I returned last night from a trip to NYC. My friends Chris and Marisa were along for the trip as well, which finished off in New Jersey where Marisa and I had to work a trade show. But for three great days, we had the pleasure (and toil) of hanging in the Eastern Seaboard's premier city.
Rather than going into major details of the trip, I'll just mention a few things that we did that are different than the regular tourist fare of going to the Met, MOMA, Rockefeller Center, and that statue that the French so graciously provided to us. If you're in the been there, done that crowd, here are some ideas that you should add to your must-do lists for NYC.
1) The High Line: What a cool idea. I have never been to a city that has done as good a job of making a public park-like space from train tracks - and elevated ones at that. The fauna is impressive. The architectural details like benches, lighting, and surfaces are absolutely stunning. Walking along the few blocks that this park covers transports the stroller out of the Meat-packing and Chelsea Districts, and into a sort of fantasy space like no other I've experienced in North America. And the hotel which stradles the High Line lends some sort of futuristic, Logan's-Runnish kind of feel to the place (even thought the hotel itself looks like something designed from the last century's Eastern Bloc architectural manuals). You can learn more about this wonderful place by going to http://www.thehighline.org/ .
2) The Brooklyn Bridge: How great is it to spend an hour walking across a legendary span? The answer: very. We took a subway to the first stop in Brooklyn. We got off in a neighborhood dubbed Dumbo, and proceeded directly to the bridge. While it is a tourist site, it is one that rivals walks on other bridges like the Golden Gate in SF, or the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. In fact, it is better. When we arrived, there were probably about a thousand people walking, biking and running from one end of the span to the other. The views of Manhattan, the Manhattan Bridge, the islands in the harbor, and of course, Brooklyn, were fantastic. The information provided on plaques at each corner of the towers added significantly to the experience. And, defying stereotypes, all of the New Yorkers we encountered were outgoing and friendly. On the Manhattan side, just before we exited the bridge, we came across a good-looking guy selling some nice t-shirts that he had screen-printed using a photo-emulsion process. The shirt were the best I'd seen in the city. We picked up a couple of them before leaving and heading into Chinatown. To learn more about the bridge, here's a quick link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Bridge.
3) Vegan/Vegetarian options: New York seems to be a ground zero for excellent no-meat meals. Even Newark's airport has a huge variety of pre-packaged vegan cold noodles for those on the go. And the city... well the city has it all. We dined again at the Candle Cafe, Baby Cakes for pastries, Blossom for a really nice meal, a fantastic soup place on Allen Street (just up the road from Baby Cakes), and a place in Chinatown where my dish sucked, but Chris and Marisa gave rave reviews to theirs. Being a big fan of salads, I do have a word of caution. Vegan/vegetarian restaurants are great for ordering things like tempeh, seitan, tofu..., but don't order salads. They simply don't make ones that are nearly as good as other restaurants. I was consistently disappointed with the lackluster efforts that went into the vegan places' salad offerings. Stick with what the restaurants claim to be their focus, and you'll be good. But god help you if you order a salad at one of these places. Salads get treated like an afterthought.
4) Chelsea Art: OK, Chelsea is very well-known for its galleries, granted. On this trip we blew off the major museums in favor of dropping in on a bunch of galleries in the district. It was a good choice. The gallery staffs at all of the places were helpful, but did not hover. They are used to people walking in and treating the galleries more like museums. While the prices at some of the galleries would make one debate whether one needed a painting or a place to live, there were some that offered good quality pieces that wouldn't dent the wallet any deeper than would the purchase of a new (nice) bicycle. The only issue we had while we were in Chelsea was that there were so many galleries, we couldn't visit them all. We did go into several that had names we recalled from art history classes in college. But it is impossible to visit them all, because one can't spit in Chelsea without hitting a gallery - we know this, because we tried.
The next trips on my schedule are to very different worlds from Boston and NYC. Vegas and LA loom in the not-too-distant future. While not a fan of Sin City (at least the strip), I do love the City of Angels (actually prefer it to NY). I'll have more on that later.
One Final note: New Jersey gets a well-deserved bad rap for being one of the most singularly ugly places in the US. The portion of New Jersey that faces New York (places like West New York, NJ) , however, is fantastic. The Jerseyites er Jersians (whatever) living there have the best views of the city, a slightly less hectic lifestyle, and fantastically easy and cheap transportation into the city. They also have the best running trails/paths outside of Central Park (and again, with much better views). We ran along the Hudson every day on the Jersey side, and enjoyed the spotless, well-maintained walkways and stunning views. I would advise anyone wanting the best picture of the NYC skyline to take a shuttle through the tunnel to the Jersey side ($2.50 each way), and be amazed at the view. The round trip will take about 45 min. Nothing better.