Friday, March 8, 2013

We Went to New York City -- And Survived!

Kristi and I have just returned from our first trip to New York City together (and my first trip there ever). It was a whirlwind tour. Because my travel life can be summed up on one Google Map, I was concerned, never having been to the big city. I don't really like not knowing how to do things I need to (like check in and out of hotels, park, get a taxi, etc.), and I don't particularly like people, so, while I was looking forward to the trip, I was a bit anxious. After the first couple days though, I was navigating the city like a pro.

We arrived Monday afternoon (my boss drove, fortunately) and left Friday afternoon (on the MegaBus). The ride and accommodations were paid for by AccuWeather; in turn, I attended about 15 events at Social Media Week 2013. I hoped for a hotel with a view, and I got one. The Hampton Inn in Soho is a 19-floor building (we stayed on the 15th floor). As if the view out our window wasn't crazy enough...

The view from the 19th floor balcony (which Kristi discovered on Tuesday) was even better...
Our hotel, and all the SMW events, were in Manhattan, so I didn't actually set foot on Long Island (which is mostly residential and not as tourist-trappy, but also more drab and dangerous, according to locals). Manhattan has come a long way in the last 10 years. Giuliani really cleaned the place up and Manhattan is a great place to visit today. Most tourist attractions, including but not limited to the Empire State Building, Times Square, 9/11 Memorial, New York Public Library, Central Park, Penn Station and Grand Central Station, and the American Museum of Natural History are all there.
I'll attempt a day-by-day description of our adventures here, though I'm sure I'll forget something. I didn't want this vacation to be one of those where I take a lot of good pictures, then forget about the whole thing. So here goes... (time-lapse video of our car ride near the city below):

MONDAY FEB. 18, 2013:
It's about a 5-hour trip from State College. We stopped at a Subway (in a CostCo) in the Poconos for lunch. Before you know it, we were starting seeing signs of the city. That's when I adhered my GoPro HERO3 wide-angle camera to the rental car's windshield and started taping. Here's what it the approach to Manhattan (through the Holland tunnel) looks like at 200x speed:

Our hotel room was TINY (but of course, this is New York City, so all stores & rooms are tiny. That was the biggest difference I noticed in our hotel. The view out the window though, as noted above, was great -- and a little overwhelming.

My first task was to go uptown to the Radio City building where AccuWeather has an office.

Fortunately my boss helped me flag down a cab. I've probably been in a cab a couple times in my life, but I paid great attention, knowing I would have to do it on my own the next morning. Cabs have come a long way in the last 20 years. In NYC, they have TVs in the back which provide local news and (of course) the AccuWeather forecast. You can also bring up a map with a GPS tracker of the taxi's location.

You should also know this: The roads in Manhattan are TERRIBLE, the experience is akin to continually running over railroad tracks. And the cabbies FLY, sometimes at 40-50 mph (even though the city speed limit is 30). We ended up with a nice melting pot of cabbies over the next 24 hours -- from Pakistani and Indian to Russian, German, and Jamaican (the last fellow who brought us back to the hotel, who, while engaging in small talk with us, said "I luv da city doh. Wouldn't give it up for the world, mon.")

Disappointingly, the AccuWeather office wasn't open, so we took a cab right back to the hotel. My boss had a dinner date, so Kristi and I began walking uptown, looking for a place she had heard of called "Papaya Dog" (claiming the best hot dogs in the city, although of course it isn't the only one that boasts this). We were also determined to find the Lomography camera for Kristi, because she's super into film cameras (blame the hipsters for bringing those back).

Our walk was interesting and we wanted to stop and take pictures of everything. I couldn't believe it, here I was in the biggest city in the nation. 8 million called this place home - more than Los Angeles and Chicago COMBINED. Much of the city's patrons were tourists, and it was a great cross-section of people. English wasn't heard as much as other languages.

First we stopped at a Record Store (yes, kids, a real record store). It was super campy and had two cool gray cats.

We then found the Lomography store first, and I took pictures within while Kristi investigated their wares. After emerging from there, we went to the Papaya Dog (so named because of a famous Papaya drink, which I had, but was not overwhelmed by). The hot dogs were great, as advertised: Gourmet Hot Dogs. One of our goals when we came to New York City was to eat cheaply. A lot of people said it couldn't be done, but a soda and two hot dogs for both of us was only $10 at Gray's Papaya. The next night we came back, and discovered that you could get two slices of pizza for $2.50, so it's possible to eat there for as little as $5.

NOTE: Predictably, I was never able to finish this blog. Here's a GoPro Hero2 video that compiles my various cab trips and (I think) gives you a flavor of the city: