Thursday, September 18, 2014

Memories Made Flying Solo in NYC Part 3/3

Ugh...please don't hate on me for drawing this blog series out. If you've blogged before, you know it could easily be a full time job, so I'll ask forgiveness for a 3 1/2 day trip being drawn out for three weeks! Not intentional...just life! And so the last final day is packed with adventure...let's go!

I awoke early in a strange bed to the sound of my alarm at 6:30 am...and to what do my ears hear but birds? Birds chirping outside indeed!  I quickly glance around to see that I'm still in the city. And yes, in fact, it is not the sounds of sirens, car honks, loud music, or road construction--all somewhat typical of the streets of New York. But not on the UWS, my friends. Not on what has to be one of the quietest streets. The sunlight was beginning to stream through the window and I rushed to put on my Sunday sundress, Tevas, grab my cross body, a spot of makeup, a brush of the hair, the leftover cronut from yesterday, a swig of complimentary OJ from the fridge, and boom, out the door by 7:00! I had places to see and things to do.
Did I mention how great this foyer was? I could just imagine it looking the very same way back in the early 1900's, seeing how it was built in 1890!
This was the outside of the apartment--so beautiful and exactly what I pictured.

First order of business: Meg Ryan's apartment in the movie "You've Got Mail." You're probably thinking I'm obsessed with the movie, but no, I promise I'm not. It's a great movie, and I just happen to be all around the spots where it was filmed. So here's her lovely apartment, on the next street up from the apartment I rented.
Another quiet street. The gold doors and the stoop are gorgeous, right?  
Just a few apartments down, look at this beauty:
 It's the red door. Gets me every time!
Ok, on to stop 2: Riverside Park, literally across the street! This is a huge park, stretching 4 miles, and sits alongside the Hudson River.
The entrance on 89th Street boasts this great site I stumbled on:
 A little closer look:

It is the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Monument, commemorating those who served in the Civil War. It was dedicated in 1902 with President Theodore Roosevelt officiating.

Riverside is such a peaceful park with gorgeous views. To bring up "You've Got Mail" again, it is one of the most important scenes right here in the park's garden: the end of the movie where Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) learns that it is indeed Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), her claimed archenemy, that has been her email companion all these months.

Stop #3: The Pomander Walk--an English village in Manhattan. I had read about this in other blogs and spotted the tudor style instantly on 95th Street!
But then discovered that the elite residents of these 27 cooperative apartments have major privacy! It was gated and gawkers like me are not encouraged! Can you imagine living in apartments and a micro-neighborhood like this?

 Moving on...time is 7:50! I caught Train 2 to Brooklyn at the 96th Street Station. I love all the unique subway stations.
 Stop #4: About 40 minutes later, hello Brooklyn! I walked a block over to Smith Street and joined the fellow church attendees inside The Brooklyn Tabernacle! I've always wanted to attend a service here.

 Inside the magnificent foyer..I could stare at the ceiling for hours. So pretty! I found a seat and listened to the choir warm up. It got more crowded as it got closer to the 9:00 service start time and the group sitting beside me was from Virginia.

 The two-hour service was jam packed with praise and worship, most songs I recognized and some we sing back at my home church, Mount Vernon! How cool to worship with such a diverse and lively crowd from all different walks of life! It was an incredibly spirit-filled and friendly church. We had fellowship time, a time of recognizing guests in attendance, and even holding hands and hugging those around you at the end. I was revived and and rejoicing, ready for the day!
The service ended at 11:00 and I set out on foot, with my tummy beginning to growl, in search of one of my main attractions to see in Brooklyn as Stop #5: Smorgasburg. This food flea market with 100 food vendors is pretty much heaven for a foodie like myself. It is held each Sunday at the Brooklyn Pier Park 5 and is so very hipster.
I did come hungry and finally arrived, no joke, an hour later. My phone GPS and I were fighting and I came to see a lot of Brooklyn...look at this cool apartment castle:
And lookie here: A Sunflower Grows in Brooklyn!
But ok, we all like pictures of food, too, right?
I won't let you down. Ok, I had to have plan of action before I entered such an overwhelming state of sights, smells, and tastes, so I did my research. I knew my must try items if at possible. It was crowded, so I did a quick walk through and settled on this as my brunch/appetizer: Hibiscus doughnut from Dough.
And already at 88 degrees, working up a sweat, I needed refreshment: Enter the Kelvin Arnold Palmer Ginger Slushy! Hints of tea, lemonade, and ginger with the perfect amount of iciness. Perfection.

