How we made the most of our day in the City That Never Sleeps.
It was the Friday before Labor Day. I was flying out to meet my brother, Tim and his wife Dara, who live in Scranton. We wanted to spend the day in The City, we decided I would fly in to Newark and they’d pick me up. I arrived around 12 am and by all counts we should have gone straight to bed. We had all put in a full work week, and our day had begun… oh… I don’t know… 17 hours prior. We drove about 35-40 minutes into the City. As we skirted the river before entering the Lincoln Tunnel, the skyline and lights of the “City of Dreams” were breathtaking. We could see Freedom Tower dressed fully patriotic in red white and blue, and countless other lighted structures scrape the sky.
As we neared our hotel, just a few city blocks from Times Square, the reminders of the “Big City” lifestyle entered the scene. Trash piled high on street corners awaited pickup. Police sirens resounded. Honking cars reverberated from the tall buildings in the relatively quiet streets. Scaffolding surrounded many buildings, covering sidewalks and providing temporary shelter for some the local homeless. Souvenir shops, convenience stores, bars, restaurants, and various other businesses populated the street level of tall walkups-and skyscrapers, miles of tall buildings as far as the eye could see and metal security gates on the business fronts that had closed earlier in the evening. After about a half an hour ordeal of trying to get our car parked in a garage, we finally made it into the hotel to check-in to our room.
Now, well after 1, we settled in, had a little room beer and got our walking shoes on to give the City That Never Sleeps a test run. We made our way down the dimly lit sidewalks, at a “quiet” time of night. Through the Theatre District, past bars, clubs, eateries and endless stage Marquees, ‘til we saw daylight peeking around the corner.
Street vendors, drunkards, chain restaurants, stores, bars, hotels, and lighted signage galore! Every major brand was present in the categories of fashion, travel, athletic wear, Broadway productions, music, food, wine and coffee. It was magnificent! Bright as day, and a seizure waiting to happen! With more blinking and flashing lights than a casino floor, Times Square inhabited at every hour, but with a little personal space that I imagine is not present during working hours.
We took some fun and silly photos, visited the various street exhibits, and of course, tasted the local vendor fare. The Gyros were absolutely incredible and the perfect midnight snack! A Midwest girl and not a giant fan of crowds, it was the perfect time to visit in my opinion! We headed back to the hotel and stopped for a nightcap on the way back. We were lucky enough to find a table towards the front of a small, bustling pub. Then off to bed we went.
Biking the City
We were all up around 8, which wasn’t bad, considering our 4am bedtime. We grabbed a light breakfast and coffee from the hotel (a major money saver, as it was included), and mulled over our plan for the day. We were looking for a late Boozy Brunch and checked Living Social and Groupon for deals. We confirmed our selection with Yelp reviews before deciding. (Pro Tip* Always double check as there are some fantastic restaurants on there, but also some lemons, so do your homework to ensure it’s worth the spend and the time!)
Next, we picked up our Citi Bikes. This was an easy app-based transaction via smart phone. It took just a couple of minutes to set up and link your debit card. We paid $12 for the daily rental, with unlimited 30-minute rides. It was an additional amount for every time you went more than a half an hour without checking your bike back in. The half hour time frame seemed daunting at first, but we set a timer on our phone, and it was actually perfect for us. I think we only exceeded the half hour once. The bike drops were super convenient with 750 locations in the city, and 12,000 bikes, you could use your ap to locate a dock if you were ready to walk, eat, or visit a museum or shop.
Central Park and Brunch
We biked around the city and made our way into Central Park, which was surprisingly hilly! There are some areas of the park that are pedestrian only, so we docked our bikes several times just outside of here to walk the gardens and climb the big rocks (because I’m apparently 12).
