Three Days in Gotham City

Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
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Where I stayed
Marriot Times Square

Flag of United States  , New York
Thursday, October 25, 2012

Our plan of attack for visiting New York City was to park the trailer in our campground in Lancaster, PA, drive the car to Philly, and take a Greyhound bus to NYC. Not trying to take the car or trailer into the city was the best choice we could have made. The bus ride was easy and cheap, and dropped us only four blocks from our hotel. In between the bus station and our hotel, we stopped off for a couple of slices of pizza from a street-side stand, where you eat your pizza folded up and standing in the street, with pigeons eating crusts that people have tossed aside.

We splurged on a stay at the Marriott in Times Square, which was central to everything. We also bought a 48-hour "all loops" tour pass for the Gray Line tour buses, which was a great way to see the city. You can hop on and off the buses all day long, and they will take you almost everywhere you would want to go. We lucked out on the hotel room. They gave us a corner upper floor room, with windows on two sides, so we could sit in the window seats and watch the hilarity ensue below us with honking taxis (13,000 of them in NYC) and cars vs impatient pedestrians. This was Wren's favorite pastime in the hotel room. The other great thing about the room was the catered breakfast every morning, which had every kind of breakfast fare you can imagine. It was a great way to start each day.

Even though we were close to everything, we did a lot of walking. We got plenty of exercise walking to and from bus stops and to places we wanted to see. Our hotel was in what they used to call the Garment District, where they used to make clothes (now it is known as the Fashion District, where they sell clothes made overseas). We didn't want to spend money for a Broadway show, but we walked past the marquees for new shows, starring people like Tom Hanks and Matthew Broderick. Also in this area is Sardi's Restaurant, where stars famously have their business lunches.

After getting settled in the room on that first night, we walked down to Times Square, which was just as crazy and active as you'd imagine. Amazing energy there, but it can be overwhelming at times, especially on the weekend. While we were there, Microsoft had a huge Windows 8 launch event going on (funny enough, right outside the Apple Store).

Having snapped enough photos of the craziness at Times Square, we were off for our first tour - the night tour through downtown and Brooklyn. We got many wonderful pictures of downtown buildings, like the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Trump Tower, and the New York Public Library (immortalized in Ghostbusters), and then we got a great feel for Brooklyn, with a night basketball game going on and some neat neighborhoods. The tour took us across the Manhattan Bridge, where we got a great view of downtown and the Brooklyn Bridge (they don't allow buses on the Brooklyn Bridge). We also got to roll through Greenwich Village and Soho - areas popular with artists, and the site of some famous music clubs, like CBGB, where The Talking Heads and Blondie got their starts.

One thing we noticed on our various bus tours was that you got a variety of info and personality from the various tour guides. Some talked about nothing but shopping, while others told you more about history or current events in the city. We took about 6 or 7 separate tours, with different tour guides each time, so it really gave us a good overview of the different parts of the city and their history.

Our first full day, we caught the downtown loop tour bus and hopped off near the 9/11 Memorial. First we had a great Greek lunch at a NY deli (NY delicatessens, we discovered, are like little indoor food courts, with some groceries and different kinds of food fare, some better, some worse). After stuffing ourselves on chicken kebabs, we headed down to the 9/11 Memorial. The first thing you notice is the huge VOID left by the WTC towers. It's two blocks of empty in a sea of skyscrapers. After you pass through four (count em) security checks, you enter the Memorial, which contains two reflection pools (sized and located exactly where the towers were) and a green space around them. There will also be a museum, but it was not completed yet. Around each of the reflection pools are inscribed the names of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. It's staggering how many lives were lost, and how many more were affected, by this tragedy.

After touring the Memorial and stopping by the gift shop (admittedly, it disturbed me a little that there even WAS a gift shop), we walked by O'Hara's Pub (triage site during the attacks) and visited the Tribute Center, where they have many artifacts, including a twisted girder from one of the towers, a boarding pass from a passenger on one of the planes, and the memory wall, a sobering collage of missing person posters and tributes/photos of lost souls from that fateful day. Kat and I both welled up a little with tears. You really can't help it. It's hard to wrap your mind around the horror and loss caused by these events.