I took my doughnut in the other hand and entered yet another long line for the highly anticipated and sought after RAMEN NOODLE BURGER! I people watched, dog watched (I saw a puggle and a poodle--see picture), gulped down the slushy and devoured the messy and delicious hibiscus flavored doughnut while I waited. #MultiFoodTasking
I had been training for this very day for all trip!

 The line for the Ramen Burger.
And finally...jackpot!

 So basically you unwrap the artsy packaging and are greeted with two cooked (but not limp) ramen noodle rounds serving as the bun and a hamburger patty with a special balsamic vinegar sauce, lettuce, and American cheese. It gets a lot of hype because it's thinking outside the bun and hasn't been done before. Time will only tell if some chain restaurants will get on this Ramen band wagon.
My verdict: glad I tried it but wouldn't have to order another one.
The view where I ate my Ramen Burger. Not too shabby.

 Do I dare suggest to you that while I was walking back to the Brooklyn station I spotted a Shake Shack, which I will arguably say has better burgers than the Ramen, but you gotta try both!

 So onward I went--time 1:30: Stop #6: Chelsea Market/The Highline
I made a quick purchase of Fat Witch Bakery for the unforgettable taste of their brownies--to bring back to the family of course! After the quick run through and water break, I headed a few blocks to an area of Manhattan that has intrigued me for a year now: The Highline. It's a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the West Side.

 Iconic views of the Empire State Building

The pathway on The Highline

 Another great view. These apartments stretched on for blocks! It's like the never ending apartments. For some reason it reminded me of where Paul and Jamie lived on "Mad About You."

 And yet another view: Eduardo Kobra's kaleidoscope masterpiece of the "VJ Day in Times Square."

 It's a busy park--lots of activities going on!

 On the way back to the apartment, I stopped off early near 72nd street and found Levain Bakery, another foodie paradise. I've seen bloggers go on and on about these cookies and wanted to see what the hype was about. It was the smallest bakery I've ever been in. There was a line, but nothing compared to the Cronut or the Ramen Burger. It moved fast and I happily chose my chocolate peanut butter cookie. It was warm and after dodging a rain shower on the way into the subway station, I couldn't help but open the bag for a quick bite..yes, in the subway station while waiting for the train. Again, inappropriate maybe, but I think it's more of a crime to let a fresh warm cookie get cold.
I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance. -Nora Ephron
I decided I needed milk, so I hurried back to the apartment in the rain and devoured the rest of it in minutes with a glass of Soy Milk, provided by the gracious Airbnb host!
 It came a loud storm outside as I was packing up my bags. I didn't want to chance trying to hail a cab in the rain with luggage in tow, so I took my mom's advice. I called Tony. Tony is a driver we had back in May. He took us from the Harbor Cruise Pier to Max Brenner for our chocolate fix. He is from Korea and has two daughters and a wife. They live in Long Island and he has a chow. You get to know someone really well riding in a car on the streets of Manhattan. He gave us his card when he dropped us off that night and told us to be sure and call him next time we were in the area and needed a driver. Mom had given me his card before I left for such a time as this! I called and arranged for him to pick me up from the apartment and take me to the airport.

 It was time to say goodbye to NYC for this year! What a great birthday trip it had been! My flight left at 8:00 pm and I was back in Birmingham by 9:30 pm central time!

The yummies brought back home--macaroons from Sugar and Plumm, brownies from Fat Witch, the essential black and white cookie, and flavored marshmallows.

