My New York state of mind

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New York 2011. I have been wanting to visit NYC ever since I can remember. I could be a drama queen at times and New York seems to be where all the drama is. Being a movie junkie, I always envisioned my 20’s like living scenes from a movie (which stars me, of course). A posh apartment in the upper east side, a job in park avenue, coffee and bagel for breakfast, watching ballet or broadway on the weekends. All the glitz and glamour fitting for the high life. I wanted to live all those TV shows and movies I grew up with. I wanted to be Holly having parties in my apartment. Or rendezvous with someone at the top of empire state building. Sassy girl friends, New Year’s eve parties, Central Park morning runs and all that jazz! (Nothing of those sorts happened obviously and so I just let myself imagine it every now and then)

So when I finally got the chance to visit NY, the cloud of excitement hung over me throughout the flight. Note that it took almost one day to get to JFK airport from Tokyo with 2 stopovers (LAX and Minneapolis). After arriving, we went straight to Brooklyn for our accomodation. The neighborhood where we stayed at felt like stepping foot in a movie set. We walked along streets lined with Brownstone houses and even got to stay in one. Most of our time though, was spent in Manhattan where most of the NYC action is. Manhattan is like a world of its own. The lights of Times Square, the tall buildings of Wall street, the glitzy magnet of upper east side, the historical 9/11 memorial, the majestic grand central station were all like things I’ve seen in some other parts of the world I’ve visited but not all at once in one small island as I’ve seen in Manhattan. But aside from all those things, what makes the city so attractive is the very diverse culture that the city offers. you can see people of different backgrounds live side by side and contribute a certain flavor to the city’s character. Art, culture, music, food, people- all of them are in new york seducing you, enticing you.

New York did live up to its hype. you can feel it buzzing, vibrating with so much life. But the city’s character is not that of a mother with arms open for embrace. No, there’s a coldness that creeps within, challenging you to be steadfast else the city will take your soul. it is breathing down your neck, ready to eat you up and spit you out. i have never been in any other place more alive than new york city.

Visiting New York vastly changed my idea of it. It is not because it wasn’t the same as how I pictured it to be. In fact, it is everything I imagined it to be and then some more. Much much more. The place is buzzing with so much energy and life that inspiration can be gathered anywhere. Being in New york, it felt akin to gaining a few more youthful years. It has revived the embers of love for life and adventure in me that has been slowly waning from the insipid monotonies that has filled my everyday life. It felt like I can do anything and everything in the city (yup, the New York state of mind is almost like being buzzed).

My New York City trip may have been short but it has left indelible memories that I can lovingly look back to. It is definitely an experience like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. New York is a city I would gladly visit again and again. and again.

I tried summarizing the trip below but some details have been lost in my cluttered brain. SO here goes whatever.

1. accomodation: accomodations in NYC, especially in the manhattan area, is very pricey. You can try your luck with the youth hostels and inns but most are fully booked months before. It was in this trip that M and I discovered airbnb.com. It took a while for us to finalize our schedule because we needed to wait for friends who were supposed to come with us (but decided to back out in the end). So when it came time to booking hotels, we had to do everything to the last minute (literally. we were sending emails right until boarding and weren’t sure where to stay until we got to NY).

We stumbled upon airbnb.com where you rent a room/an entire apartment for short-term stay. We picked the nicest looking for its value apartment we could find. I didn’t expect to find the apartment really pleasant as our budget was on the lower end. It is in a neighborhood in Brooklyn and had a really NYC feel. The neighborhood though seemed a little shady. But that probably is just from watching too many thug movies. It turned out safe and we didn’t have a problem going home late. Towels were provided but you had to bring your own toothbrush though. Our host, Julia, had something on for the weekend so we had the apartment all to ourselves. It was the perfect set-up and it didn’t cost much. We had a whole apartment just 20 mins away from manhattan for only ~$150 for 2 days. I highly recommend the airbnb experience though caution must be observed at all times.

