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Best way to spend 34 hours in NY
A crazy idea makes for the best trips
Have you ever known someone whom on a whim jumps on a plane a visits a city just for a weekend, and said 'I would love to do that, but....'? There is every possible reason not to do a weekend trip including; we are too busy, it is too expensive, I wouldn't know where to start, its scary, where do we put our pets...etc. However if you are able to swing it, you can have an amazing time.
This is the story of 4 people who spent 34 hours from the time our feet stepped in NY to the time our plane took off bound to our home in CA.
All images in this entry have been taken by myself. If you use please link back to this article.
Pick a Reason to Visit
This is probably the most important reason. Without a raison d'etre, it is too easy to postpone or even cancel. For us it was the limited showing of the brand new high energy musical Newsies. It was only going to be showed for a four month window, so we bought the non-refundable tickets and we were locked in. Everything in the planning now revolved around that anchor point including travel, lodging location and other tourist activities. More on the show later, we now had the anchor! Flights were booked to maximize our time, this meant a red-eye on Friday night getting in at 7am on Saturday and a flight out on Sunday at 5pm. That meant 34 hours on the ground to see the entire city....no problem!
Would you fly across the country for 34 hours?
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Step two is to prioritize the items you just have to see. For us it was to take the opportunity to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Thankfully our hotel was a short walk to Battery park where we were able to pop on the ferry to both islands. Friendly tip, make sure you pre-purchase tickets on the ferry. This allows you to pick the time, significantly reducing the amount of time you will spend in security and ticket line. While we are talking about security, plan on having to go through security several times during the day for each tourist destination, unfortunately part of the experience. We topped out at 4 screenings in 24 hours.
But, back to the excitement. Jump on the ferry and skip all those wimpy tourists who stay inside, jump to either the second or third floor and stand outside. Imagine yourself as an immigrant coming in to this great country on a ship, with the wind in your hair, and dreams in your heart. That is the true way to experience the Statue of Liberty. You will arrive on the island and have the choice of doing the audio tour, a park ranger tour or just wander at your own pace. We tried a bit of the former two and have to say both are fantastic. They give you the history and emotion behind this great monument and is certainly worth your time. We personally enjoyed the park ranger tour (which is free) for the personal touch.
Grab the same ferry to Ellis Island and prepare yourself for a three story museum that could take minutes or hours. Impressive educational exhibits include video, audio and very realistic environments built to help you feel like you are in the early 1900s. Easily capable of spending a few hours here if you have the time. Again ranger tours are available and give you fascinating pieces of information you would never know otherwise (including the fact that the benches in the main hall are original and over 100 years old!).
When ready pop back on the ferry back to Battery Park.
Just blocks from Battery Park is the 9/11 memorial and the World Trade Center complex. If you are hungry from your exertions from the morning there are several genuine NY hot dog and hot nuts carts that can help tide you over. Key mantra, maximize your time, so keep going!
I would recommend hitting this site later in the day (hence why we did Statue of Liberty first) as it is quite crowded in the early AM but thins out later in the day. Also reminder that you need to reserve spots on-line, even though it is free, so make sure you do that before you show up. Another security line and then you are walked into quite a large park where it hits you that this is where two of the largest buildings in the world used to stand. This is where hundreds lost their lives and the innocence of an entire country was shattered. The serene nature of the grass and fountains is in direct contrast to Freedom Tower and the other WTC buildings that are going up on all sides of the park. It is a stirring sight and one that brings back a flood of memories. Take a moment to quietly reflect, maybe say a quick prayer and commit ourselves to forgive but never forget!
Time's Square: an Adrenaline Junkie's Dream
Are you ready for the evening festivities? For us after 9/11 memorial we showered, changed and were now ready for an evening on Broadway. Take a quick subway ride from downtown, home of 9/11 memorial and wall street, to midtown, home of TIme's Square and the Theater district. There is no end of restaurants not to mention massive stimulus overload from the signs, to the street performers, to just watching people. If you are claustrophobic be warned that the streets are extremely crowded and you will be jostled as you try to walk in almost any direction. Take it in for a few minutes, maybe pop into a store or two as most are flagship stores, and then quickly plan a place to get some dinner. A great opportunity to finally sit down, get a drink or two and reflect on what you have already seen. On a Saturday night many restaurants will be quite busy so either reservations or getting someplace early is recommended. Remember a show waits for no man!