After taking some deep breaths, we headed back onto the bus, down to Battery Park, where we were hoping to catch a red boat tour to the Statue of Liberty. Alas, the last tour for the day had already left, but we learned that most people just take the free ferry to Staten Island and get their photos that way, so we would do that the next day and catch some great shots of Lady Liberty.

Later that day, we caught the Gray Line for the Uptown Loop and passed some more great spots: 5th avenue, the UN Building, Rockefeller Center (much smaller than I thought it was), and hopped off at Central Park. We took a stroll through the huge park...I didn't realize it had baseball fields, a carousel, canals, and a zoo! We walked through the Park to the Central Park West neighborhood, where sits the Dakota Apartments. This is where John Lennon lived and was shot, coming out of the building. There were two doormen/security guards in front of the gates where Lennon was shot, and when I approached with my camera, they gave me the whole "please step back sir" nonsense. Whatever. Little Napoleons. But it was insightful to see the spot where John and Yoko lived and where, unfortunately, he died.

Continuing through Uptown, we took a tour through Harlem, which was much different than I expected. Harlem is famous for rundown/dangerous areas and for boarded-up tenements. But it was super clean and friendly. The tour guide said that in the past 20 years, the city has done a lot to clean up some parts of town. It shows. Among the highlights in this part of town were Grant's Tomb, the Apollo Theater, and Malcolm X's mosque, along with many great cathedrals and a couple of famous museums, the Guggenheim and the Met. We also drove past the Peter Cooper and Stuyvesant "projects", hard to describe except to say that they are 111 square blocks of uniform apartment buildings, originally built to try to solve low-income housing needs, but now contain more pricey living quarters, like most areas in Manhattan. It was interesting to hear the stories about rent control, like the fact that some people will get married and stay married forever (even if they hate each other), just to live in a rent controlled apartment. You could be paying $400/mo for your apartment, and your neighbor could be paying $8,000/mo for the same apartment! The single scene in New York is full of people asking 'What's your address?' instead of 'What's your sign?'. Another interesting note about NY apartment buildings is that you'll see these old wooden water towers on top of most of them. We found out that these were to help toilets flush via gravity (after all, these are pretty tall buildings, with a lot of toilets!). After the Uptown tour and a short nap in our room, we walked a few blocks to get some dessert at The Bread Factory. Wonderful tiramisu and cheesecake.

The next day, we hopped onto the Battery Park Express bus and went down to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. As previously mentioned, we heard that you could get some great pictures of Lady Liberty from the ferry, and it was true. The ferry takes you right past the Statue and dumps you off at Staten Island. Comically, most people were doing the same thing we were doing, and there was a massive u-turn by about 500 people once we hit Staten Island, with everyone wanting to go back to Manhattan (I guess there isn't much to see on Staten Island). All in all, I was glad we took the free option this time, rather than springing for the red boat tour. We made a few more stops this day, including the Cake Boss Bakery (Wren watched the show and wanted to try some brownies), and another stop for some pizza.

On our last day in NYC, we went to the elevator to head to Floor 3 for the breakfast buffet, but the elevator never seemed to stop for us. One lady said she had been waiting for 10 minutes already. We then heard some people in an elevator giving a huge cheer. We finally discovered that there was so much elevator traffic that the only way you could go down was to go up first. When we finally reached the buffet, we all gave a cheer, finally understanding the happiness of those other souls we had heard.

After a whirlwind weekend in New York city, which we all unexpectedly came to love, it was time to head to the bus station and catch our bus back to Philly. The bus ride was longer, mostly because we were tired, but also because Wren was sitting next to this black woman who was talking/cussing into the phone for over an hour. We moved seats in New Jersey, halfway through the ride.

Throughout our stay, we heard rumblings about Hurricane Sandy, but most New Yorkers downplayed it, saying the danger was overrated. I guess they were wrong! More about that in our next blog, which should have been about the Nation's Capital, but will be about West Virginia and Kentucky, thanks to Sandy. Stay tuned.
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