New York City; where friendly locals abound

Much has been written about New York City. What more could be added? How about, it’s a friendly big town that’s easy to get around in. That was our experience on a recent, first-time visit to the Big Apple.

We decided to embark on this much-anticipated but high anxiety trip using the excuse that an artist friend I’ve had since the 7th grade lives in Jersey City with her family and it was high time to pay her a visit. Using her lovingly restored 3 story brownstone as base camp, we navigated the ferry at Liberty Landing to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty before taking another ferry to Battery Park. We later realized taking the PATH to New York City, we could’ve caught a free ferry that would’ve taken us to these two top sights but we wouldn’t have been able to disembark the ferry and walk around.

Ellis Island could take ½ a day or more depending on your level of interest but we chose to walk around a time line exhibit which was a little quicker and still thought-provoking. Photos of the stunning interior hall do not do it justice. It is unfathomable to imagine the millions who passed this way. The Statue of Liberty was as vibrant as Ellis Island was somber. We were thoroughly entertained by watching other tourists capture the Statue in just the right way on camera. People are truly creative.

Statue of Liberty from approaching ferry

Statue of Liberty from approaching ferry

While waiting for our stamped time to enter the 9/11 Memorial, we found ourselves in the Episcopal Church across from the World Trade Center site. This was apparently the closest church to the site and became home to relief workers during the rescue and recovery effort. Inspiring exhibits of thank you letters, pictures of workers being fed, sleeping and praying in this sanctuary during such a horrific time adorn the church. The quiet of this place is in stark contrast to the Disneyland-sized line to enter the 911 Memorial. Once inside, the masses disperse and you’re left to take in the two eternity pools set in the footprints of the once-famous Twin Towers. Standing at one of the pools looking down into it tracing the water flowing down, I could see how some would embrace it and some would be disturbed by it. The ‘Survivor Tree’ was less controversial for me. It was the closest tree to one of the buildings to survive though it was reduced to an eight foot stump. There’s a brief description of its story in the Memorial flyer and its scars are so obvious that its growth becomes an even greater testimony. Standing in front of it, I was caught up in the loss and the hope to the point of tears.

Our second commute into the city we took the PATH from Jersey City Grove Street Station to the New York City World Trade Center Station. Ten minutes later, we arrived. Wow, that was ridiculously simple. There we were in the midst of it all.

Armed with three walking maps because that’s just my travel personality, we hit all the big attractions we‘d yet to see. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with thousands of our closest friends careful to stay in the ‘walking’ lane but I admit to skirting over to the ‘biking’ lane from time to time because sometimes I’m a bobble head tourist like everyone else but not when I find myself on a pilgrimage. To reward ourselves for exercising what little patience God gave me, we stopped for ice cream at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory giving us energy to turn around and do it again. Had it been closer to lunch time, however, I did note some inviting restaurants in the area particularly on Fulton Street.

New York skyline at dusk from Jersey City

New York skyline at dusk from Jersey City

Close to China Town and Little Italy coming off Brooklyn Bridge, we made it a mission to find cannoli that would rival what we had in Boston a few years back. Caffe Roma on Broome St. sufficed and their coffee and service surpassed our expectations. Feeling ever encouraged by our successes, we attempted our first Metro experience being dropped off at 51st Street. While waiting, though, a local observed our uncertainty and looked up the Metro ap on his phone to give us more information about times and stop options. This happened to us more than once and it was a wonderful surprise. We saw Radio City Music Hall, sat outside at Rockefeller Center Plaza and then walked to Times Square. Here, we paused again. Climbing the bleachers positioned in the midst of the Square, we sat and I was struck by the silence of the chaos. Quickly I realized no one in the bleachers was talking. They were all just as in awe, just as meditative and contemplative as we were. It’s a hard sound to describe but I grinned ear to ear being a part of it. One of those wonderful travel moments where you are abundantly aware of how similar we all are in this great big world.

Grand Central Station was a glorious surprise. I always have a loose itinerary of things I’d like to see and do when we travel but I don’t always know why I want to see something or research that site. I believe ignorance can sometimes be bliss. In the case of Grand Central Station that certainly proved true. I had no idea how gorgeous the ceilings would be, how vast the Station would be, that it would be lined with pastry shops, food markets, restaurants, clothing stores. I simply didn’t appreciate that it truly is a small city unto itself and it was an absolute treat to discover. Conversely, I did research Pete’s Tavern to find it’s the “oldest continuously operating restaurant and bar in New York City” and we were undeniably under whelmed by the pretense and expense though the ceiling and woodwork are notable.

Another PATH stop from Jersey City puts you on 33rd Street. The rivalry lives on; see the New York City skyline from The Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building. From the 86th floor viewing deck, the Empire State Building is taller than the 70th floor Top of the Rock viewing deck but sometimes bigger isn’t better and I felt out of touch with the city from that vantage point though my husband thought it was amazing. At $25 a pop, we’ll save The Rock for another time.

Speaking of amazing, we both agreed the frozen hot chocolate at the renowned Serendipity 3 is worth the price tag ($8.95 as of this writing). Decorated with Tiffany lamps and the stomping ground of the likes of Andy Warhol, Sarah Palin, Rachael Ray and Justin Bieber, it has been a welcome stop for weary travelers and jet setters alike for over 50 years. Sadly, my Jersey City friend had never heard of this place which just proves being a tourist in your own town is a worthy pursuit.

All these calories motivated us to walk to and around Central Park. There’s so much to see in Central Park and it’s been covered by countless so I’ll just say that finding the Balto statue was at the top of our list. For those who don’t know, Balto was a “sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome” becoming one of the more famous dogs to transport the medicine that saved the children of that area from a potential outbreak. Seemed like as good a reason to visit Central Park as any and we have a wonderful photo of Balto & me to commemorate our moment.

As lovers of jazz, we listen to Jazz at Lincoln Center every week on our local station so it was only natural to walk across the Park to Lincoln Center to poke around. It’s not open in the middle of the afternoon but, luck be a lady, a very accommodating employee let us into Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola to gaze at the floor to ceiling windows and imagine what a perfect setting this intimate club is at night filled with some of the finest jazz musicians on stage and Central Park lit up as the backdrop.

Spending our days alone exploring the city while our friends worked, we took the PATH back to Jersey City each evening for dinner with them so didn‘t partake in much night life. However, we took in a couple noteworthy restaurants such as Defonte’s on the corner of 21st & 3rd Avenue which has been on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives as well as another DDD alumni, the Brownstone Diner located in Jersey City. We ducked into a quiet and cozy bar near Defonte’s called Exchange Bar & Grill and had a wonderful dinner in Jersey City on the roof of Skinner’s Loft.

There were many times the people of New York City extended themselves. From the people in the subway giving us directions to standing on a street corner looking at a map having locals walk up to us asking if we needed help to the very kind police officers who, unofficially, act as tour guides and do so with a smile on their faces to the Transit cops at Penn Station who helped us with our Newark Airport train. We had experience after experience of New Yorkers being friendly and proud of their big city. We were pleasantly surprised and humbled every time.

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