Sunday, March 29, 2015

NYC Part 3: Bagels with Lady Liberty & Reflective Moments at 9/11 Museum

When reading about travel (which I frequently like to do), I remember coming across the quote:

I don't think the meaning of this quote quite makes sense until you have traveled to a wide range of destinations and then found yourself looking back and yearning for a repeat or continuation of those adventures. Similarly to my travels to China and Taiwan, New York enchanted me in such a way that I find myself daydreaming about returning more frequently than I probably ought. The area of the city that truly won over my heart was Lower Manhattan. While we often hear about the Upper East Side from shows like Gossip Girl or Times Square, I've come to realize that lower Manhattan is usually ingrained in people's minds next to negative images. This area of the city might provoke images of the 2008 financial crisis on Wall Street or perhaps the tragic events of 9/11. However, this portion of Manhattan is also a bridge to the history of this country. 

We began our Monday morning by hopping on a subway at Grand Central Station and making our way down to the Bowling Green stop. Since my friend, Kailey had recommended trying New York bagels, we were on the hunt. We soon found ourselves in a little deli with some of the biggest and most delicious bagels I have ever eaten. We bagged up our bagels and strolled down to Battery Park, steaming coffee in hand. 

While I love the constant motion of the "city that never sleeps," I found a much needed sense of peace in the Hudson Bay area as we gazed out at Lady Liberty herself. (Even in large cities you can always find places of serenity.)

Energized from our coffee and bagels, Morgan and I hunted down the line for our ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty. I must admit, it felt almost unreal that we would soon be in such close proximity to this symbol of our country. 

We were blessed with beautiful blue skies

Similar to my thoughts on how puny the Rockefeller skating rink appeared, I also felt that the Statue of Liberty was not as massive as I had imagined it to be. However, for you numbers people out there, Lady Liberty measures in at 305 ft, 1 in from the ground to the torch. When you look at it that way, I guess she is a rather large lady!

Ellis Island
When we had finished roaming around Liberty Island, our ferry took us to Ellis Island. Having started our day later than planned, we decided to forgo a tour of the sites at the island and journey back to Manhattan. With that said, I didn't have the opportunity to reference the date scene from the movie Hitch (I know you are all disappointed!) On my next trip to New York, I would like to spend some time on Ellis Island. Just another excuse for me to make a return visit, right?!

Back in Manhattan, we wandered up to Wall Street. Along the way, we came across the National Museum of the American Indian. We also stumbled upon the famed Charging Bull of Wall Street. I couldn't believe how many people wanted a picture by that thing! (Of course we hopped on the bandwagon and asked for a picture, as well.)

Federal Hall National Memorial
This is where George Washington took his oath as the first president
Soon our stomachs were growling and we made our way to the Subway station. This is the part of our day where we had a bout of "Morgan and Amanda have no idea how to read a Subway map and somehow ended up in Brooklyn." (Believe it our not, we had a couple of those incidents occur.) While we were trying to make our way to Chinatown, we accidentally took the Subway the wrong way. We were both frustrated at the time, but looking back, that little adventure makes me burst out laughing.

Even though we gave up on the idea of eating in Chinatown that day, we did cross another area off of our list: Penn Station. Here we were able to see Madison Square and also relax at Blarney Stone Irish Pub for a late lunch of Shepherd's Pie. Mmmm. The combination of my growling stomach and sweet relief of finally figuring out where we were made that meal taste so darn good.

Heaps of cheese :)
Having to stray from our original agenda, we caught a Subway back down to the 9/11 memorial. One thing I have learned from traveling is that sometimes it is best not to have a strict schedule. Some of the best stories and adventures arise from straying from your original plan. 

The 9/11 Museum is truly incredible. It commemorates both the events of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. Prior to visiting the museum, I kept thinking I really wouldn't be that affected by it. When the events happened, I remember them clearly. I was in a 4th grader and I recall processing the events the best my young mind was able. It all still seemed so distant to me though. However, once you are in the the Historical Exhibition, you may need to grab a handful of the tissues they have distributed throughout. Walking yourself through the timeline of events for that day and hearing real phone calls from people who were in that building...unreal. You feel as if you are right there on that day and the experience pulls at all of your emotions. At the end of the main exhibit, I also recorded a reflection in the recording studio they have available. 

If you are in New York even for a single day, be sure to take some time to visit the 9/11 Museum. That will be a museum you will never forget. 