We found a small little Irish Pub that was surprisingly authentic and after a few pints of Cider were fully recharged. On to the show!
A Night on Broadway: Be Prepared for Unexpected Surprises
I first need to say that seeing a broadway show in NY is a completely different experience that almost any other place in the world except maybe London. There are more theaters per square mile in this small part of NY then anywhere else in the world and thus there is a palatable energy and excitement in the air. Everywhere you turn you see musicians, actors, dancers walking to their theaters from subway lines and town cars. This is the Mecca of art and everyone wants to be here. We came to see Newsies and were not disappointed. It was housed in a theater steeped in over 100 years of tradition where there was no bad seats. So small was the theater than even those that brought binoculars (Mr. boy scout here), had no need as even in the balcony so close were we that we could see every facial expression. A wonderful high pace show that was pure entertainment.
Following the show as we exit, a crowd has formed by the front door. Asking around (contrary to popular belief most New Yorkers are quite friendly and open to casual conversation) we find out that this original cast will come out and sign autographs. The crowd seems insurmountable yet slowly politely moving forward you find that it is possible. Making friends with a couple of people who clearly knew this was going to take place and had gotten front standing spots, they offer to make sure your playbill gets signed. Feel free to tell the actors that you came all the way from California just to see them and they will reward you with genuine smiles and a moment of their time. The wonderful thing about this mostly young cast, is they are genuinely doing something they love and appreciate all the fans who came to watch. We received autographs on our play bill from almost the entire case, not to mention several photos. An amazing way to give a little back to the audience, we thank the cast for this gift.
Ironically enough, after all the autographs are signed, the temporary barricades are removed, the case come out on their own to walk to the subway just like any other New Yorker. I love this city!
A walk to Grand Central Station
It is now 11:00 at night. Back home you might be thinking of heading off to bed or maybe curling up with a good book, but not here. Now in New York, the city is not even close to sleeping. While any big city can appear intimidating, especially if you are in a group this is an incredibly safe walking city. Especially in this part of town you can walk until late into the night and feel perfectly safe.
A short 20 minute walk will bring you to Grand Central station both functioning transportation hub as well as monument of architecture and art. While some choose to go during the day, at night most of the crowds have left and a great opportunity to enjoy this remarkable building on what could feel almost like a private showing. Entire corridors devoid of people allowing the chance to play with echos and appreciate the vast painted and lit ceilings showing constellations of the night sky. Give it a good half an hour and it is well worth the time.
A Trip into the Stratosphere: Empire State Building
While you could take the ever present taxis that are all around, simply walk for another 20 minutes (this can also be considered the NY workout) to reach one of the tallest buildings in the country the Empire State Building. If you need some edible fortitude, plenty of food carts are available on almost block, I highly recommend the several Mediterranean carts supplying Falafel or Gyros. Just perfect for a late night snack.
The Empire State building is a remarkable piece of architecture and planning it broke every record in construction, setting the pace of completing exactly one story every single day. This includes steel girders, outer walls of stone and glass, not to mention all the other components of the building. This 102 story building was actually finished in less than a year, faster than any other building of its time and arguably still faster than most buildings built today.
Grab a ear popping elevator ride to the observation deck on the 80th floor and look out on the city that truly never sleeps. If you are not a huge fan of heights you can stay inside and walk around the 360 degree view from the heated and safer feeling inside post. For those that want to feel the wind in their hair and the noise of the city, step outside and look out at this seemingly endless city. High enough to see for miles, yet close enough to hear sirens and see individual landmarks. Can you find all the places you visited today? If not, there are plenty of staff members milling about happy to help point out landmarks. Don't be surprised if you feel the building swaying, most sky scrapers sway by almost 12 feet in any direction!
