The Sissons Take Manhattan

Last week, we took a quick mini-break to New York City. It was our first visit to the big apple and now I’m wondering what took us so long to go. It’s so close. Our flight from Buffalo took less than an hour!

I think, one of the reasons why we haven’t been, is that I’ve always found the idea of New York City daunting. We’ve stayed in some large, world-class cities in the past, but New York is bigger than anywhere we’ve been before. It’s the fourth largest city in the entire world, and for this suburban mouse, that’s a little scary. Plus, people are always going on about how ridiculously expensive it is, and being the frugal sort, I’ve been reluctant to plan a trip knowing it will bleed out my wallet. Lately though, my curiosity had surpassed my fear and penny pinching nature, so we got to work on planning our trip.

It wasn’t as scary as I thought, nor was it as expensive as I’d been led to believe. Even on relatively short notice we booked reasonably priced flights though JetBlue. We’d never flown with JetBlue before, but we will again. They were fantastic. The plane had lots of legroom and they served potato chips as a snack. Fried tubers go a long way with me. We found our hotel though Priceline, where we paid about half of the published rack rate. It was the W New York , a clean and quiet four-star hotel in midtown Manhattan. Since we stayed in such a central location we were able to walk most places, but when we couldn’t, we used the subway to get around. Just like any large city, that was a whole experience in itself.

After checking into the hotel, our first stop was Times Square.

Apparently, this guy is a big deal there.

We weren’t there to see him though. We were looking for the Ed Sullivan Theatre. I wasn’t able to get tickets to The Late Show ahead of time, so we thought we’d try to get on the standby list…and we did!

While we waited for the show to start, we ran over to the Carnegie Deli for a bite.

Take a look at this Reuben. This is what a $25 sandwich looks like.

It was worth every penny. Jeremy has now dubbed this restaurant the Mecca of Corned Beef.

Brimming with optimism, we returned to the theatre and took our places in the standby queue, but alas, we did not get in. Damn you, Letterman!

I knew it was a long shot from the start, but I still spent the next few minutes sulking. The great thing about New York though, is there’s so much to see, so that setback was practically forgotten after we walked a few blocks and found Central Park.

We continued north, though the park, emerging by the Guggenheim Museum where I got to take in the awesome spectacle of Frank Lloyd Wright’s genius, while Jeremy got to take in some indoor air conditioning.

I should mention here, if you are sensitive to heat and humidity, a trip to New York City in August is NOT advisable.

Later on, after relaxing at the hotel for a while, we were starving, with a hankering for cheesecake. We though New York would be a great place to get a good slice of New York cheesecake. The internet had pointed us in the direction of Grand Central Station and a shop clerk recommended Juniors. It was pretty good, although the best cheesecake I’ve ever had remains to be the slice we had in Cleveland.

The station is indeed grand. It reminded me a bit of our own Union Station, only larger and shinier.

The next morning, we got up early to beat the crowd at the Empire State Building. It’s a good thing we got there when we did. By the time we were done the sky was turning ugly and by mid-morning it was pouring rain. Sightseeing wasn’t going to be much fun, so Thursday became the official shopping day of the trip.

We started at Macy’s, where I tried to explain to my husband the significance of this particular store. Apparently, he’s never seen Miracle on 34th Street. This Christmas I’ll have to tie him to a chair and force him watch it.

He was also unfamiliar with the legendary round table at the Algonquin Hotel where I’d make a lunch reservation that day. This was a big deal for me – to have lunch in the same room where some of the wittiest writers of the 1920s once gathered and bantered.

That day, the afternoon crowd was quiet and sparse, but the food was absolutely delicious.

Later that day we wandered up to the 5th Avenue shopping district where we found, not just a Tiffany’s store, but the Tiffany’s. Also in that neighbourhood, there’s a funky Apple Store, FAO Schwarz and a bunch of fancy shops that sell handbags that cost about the same as a domestic compact car.

FAO Schwarz is awesome. Unlike Toys”R”Us, which is just a giant warehouse of useless plastic crap, this store was a lot of fun, with tons of interesting toys and displays, including the big piano where Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia played Heart and Soul in the movie Big.

If you are so inclined, you can have your very own big piano for just $250 000! To put this in perspective, our first house cost less than that. A lot less. Still, wouldn’t it be fun? We could train the cats to play ragtime melodies and show tunes by jumping nimbly pimbly from key to key!

Speaking of ridiculously expensive things, the iconic Plaza Hotel was across the street. The rooms here start at around $500 a night. When we were initially planning the trip, I looked into it, just for funzies.

Eventually we found ourselves in Times Square again. It really is something else at night.

Total. Sensory. Overload.

The morning that followed was the low point of our vacation. We’d slept in a little and when we finally got up, we headed down to the Brooklyn Bridge. Unfortunately, by the time we got there the humidity had settled in, and two days of crowds and sore legs from so much walking had gotten to us. When we arrived at the foot of the bridge, we were just about ready to throw each other off it. For our own safety, we stayed away and moved on.

As I mentioned before, New York has a lot to offer when it comes to distractions and within minutes we were in the heart of the financial district where the new World Trade Center is being built. We stopped being angry and admired the site.

Then, from there, we hopped on the subway to the West Village. After some wandering and lunch we found ourselves drawn to the river. The Hudson River Park had a nice breeze, shady trees and Wi-Fi, as well as a nice view. This was all perfect for my tired and wilted husband, so we stayed there for a while to relax.

The last thing on our Manhattan agenda was a sunset cruise. Whenever we visit a new city, we often do a scenic cruise. Most cities began on the shoreline and so much about its history can be learned from the waterways.

This cruise also gave us a great view of the Statue of Liberty…

…and the evening skyline.

The next morning we got up early again. We’d rented a car to drive to the Hudson Valley and wanted to beat traffic out of the city. Since hurricane Irene was well on her way, parts of lower Manhattan were being evacuated and we didn’t want to get caught up with fleeing locals.

We had no problem getting out of town and we very quickly made it to our next destination – the New Croton Dam. Jeremy and I are total nerds when it comes to infrastructure and architecture and we’d been looking forward to seeing this for ages.

New Croton Dam is not new at all. It’s over 100 years old and at the time of completion it was the tallest dam in the world. It still serves as a integral part of the New York City water supply system.

It was an engineering marvel in its day…

…and still impressive now.

Meanwhile, back in New York City, they were battening down the hatches for the storm. The city was shutting down the entire transit system at noon and that included our 8:30pm flight home, so we just drove our rental car back to the Buffalo airport. It was a leisurely drive though the Ramapo Mountains, north eastern Pennsylvania and finger lakes region of New York State, with stops along the way for some shopping and dinner.

Although the circumstances of our impromptu road trip were hardly ideal for those who actually live on the eastern seaboard, I’m glad we didn’t fly home. It turned out to be such a lovely day and a pleasant end to a great trip.

Regarding the title: I just want to clarify that I haven’t changed my last name, but for the sake of simplicity, I often use Jeremy’s last name when referring to us as a family unit.

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