All in all, it was an unforgettable trip. Would I go back by myself? I don't know...this was the perfect time in my life to try such a trip and I am so glad I did. It took a lot of getting out of my comfort zone but I was always amazed at who and what the Lord put in my path each day and what He continues to show my about myself that I learned taking this trip.
If you are looking to plan a trip to a big city anytime soon, I wanted to offer up some advice.
Essentials for traveling to NYC or any city by yourself:
1) Have a plan (or at least do some research). I had done another Google personalized map to plan out where I would be each day and the must see attractions, shops, and restaurants nearby.
2) Since everything we do--traveling or not, seems to be on our smart phones which have zero battery life (or at least mine does), I knew I couldn't risk being out ALL DAY and running out of battery, so I ordered a Mophie to keep my phone charged all day. It is basically a phone case that with a flip of a switch gives your depleted battery another life cycle. It worked brilliant!
3) Shop around for the best places to stay, depending on what you want in accommodations. I liked the atmosphere of being in a social hotel in a central location for a few nights, and then using AirBnB for the apartment to get a feel for how a typical New Yorker lives, and it was a safe neighborhood.
4) Don't be afraid to go eat, shop, explore, etc. alone! It's liberating to be able to go and do exactly as you please, when you please. Yes, I missed the company of my family and friends, but at the same time, I knew this was my chance to take a risk and be by myself for a few days, which is good to do sometimes. In NYC, you really blend in with the rest of the 8 million people who are all doing their own thing, too, so I wasn't bothered by that at all.
5) Lastly, I was curious to see how many miles/steps I would take each day, walking around the city, so I bought a Fit Bit to wear around my wrist. Have you seen these or wear one yourself? So helpful to allow you to set your daily fitness goals and you keep up with your progress on your smart phone. My feet let me know this each night, but for the entire 4 days, I logged 82,745 steps and 35.6 miles, with most of it being on the last day, Sunday.
New York walking isn’t exercise: it’s a continually showing make-your-own movie. -Roy Blount Jr 
 My normal goal is 10,000 steps and 5 miles a day. Fit Bit also measures your sleeping pattern, tracks calories burned and calories eaten, as well as active minutes. I just saw where Tory Burch has come out with a Fit Bit cover that is so stylish! It's a great way to make sure you're getting your daily fitness/diet goals met and is around $100. 

SO if you've made it through the entire journey, thank you so much for reading! Please share your traveling adventures with me! I love to hear about what others get out of traveling. It is such a neat experience life in different cities, cultures, and countries. It's a good part of life's plan that we can glean so much out of about ourselves and the world.

"Cut off as I am, it is inevitable that I should sometimes feel like a shadow walking in a shadowy world. When this happens I ask to be taken to New York City. Always I return home weary but I have the comforting certainty that mankind is real flesh and I myself am not a dream." -Helen Keller

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Memories Made Flying Solo in NYC-Part 2

I awoke Saturday morning in a state of hunger--no dinner last night, did I really forget to eat? The only remedy in NYC on an early Saturday morning for a case of hunger: THE Cronut. It has taken the world by storm, quickly becoming the most virally talked about dessert in history! All thanks for the master creator himself, Dominque Ansel.
Taking a cab from the hotel to Spring Street, the driver had trouble with the address, baffled at me trying to describe what this bakery was known for. As we got closer, I quickly spotted not the bakery itself, which is tiny, but rather the line of people looped around the block, some camped out since 5 am. The cab driver remarked that I was not from around here. I told him that no, I was from the south, and he nodded in agreement and wished me luck! I stepped at the end of the line of other hungry locals and visitors alike. I glanced at my watch--the bakery opened at 8 am. I had a good twenty minutes before they would even let people in!
However, something strange and unexpected happened: a guy in a chef's hat and uniform emerged from the corner, carrying a tray of stacked goodies. I figured he was out on a delivery, but no, he came all the way to me (since I was at the end of the line) and offered me a "fresh, hot from the oven madeline cookie." "Why yes, darling waiter, carrying quite possibly the best surprise in all of Manhattan at 7:45 am, yes, I will have one. Thank you!" Sorry--no picture, as it was devoured in seconds. But wow--talk about being at the right place at the right time. Great customer service, too! They know their fans would wait regardless, but what a nice touch! At 8 am, a man came out, not Dominque himself, but he instructed us on how the line would work. Basically, those highly dedicated and brave souls who had camped out at 5 am would be the first group to be let in. It would take 30 minutes for about 25 people to be inside, order and pay before the next group would be allowed in and so forth. So yeah, with 85 or so people ahead of me in line, I knew it would be anything but fast food. I people watched, listened to the sounds of the city on this early Saturday morning, snapped some photos of pretty buildings in front of me, and got my day planned out in my head.
About 45 minutes later, however, my turn had came.

