*Featured header image: NYC skyline from Central Park taken by JezzabellGem 2016
When I was 18, punk rock, fearless, and ready to get the hell out of dodge, I ran away on a train to New York City, much to my grandmother’s fear and disappointment, which as a parent, I now understand in ways I certainly couldn’t even relate to back then. I was waiting to get into art school, and I just couldn’t fathom staying in my hometown any longer. My high school friend who had moved there just after graduation said to me, “Take the train. Live with me”. So I did, but I didn’t last long. New York City has no patience for the faint of heart.
With swarms of people in a hurry everywhere, bodies fearlessly crushing through the cross walks, and the continual sound of sirens above and beyond the typical noisiness of traffic rushing by and people everywhere, it’s easy to see how the people of New York can become pretty desensitized to most things. It’s even easier to see why they all walk so fast and with such purpose; because New Yorkers are busy people with places to be. Period.
Jumping to the present day, once our flight landed, we hit the ground running with a long and harrowing cab ride from Laguardia to our hotel. Cory stared out the window the whole way while my eyes were fixed on the news ticker that scrolled across the bottom of the tiny TV screen in our cab that read, “Woman falls 8 stories to her death…missing teen found dead behind dumpster…two men shot to death in armed robbery incident…the latest on the Chelsea explosion…” and so on, and so on. It was all death and mayhem. It did cross my mind that we might not survive, and that out of the two of us, Cory’s chances were better, because he would be at work every day where as I would be all over the place. Clearly we both survived, and we didn’t witness even one single crime. I took the regular precautions any lone woman would take while walking in a big city (I logged nearly 15000 steps every day), and I felt perfectly safe. At the onset of a Zombie Apocalypse tho, all bets are off.
Taken from the Empire State Building 86th floor observatory by JezzabellGem 9/2016
The Empire State Building is a touristy thing you absolutely SHOULD do.
Back in 1990 (when the murder rate in NYC was higher than it’s ever been, and I was walking around like it was nothing, because teen balls) I’d been inside the Empire State Building with it’s huge revolving doors and art deco mystique, but I never had the money to take the trip up to the 86th floor observatory to experience the view. This time around, since it was just a few blocks down from our hotel, the 86th floor was the very first thing I did. When I walked out on to the observatory, it was much more still than I anticipated it would be, with only a slight breeze. The view was everything I expected it would be and more – incredible. I must have stayed up there for at least 45 minutes, walking around and around, marveling at how far the city stretched, one sky scraper or building after another for as far as the eye could see. Well worth the $32 fee. For $20 more, you can go up to the 102nd floor, which we did together on our last night there. Yep, I went twice. SO WINDY the 2nd time. No regrets.
Once I left the Empire State Building, I made my way to the beginning of the High Line, walking from 33rd street all the way down to 14th street and then over a few blocks. Even though the walk was full of places to photograph and things to see, I began to think I’d never get to my destination – my energy level was high, but my feet were already getting cranky. My route took me through Greeley Square, Union Square Park and into the Meatpacking District where I climbed the stairs to the park. The High Line is a mile and a half long linear park built in Manhattan in 2013 on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. (PERK: the Whitney Museum of Art is near the end of the park.) It’s a striking garden walk with a mishmash of NYC views. Old architecture against new architecture, finished buildings against massive crane filled construction. It took me past Penn Station and along the water and let me out at Chelsea -just 5 blocks from our hotel, which was located on West 35th Street not far from Times Square. I did it backwards though: I started at the end and walked to the beginning.
Dinner was back in Midtown at an Asian Fusion place called Mew, where there was a long wait (we had a big group), but it was inexpensive, delicious, and well worth it.
Three separate views from the High Line taken by JezzabellGem 9/2016
After dinner a group of us walked (the wrong way in a circle) to an overtly over priced and ridiculous pool hall called Space Billiards. Trust me when I tell you this place is worth neither your time nor your effort to get there at $49 an hour for a shared pool table. The only thing it has going for it is the name, which is why we chose it. Shame, really. I’d do so much more with a space that large and a kick-ass name like that.
On my second day, I made my way to Washington Square Park on the NYU campus which serves as the dividing line between the East and the West Village. Washington Square Park is a nostalgic place for me. Too far to walk from our hotel, but less than 15 minutes in a cab or an Uber if it’s not rush hour. I used to walk through this park to get to work oh-so-long ago. While so much of it is the same, it’s also very different to me then it was 26 years ago. Like before, there are plenty of street musicians scattered about, and I LOVE street music. Plus Pigeon Man. I couldn’t resist taking his photo. He was 100% covered in birds 2 minutes before I took my photo, but a loud noise scared all of them. After spending a long while hanging out by the fountain watching all the people, and after walking all the surrounding streets, I made my way up MacDougal Street to Monk Vintage Thrift Shop and it’s an awesome little place. If you like vintage thrifting, I highly suggest it.
Dinner on this evening was pho at Saigon Shack on MacDougal with some old design school friends of mine. There’s always a wait, but once again reasonably priced and completely worth it. We followed dinner with a visit to The Grisley Pear for Guinness and comedy, and then back across the street to Up and Up, a “dimly lit cocktail lounge offering sophisticated drinks plus snacks in a space with banquettes.” Not only did they serve us absinthe (no formal presentation; they usually only use it as an ingredient) and luxurious cocktails, they also play old wave goth music and will only allow as many people in as can fill available seats. No limitations to standing room, no over crowding, and a very personalized experience.
