new home in New York.
The Roosevelt home is managed by the National Park Service, offering numerous ranger led tours daily throughout the house. Most of the furnishings are time pieces or pieces donated by the family. The bottom floor is a museum and exhibits tracing Roosevelt’s career. The day we arrived, we had just missed the last house tour but enjoyed the museum. It was also October 27 – Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday! The NPS celebrated with decorations and hired a “Roosevelt” to talk to guests. We enjoyed our brief but fascinating trip to this site.
**To be continued…**