Travel Journal #13
Last weekend we took a mini-vacation; we gave ourselves 4 days to explore New York and the city rewarded us with an amazing trip. We were visiting friends who live in Brooklyn, so we had to find a way to balance socializing and sightseeing on the same weekend, but we made it work. It was quite the whirlwind of adventure, with a lot packed into a short time. This meant that we would not see all of the attractions in New York, which is totally fine; just being surrounded by the buzz of the city is exciting enough.
Even if we had spent the full 4 days sightseeing, the list of things we didn’t see would be longer than the list of things we did. So we went into this trip with no concrete plans and just a desire to be there. Spoiler alert; it worked out great. This trip was extra exciting because it would be the first time that Norma has been to New York. We wanted to make sure she had the best possible first impression of the city, and we succeeded there for sure. We transformed a long weekend into an amazing adventure, catching up with friends and exploring the city together. New York is the best and we can’t wait to go back!
Just being in New York is exciting; it is one of the most unique cities in the world and the cliche catch-phrase “the city has a buzz” was probably invented to describe New York. Even just getting around is an adventure; the subway is an experience on it’s own, as it can transplant you between two different parts of the city in an hour or less. You can be at Wall Street, hop on the subway and you’re now in Central Park. Or the Brooklyn Zoo. Or the Empire State Building.
Because we were visiting our friends Stewart and Kirsten, we did less sightseeing than the normal tourist with 4 days to spend in the city. New York is a city known for its food and it’s nightlife, so a lot of our adventures revolved around eating and drinking. You learn a lot more about a new city inside of a restaurant or bar than you ever could looking at a famous historic attraction. Eating is living in the moment. One of the best parts of our trip was the food and drink; a lot of our adventures ended up being centered around at least one amazing meal.
So now, lets get to the fun stuff. What did we do in New York? Our itinerary isn’t the usual tourist route; we were visiting two of our good friends who have lived here for almost 7 years, so we wanted to spend time with them. On our first day, we didn’t even go above ground in Manhattan (we did travel underneath, but that’s just because the G train is weird). We spent more time in Brooklyn and Queens than we did in Manhattan, which was great.
We will have a few posts in the upcoming weeks featuring some of the best things we did, so stay tuned. Today, we wanted to quickly run through the highlights first with a short preview of some of the incredible things we did (and meals we ate). We have lots of pictures and videos to share in the next few weeks – including our first video, “Going up the Empire State” – so we will take a more in depth look at our 4 days in New York soon. This is just a quick “where did we go and what did we eat” post to get you – and ourselves – exciting for what comes next.
We hope you enjoy!
Day One – Travel Day. Cozumel -> Houston -> New York
Anticipation was running high as we drove to the airport in Mexico, preparing for our great adventure to New York City! We live on Cozumel – a Caribbean island off the coast from Playa del Carmen and Cancun – and there are no direct flights to New York from here.
We had two options; take the ferry and a bus to the Cancun airport and fly direct, or fly to Miami, Houston or Atlanta and connect from there to New York. We chose the latter. The travel time (2 hours or more) to the mainland was about the same as a stopover somewhere else in the US, so we took our chances.
This was a long day of travel, but totally worth it. Norma worked in the morning and we caught one of the afternoon flights off the island. We had a short stopover in Houston – enough time to clear customs and grab some junk food and caught the next flight to New York. Everything was on time and it was smooth sailing for our first day of travel.
As we arrived in the greater New York area, our flight path as we descended towards the airport was quite impressive, showing off the skyline of Manhattan. We were looking out the window trying to orientate ourselves and Norma says “I think I see a skyscraper”; i leaned over her, and yes, it was the new World Trade Tower. We got to fly the length of Manhattan, which was the perfect way to see the city for the first time.
We arrived at Laguardia airport just after midnight, caught a Lyft to Brooklyn and stayed up way too late sitting around chatting and catching up with our friends. We went to sleep just after 3 am.
Best Meal: Tie between leftover Domino’s pizza we had for lunch
or the Wendy’s we had at the Houston Airport.
Favourite Attraction: Flying over Manhattan on our way to La Guardia Airport.
Hidden Gem: Lyft from the airport to Brooklyn.
Day Two – Brooklyn+Queens.
We took it easy to start our first day, allowing ourselves a few hours to sleep in. This was not really planned, but it was needed. Brooklyn was surprisingly quiet in the morning. When we woke up, the clock read just after 11am. We took our time getting ready – it was our friend’s day off, and we traveled the day before – and nobody complained about a lazy morning.
We left the house to grab coffee first, and Norma got to experience her first New York bagel experience, with Lox, capers and cream cheese. A block from here, we caught the subway for the first time. We decided to take a chance, and bought a week-long subway pass, even though we only had 4 days in the city.
We decided to spend our first day in Queens, so we hopped on the subway and headed towards Manhattan and transferred to a train heading towards Astoria, Queens. It took us about an hour to travel between Burroughs. There aren’t many subway options between Queens and Brooklyn, and it is usually easier to transfer somewhere in Manhattan. The one train that does travel between the two – the G train – is apparently weird, and Google Maps suggested going into town.
Our big goal for the day, was to visit the Museum of the Moving Image. This is definitely not one of the better known museums in New York, tucked away in Queens, but it is one of our favourites now. It is built into part of the old Kaufman Studios building, which has been in use since the 1920’s. It has had everything from Goodfellas to Sesame Street filmed here. We didn’t go inside the studio, but we did get to see Big Bird as part of one of the exhibits!
The museum had two main exhibits featuring right now; the Jim Henson Experience and a feature on old school sports video games. This was a pretty easy choice for us to spend our first day in New York. The top floor was dedicated to the moving image, with old TV’s and video game systems from the 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond; from the Commodore 64, original pong devices, the original Nintendo and modern day Playstation’s. Stewart and Rob could have spent several hours here playing “Base Wars” on the NES or “NFL Blitz” on the Nintendo 64, but we had other people with us who probably didn’t want to watch us play video games all day, so we moved down a floor.
The Jim Henson exhibit was extremely cool, and they had original muppets such as the Swedish Chef, Animal and the one and only Kermit the Frog. Oh, and of course Big Bird was there too. We spent several hours wandering around the exhibits, until we were kindly asked to leave at closing time around 4:30.
Since we were already in Queens, and had a few hours before we had to meet other friends of ours for dinner, we found our way to the Long Island City Beer Project, a small craft beer brewery in Queens.
We enjoyed a tasting flight with 6 different beers, which included 3 different IPA’s, which is our favourite style, especially since we live in Mexico right and most beers are not IPA’s.
The tasting room was very cool, with many different beers to choose from, lots of barrels on the walls, forklifts and a vending machine that sold cured meats. While looking for things to do in New York for this trip, we wanted to visit a few different breweries while in the city. We found a great itinerary for a brewery tour in Queens by fishoutofmalbec.com – “A DIY Queens Craft Brewery Tour” – and wanted to explore some of them. This would be brewery #1.
After our quick beer tasting, we got back onto the subway, once again traveling under Manhattan to our eventual destination back in Brooklyn (like we mentioned before, the G train is weird). We were given a list of 6 restaurants to choose from, and just for fun, we were only allowed to pick based on name, not menu. We eventually found creative ways to narrow it down, and settled on the Vanderbilt, which ended up being a great choice.
Norma had the burger, and because we don’t normally deal in ounces, she ended up with a 16 oz burger which she obviously struggled to finish. The meal was fantastic and it was great to see our friends Cassandra and Arron (and their little one Felix). The best part was, this was the perfect restaurant between their homes, so everyone remained walking distance from the restaurant.
Brooklyn is a lot of fun, and we were not quite done with the day, so on the way back we had several bars to choose from for a night cap, each of which was only a block or two out of the way on our way back to the apartment. We had one more drink at a cool bar that served cans of beer that you could choose to enjoy there, or take away. We were tired, and got to bed early. We had the intention to wake up early and spend half the day sightseeing around Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Best Meal: 16 oz Burger at The Vanderbilt.
Favourite Attraction: Jim Henson Exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image.
Hidden Gem: Long Island City Brewing Collective.
Day Three – Brooklyn+Manhattan.
It was finally time to take Norma to Manhattan. Stewart (our friend who we were staying with) had the day off, and he came along for an afternoon of sightseeing with us. Since the weather was looking fairly nice, we decided to take the long way downtown, spending some time wandering through Brooklyn. We picked up a coffee to go and wandered into Prospect Park.
This is Brooklyn’s equivalent to Central Park in Manhattan, and we only saw a small fraction of the park during our walk. On our way into the park, we walked past the site where the original Brooklyn Dodgers stadium was located, now home to a park and high rise apartments.
There are many paths that weave there way through the park, and without much effort, we wandered past an old school carnival style merry-go-round and found a beautiful Boathouse on the lake.
We exited the park at Grand Army Plaza, a massive “Arc de Triumph” replica which built in the late 1800’s to commemorate the “The defenders of the Union 1861-1865”. The site was also a major battle during the Revolutionary War as part of the “Battle for Long Island.”
From here we hopped onto the subway for a few stops to transport ourselves to a different part of Brooklyn, eventually finding our way down to the Brooklyn Piers. We spent some time wandering along the waterfront seawall, enjoying the views of Manhattan and the two bridges (Manhattan and Brooklyn) that cross the East River into the city.
It was finally time to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. This is something that was on Norma’s bucket list, and based on the number of people we bumped into along the way, it’s obviously on a lot of other people’s bucket lists too. It’s touristy, its crowded and it’s cliche, but i’m sure 90% of you that have been to New York have done it. We’re all guilty. It’s just one of those things you do when you go to New York. Plus, it’s a good way to get between destinations, taking you from one side of the river to the other.
There are other options to get into Manhattan, by Subway or even by boat. Walking is more fun. The best way to avoid the crowds on the Brooklyn Bridge is to skip it altogether and walk over the neighboring Manhattan Bridge instead; this route is much less crowded, and gives you the same great view of Lower Manhattan but with the Brooklyn Bridge as well. Since this was Norma’s first trip to New York, we sort of had to do it.
This walk conveniently took us to our next destination; Lower Manhattan. We walked along Broadway towards Wall Street, where we had a quick happy hour Gin and Tonic, some $1 oysters and watched the businessmen depart the financial district after a long week of doing business. From here, we walked the short distance to our of our favourite attractions in the city, the Staten Island Ferry.
Why go to Staten Island? The main reason is the views; the ferry is the perfect place to get some great pictures of both Lower Manhattan from the water and a close up view of the Statue of Liberty. The best part about this ferry, is they serve beer. The second best part, is that it is free (the ferry ride, not the beer).
If you sit on the east facing side of the boat, you can snap some great pictures of the Statue of Liberty on your way to Staten Island. While there are things to do on Staten Island – there were two breweries within a 20 minute walk that tempted us – much like the other tourists, we got back onto the next boat and went back to Manhattan. Since we already snapped our pictures, we grabbed a beer and quickly finished it on the 15 minute ride back to Manhattan.
After getting off the ferry, we walked through Battery Park on our way towards the World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial. Our first stop was Firehall/Ladder #10.
Located just across from where the Twin Towers once stood, this firehall would have been the first to respond to the events of 9/11. In 2006, the FDNY Memorial Wall was placed here to remember the 343 firefighters that died trying to save lives on 9/11. While most people were trying to escape the disaster, they charged straight into the buildings in an attempt to save lives. Alongside the memorial is a picture of each of the firefighters who lost their lives on a fateful September morning in 2001.
The actual Ground Zero site has been transformed into a living and working space in New York once again. The memorial is a sombre reminder of the events that took place on 9/11 and the two public reflecting pools is a fitting memorial to those who were lost. The two pools – which are built in the exact footprints where the twin towers once stood – are lined with the names of all the victims of that day. The Museum here is supposed to be quite moving, but it was too late in the day for us to visit.
After a long day of wandering around New York, the sun was going down and it was time to go for dinner. We took a train north towards Union Square, and walked towards the East Village. Kirsten (Stewart’s wife) works here, and we got a couple of free appetizers and had an incredible meal, including fresh seafood like fresh oysters and seared scallops. This was the most incredible reward after a long day of exploring New York.
We decided to head back to the apartment after dinner. Stewart had to work in the morning, and we had a big day of sightseeing planned for tomorrow.
Best Meal: Oysters and Scallops at The Smith.
Favourite Attraction: 9/11 Memorial reflecting ponds.
Hidden Gem: Staten Island Ferry.
Day Four – Manhattan+Queens+Brooklyn.
Alright, it was time to do the tourist thing. We had another friend (Jeff) visiting New York for a few days, but he didn’t arrive until later in the day, so we spent the morning doing “the tourist thing” in New York. We went back to Manhattan to see some of the big sights!
