Sean and I faced a couple of new travel challenges when we started planning our trip to New York City: (1) we’d been five times between us, but never together, so we had to find things to do that were new to both of us and/or interesting enough to see again, and (2) New York City is very expensive. New York City on the first holiday weekend of the summer is even more expensive. New York City at the last minute on the first holiday weekend of the summer is O_O!!!
Once we started researching, we realized number one wouldn’t be that much of a problem. It’s New York we’re talking about, not the backwoods. Number two required a bit more thought — we didn’t want to break the bank for three days in the city — but with a bit of creative finagling we ended up overcoming that, too.
Transportation: One of the nicest things about living in New England is how easy it is to get around without a car. Trains and buses run in all directions, and they’re very widely used and comfortable. When we decided to go to New York City we didn’t think for one second about driving ourselves. (Can you imagine how much it would’ve cost to park there for three days? Plus the tolls we would’ve had to pay? $13 just to get on the George Washington Bridge!) Our first transportation choice was Amtrak, but by the time we’d committed to the trip all the cheap seats were gone and tickets would’ve cost us more than $175 apiece. Two seats on Bolt Bus cost less than one train ticket, so it seemed like a much better bet (HA! — more on that later).
Lodging: Sean’s a big fan of Greenwich Village, so that’s where we started our hotel search. He stayed in a very reasonable hotel in the area last summer, but that same hotel was very unreasonable on Memorial Day. In fact, every hotel that we looked at was at least $250/per night. NOPE, NOPE, NOPE. We’d never tried AirBnb before, but we’d heard good things from friends, so we decided to give it a shot. And it was FANTASTIC. We paid around $125/night for the cutest little studio in the perfect part of Greenwich Village. The girl we rented from made the process so easy, and she left us a note telling us to help ourselves to her wine. I mean!
Friday: As soon as we arrived in New York, it started raining. HARD. We hailed a cab to drive us to the apartment, but it’s a wonder we didn’t wind up at the bottom of the Hudson:
We hid out in the apartment for an hour or so waiting for the rain to let up before venturing out to dinner. When Sean told me that two of his New York friends had recommended The Meatball Shop, I felt myriad emotions: confusion — they only sell meatballs? How does that work? Hunger — mmm, I hope they also have provolone cheese! And, ultimately, bemused acceptance — we’re talking about New York City here. Of course there’s a restaurant that specializes in meatballs. They also specialized in serving Shiner Bock. I KNOW.
Saturday: The first half of Saturday was all about immigration — we booked a combo tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We chose to tour the Statue of Liberty island only (meaning no going into the pedestal or climbing up to the crown) but that packed a great, big emotional wallop for me, so I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. Plus there were more than enough people to bump into on the island — thinking about squeezing into Lady Liberty’s nethers with hundreds of other tourists gave me hives.
SPEAKING OF WHICH — Ellis Island. Ho boy! Talk about living history. That place is HUGE and absolutely swarming with people. It’s a multicultural free-for-all. It probably hasn’t changed much in 150 years. That said, I absolutely loved visiting. It was, hands down, my favorite thing about our trip. Half of the exhibits were closed (casualties of Hurricane Sandy) and we were short on time, but I would absolutely go back to see more.
After Ellis Island, we ventured to Times Square to attempt to buy discounted theater tickets, only to be thwarted by a line that covered an entire city block. Rather than spend the rest of the day waiting in line to maybe get tickets to a show, we walked straight up to the Avenue Q box office and bought tickets for full price. It was splurgier than we’d intended, but Avenue Q is off Broadway, so the cost wasn’t that extreme. And it ended up being totally worth it. Songs from that show still pop into my head from time to time (I just have to be careful not to sing them out loud).
After the show was over, we met up with one our friends from college who lives in New York and explored the city into the wee small hours of the morning. (I’m now qualified to tell you that New York does, in fact, sleep.)
Sunday: Sunday was much more low-key. We started things off with an excellent brunch at Jane in Greenwich Village. My eggs benedict was served on crispy grits. Can you even? I couldn’t.
Then we walked to the Lower East Side for — guess what! — more immigration. This time at the Tenement Museum. Multiple tours are offered within the converted tenement building, and each one require$ it$ own ticket. Sean and I chose Shop Life, which took place on the ground floor and explored the lifestyle of immigrants who’d owned shops in building. It was interesting, albeit a little too pricy and interactive for my taste (the interactivity is a selling point, but I would’ve preferred to hear more history from the tour guide and less speculation from the group).
After the Tenement Museum, we hoofed it to Katz Deli and ended up sitting right next to the infamous When Harry Met Sally… table. You know the one. I’m sorry to say that I did not have what she had. BUT what I did have was pretty darn close.
Sean and I split a pastrami sandwich because A) it was HUGE and we had dinner plans, and B) it was almost $20. For one sandwich. Oy, New York. But it was pure tender, greasy goodness. I enjoyed every minute.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I needed a nap after. We snoozed until 6:00p.m. or so and then headed out to meander along the High Line — a park built on an old, elevated freight train line.
Once we’d worked up an appetite again (are you noticing a pattern here?) we walked to the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.
The line was insane, and we must’ve waited at least 40 minutes to order. But MAN was it worth it! My burger was topped with bacon and cherry peppers and drippy cheese, we shared a side of fries, and I washed everything down with a strawberry milkshake. (Loving a lactose intolerant person means never having to share your ice cream.)
Monday: We had absolutely zero plans for Monday, so I suggested we take the train into Brooklyn for bagels. I made the epic mistake of forgetting to ask for a toasted bagel (doh!) but I still enjoyed it very, very much. (Credit where credit’s due: the veggie cream cheese was outta this world. So thick and onion-y. YUM!)
We had time to kill before our bus left Manhattan at 2:30, we were in Brooklyn, and our subway cards were juuust about spent, so the obvious next step was to walk across the Brooklyn bridge. Epic crowds and speedy bicyclers notwithstanding, it was a pretty relaxed, easy walk. And it turned out to be our last little burst of physical activity for a long, long time.
About an hour into our bus ride back to Boston, we heard a loud bang. A few minutes later the bus driver pulled onto the shoulder of the busy freeway, did a lap around the bus, and came back in to report that we’d blown a tire. “I’ll put a call into dispatch,” he said. “It shouldn’t take long to fix.” An hour later, he reported that he was having trouble getting dispatch to send someone out, and it would be another hour. And hour after that, the same story — some griping about dispatch followed by an announcement that we’d be stuck there for yet another hour.
You might think that a bus full of stranded New Yorkers and Bostonians would’ve been an awfully cranky place to spend an afternoon, but for the most part, everyone on the bus kept their wits. A few Boston-bound buses stopped to save people in boarding groups A and B from our disabled bus, but Sean and I didn’t make the cut. It was like being on the Titanic, and we were in steerage. I’ll never let go.
FOUR HOURS after we stopped, the driver finally announced that a mechanic from a nearby town would be out in 30 minutes to fix the tire. I’m not sure why it took four hours to find that mechanic. I’m not sure why Bolt Bus didn’t send a second bus from New York or Boston or pretty much anywhere in New England to pick us up. I’m not sure why Sean and I didn’t think to bring snacks or water with us for what ended up being a nine-hour(!) drive home. What I am sure of is that, of all the food we ate on our New York trip, nothing excited us more than the McDonalds we picked up at 11:30p.m. on the way back to our apartment.