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2. Food: We skipped all the haughty taughty places that crowd NYC as we had a very tight budget. We decided to stick to places that our working-class Asian pockets could afford. Here are the places we tried and my opinion of them. (these are written in no particular order)

1) junior’s cheesecake upon arriving in new york, we left our things at Julia’s flat and went straight to exploring the city. First stop, lunch at Grand central station. We had the usual American meal, burger and fries! Despite the fact that we were both starving, we couldn’t finish the meal (which we shared) because the serving was too big! Talk about supersize! We learned from this trip that most meals here are equivalent to twice the serving we grew up with. The meal was okay. not bad. not to-die-for good either. After filling our raving stomach with meat and all the potatoes we could eat, of course we had to save some space for dessert!We would never pass the chance to get a taste of New York’s famous cheesecake. Again, big serving size! There was enough cheesecake to share. The verdict? Hmmm… I am a fan of cheesecake and aboslutely loved it! But…I felt that it’s not much different from the ones we have back in tokyo. It was good though not really memorable. The food wasn’t really anything I haven’t tasted before. But if you’re n grand central station and looking for someplace to eat, then junior’s ain’t a bad choice.

2) grace’s marketplace This is probably one of the best meals I’ve had in NYC. Of course, I didn’t have much to choose from as we stayed there for less than a week. But this is a place I’d definitely visit again. We planned to have a picnic in Central park while watching one of the free park concerts so we headed to Grace’s Marketplace in upper east side to buy some picnic food. Just looking at the food displayed there has made my mouth water. There are more than a dozen varieties to choose from. They also have wines, beer, and even Japanese tea! They have a great selection of pastas and others too. However, the weather didn’t cooperate and rain poured heavy so we were left with no choice but to skip the concert and head back home. We brought home with us the usual mac and cheese, some meatballs, and fried soft-shell crabs from Grace’s . The meal, especially the soft-shell crab was amazing! The mac and cheese could be a little cheesier but it was still good. The meatballs were… meatballs. I mean how can you go wrong with meatballs really? I read from reviews that this place is expensive but I don’t think the price differed from all the other places we’ve been to. It would have been nicer though if we got to do the picnicking part.

3) lombardi’s This is a definite must-try if you are in New York! Claiming to be the first pizzeria in the US, lombardi’s offers great pizza at reasonable price. Well of course, you could get pizza at a cheaper price sans the historical value. But the price is not skyrocket high and can be shrugged off. Beware of the long lines though. be there early to avoid waiting. Good pizza and good atmosphere.

4) katz’s deli Lauded to have the best pastrami sandwich in NYC, Katz’s deli is famous among native new yorkers and tourists alike. This is the location for the famous orgasm scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally. They serve sandwiches drowning in meat good for 2 people to share (though this depends greatly on how hungry you are or how much a fan of sandwiches you are). I’m not really big on sandwiches (not a fan of pastrami!) so it was just oh-kay for me. But since we were in New York to experience the NYC life, we couldn’t pass the opportunity to try Katz’s.

5) bagels! I already forgot which store we bought bagels from. We were on our last day in NY when i realized that we haven’t even tried NY bagels yet! shame! what is a NYC trip without having a bite of bagels really?! we were pressed with time so we headed to the nearest place where we could grab a bagel. Conveniently enough, there’s a bagel shop near where we were staying. As we weren’t really hungry, we bought one bagel to share while we walked around for our last glimpse of the city before heading home. We ordered an everything bagel with cream cheese, not toasted. It was love at first bite! Goodness in a bun! Those bagels will haunt my dreams for the next few months. It was so amazing that we had to go back to the shop and buy another one.

