New York City isn’t that far from Charlottesville, all things considered. It’s a six hour drive, a six-seven hour train ride, or a quick flight, depending on your preferred method of getting there. As close as it is, I had never been – until last week.
The decision to go to New York happened over lunch. Liz and I were talking about travel plans and one of us said “I’ve never been to New York.” The other said “me either.” And by the time lunch was over, we had dates picked out and a couple weeks later, we purchased train tickets.
We left the Sunday after Christmas via Amtrak. Train travel was a new concept for both of us, but I think we’re both fans. Our train left an hour and a half late, but once we were aboard, there was the kind of leg room airplanes only dream of. I read a third of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire during our trip which, if you’re familiar with Harry Potter, you know that’s quite a few pages.
I’m planning a whole post dedicated to train travel, but the thing that surprised me most is the lack of security on Amtrak. No one checked our bags, and our tickets were scanned once we got on the train and were moving towards the next stop. Without having a security checkpoint, you can take virtually whatever you please on the train. Personally, I had too much luggage and a bunch of snacks.
After arriving at Penn Station, we figured out the subway – with a couple of hiccups – and managed to get ourselves to Brooklyn. We rented a room in beautiful brownstone through Home Away and had a great experience. The only thing that would have made it better? If I would have figured out how to use the hot water before I took a lukewarm shower.
We dropped our bags on apartment floors (name that tune…) and headed out to explore the city. Our first stop? Rockefeller Plaza to see the world famous Rockefeller Christmas tree. From there, we intended to go to Top of the Rock, but it had rained earlier and was foggy, so the views weren’t great. We moved our tickets to the next night and headed to Times Square.
Times Square is busy. There is so much to look at, all at once. We ventured into the M&M store, just to say we were there, but frankly, I think the M&M store is the ultimate pricing racket. An 8oz cup of M&Ms – which, to me, looked an awful lot like a standard punch glass one may see at a birthday party – was $20. Why pay $20 for a cup of M&Ms when you can buy the big bag at the grocery store for less than $5.00? To say you did it, I suppose.
From there, we found a place for dinner. We were both starving by then, as it was after seven and we had skipped lunch after a very early breakfast. Then, we ventured down to Eatly, a cool little hub full of different food bars and shops. Our purpose? The Nutella Bar. I had a Nutella latte and seriously considered having someone send me my dog and my laptop so I could just move in. Liz’s waffle drizzled with Nutella looked – and smelled – amazing as well.
The next day was a full one, and probably my favorite day of our trip. We got up super early and took the subway to Battery Park to take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
This is where I’m going to pause to brag about my company. I work for a student educational travel company, and they allow employees to request comp tickets when they travel. Because of our operations team, we were able to have nearly all of our trip tickets comped. We were giddy over that, but then we realized having tickets at will call – and with our company’s name – also meant we got to skip (very) long lines. Our operations team? Heroes.
It was a beautiful, if not cold, day. The ferry over to the Statue of Liberty was frigid. I was prepared to be not impressed with Lady Liberty as I’ve heard many friends say “eh, it was just a statue.” I don’t know what they were looking at, however, because I was blown away. As the boat approached the statue and the ferry’s intercom talked about the immigrants who saw Lady Liberty as their first view of America, I was so proud to be from this country.
I’m not sure what I expected of Ellis Island, but I wasn’t altogether impressed. For a place with so much history, the museum felt lacking. It was a lot of displays with things to read or listen to, but little else. I did learn from a park ranger that because my family fought in the Civil War, my ancestors didn’t come through Ellis Island. That little nugget of information was fascinating.
After Ellis Island, we paid a visit to the 9/11 Memorial. Despite the sheer volume of people there, it was still, somehow, quiet. And heartbreaking. So heartbreaking. We then went into the 9/11 Museum (more airport-style screening!). If you go to New York and only do one thing, make it the 9/11 Museum. It was striking. I openly cried throughout. It is so well done, so well documented, but more than that, the memories and the honor are so well-preserved.
Throughout the museum, there are little cubby holes that allow you to listen to audio recordings. One is of survivors, sharing their stories. The one that shook me to my core though was the Flight 93 cockpit recording. You hear it all – the hijackers taking over the plain, the cry of “Let’s Roll!” You hear the voicemails left for loved ones. And you hear the hijackers crying “Allah is the greatest!” over and over before it fades to silence.
At the end of the museum, there is a room dedicated to the hijackers. I have mixed feelings. I understand the concept of sharing information about them, but I don’t believe they deserve to be immortalized in a museum. All the same, it gave me chills to watch the security footage of these men laughing and talking through security checkpoints, knowing what they were about to do.
After a heavy afternoon, we wandered over to Central Park for a stroll, before returning to Top of the Rock. We got to witness a proposal (yay!) and take in amazing views of the city before dinner. According to my activity tracker, we walked a mere 25,000 or so steps that day, the equivalent of 11 miles.
The next day, we had a bit of a lie in before heading into the city. Our first stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I could have stayed there for hours. I don’t know that I’ve seen a more beautiful building. But, we had reservations at Dylan’s Candy Bar for lunch. We spent quite a bit of time at Dylan’s, eating and buying all the candy as gifts for family back home.
And then, at my insistence, we headed down the street to Serendipity. My mom had frozen hot chocolate when she was in New York and still talks about it. With that, plus the fact that Serendipity is one of my favorite movies, I had to try it. There was a three hour wait, so we placed to-go orders.
Friends, frozen peanut butter hot chocolate is why I came to New York.
We attempted to go to the American History Museum, but when we saw the lines, we decided it wasn’t worth it. So, we explored the Upper West Side – there’s a three story Barnes & Nobel! – before stopping at a little hole in the wall place for sushi. We made a quick clothing change in the restaurant’s bathroom, then walked over to the Lincoln Center for The King and I, which we both loved.
Wednesday morning, we tidied up our room, gathered our bags, and took the scariest subway ride of the trip (long story) to Brooklyn Heights. We popped into a questionable diner for bagels and the worst cup of coffee I’ve ever had. I eat very little gluten, but I will suffer the consequences in the name of a New York bagel. So. Good.
From there, we went to Soul Cycle. I don’t love spin personally. I think it’s a great calorie burner, but it works just a few muscle groups and I get bored being stationary, even if you’re ‘technically’ moving. Although, Soul Cycle does add a bit of core and upper body work. Our instructor, Victoria, was fantastic, dancing around the room and cheering people on. I can at least say I’ve attended a Soul Cycle class.
One more subway ride later, we were back at Penn Station to head home. We popped into the cleanest, oddest deli to pick up lunch for the train. There was a classic deli, a salad and fruit bar and – a Chinese food bar. Interesting. The sandwich I got was the best thing I ate on our trip. I’d go back to New York, just for that grilled chicken sandwich. And a frozen peanut butter hot chocolate. By 8:00 that night, we were back in Charlottesville, and I reunited with my pup.
We did what felt like everything on our trip and had a blast. I’d love to go back to New York and experience it more like a local, maybe spend some time in Chelsea and Williamsburg. It’s such a big city, with so much to see and do. Now that I’ve checked some of the touristy things off, a “local” experience is called for.
Besides, I didn’t find Chuck Bass while I was there. That’s reason enough to return.
Well, Chuck Bass, a grilled chicken sandwich, and a frozen peanut butter hot chocolate.
And a nutella latte.