Find a Place to rest your head
It is now probably close to 2am by the time you return from the Empire State building (thank goodness the subways run 24x7). We were lucky enough to find a great hotel Downtown for an extremely reasonable price. The Club Hotel is actually a private hotel during the week for Wall Street traders and other financial leads who stay at this private residence Monday through Friday. Yet on the weekend it opens its doors to anyone who wants to book a room. We were thrilled to find that our 12th floor room overlooked the entire 9/11 memorial and the quickly finishing Freedom Tower. A breath taking view that if you are not careful can prevent sleep as you slowly contemplate history that happened right before your eyes.
High tech rooms equipped with over a dozen easily accessible power outlets for every iproduct you could possibly have. And the creme de la creme, a filtered cold water station in the hallway with empty water bottles so you are never without fresh drinking water. Now this is a hotel we need to return to! Rest your head on the pillow for a deep recovery sleep.
A casual NY Breakfast and then the original Trump Tower
Hopefully at a well rested morning hour you can get out of bed and get ready for your last half day in the city. Pack and check out of your hotel and no matter where you stay there is bound to be a small cafe nearby that serves real NY bagels with schmear. Don't think too long as they are bound to be busy on the weekend, but it is worth the chaos for those hot fresh bagels. Hop back on the subway and get off at the corner of Central Park. As you ascend out of the subway you will see towering above you a sculpture of the globe that while large in size is dwarfed by the original Trump Tower. Sign of international commerce and the tremendous power New York yields it is a stunning view of art and power bound together. In front of you will lie the rolling hills and excitement of one of the largest metropolitan parks in the world. Hawkers are happy to rent you bikes or horse carriage rides all available just feet from your subway exit. For now resist and enjoy the street vendors and the juxtaposition of the grace of the park and the dizzying heights of the steel and glass sky scrapers.
Resist the siren call of Central Park for a few minutes and turn in the opposite direction for only a few blocks away is one of the reasons New York is considered such a rich cultural city. Lincoln center, home of the Metropolitan Opera (arguable one of the top Opera companies in the world), New York Ballet, the New York Philharmonic and several other performance groups. Stand in the square and know that in every direction are some of the most prized and coveted artists in the world all performing daily for global audiences, heads of state and if you so choose the everyday person like yourself. The realization that there is so much more beyond daily work life, this art can bring a person to tears or laughter in minutes. Maybe next time we will have time to catch yet another show, this time at the famous Met.
Central Park: For all Walks of Life
One of the last stops of the day is Central Park, yet even a monument as simply to say poses challenges to plan for there is no end of activities to participate in. Take a horse and carriage ride, or potentially rent bicycles, visit the zoo or simply enjoy the natural rock formations and people watch an entire city relaxing together on a Sunday afternoon. We chose the later and came upon a small statue of a sled dog amidst our random wanderings of paths through the park. Turns out this is the statue to honor a team of sled dogs that traveled hundreds of miles in the worst possible weather to rescue a small town in Nome Alaska in 1925. You never know what you will find in your wanderings of this great city.
Take some time to watch a community softball game where company teams and even during the week entire broadway casts compete in friendly sporting events. Watch street performers who are only there to help entertain in their quest to earn their daily bread. Look at some of the most expensive real estate surrounding the park, for these are some of the most famous buildings including the Waldorf and even the place where John Lennon was shot. When you are ready it is time to start heading back.
Grab a Sandwich that will change your life forever
On the way to the airport if you take a taxi and can convince them to take a very brief detour it is well worth heading over to Katz Delicatessen. A deli that has sat in the same location since the late 1880s and was even highlighted in the movie When Harry Met Sally. Fantastically busy with limos and town cars double parked along with bicycles and beetles. The sheer mass of humanity inside pulses with a sense of anticipation for some of the best home made corned beef and pastrami ever imagined. Order a Rueben and you will find your life has changed as they slice a piece of the most tender and flavorful meat you have ever had. Home made pickles finish the ensemble. Two sandwiches and those pickles will top the scales at more than 10 pounds and will hold even the heartiest appetites on your flight home.
That was the 34 hours that was New York. There is plenty we missed that we leave for our next trip, but this gives you an idea of an amazing unforgettable weekend in New York.