“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” – Anthony Bourdain (world-renowned chef from New York City)
I’ve always believed ever since I was younger, that if I will visit USA, the first city I would want to be in is New York City, and I actually considered living there, too. I’m a city girl, born and raised in Manila, so I always feel more comfortable living in a city than at countryside (although I love countryside for holidays).
My fascination for New York City or NYC started from seeing it in the movies, tellies, and books. I find it very romantic, hip, and just captivating.
NYC will remain very special to me because last 2017 I challenged myself to complete visiting the 7 continents and the new 7 wonders of the world before I turn 40 years old. But I wasn’t able to complete it before my birthday, so I just told myself last 2018 that I should make it happen before I turn 41, so at least I am still 40 years old, lol!
So in summer of 2018, just 2 months before my 41st birthday, I’ve completed it! And New York City as my first country to visit not just in USA but also in North America, the country that completed my 7 continents!
My husband also wants to visit NYC with me, he was still young the last time he was there for holiday, we planned to have a roadtrip holiday in USA and we want to start it at NYC, I told him I want it at New Year’s Eve because that has been my dream.
However, he’s a busy man and if I wait for him to go to NYC, I may not really ever to complete my challenge to myself (#7wonders7continents). So I told him that on this trip I will only be doing the common touristy stuff at NYC and I will save all the things we want to do together on my/our next visit.
I realised that planning the trip to NYC was easy because apart from it’s too popular, I am very familiar with it that I know already what I want to see in my short visit. There are so many things to do and see in this city, it’s overwhelming, to be honest. And since I am staying at my 2 friends’ places, meeting my uncle, and more friends, I relied on wherever they want to show me around, but also giving them some ideas what I want to see first during this trip.
First half of my stay is with my diving buddy from Singapore who moved to NYC few years ago, Shiela. She stays at Upper Manhattan in Harlem, so it is really very convenient to explore the city from her place. She picked me up at JFK Airport and was so kind enough to offered me to stay at her place.
She even took some time off from her work! She’s been always this generous ever since so I really appreciate all her efforts to make my first visit in NYC worthwhile.
The next day, we meet up with my friend, Zoe, and her parents who are all visiting NYC too at that time. We meet up with them at Battery Park so we could go together to the Statue of Liberty. I really loved the idea of visiting Liberty on my very first day because amongst all the famous icons of NYC, this is the most meaningful for me. It symbolizes freedom for the people of the USA, the land of the free!
Then we went to another historical site of NYC which is the Ellis Island. This was the port of gateway of the early immigrants of NYC, but it is now a museum.
On our way to 9/11 Museum, we walked around the Lower Manhattan for a bit first, so we just quickly stopped at the Raging Bull and the Fearless Girl (which are both a hit!), Wall Street, Federal Hall, the Ground Zero or the ex-World Trade Centre site, and etc. Glad that Shiela was with us because navigating was very quick!
After lunch, we went inside the 9/11 Museum, it was heartbreaking I couldn’t contain the sadness anymore when I was at the area where they let you listen to the actual phone calls done by the people trapped in WTC that horrendous day.
After 9/11 Museum, it was time for dinner already. Glad that they let me choose what I want this time because what I want to try is the New York Pizza! Hahaha! Shiela brought us to a pizza restaurant somewhere in Times Square. We chose this place too because Shiela and I will watch a Broadway show which is around the area as well.
After dinner, my friend Zoe and her parents left already because the day was indeed very tiring. Then Shiela and I went to TKTS to find discounted tickets for Kinky Boots, but unfortunately we were too late, so we ended up watching Chicago.
In as much as I wanted to see Chicago on stage, I didn’t really enjoyed it that much perhaps because I’ve seen the movie too many times or perhaps I was also feeling tired, I’m too embarrassed to admit that I fell asleep on most parts, haha!
We were still supposed to go to Sidewalk Café because it was an openmic night that night (Monday) but when my other friend from NYC (Scott) whom I’ve met from Travbuddy when we were in Valencia Spain, cancelled because he was not in town, Shiela and I just called it a night. I chose Sidewalk Café because of the underground or indie artists around New York often plays here, this is where one of my favorite musician, Regina Spektor, used to play before she got famous. So perhaps, some other time then…
The next day, Shiela planned to show me around Midtown Manhattan, so I figured it was going to be a LONGER day than the previous day, lol! But I told Shiela that I don’t really need to see everything. I told her that I only want to see the following:
- Grand Central Terminal – because I want to experience the whispering arches there
- Empire State Building – but I do not want to go up, because I want to go up there with my husband on my next visit in the future hehe
- Chrysler Bldg – because to honest I love this more than the Empire State our apartment in Dubai has even a view of the replica of Chrysler Building and for me it was sort of sending me a secret message, haha!
- New York Public Library – because of its architecture and to see the original toys of son of — who inspired him to write Winnie The Pooh
- Fifth Avenue – just curious to see the Tiffany shop in the movie of Audrey Hepburn and the protesters in front of the Trump Towers, lol!
