Empire state of mind

The New York City 4 day/4 night 40th birthday vacay recap you’ve all been waiting for! Or if you have no idea what I’m referring to, I just returned from my dream NYC trip that I’d been saving for the last few years. It was my first visit and I enlisted three best friends to join the celebration.

Megabus trip The Amazing Race: 

That’s no exaggeration. We fortunately live close enough to get to NYC in about 8-9 hours, making travel by bus a decent option. I’m not the world’s greatest flier and may have had a minor medical emergency on my last airplane ride. Not wanting to take any risks on my birthday trip, combined with getting a Megabus fare of $11.50! from Pittsburgh to NYC, it seemed like the perfect plan.

Except, we almost didn’t make it. Of course we timed it to arrive 45 min. before our boarding window; however, everything from road detours, to travelers forgetting their shoes, to literally being stopped in 30 minutes of traffic ten miles outside of Pittsburgh conspired to make the last few moments a harrowing experience. Long story short, my husband who was chauffeuring us, white-knuckled the wheel while his passengers gritted their teeth, cheered him on, spoke positive mantras, and squeezed their eyes shut until he screeched around the corner of the pick-up location, 3 whole minutes before our departure time! I actually had the next available bus to NYC ready to book on my phone.

I’ll spare you the tailbone-busting details of the actual bus trip into the city, but I will say the anxious morning ride I just described was the more relaxing and better timed trip of the day.

Empire State-sized detour:

R.H.

After checking into our Airbnb apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and having a much-needed sip of champagne, we set off in the direction of our first sightseeing stop, the Empire State Building.

Actually, it turns out we were not in the direction of THE Empire State building, as we relied on google maps to pinpoint our destination. Getting two different results, our party followed the one listed as The Empire State building. New York natives and seasoned sight-seers know where I’m going here…we made the classic NYC tourist mistake, the one warned about in all the guide books; we went to the “Little” Empire State building. Pause here to mock our noob-ishness. Now that’s over with, we righted ourselves after our 30 block detour and found the other Empire State building.

photo: R.H.

Hey, there it is! Other than regretting my shoe choice, the detour worked out because we missed the little bit of rain and hail that hit the observation deck when we might have been on it. Instead we enjoyed the air-conditioned 1 hr. line and observed the city lights at night.

light fixture photo R.H.
R.H.
My fave photo atop the ESB
R.H.

No photo can capture the feeling of being on the observation deck. The coolest part for me was looking down and outward yet, not feeling afraid of heights, witnessing a French couple become engaged, the dazzling lights, and the actual temperature. It was cool and windy up there, but worth the mind-boggling views.

On the few minutes walk to our next stop, I saw my one and only NYC rat. He was running along, doing his thing and I didn’t hate him, I just pretended he was Ratatouille. Our evening destination was the 230-fifth rooftop garden where we hung out as the clock struck midnight on my birthday. It was quite a view to ring in my 40th year.

“In New York you can be a new (wo)man….”

Central Park birthday morning feels:

Columbus Circle, photo: R.H.
R.H.

Granite boulders scattering the east side of the park.

Our weather nearly the entire trip. Central Park in June. Gorgeous!
R.H.

I wanted to ride the Central Park carousel and reach for that brass ring, but it wasn’t operating at the time of our visit.

As we walked through Strawberry Fields and glimpsed the Dakota building through the trees, the guitar chords of “Hey Jude” reached our ears. That was kind of perfect.

Thursday was the day I learned that New York City will assail itself upon you. One must walk aggressively to get through the crowds, cross the streets boldly and step lively on the subway. Whereas Uber-ing the city saved our butts, and more succinctly, our feet a few times; I found riding the subway a fun challenge. Couldn’t have done it without the MTA planner website for navigation and my willing friends.

J.P. Morgan Library and Museum, Midtown, Rockefeller Centre, Bryant Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Grand Central Station, NYPL and Lillie’s Victorian Pub:

Tea at the JPM, photo R.H.

Jeff Koons’ balloon art
Chair photo: R.H.

That Wafels and Dinges Belgian waffle with speculoos (cookie butter?) was one of the best foods I ate in the city, YUM-MY.

Grand Central Terminal R.H.

The Main New York Public Library is sort of my Mecca. 

R.H.

The ceiling of the Rose Reading Room.

R.H.

The original stuffed animal inspiration for the Winnie-the-Pooh story books. Piglet is so adorable, I just can’t even.

I loved the Hell’s Kitchen/Times Square area pub where we dined for my birthday feast. Lillie’s Victorian Pub was a vision of ornate details and stained glass. Tasty grilled pineapple mojito cocktails and yummy chocolate cake to be had too.

New digs: 

On Friday morning we said goodbye to our Hell’s Kitchen apartment and moved to my husband’s cousin’s Chelsea residence. The complex is a sight to behold, occupying the city block between 23rd and 24th Streets and 9th and 10th Avenues. They graciously lent us their place and spent the weekend at the shore. Wow, I felt spoiled there.

Back in the New York Groove

Friday was another full day of sightseeing:

St. Paul’s Chapel/Old Trinity Church

The Courtyard Cemetery

R.H.