I love open spaces, and Central Park was right up my alley! I’m a bit of a film buff and there were so many scenes that I had recognized from movies. It was incredible to see just how expansive the park and green space was, right there in the concrete jungle. I always find it amazing that progress is stopped on protected areas even in a place that property is at such a premium like NYC. There are 3 restaurants, 5 concession stands, and lots of other food carts present on the daily. There is a zoo, green spaces, a carousel, playgrounds, an ice rink, a statue of Balto (yes, the sled dog), “quiet zones,” Strawberry Fields – a John Lennon Memorial – and the beautiful Conservatory Garden, which feature French, English and Italian Gardens.
After a couple hours in Central Park, we started to get munchy and decided to bike our way Southwest, towards Hell’s Kitchen and Brunch. We enjoyed a leisurely late breakfast at a fabulous little bistro, Gallo Nero with bottomless beverages, Steak and Eggs, French toast, and a 90-minute time limit. Sadly, the spot is now permanently closed. After our allotted time (and as many beverages as we could order in our 90-minute window), we headed back out for more biking and sightseeing.
We headed West to the Hudson, where we found a great river walk and bike path that we took down to Ground Zero. It was a perfectly sunny, warm and breezy day and the bike ride was fantastic and a great escape from the traffic. We dropped our bikes, paused for a bubble tea and some delicious crepes at a nearby food truck before proceeding to the 9/11 Memorial.
We had seen Freedom Tower while approaching the city the night before, and occasionally peeking through the clearings of buildings and between city blocks. Standing beneath it was another thing entirely. It soared majestically into the clouds with an unclear ending point from beneath. Proudly and Patriotically standing guard. We approached through the neatly planted rows of Swamp White Oaks and stopped to read the story of the Survivor Tree: a pear tree that had been crushed by rubble, and extracted to be nursed back to health, and returned home to flourish.
Being present where the Towers stood was surprisingly poignant. We had driven by on our last New York Trip a few years after the incident to see only a construction site, with everything was fenced off and round-the-clock construction.
The grounds and memorial pools are a quiet zone. The Twin Pools are the largest manmade waterfall in the world and outline the footprints of where the Twin Towers had previously stood. Each are lined in bronze railings memorializing the names of the victims, down to each unborn child of pregnant mothers.
So many thoughts, memories and stories came to mind as I read these names. Flowers and flags left behind; the imprint of the names being used as a vase. I cannot tell you how touching this experience was. Certainly, the highlight of an already brilliant day! Due to budget and time constraints we saved the museum for the next visit.
Adjacent to the memorial is The NYFD, was a touching memorial of their own to the largest number of first responders ever lost in a single event in this country.
It took a few moments to regain our spirits after the solemn visit.
After a quick stop to grab the bull by the horns at Wall Street (with 85 of my closest fellow-tourist friends) we headed down the peninsula to Battery Park.
Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty
At Battery Park, we found the beautifully tranquil and euphoric Sea Glass Carousel – a $16 million NYC project-half privately fundraised and half footed by the citizens. Us girls knew immediately we must ride. We are, after all, simply grown children.
It was positively magical if you are wondering.
We then took some fabulously ridiculous photos with Lady Liberty. She is quite incredible to see, every single time, and someday I will assuredly visit her island as well as Ellis. We rode Northeast back up the Peninsula until our legs and butts had enough of the bicycles and we hailed a cab.
Our next stop was The Rock! Seeing Rockefeller Center, the backdrop for so many shows and movies, including my beloved Today show was awesome! I was sure we would see my best friend Jimmy Fallon, or my girl Hoda… but no dice. As I peered around the square, I imagined it with the famous Christmas tree and holiday lights and vowed I would certainly make a trip again at Christmas time.
The rain had been stalling most of the afternoon, but by 5 o’clock it was a full-on drizzle. We were exhausted from all the riding and walking and very damp. We caught a cab the few miles (and hours) back to the hotel to collect the car and head back to their home in PA. In the middle of rush hour traffic. Despite my hopes, and dreams, it was in fact not the cash cab… and just as quickly as our little day trip to the Big City had begun, it ended.
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