It’s true. It was my first-ever visit to the city that never sleeps and I didn’t even visit Central Park. Or the Statue of Liberty. Or the Empire State Building. Or Brooklyn Bridge. Nope. What a waste of time, right?
WRONG. I may not have visited the major tourist attractions but I believe I got a real feel for the city in the short time I was there. My stay in New York City was split between two days: the Friday and the Monday that sandwiched my weekend trip to Lake Placid. I arrived early enough on Friday to get somewhat of an introduction to the city, and my flight back home on Monday was late enough in the evening for me to spend several more hours getting to know it better. When traveling to a new place, especially solo and to a place as enormous and as intimidating as New York City, it’s nice to know people there. I’m lucky; I have a number of friends in the city, a couple of whom offered to spend some time showing me around.
I flew into LaGuardia on Friday morning and took a cab from there to my friend Marisa’s apartment in Jackson Heights. It was a short ride but it gave me the chance to have my first look at a real New York City neighborhood. Marisa showed me around her newly-purchased apartment (she’s a transplant from Texas) and then she and I made our way to the subway to go into Manhattan. Don’t ask me which train we rode or where we exited because I have no idea. One of the perks of having a personal tour guide is not having to worry about figuring out public transportation. Marisa took me past Radio City Music Hall and then over to Rockefeller Center, where I got a shot similar to the scene we always see on television (the ice skating rink with that big, gold statue in the background). Then it was over to Times Square for the obligatory tourist shot, which was easy for Marisa to capture since it was virtually empty. The weather probably had a lot to do with that. It was gray and rainy all day. Next stop was Koreatown for lunch. Not having any specific restaurant in mind, we chose Shilla Korean Barbecue because we saw a group of actual Korean people go in. We figured if the place is good and authentic enough for them, then it’s good enough for us. Apparently that group knew what was up because I thoroughly enjoyed my samgyupsal gui (grilled pork belly). The amount of food brought to our table was ridiculous and all so delicious.
It was time for me to start making my way to Penn Station to meet up with Craig of StayAdventurous, one of my travel mates for the weekend Lake Placid trip. On the walk over, Marisa and I passed Madison Square Garden and, even though I didn’t get to see inside the arena, this hockey fan was quite excited to at least see the outside of it. We also walked past a trio of New York Rangers players on their way to the rink and my inner 18-year-old squealed a bit.
Of course the insanely fun Lake Placid weekend just flew by and I found myself back in New York City late Sunday night. I had plans for the following day to see more of the city with Lisa, a family friend and native New Yorker. As my brother described her, Lisa is “Ms. New York”. She proved it by being the ultimate planner and tour guide!
My and Lisa’s family both are Italian-American so she knew I would want to visit New York’s Little Italy. It was on the itinerary as our first stop via Chinatown. We took the subway from her AMAZING Manhattan apartment and I browsed the vendor stalls along Canal Street before arriving at Mulberry Street. We turned the corner and it was like I had come home. Having grown up in Chicago’s Little Italy, at a time when the neighborhood was so much more ethnic than it is now, Mulberry Street was a pleasant reminder of how things used to be. We ducked into a few shops and I picked up Tombola Napoletana (Italian bingo, as I described it to Lucia) for my mom. We also paid a visit to Alleva, “the oldest Italian cheese store in America”. Or, as I like to think of it, heaven. I was able to sample some cheeses and I left with a hunk of pecorino to bring home (so The Working Dad could replicate this dish we loved so much in Italy).
When in Little Italy, one must eat, right? Good thing it was lunchtime because I was ready. Lisa suggested Da Gennaro, where I had a plate of pappardelle (my second favorite type of pasta) with mushrooms in a light tomato cream sauce. It hit the spot. It was filling, though I could have eaten more, but there was a promise of cannoli later on so I amazingly exercised some will power. To get to said cannoli, we walked through NoLIta, stopping in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral; past several NYU campus buildings; through Washington Square Park; and ultimately landed at Pasticceria Rocco in Greenwich Village. Lisa had been bragging about the cannoli all day and I was on board until we walked into Rocco’s and everything in the pastry display case started calling my name. Cannoli aren’t my favorite Italian dessert (I know, right? Bad Italian girl!), so I opted to try miniature versions of a few of the other delicacies and washed it all down with a cappuccino.
I could have sat there for hours enjoying the atmosphere and the company, but I had a plane to catch, and a train to catch before that. So it was back to Lisa’s apartment to gather my belongings and begin my journey home.
I’m sure New Yorkers hate to hear this, but New York City seemed to me like a bigger Chicago. It’s a good thing, in my eyes, as I felt completely comfortable and at home. I’m not upset that I didn’t visit any of the “big” attractions, like Central Park and the Statue of Liberty. I would much rather explore the various neighborhoods, as I prefer to do whenever I visit a new city, and get a feel for local, every-day life. Moreover, it gives me a perfectly valid reason to have to travel to New York City again. And again.