After such an emotional experience, we were in need of a pick-me-up. Since it was getting late, we made our way back closer to our hotel and finished our evening with hazelnut shakes at the Shake Shack in Grand Central Station. 

The "city that never sleeps," certainly left Morgan and I exhausted each night! Our next day was spent in the Upper East Side where I was able to unleash my inner Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl. But I will account for those events in my next post.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

New York: Part 2 // Welcome to New York

As the airplane slowly made its descent, I gazed out the window and there it was—New York City. I couldn't help but smile like an idiot as I saw that majestic skyline of the city as Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” blared through my headphones.

Welcome to New York.

As I eagerly hustled off the airplane to baggage claim, my heart was racing with excitement. I could hardly believe that I was finally in this big, beautiful city. I’ll never forget that feeling as long as I live.

As I raced from terminal to terminal, Morgan and I finally ran into one another in the bathroom of all places, where I was touching up my makeup. Since we had landed at LaGuardia, we were technically in Queens, so we gathered our luggage and made our way to the Roosevelt Hotel. On our ride into Manhattan, Morgan and I kept looking out the windows of the vehicle in disbelief. “Could we really be in New York on our own?!” It seemed like that day would never come. 
To Manhattan we go!
Author and journalist, Tom Wolfe once wrote:
“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”
That’s exactly how I felt upon arriving in New York. I had only just landed, yet the atmosphere of the city had already engulfed me.
Here is the map from my Part 1 to better orient yourself on the places
I refer to in this post.

The first day and a half of our trip was primarily dedicated to becoming better acquainted with our neighborhood and the areas nearby. When we first ventured out to explore, neither of us really had a clue where we were going. However, it worked out that as we were wandering around, we kept running into all of the places we were hoping to visit. For example, we were walking along and all of a sudden we were in Times Square. I remember looking at Morgan and saying, “Wait. I think this is Times Square right here. Do you think?!” like the clueless tourist that I was.

And there we were...tourist central! While Times Square was actually one of my least favorite areas of New York, I still loved naming off all of the different things that are located within its confines... "Oh hey, remember when Carson Daily hosted TRL right over there?!...Look up there! That's where the ball drops on New Year's Eve!...Oh my goodness! There's where Good Morning America is filmed!" I'm sure those were all probable exclamations that came flying out of my mouth.

During our time exploring in Times Square, Morgan and I did a little shopping at Forever 21, H&M, and Sephora. We also made a point of checking out M&M World. I've never seen so many different colors of M&M's! (I was pretty tempted to buy the Tiffany blue colored variety.) When we grew exhausted from all of the people watching, we decided to refuel ourselves at The Hard Rock Cafe. This was the first time I have ever eaten at a Hard Rock restaurant and my friend, Tasha recommended it. I enjoyed one of the best veggie burgers of my life!

I've never seen so many Sephora's in my life as I did in NYC!
I wanted to box them up and bring them back to Illinois with me!

I wanted this hat (and many others!) so badly!
I talked myself out of it at the last minute.

This picture does it no justice whatsoever.
Order the Veggie Leggie! It is topped with grilled Portobello mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash,
and roasted red pepper. The french fries were delicious too.
Pretty caloric, but ended up combining our lunch and dinner meals based on timing. 

After getting our fix of Times Square, we ventured out and ran into Radio City Music Hall. It was a bit surreal to think of all of the celebrities who had been in that vicinity for events over the years. And there two small town girls from the Midwest were in the same area. (That blows me away more than it probably should!) 

 Like I mentioned before, we had no idea where we were going half of the time, yet we kept running into where we wanted to be. This was no exception as we stumbled upon Rockefeller Center.

Morgan and I loved standing there and watching as people skated around. It's funny how small the rink is when you are there in person. After years of seeing this area broadcasted on television for the Christmas Tree lighting, I had always imagined this gigantic rink. However, next to all of the skyscrapers of NYC, it looked puny. 

As the skies began to grow darker, we reserved our spot for the Top of the Rock Observation deck. This was a part of our The New York Pass five day package. I highly recommend purchasing one of these cards if you are planning to visit for a few days. It easily pays for itself. 

The camera lighting was a bit of a struggle.
I <3 New York!

Gazing out at the beaming lights from the skyscrapers was one of the best ways I can imagine being welcomed to the city. Just as the lyrics of Taylor Swift's song narrated my landing into the city, I was again reminded of the words:
"The lights are so bright, but they never blind me."
And just like that, within a a matter of less than 48 hours, New York had my heart.