That’s all but I think we ended up seeing a lot more than my list because you will just come across one spot to another within Midtown as they are just close from each other anyway. But then again, everything I see around me is too familiar to me that it feels like I’ve already been there! It’s weird to say I might have gone to NYC in my previous life but let’s just say that I am just watching too much Hollywood movies, haha!
After walking for hours, it was about time already for us to go to Rockefeller to watch Late Night with Seth Meyers at the NBC Studios! Even if I wasn’t lucky enough to see big stars, it was still quite an experience! The security was very strict and phones were not allowed, there was an audience briefing first and a little program before they started the show, which for me was longer than the show itself haha! Seth Meyers is a very nice man I must say, I was sitting on a first row so it was really very upclose.
After watching the show, we meet up with my uncle (Tito Mac) and cousin (James) for dinner. I requested to have dinner at Rainbow Room at the 65th Floor of Rockefeller Tower so that I can view the Empire State Building at night that I won’t be needing to pay $40 at the Top of the Rock, but he refused to dine there because he said it’s a rip-off lol, or perhaps he has been there too many times already. So he then took us to this Japanese restaurant where he is raving about having one of the best steak in NYC. It was really good but I am not a huge fan of well-done steaks so it was just “okay” for me actually. But he paid for it so who am I to complain? Hahaha!
The next day, my friend Shiela was leaving for London on a business/holiday trip. So the second half of my stay in NYC was at my friend’s, Joy, place in New Jersey actually. Just like my uncle, they all work in NYC but they all stay in New Jersey.
GREENWICH & EAST VILLAGE
So before I meet my friend, Joy, at Central Park, I decided to have a leisure walk alone around Greenwich and East Village, to see the following:
- Sunny & Annie Gourmet Deli – just to try their famous PHO sandwich
- Tenement Museum – I was curious to see how the early immigrants lived but decided to just visit the shop only because the reviews I’ve read said that it was a rip-off because it isn’t really an actual settlement but just replicas.
- Carrie Bradshaw’s Apartment – because I love the show Sex and The City, but this area though is worth a visit because the apartment houses in this area were truly like, again, in the movies!
- Friends’ Apartment – because I’m a HUGE fan of the show! Although, the interiors were all shot in a studio.
- Marvel’s Dr. Strange House – just because I’m around the area anyway, lol! There is really no house or apartment on that #177A Bleecker Street, just #177 which is actually a tattoo salon, haha!
After my morning walk, I went towards Central Park already to have lunch and kill time whilst waiting for my friend, Joy. We are both joining a FREE Walking Tour inside Central Park. Even if my friend has been living for over a decade already in NYC (they just moved to NJ), she said that is a good idea because Central Park is HUGE!
I reserved our slots at Sandeman Tour. I had a quick lunch first at a deli nearby Grand Army Plaza and stayed at the plaza people watching and staring at the famous The Plaza Hotel, whilst waiting for my friend. The meet-up point of Sandeman’s tour was also there.
The tour would basically take you to the nicest spots of Central Park, it could be challenging if you do this on your own on such a limited time. Our guide started with the history of the park and how it was made at the The Pond.
Then we passed by quickly at The Arsenal, Central Park Zoo, The Dairy and Victorian Garden Amusement Park before we reached the statue of Balto the Dog, a statue dedicated to the sled dogs who battled the snowstorm of 1925 to deliver medicine to stop the outbreak of diphtheria.
Then we walked towards the beautiful Bethesda Terrace Arcade and Fountain, and saw people boating along the Conservatory Pond seeing the iconic Loeb Boathouse. We saw lots of people sunbathing at The Sheep Meadow before walking for a bit around The Ramble Woodland Trails.
Then we finally reached the most recognizable part of Central Park for me that I always see in the movies – The Mall. It’s a walkway lined by towering trees creating an arc canopy. The walkway is has statues of famous authors and most of the benches have stories to tell.
As we are about to end our 2-hour walking tour, we then walked back to the Southern Route heading towards the Strawberry Fields Memorial Park to end the tour. On our way to the Strawberry Fields Memorial Park we passed by the famous Bow Bridge not just in the movies but also for people who wants to propose to their loved ones!
We saw quickly the Delacourt Theater, which is the home to Shakespeare in the Park before finally reaching John Lennon’s memorial, the Strawberry Fields Park. You will you’ve reached if you hear some buskers or maybe just fans playing Beatles songs with their guitars.
Just across the park is the Dakota Building where John Lennon used to live, Yoko Ono still lives there up to now. This is the very first luxury apartment in NYC. Sadly, this is also the murder site of John Lennon when his fan shot him several times.
It was a sad ending to the tour but I loved that they included this as I wouldn’t have stumbled on it if I were just doing it alone.
U2 CONCERT (Experience + Innocent Concert Tour)
After our Central Park tour, we went for our late-lunch-early-dinner at Serendipity Café. If you saw the movie then you know why we went here, and of course their gigantic chocolate sundaes! We had some proper heavy dinner so we didn’t really finish our sundaes, too bad the Serendipity Café here in Dubai closed down already :(
After our early dinner, we head towards the MAIN HIGHLIGHT of my New York trip – the U2 Concert! Held at the famous Madison Square Garden, the 2nd busiest arena in the world (next to O2 of London), the home of the NBA’s New York Knicks and more other sports, and a lot of music concerts. U2 have played here for 28 times already!