One of the things that you need to do in New York, is climb to the top of one of the cities viewing platforms. There are three choices to do this; Rockefeller Center, the World Trade Tower and the Empire State Building.
We chose the Empire State Building. For nearly 50 years, until the construction of the two World Trade Towers in Lower Manhattan, this was the both the tallest building in New York, and the world.
Even today, 88 years after it was built, it is one of the most impressive buildings in the city. It has survived the test of time and is one of the most recognizable world landmarks. Everyone knows what the Empire State Building looks like. Our goal today wasn’t just to admire it from below, but we had plans to go up to the top. While not one of the cheapest attractions in the city – a ticket to the viewing platform costs $36 per person – the views from the top are incredible.
You can see off in all 4 directions, and it really puts the size of New York into perspective. Looking out at a jungle of skyscrapers really makes you feel small. It’s quite fun trying to figure out where you’ve already been, and where you’re going next. You’re so high up, it almost looks like a map.
Things were just getting started and the next stop on our day of adventure was to walk into Midtown Manhattan towards Times Square. This is the living breathing heart of the entertainment district of New York, and one of the places where every tourist goes during their visit to the city. I can see why locals would try to avoid this place, as it is a sea of people wandering around taking pictures and bumping into each other. This was Norma’s first trip to New York, so we had to at least see it once.
After a long walk through Times Square we wandered towards the Columbus Circle and entered Central Park at the south-west corner.
There were thousands of people here, both locals and tourists, enjoying the pleasant weather on a Saturday afternoon. People were sitting on the rocks or jogging along the paths. A lot of the grassy areas – such as the famous Sheep Meadow – were closed, as the grass was being replanted and maintained after a long winter. The trees were still barren and only the first signs of spring were starting to poke out.
We walked for close to two hours, not really seeking out anything in particular. We visited Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon memorial, and enjoyed an outdoor dance party with a DJ and dancers on rollerblades. We eventually found “the mall” and exited on the south-east corner of the park, barely making a dent into the massive green space.
We wandered along 5th avenue for a bit, but neither of us are into pricey or flashy brand names, so we didn’t linger for long. We made it to the Rockefeller Center, where the outdoor ice rink was busy with people skating, found a great place to sit and waited for our friend Jeff to arrive.
We had been saving ourselves for a late lunch, and when we met Jeff, we asked him what he wanted to eat. Jeff lived in New York for 5 years, so he knew a few good spots to eat. One of his favourite quick eats was Go! Go! Curry, a small Japanese restaurant with incredible pork and chicken dishes. They have several locations in New York, and even more around the world. As you can see from the photo above, it was a pretty incredible meal.
After our late lunch / early dinner, we decided to head over to Queens to get some drinks. Jeff knew one of the brewmasters from a top notch brewery that we had planned on visiting anyways, so it seemed like a good opportunity. We took the subway from Grand Central Station, which meant we got to tick off one last attraction before we left Manhattan.
It was time to knock off Craft Breweries #2 and #3. Queens and Long Island City are starting to attract some amazing breweries, and as we mentioned before, we had a great list of places to visit. Our first stop was Transmitter Brewing, which was sadly celebrating their last night, and we arrrived in time for their closing party. We were shocked to hear this, but their sign assured us that they were just moving across town to the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Their beer was fantastic, so we wish them the best on their next endeavours.
Finally, we met Jeff’s friends, and wandered over to their brewery a few blocks away. You can tell that years of hard work had gone into creating this place, and based on the number of people there, they were doing something right. This place was incredible and seriously bumping on a Saturday night. Not only did they have some incredible beers on tap, the tasting room was beautiful and we got a behind the scenes look at their brewing operations.
After a few beers, it was time to head back towards Brooklyn to meet Stewart, who was just finishing work. We went for a mini-pub crawl, sampling a few cocktails before finding a late night diner to finish off the day with some below average food and some above average company. Another late night in New York, but we were getting used to staying up late in New York. It is the city that never sleeps.
Tomorrow would be our last day in New York…
Best Meal: GoGo Curry.
Favourite Attraction: Empire State Building
Hidden Gem: 5th Hammer Brewing in Queens.
Day Five – Manhattan+Brooklyn.
Our last day in New York. This post is starting to sound like a broken record at this point; we had another friend of ours – Miki (who lives near us in Mexico) – was also visiting the US for a few days, and our schedules overlapped enough that we could meet up. So today was the day we planned to meet for lunch. We were craving some Japanese food, and she took us to an amazing Ramen place in Midtown west called Hide-Chan.