Welcome to New York. It's been waiting for you.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

NYC Part 1: Travel so Life Doesn't Escape You // (Plus City Layout Guide)

For some reason, I go through this point in my life a couple of times a year where I grow very restless. I begin to feel trapped within the confines of my living space or even the entire city in which I am living in. It’s as if there is this innate part of me that only thrives when it is on the move-- experiencing a change in scenery. That is exactly the state in which I found myself the couple weeks leading up to my trip to New York City. I had been anticipating this trip since Christmas Day when my friend Morgan sent me a text message with a picture of a card from her parents stating “Good for 1 ticket to New York!” We had been discussing the idea of traveling to New York the past couple months (ever since we became friends on our trip to China and Taiwan!), but a small part of me kept thinking it wouldn't ever happen. Suddenly, my childhood (and adult) dream of roaming the streets of the Big Apple would become a reality. It might sound a bit dramatic and overexcited, but New York has always seemed like some sort of distant, out-of-reach land to me. It’s the backdrop to some of my favorite movies (You’ve Got Mail, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 13 Going on 30…) and television series (Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, Sex and the City, Seinfeld…), but I always felt it would be just that--a work of fiction. For some reason, I never thought the opportunity to spend time in NYC in my twenties would present itself.

But it happened.

For my Spring Break trip, Morgan and I met at the LaGuardia airport on Saturday, March 7 where we began our adventures until our departure back to reality (aka the Midwest) on Friday, March 13. I am going to break down my trip into a couple of days per post (otherwise I would have an incredibly long post.)

First I wanted to give a little background of the layout of this magical city. I think it is a bit overwhelming unless you break it down into boroughs and neighborhoods. Before planning this trip, I didn’t know much about the layout of the city, and quite honestly it probably won’t make sense until you actually immerse yourself in it. Most people don’t realize that NYC is comprised of 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Usually people only see Manhattan, because that is where all of the tourist attractions are located. However, I was able to get a brief taste of 4 of the 5 boroughs (whether it was by subway confusion or not…that is open to your interpretation :p) Below I have placed red dots on which ones I was in.
(Isn't it crazy how large and odd of a design this ONE city is?! It blows my mind!)
However, like most visitors, we were mostly in Manhattan—which is a gem all on its own! Breaking Manhattan into neighborhoods is also really helpful. Here is a list of some of the main neighborhoods:
  • Downtown
  • Financial District
  • Little Italy & Chinatown
  • Tribeca (Taylor Swift lives here…I repeat, Taylor Swift LIVES here!)
  • SoHo (Short for “South of Houston Street”)
  • Lower East Side
  • Greenwich Village
  • Midtown
  • Flatiron Distict
  • Chelsea
  • The Garment District
  • Broadway & Times Square
  • Fifth Avenue
  • Uptown Central Park
  • Upper East & West Sides (think Gossip Girl!)
  • Harlem

I have included another map which I added red dots to a number of the main areas we found ourselves. 
I also have a pink square that depicts where our hotel, the Roosevelt Hotel, is located.

Speaking of the Roosevelt Hotel...I highly recommend these accommodations if you are ever planning to visit New York. Located on the corner of 45th and Madison, it is an excellent location. It only took us about 5 minutes to walk down to Grand Central Station to get ANYWHERE! We stayed in a room with 2 double beds for a total of $140 per night (split between two people.) The building is beautiful the foyer area is filled with historical ambiance and chandeliers. If you time your trip right, there is also a rooftop bar. From our comparisons, we really couldn't get much better of a deal. (Beware: Don't expect free wi-fi connections in this city unless you are at your nearest Starbucks!)

Back to the districts! My favorite of all the districts is the Financial District--surprising, right?! I loved walking through Battery Park and gazing out at the Statue of Liberty and the Hudson River. It is such a jewel in the concrete jungle. I will go into more detail on this area when I post pictures from those days.

I once heard the quote, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” That resonates with me so perfectly. I don’t think that my urge to travel necessarily has to do with me wanting to escape the realities of my busy and sometimes hectic life. Rather, when I go through the motions of my daily life, I sometimes forget to stop and appreciate my surroundings and this beautiful life I have been given. Changing my surroundings, even for a brief period of time, allows me to look at my life and this world with a refreshed perspective. That is exactly the renewal that New York provided me.

I am so excited to share more about my adventures in my next post. Stay tuned!