by Rita Ireland
New York City can be a daunting city to explore because it is so huge and expensive. With a 40th wedding anniversary to celebrate, and other cities and countries under our belt, my husband and I wondered why do we keep ignoring this grand city? Was it fear of being in such an overwhelming place? Maybe. But, all that changed this fall when we spent twelve glorious days there. Here are our suggestions:
1. Get busy. Start researching months ahead. Lonely Planet’s New York City was our guide. Online resources like Rough Guide to New York City and Trip Advisor also provided insights. We first created personal lists of our top fifteen things to do - culminating with a new list and a quest to understand “while in that neighborhood, let’s see….”
2. Get goin’. Use credit card miles to obtain cheap plane tickets, of course; or sign up for fare tracker websites like Kayak so you are alerted to deals. JetBlue has consistently lower prices. JFK Airport is the least complicated to reach the city - take the AirTrain for $7.75. And LaGuardia’s NYC Airporter bus is currently $13.
As for new Broadway shows, tickets are hard to get. But, if you purchase from home, you can relax. When there, many long-running shows can be booked for half the price for a next day performance. Lines at Times Square could be unnerving, so head over to the less crowded ticket booth in Brooklyn: http://www.nytix.com/Broadway/DiscountBroadwayTickets/TKTS/.
3. Get creative where you stay. Why pay $350-$500/night in a Manhattan hotel when you can stay in a private home for $180? Using AirBnB (or VRBO) in a neighborhood provides a quieter, homey feel. How about Staying in Brooklyn Heights in a historic brownstone on the top floor with a private entrance? Fantastic! A few blocks from the home where we rented a room was the new Brooklyn Promenade overlooking the breathtaking Manhattan skyline. Subway lines into the city were easy.
4. Get down. Down into the maze of subways. Forget expensive taxis or Ubers. Save money for dinners and plays by using the easy subways. They are cheap, ubiquitous, clean, and crime-free. Free music by buskers is a bonus. Buying an Unlimited METRO pass for a week provides a smart, flexible plan. Avoid buying the pass at crowded Grand Central -- any subway entrance will do.
5. Get moving. Just start walking. Pedestrians are so colorful: it’s a plethora of United Nations, wide-eyed tourists vs. fast-walking Wall Streeters, friendly vagabonds vs spiky-heeled models. Blocks are long: ithe workout is a good way not to feel guilty buying an eclair. Head over to Chelsea to walk on top of an old railroad, called the High Line, a creative path that winds its way through gardens, food vendors and public art.
Biking provides a fun perspective of Manhattan too. Rent a bike from a vendor near the free Staten Island ferry - Battery Park, then ride up the flat Hudson River Trail - to the majestic One World Trade Center- more than the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, its park below is a most reverent reflection of 9/11. If energetic, bike all the way to irresistible Central Park. Then simply return bikes at the park to the same company. Take advantage of the food trucks at the southwest entrance - best juicy gyro ever!
5. Get lost. Where to go? Flip a coin. Or,I instead of taking the subway one way, go the opposite. Locals are so friendly -- we were often asked if we needed help. Serendipity fosters unique memories. Explore a new ‘hood. Harlem is gentrifying, but you’ll be wowed at Streetbird - Chef Marcus Samuelson’s funky restaurant. Or saunter into a Carnegie library, a garden, a Jewish deli like famous Katz’s, or a tiny one filled with locals -- even better. Walk past a Jamaican joint in the Bronx. Ahh, smell the spices and find a booth. It’s the opposite of standing in lines, where there is stiff competition for The Today Show, Jimmy Fallon, or the Knicks. But it’s authentic.
6. Get dressed. Dressed up, that is. What a thrill to get all decked out for an early dinner in the city, a few blocks from your Broadway show. Unlike your comfy hometown, it’s time to add the dazzles, a quirkiness, or a tie, and get swanky! How often do you feel a bit luxurious? Take in a jazz club, an alfresco cafe, or a late-night cocktail at a local pub or the cigar bar at Manhattan’s Peninsula Hotel?
6. Get over it. When traveling, someone is bound to make a wrong move. “Damn….that subway line was on the other side.” Make a pact of quick forgiveness - and move on. Mistakes will be made, but the cool part will be how fast you can laugh or shrug it off. It could be your best story when you get back home.
7. Get inside. The ambience of Manhattan’s majestic New York Library, the art deco of the Chrysler Building, or solitude in the cathedrals: it’s all so ethereal and breathtaking. And the art museums! The smaller Guggenheim and The Frick are easier to manage. But, oh….save a day for the incredible Metropolitan Museum of Art and MOMA. Lines are shorter in the early afternoon. Here’s our win/win: we leave each other for a while to go our own pace, meet for lunch, separate again, and later show each other our favorite pieces. If off-beaten art paths are your delight, the Chelsea area has weekly exhibits in such fun spaces. http://www.art-chelsea.com
8. Get transformed. Bask in the imagination of creative writers, artists, and politicians over the last two centuries to sift through your head. If you read their histories you may appreciate the beautiful lives which came before you, such as the architects of the Brooklyn Bridge. Stop to hear a local writer at a bookstore which could lead to hearing of an idea you didn’t plan on, which dominos to discovering another part of the city: taking the train to the Bronx! Ahh, the impressive botanical garden is there —with a Frida Kahlo exhibit and a women mariachi band - amazing! Where else, but New York City.
Let the unpredictability of new routes and experiences take over and fill you with awe. Take subways, stroll in parks, and dine at local spots-- this melds your tourist identity into shades of a local. Savor the transformation, take it slow with a sip and a stir.
© Copyright 2017 Rita Ireland