Our seats were behind the stage because the prices were ridiculously high already when we decided to watch the concert. I was hesitant to take it but glad we did because they were very close, although most of the time the face the other way but there were many times also that they (at least Bono and Edge) looked at our side, but even if not, that’s totally fine because finally I get to watch one of my all-time favorite band before they get too old, lol!
They played more songs on the new album that I only get familiarized with, when I listened to their album during my flight from Dubai to NYC. But they also played many old songs that to be honest getting the crowd more interacting and singing with them, haha! I got goosebumps most especially when they played “Pride” or most commonly known as “In The Name Of Love”. My friend and I enjoyed the concert because it brought us too many memories when we were still younger, haha!
LAST DAY MUST-DO’S
The next day, my friend took some time off also from her work to show me around one last time in NYC. I was more interested spending time and chatting with her so I didn’t really mind going anywhere, but of course NYC has a lot to offer so she just asked me what are places or things I still want to do before I leave. So I told her to take me to Guggenheim Museum, Rockefeller Tower’s Top Of The Rock, and lastly at Brooklyn.
I bought a Sightseeing Pass good for 7-days so I feel like I need to at least make the most out of it. But since I don’t have much time I just need to pick few places. I want to see at least one of the many museums in NYC, I planned to see the MET and MOMA too but that will require one full day and I don’t want to rush.
Amongst the museums, I am more interested to see the Guggenheim Museum, because it’s a landmark of 20th century architecture. It was designed by one of the most influencial architects I looked up to, Frank Lloyd Wright. I admired most of his works because of his Organic Architecture philosophy which is designing in harmony with humanity and its environment.
I am more interested with the building than what they exhibit in Guggenheim that day, but I still went in and took the lift going up to the top floor skylight and make my way back walking down the spiral building.
Then we went to Rockefeller Tower so I could go up to the Top Of The Rock because I want to see NYC from the top view. I was planning to see it at the Rainbow Room restaurant at 65th floor but my uncle did not want it when we met up with him, lol! I chose Top Of The Rock because I want to see the Empire State Building not the other way around.
It was still daytime though, but I don’t have a choice because we will meet my uncle again that night haha! Perhaps when I come back NYC I would be able to see the city that never sleeps on top at night time.
I didn’t spend so much time on top because my friend did not join me and I don’t want her to be waiting for me too long.
We went at Brooklyn so we could have our lunch at Grimaldi Pizza! We only walked around Brooklyn Bridge and didn’t have much tie to walk around more in the neighbourhood.
I wanted to do this because I found this neighbourhood very interesting, its history, the artistic community, and very diversed ethnic groups, I especially curious to see the Haredim Jewish community (the largest Jewish community is the USA). Brooklynites have a very distinct accent and usually used in movies when a character is from New York.
We meet up with my uncle at the newest building in NYC – the Oculus, or the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub. This 12-years in the making hub cost around 4 billion US dollars! I thought it’s just a mall but it’s a transportation hub and we are meeting my uncle here because this is where we will take the train going to New Jersey as he wanted me to show a little bit of the New Jersey.
We stopped by first for a quick sundowners at Beaubourg at Le District somewhere close to Oculus where you can already see New Jersey on the other side of the harbour.
To be honest, I was completely surprised as soon as we got out of the train station at Downtown Jersey City. I wasn’t expecting much and I thought of this place to be a bit more of a suburb place. But surprisingly, I love its vibe, I told my friend and my uncle that it felt like I was in Europe.
Well, maybe it was dark already and I was a bit drunk, lol! But seriously, for me it was very similar to Bristol in United Kingdom. My uncle brought us to a famous restaurant in the area called Talde owned by a Filipino American. They have Filipinized menu actually.
It was already late when we finished dinner and my uncle was a bit upset when I told him we have to go home already as I still have an early flight to New Orleans the next day. I promised him though that I will return, most definitely!
It was nice to see my uncle after many years. He is the closest uncle to my sister and I amongst the 9 siblings of my father. When our parents passed away, we don’t see our relatives anymore and just see them in Facebook. Somehow over the years, we just grew apart unfortunately. My sister and I are very close to him because he used to live with us in Manila when he was still in the university and also because he is such a free-spirited man, very witty, and very intellectual.
Although, I was surprised when he told me that travel doesn’t interests him the way I do. He said that when you are living in New York City for a long time you don’t need to see any other places anymore. He said he would rather go back to Philippines for vacations and to be with our relatives. I totally understand the homesickness part and that New York has so much to offer, but I just don’t get that part that someone who is as free-spirited man like him would just not want to see more places. Or perhaps he is too “American” now hehe, most of the Americans I meet have this same thinking actually.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with that, we are all different, we all have different priorities and different perspectives. It is just me, I guess. For me, there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. I’m always hungry to see more even if people are telling me I have seen so much already. It’s not that I’m not contented, but travelling and seeing new places humbles me. I realize how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.