Pigeon Man in Washington Square Park, The Grisly Pear and Up & Up taken by JezzabellGem 9/2016
On our third and final day, I took an Uber to the beginning of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. During the 20 minute ride, the driver asked me what I had planned for the day. As it turned out, he helped me put my list in order and we came up with the most efficient plan of action. I started off by walking across most of the bridge and back again. Informational guided tours across the bridge are offered, but I wanted to walk the bridge on my own, and find out all the facts for myself. It was windy and cold on the bridge, but looking out from all angles was beautiful.
From there I was able to walk just a few blocks to Ground Zero where I viewed both the North and South pools for the first time. As I stood there in quiet memory and snapped photos I couldn’t help but imagine how it might have been to experience first hand everything I watched on television on 9/11. So many people lost. So many names to remember. It truly shook me. I walked through all of the construction pathways around the outside of the new Freedom Tower (One WTC), Tower 3 (Three WTC), Tower 4 (Four WTC) and the incredibly bizarre and spiky architecture of the Transportation Hub Oculus.
I didn’t have the time I would have wanted to dedicate to the National 911 Memorial Museum on this day, and I also didn’t set aside aside enough time to wander into the Oculus, but next time these things (and SO many other things, because NYC is huge) won’t be skipped.
I’d been saving up a large chunk of my time for Central Park, and I am SO glad I did. NYC is in-your-face every minute of every day, so it’s hard to believe there’s such a giant space right in the center of it all that can provide so much peace and tranquility, but there is, and it’s my favorite place in the city. Central Park is is 2.5 miles long between 59th Street and 110th Street, and is 0.5 miles wide between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. I took a cab from Ground Zero to the entrance of the park (about 15 minutes, if it’s not rush hour). I didn’t have a plan in mind except to just walk, watch, see, and experience. I was offered glamorous horse and buggy tours, sketchy rickshaw tours, and other types of guided tours, but since I was on my own, on a budget, and ready to walk, I said no to all of them. I didn’t even grab a map.
The Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park taken by JezzabellGem 9/2016
I mainly meandered down the right hand side of the park (59th Street if you’re facing the entrance) zig-zagging my way to wherever the next thing pulled me. There are lakes, and bridges with spectacular views. There are giant rock formations to climb up to the top of. There are paddle boats and water falls…fields and arches…and the Central Park Zoo. There’s even a castle; Belvedere Castle toward the center. I was hoping to stumble into it, and had I grabbed a map, I might have found it. I did happen to stumble upon Alice in Wonderland in Central Park, and for anyone who knows me, you’ll know how utterly thrilled I was to find it! This expansive park brought me 3 hours of tranquility and a deep well over flowing with creative inspiration. I took photo after photo after photo. It was over cast, but still bright on this day – on the verge of rain which made for such breezy weather and the most beautiful golden glow over everything. It was photographic lighting the likes of which any photographer, novice (like me) to pro, would die for – the magic hour except ALL DAY.
When I return to Central Park (and believe me, I will return) I’ll get a map, rent a bike, and devote an entire day to nothing but this amazing place. As an aside and FYI, as a lone female, I stayed on the main paved pathways and away from heavily wooded areas. I left the park at 5:30, before it started to get dark. Any New Yorker will tell you to do the same, because people who are alone on the off beaten paths or in the woods, especially at night, are at greater risk for untoward and possibly dangerous experiences.
After Central Park I took an Uber to meet my husband with plans to hop the Staten Island Ferry (all the ferrys are free!) for a night time view of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty from the water. However, rush hour and eventual rain coupled with the onset of cold winds were not the best circumstances under which to be out on the ferry. I used to take the ferry all the time, so I was ok with missing it, but I was sad not to be able to share it with Cory.
Instead, we did our aforementioned (second for me) trip to the top of the Empire State Building. Though it was windy and cold, it was tremendously beautiful to view all the lights from way up there. Frankly, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Times Square could be seen from the moon – it’s that bright and blinky. (I wonder…*runs off to google it*) While the 86th floor observatory is open and outside, the 102nd floor is completely enclosed, and kept dark for the best photos at night.
Absinthe at William Barnacle Tavern taken by JezzabellGem 9/2016
We then made our way back to Greenwich Village to spend our last evening in NYC at William Barnacle Tavern; an original speak easy equipped with formal absinthe presentation, the original wooden bar and speak easy decor, film noir projected on to the back wall AND true accounts of hauntings and mob related murder in the cellar. Frank Sinatra was even once a waiter there.
Our bartender was smartly dressed and very well versed on both the history of the Speak Easy in its prohibition days and the wily ways of the absinthe they serve. The drinks are high priced, but the absinthe selection is at least 5 brands deep and the ambiance coupled with the theater clientele plus its compelling history is well worth every penny you’ll spend. And you may as well dress the part, because if you can, why wouldn’t you? The bartender does.
We woke up on the morning of our departure to all sorts of weather related flight issues, which lead Delta to re-book us on an earlier flight thereby forcing us to be in a hurry. New York cab drivers do NOT like driving to Laguardia in rush hour, and certainly not on a Friday. Mostly, they just say no. As luck would have it, our hotel arranged a car for us. What sort of car you ask? A LIMO! Limos make an hour-long ride much more tolerable, in case you hadn’t already made that assumption.
I didn’t get to go to Williamsburg, take the ferry, see the castle in Central Park, go to SOHO, visit the 9/11 museum or the Metropolitan or the Whitney. There are a million things I didn’t get to in my short four-day excursion. All it means is that we’ll go back. And when we do, I’ll be booking tickets to The Late Show. Until next time NYC!