  These heavenly things tempt you as you wait in line to order...
 Yes folks, the early bird catches the cronut! About 30 people behind me in line where not so lucky, as they run out quickly. Apparently there is only one flavor each month of this cream filled doughnut croissant hybrid! August was ending out with the Black Tea Peach Cronut! It was delightful! You are only allowed two per customer, so I got my two. Heck no did I stand in line for one measly cronut!

They come packaged in this bright yellow cronut box.

 I was in the bakery for only 10 minutes being waited on and served and most of that was waiting on my iced coffee that I told myself I had earned...and would only enhance the taste of the cronut. I walked a few blocks away and found a city square. I plopped down on a bench and greedily opened the box. It's cliche...but it was love at first bite. I'm a skeptic about anything with this much hype, but honestly, it was so perfect.
Crusty on the outside but layers of soft dough and peach filling on the inside. I had to save the other and I carefully wrapped it up and put it in my backpack and I was on my way...or so I thought.
Ladies and gentlemen, up until this point, I have navigated the NYC metro/subway system with somewhat ease, being careful to know exactly if I was uptown or downtown and being careful of the entrances for each so I wouldn't get turned around. Maybe it was a sugar crash from the cronut or a caffeine frenzy from the coffee or the early morning, but somehow I managed to make not one, not two, but three metro system errors.
 I backtracked twice to the station at Houston Street (pronounced How-ston not Hew-ston for all you NYC lovers).
Not a total loss, as I actually looked up and saw I was right at home...sort of.. KING STREET! HA! That would have to be where I'd live in NYC.
And I found Molly's Cupcakes, yet another bakery on my list. Far from hungry, but knowing I'd probably not be in the area again on the trip, I walked into the empty bakery--I guess 9:30 am is early even for New Yorker's for cupcakes. These are not just any cupcakes. I read reviews about these award winning creations--they are glorious on the outside, but inside is the real magic.

They are filled on the inside with different flavors. It being my birthday, I got the birthday cake cupcake, filled with, you guessed it, cake batter on the inside!

 I waited until late Saturday night to try it and it was so worth it!
Look at the adorable sign on the outside of the bakery:
And the jar at the counter: Bbbbuuuut Ryan said I should get another cupcake...
 I will have to go back here sometime--such a cute atmosphere inside--retro board games to play and so many other great looking treats!

Feeling rather flustered at the time I was wasting in how I would now have to nix my trip to Chelsea to walk the Highline
I found the busiest street I could and got as close to the corner as I could and raised my right hand. I saw a cab with its light on, and it quickly sped up, almost hitting the car next to it, which the driver of the van sped up to the taxi driver and made some choice words in a language I didn't understand to let him know he thought he was the worst driver ever. I wondered if I would've been better off on the metro, but said a quick prayer and got in. I gave him my hotel address and on the way there I decided that since cabs were so hard to come by on a Saturday, I should probably ask him to wait for me while I checked out of the hotel, collected my luggage and made my way to the apartment. Of course the meter was running the whole time, so he was more than happy to! Luckily I was already packed up and ready, so I was back down in five minutes and we were on our way to stop #2.
When I booked this trip, thanks to my sweet friend Ashley, I knew I had to check first for the ultimate New Yorker's experience. Keep this site in mind for any trip you are planning and want to live like the locals. On the site, you can browse thousands of homes and apartments all over the world, read reviews, ratings, and all the details of each listing. Great site!
I found an apartment I instantly fell in love with on the Upper West Side. I contacted the owner and asked if it would be ok if I rented it for just one night, as most have a 3-4 night minimum. She was so friendly and said she'd be most happy to accommodate my early check in and late check out.

While the owner was going out of town for the holiday anyway, I met her sweet mom outside the apartment around 11:00 Saturday morning. She went over the basics of the apartment and the building, as far as locking up, air conditioner, tv, wifi, kitchen, etc. There was even water, juice, cokes, and milk in the fridge, all for me! So thoughtful!