9/11 Memorial: No words but reverence

North Tower location

South Tower location

R.H.
R.H.

Chelsea Market:

My taco from Los Tacos no.1 was THE no. 1 best food I ate in NYC.

R.H.

The Highline-an elevated walkway with landscaped gardens following the old elevated rail system uptown through Chelsea. It’s a place you need to experience to appreciate the juxtaposition of greenery to urbanity.

Left side photos: R.H.

I gave my regards: Broadway

Photo K.S.

This is about as dolled up as I get. You can bet I was excited and ready to give my regards to old Broadway. I also consider myself lucky to have gotten out of the apartment fully dressed, with three other women also getting ready, a commuting mom returning home, 2 children under four wanting to share their toys, and their dad trying his hardest to keep them out of our way-such is the crowded lifestyle of a New Yorker.

We Uber-ed over to The Hourglass for quick drinks and some enthusiastic pre-show chatting with a nice couple from New Jersey.

Oh. Em. Eff. Gee. Seeing Wicked was my favorite part of the trip. We had fabulous seats, the Gershwin was grand and it was the perfect show to experience with my girlfriends.

I know (because my husband has recently reminded me) that I can be tough. It’s a personality trait that’s served me well in many of life’s hurdles, but if I can be the super-serious Elphaba at times, I know I’m nothing without my Galindas. My friends exhibit all of the excitement, support, desire to improve others and fabulous attitude of the laugh-out-loud, pee-your-pants character and future good witch. And that’s Galinda, with a Gaaahhhh…

An Open Letter to NYC: 

“Dear New York, this is a love letter
To you and how you brought us together
We can’t say enough about all you do
‘Cause in the city we’re ourselves and electric too

Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin
Black, White, New York you make it happen”- The Beastie Boys

Visiting Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village was one of my favorite trip moments. It is so quintessentially New York that you can’t help getting caught up in the vibrant movement of the city. The gentlemen chess players, strutting pigeons, dog-walkers, street performers, dance groups, basketball games, opera singers, and spraying fountains created a heartbeat which I loved being a part of. And then there’s the arch.

The arch features heavily in a book I loved reading this year, called, The Golem and the Jinni. Viewing it reminded me of the characters’ pondering discussions on life.

Photo: S.S.

I love my friend for trying and the bright sun was shining right into her eyes, but apparently she thought I really wanted my photo centered with this lampost, rather than the 80 foot marble arch back there! Also, come on! Who sprays the WSQ arch with grafitti?

BookCon 2017/Book Swag:

I’ll be honest, BookCon was a bit of a slog to get through. Walking the Highline to the Javits Center was great, but I made the fateful mistake of drinking one small Keurig cup of coffee after an exhausting three days of sightseeing in the city. I suffered significant brain fog through most of the day. There was an overwhelming amount of panels, discussions, giveaways, autograph sessions and vendor booths with book deals and book merch to visit, but I was too sickly to enjoy most of it. Still, my friend and I were troopers and with the exception of her hilarious near fisticuffs incident with a dismissive Starbucks employee (the only rude dude we met in NYC), we made it through only slightly worse for wear.

Highlights: Leigh Bardugo was cool, meeting Benita from BookBeau was funny. The Little Golden Books 75th anniversary bus was awesome, anyone else grow up with the Richard Scarry Busytown books? 

My favorite meeting was with Elias Weiss Friedman, aka “the Dogist” on Instagram, who provides a short story on every dog he meets in NYC. What a cutie and he totally messed with me as I gushed how I “like” his photo posts every single day. I’m a dog-loving dork and he basically told me so.

BookCon swag

The Met Cloisters:

While I was dragging myself through BookCon, my other friends made the better decision to visit The Met Cloisters, just north of the city at Fort Tryon Park. It’s a museum of religious relics and European medieval architecture. Each section of stone was excavated and reconstructed to form the monastic arcades and gardens. It looks breathtaking and I am sorry to have missed it, but I know it’s not going anywhere, I’ll get there someday.

Photos R.H.
The Only Living Girl in New York

Sunday morning in Manhattan, in which, I wanted a little bit of time in the city to myself. I woke early, showered and traveled a few blocks south through Chelsea to grab coffee and a croissant.

How I loved viewing the quiet streets, as Chelsea residents walked their dogs or walked to church and only the early vendors opened their stalls to the morning light.

Cafe Grumpy was cute and frequented by NYPD officers from one of the nearby police stations. We hung out while I waited for a freshly brewed pot. I tucked into a warm almond croissant and the coffee was pretty good.

Above is my last NYC photo; the back of the Chelsea apartment complex on the 23rd St. side. I’m thankful from the bottom of my heart for my husband’s family for inviting us to use their sweet home for the weekend. Their generosity allowed us to save money and experience two different NYC neighborhoods, living as authentic New Yorker’s might for a short time.

There was one more stop at a little out-of-the-way spot we visited on our last night in the city. I will share that special place in my next post as it’s directly tied to my birthday theme. The adventure continues another time…

I’m already dreaming of my next visit to New York City. I hope to return within five years and explore it all with my husband. For now, though, it is nice to be back home.