The weather report was quite accurate for the day, and by the time we finished lunch, it was still raining. When making our original plans for the day, we had intended on renting CityBikes and riding them around Central Park, but since it was wet, we decided to hide indoors for a few hours.
Fortunately, New York has a million things to do, so we didn’t struggle to make a plan for too long. It was time to go see some art. There are many incredible museums and art galleries in New York, so the list of places we could chose between was long. We made the “tough” decision and decided to visit the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) located nearby in Midtown.
This is one of the best museums in the world, and their 5th floor display has artwork from Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh (including one of his most famous pieces; Starry Night). The museum is massive, and your legs will get tired long before you’ve had a chance to appreciate this massive art collection.
After leaving the museum, the weather had cleared up, so we decided to spend some time outside. We took the subway south, and got off at one of our favourite spots in the city, Washington Square Park. The wind was blowing quite hard, so most of the grey clouds that had been hanging over the city had been blown away, revealing a beautiful blue sky.
We had nothing left planned for the day, so we decided to wander. We still had a bit of daylight left, and since the wind was blowing, we wanted to keep moving. Our walk took us from Washington Square Park south towards Chinatown, and then east into the Lower East Side. Along the way, we crossed the boundary (Houston Street) between the numbered streets and the named streets.
We arrived in SoHo (named in reference to is location to Houston street, meaning South of Houston (SoHo). As we walked along Broadway, we ended up stumbling upon the Dolby Digital / Our Planet exhibit here, which was a mix between an interactive trailer for the new Netflix show called “Our Planet” and an advertisement for Dolby. Either way, it was pretty amazing, like an interactive trailer for a movie.
Eventually we made it to Canal Street, which is where Chinatown and Little Italy are located We bought a few magnets (our only souvenir from this trip to New York) at one of the cheap stores here and had a sticky bun at one of the small eateries. The sun was starting to go down, and the wind was still blowing strong, so we made our way to the Lower East Side for a coffee to warm up.
It was time to say goodbye to Manhattan, and we hopped on the subway one last time and made our way back to Brooklyn for dinner.
When we arrived in New York, we decided to roll the dice and get a week long MetroCard to make getting around easy and more affordable. This meant that we needed to ride the subway 11 times to have it pay for itself. This last trip into Brooklyn marked our 11th ride, which meant that we had officially paid off our pass.
For our last meal, we met Kirsten in Brooklyn and decided that we needed to have at least one NY Pizza experience. The few times we had walked by a cheap slice on the side of the road, we had either just eaten or were on our way to eat. New York is known for being one of the best places to eat pizza outside of Italy, so it sort of had to be done. Nearby the apartment in Brooklyn, we found a spot called ??? that was delicious. We ordered 2 pizzas, with the plan of having leftovers for our long journey home the next day.
Best Meal: Deluxe Ramen at Hide-Chan.
Favourite Attraction: MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)
Hidden Gem: Washington Square Park.
Day Six – Travel Day. New York -> Miami -> Cozumel
Our flight was one of the first to leave La Guardia airport Monday morning, with a 5:55 am departure time. We work up around 3:30 and took a Lyft to the airport. We had no problems leaving New York – we arrived with lots of time before our flight – except that we left our leftover pizza in the fridge. We had planned our breakfast and lunch so perfectly and failed in the execution. It was the lowlight of our trip.
We arrived in Miami to find out that our flight would be delayed almost an hour. It turns out that we got caught up in a glitch in one of the flight programs that calculates weight distribution. We were one of 1000 flights that were affected by this glitch, so its probably lucky that we were only 54 minutes delayed.
Once in the air it was smooth sailing and we had great views out the window as we flew over the Florida Keys and had a stunning view of the north end of Cozumel as we landed back on the island.
And thats’s the story of our extended weekend trip to New York City. We had a blast, but it was one of those “vacations” that you return from and need a rest to recover. We hope you enjoyed following our story. We have lots of pictures and videos to sort through the next few weeks, and we promise that there will be lots of great content coming soon!
Best Meal: The Pizza we left in the fridge and did not get to eat.
Favourite Attraction: Looking out the window at the blue waters of the Caribbean on our flight from Miami to Cozumel.
Hidden Gem: Being a part of the April 1st computer glitch which delayed over 1000 flights across the US.