3. Things to do/visit There are plenty of travel sites where you can read about all the best things to do in NY . So I will just talk about the things we did in NY that left great impressions on me:

1) Wicked Watching Wicked is probably one of the highlights of our NYC trip. It was just as i had imagined, even better. What makes it even more interesting is that we got to watch it for lower price! The ticket normally costs ~$110. They don’t offer discounted tickets in the famous red TKTS booth for this show. They do sell discounted tickets in the internet and you can get a good bargain if you book in advance. But since everything was rushed in our trip, we didn’t get to book advanced tickets. Instead, we went hours earlier at the theatre to join the ticket lottery. Every showing, they have a lottery just outside the theatre and the winners get to buy 2 front seat tickets for just $20 each. I have always been unlucky with those kinds of things. As expected, I didn’t get chosen. After the lottery, one of the winners decided to buy only 1 ticket, leaving 1 more ticket available. And guess who won that last ticket? Boohoo! It wasn’t me! BUT, my friend won! Before even joining the lottery, we’ve already decided to split the price for both tickets if any of us win. oh yeah! so i got a pretty good bargain too. Lesson learned? Plan early and book in advance! and oh, bring someone lucky with you!

2) Museum of Moden Art Admission to MoMA is free every friday from 4-8 pm. We went there by around 3. The line was very long but was moving pretty fast. I am not much into art and culture so i wasn’t really thrilled by any of the pieces displayed there. But a trip to NYC, the center of arts and culture, isn’t complete without a trip to one of it’s many museums and galleries. besides, it’s free and it doesn’t eat up a lot of time so we still tried and checked it out.

3) Movie at Bryant Park Free movies at the park every friday. We bought dinner from one of the deli’s around the area and headed to bryant park. 30 minutes before the movie started and the place was already half-filled. Finding seats wasn’t a difficult task if you’re not picky. If you want better seats though, it’s better to be there an hour earlier. You can bring a book with you to pass time.

4) 9/11 memorial Seeing the place where it happened and hearing stories of people who had been there was a heartbreaking experience. when we went there, the preparation for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack was underway. there were lots of construction going on around but it didn’t really cause any trouble during the walking tour. that unfortunate incident changed the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people. it is a big factor that adversely affected the character of NYC. After the tour, I was left feeling a lump on my throat and tears brimming my eyes. The clouds crowding the sky added to the somewhat somber feeling. Shopping afterwards didn’t do enough to rev up my spirit. It would’ve been better if we visited the memorial later in the day so it didn’t cast a shadow of heartbreak that followed us throughout the day.

5) times square Times square is the face of New York City. The crossroads of the worlds, it completely embodies the hustle and bustle, the neon lights, the throngs of people, the yellow taxis that come to mind when thinking about NYC. The place never sleeps! As we went deeper into the night, it seemed like the place just becomes more and more vibrant. People in outrageous outfits were everywhere, neon lights and billboards of broadway musicals line the streets, hordes of toursists were taking pictures left and right. This place made me feel that I am really in New york! Since Times Square is really in the middle of all our places of interest in Manhattan, we’ve passed by the square several times. The place to visit the square is anytime past 8 pm when all the lights have come alive. The people trooping in Times Square never thins so going there early morning won’t do you any good if you want to avoid the crowds. You’ll just miss out on the bright lights and all the spectacle. Getting dinner around the area can be quite difficult as restaurants tend to fill up fast and waiting for tables can be taxing. We tried getting a table at hardrock at 8 pm but the line was long enough to reach 2 floors. We eventually gave up and ended up in TGIFridays, which wasn’t so bad save for the sticky floor.

4. Side trips During our NYC trip, we also visited the following pplaces for 1~2 days. Most are just an overnight bus ride away. some bus rides cost as low as 1$. I will talk about the said side trips on a separate entry.

1) Boston 2) Washington 3) Niagara 4) Florida

5. Lessons learned and other notes Saying that New York is an expensive city is an understatement. The city is a big dollar vaccuum. That is unless you plan you’re trip well. PLan ahead. months ahead especially for accomodations. Plan carefully but leave space for unexpected time consumers.

Bring comfortable shoes. Our NYC trip involved lots of walking so high heels are not an option. Walking around the city gave us a better look and feel of NY. From the touristy places to the spunky off the beaten path alleys, each day became an adventure in the urban jungle. It was also n the middle of summer so NYC was scorching. Good thing that summers in Japan are hellish hot so nyc summer was a piece of cake.

To help us in navigation, we downloaded maps that could work offline on our phones and it has proven to be most helpful. This is one of the things that i intend to do every trip.

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