 I liked this because:
A) It was more space and less money than another night in my small hotel room
B) It was a chance to live the locals
C) A safe neighborhood, steps from Riverside Park and the subway
D) Much more personal to deal with the individual owner
and E) it had such a homey feel to it. So cozy and such a cool experience! I would easily stay here again!

So after acquainting myself with the apartment, I rented a bike in Central Park--it was a perfect day for exploring the 843 acre sanctuary right in the middle of Manhattan on wheels. I've been so many times but never feel like I saw it all the way through. I rode for two hours, stopping when the mood hit me and my bum got tired, ha! It had been years since I'd been on bike...I was so afraid I would crash in a ditch!

I set out on foot exploring the city some more..and it hit 4:00 that I hadn't had anything to eat since my cronut breakfast from early morning.

So to satisfy both my growling stomach and fashion fix, I made the trek over to Lexington:

 Bloomingdales--ahh--I began subscribing to their catalogs when I was in junior high...ordering just  the minimal amount to still be able to receive the coveted holiday editions! I always think of the movie "Splash" with Tom Hanks when Daryl Hannah ("Madison") has watched television for only a few minutes and the only English she knows to tell the bellman is "Bloomingdales."

It's absolutely overwhelming in this massive department store. My mission was to buy something for myself for my birthday and find something for a late lunch/early dinner. I worked my way up to the 7th floor--Home Decor and "Forty Carrots," a neat little deli and froyo place my sister told me to try.

Glad it worked out-
I got a pear tea and the signature salad trio--egg, tuna, and chicken (how so very southern), complete with a mound of carrots and a pretzel twist. It even came with their famous frozen yogurt--peanut butter! So good!

I carried a change of clothes in my small backpack and after riding and walking for hours, I felt I needed a change. It being an Alabama Saturday, I had to represent. I brought my sequined Bama t-shirt and black capris. I found some delicate Michael Kors earrings and I was a happy girl!

I had an hour to kill before my evening plans so I came back to one of my favorite spots in midtown-Bryant Park! On the overcast evening, it was crowded but quiet. I knew I wasn't even hungry, but I was so close to the Lady M Cake Boutique that I had to cross it off my list! Meet the Green Tea Mille Crepe cake. I love green tea and kept reading how interesting this $8 a slice cake was. I was intrigued. I got mine to go from the small boutique, got something fruity to sip on, to which the bartender, noticing my shirt, ask me if I was keeping up with the Bama game. I had been getting updates on my phone and from my mom so I knew it wasn't the easiest win. Roll Tide anyway!
Back to the cake: the crepe layers had a soft delicate texture and the green tea flavor was strong. I can appreciate it for it's uniqueness, but probably wouldn't have to make a special trip for it again.

  Crossing into the busy Times Square area, my evening plans were to watch "Ghostbusters" in theaters for the 30th anniversary. Only in select theaters, the largest AMC theater in Times Square provided something unique to do and not near as costly as a Broadway play. To get to the theaters, you ride an escalator 4 floors up, with a grand view of the outside crowd.
 I adore this movie--always have! To watch it in NYC and celebrate the anniversary in the theater with other New Yorkers and tourists, laughing and cheering at all the right parts, it was a great memory! "I LOVE THIS TOWN!"
After the movie let out, I took the subway back to the Upper West Side. I got off one stop early and walked to a spot made famous by "You've Got Mail": Cafe Lalo.  This is where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were supposed to meet for the first time.
 It was so crowded on a Saturday--they actually stay open until 4 am! I looked around took a few awkward photos and drooled over the desserts and left! Yep...I regret that..but knew I didn't need anymore sweets!
It was almost 10:00 and I was craving something hot--and spotting a pizza place on the corner, I decided that I couldn't possibly go to NYC without getting a slice of authentic pizza! I ordered the margherita pizza and at the little "Mama's Pizza" restaurant they warmed it in the oven and I quickly walked back to the apartment, but not before getting a few random ROLL TIDE'S from people in passing!

 She looked hungry.

 I camped out on the couch with the yummy pizza and found one of my favorite NYC movies: "The Devil Wears Prada" on TV. Perfect ending to a perfect day...
The last day of the trip would be bittersweet (and a lot of sweeeeet)!
To be continued...

"If you're greedy for life, that's what New York is all about. If you're trying to get as much as you can every day, this city is the place to be."--Pam Nelson