New York City is a beast. A technicolored beast with multiple personalities. And I mean that in the best way possible.
We were fortunate enough to experience traveling to NYC in two ways: 1. driving in and finding parking and 2. taking the train in and walking around without using public transportation. Even though things turned out well, we don’t necessarily recommend the former. Fortunately, we ventured in on a Sunday so parking was free (don’t go any other day unless you want to saw off your left foot in exchange for parking your car in a claustrophobic garage for a measly couple of hours). Virtually everyone in the city has a bumper guard and that’s with good reason. It’s fender bender city. An accident AND a screaming and honking New Yorker? I just can’t. So I was on the edge of my seat, white-knuckles gripping the steering wheel the entire time. Plus, I didn’t place too much stock in my bootleg car rental company “working with me” if I came back with a dent, ding, or scratch. Not the best set up for someone who’s naturally anxious.
After circling around for what seemed like ages, we practically camped out on a side street until somebody moved. We parked near Central Park and the Met and went off exploring after confirming with at least three locals that parking was free. We walked to Magnolia Bakery (the original one our dad brought us to circa 2005), took the subway back for the sake of time, and plopped down in Central Park to eat our booty in front of a jazz duo trying to hustle. I enjoyed the walk but it was rushed, we only had one destination and I felt we whizzed through never looking left or right at the city passing by us.
Navigating the city can be intimidating – at least, for us it always is. We have major FOMO (fear of missing out) and when visiting a city, that feeling is almost a given. One way we try to combat that feeling is by walking a city, even when public transportation is aplenty – this works best when you’re not in a hurry. When you walk around and you have ample time, you get to sample a bit of everything albeit just with your eyes. Yea, sure, you can Google best places to eat in Chinatown, but what if they missed one?
If you have several stops on your to-go list, travel between spots can get expensive. Walking is free, green, and gives you a pulse of the area, which brings us to the second way we experienced NY. We took the train from Bronxville into probably the most well-known starting point – Grand Central Station.
Our plan of attack was Sheep Meadow in Central Park, the Highline (an old elevated railroad track converted into a linear park), a rocking place to eat, which we preferred to stumble upon, and Times Square if we happened to be close by.
From Grand Central, we walked to Central Park and a bit further in for Sheep Meadow, the famous clearing that yields a striking juxtaposition - broad open green space in the heart of the concrete jungle that is NYC. We spread our scarves on the grass and took out our laptops and worked on WATH while New Yorkers threw Frisbees over our heads, lounged on blankets, and played fetch with their dogs.
After a bit, we pushed our way through the NYC marathon crowds (it was the day before the race and people gathered for a kind of opening reception) and set off for the Highline. We were trying to beat dusk, but had a hard time doing so. On the way there, we took inventory of the food options, since we would have to travel back that way to get to Times Square and Grand Central Station. We eyed a pizza place with a line out the door and made a mental note.
One thing I have to say is that by walking the city you’re very sensitive to the shift in neighborhood gradient. One moment you’re in the middle of it all – people blurring past you, restaurants playing music, cars honking – and then the next, there’s no one but you and the unsavory character on the street corner under the cloak of darkness. Coincidentally, we don’t have an appropriate level of fear in these situations. So we walked through Hell’s Kitchen and as street suddenly seemed a little less crowded and slightly darker we pressed on. We saw an entrance to the Highline approaching, unfortunately nighttime beat us there, and again, against our better judgment, we went up the stairs. Because it was dark, visibility of the city was limited, but it was nice to see the city lights from an elevated perspective. Nevertheless, go to the Highline in the daytime, especially if it’s your first visit.
Back to food. We walked back to Hell’s Kitchen by way of more heavily trafficked streets and kept our eyes peeled for that pizza place, but it must have shut down and relocated in the space of 30 minutes because it was nowhere to be found. Disappointment does not come close to describing how I felt. Alas, we had walked up an appetite that demanded satisfying so we had to find something else. And when we found the Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen, it was all worth it. It went beyond satisfying the hunger and left an indelible impression on our taste buds.
With full bellies (hate that word) and aching feet, we made a b-line to Grand Central Station by way of Times Square. It lived up to its famous crowds and seizure-inducing lights. Street performers, ads, costumed super heroes, shops, music, flashing cameras - sensory overload but again, one or two blocks away, silence.
Actually, after proof-reading, this makes it sound like some parts of our walking tour were a wash, but I’d have to defend our choice. I feel a bit more acclimated to the city now. I felt as if I got my bearings. And next time we go to New York, I’ll be a little more prepared with surer footing.
Later on in the trip, we decided to tackle a few more places in the city, but this time, we started early. Although NYC sparkles beautifully at night, we wanted to see its splendor in the daylight. We drove in and watched in horror as we passed the aftermath of an accident. Why are we once again driving in NYC? As our grandmother says: who can’t hear must feel *said in the voice of a Jamaican grandmother*. Parking took a few tries, but we found a spot which my handy dandy Gabbi pinned on her google maps so we could find it later. From this spot, we could walk the city streets and pretend to be a local, visit the 9-11 memorial for some sobering reflection, and obvs walk the Brooklyn Bridge just because that’s what one does in the Big Apple.
In the end, the long and short of it is this: you can find your way through the city via many modes of transportation. Try different avenues and stick with the one you like best. You will never run out of places to go or things to see.