The first week of March 2016, I had a chance to travel to New-York City after I booked an almost-last-minute cheap plane ticket (and got over-excited about it!). I have been to NYC twice before, therefore this time I wanted to explore the city on a more “local” mode, and even though I went again to some of the famous touristic attractions, I focused on discovering the city through activities that helped me understand better the New-Yorkers’ lifestyle. If you are interested in the main touristic attractions as well or would like a partial itinerary to follow during your next trip to New-York, you can surely read about my First Trip here (main attractions for first-timers) and about my Second Trip there (real itineraries to some more attractions and to some local activities less known by regular tourists).
This time I will not write a full itinerary of the 4 days that I’ve spent visiting the city as I had written for my 2 previous trips in New-York (click the links above this picture), it would not be relevant because I walked a lot and explored the different areas almost street by street at times, parallels and perpendiculars alike, Avenues and Streets, following the Grid to go from point A to point B, not necessarily with peculiar things to see in between (just the regular NY life). Here are instead the 20 most memorable highlights of my travel.
- A morning walk in Central Park along the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Honestly, any area in Central Park is worth a stroll, but the Reservoir has something special. I entered the Park on Central Park West at 93rd Street and got out at 81st Street in front of the impressive Museum of Natural History. I was lucky enough that the weather was sunny and that the snow that had fallen the morning before was still fresh in some areas, which made the decor look beautiful. Being on the West Side, I walked past the 2 magnificent towers showed on my featured picture, while I had at the same time an amazing view over the East Side Fifth Avenue skyline across the artificial lake.
- Explore the Lower East Side, known as the first historical Jewish quarter in New-York City. Back in the 19th Century, this is where the Bagel made-in-America was born, brought from Eastern Europe by a small Jewish community of migrants. Some century-old institutions are still operating today, the 2 most famous ones being Katz’s and Russ & Daughters, both located on East Houston Street. Walking in the Lower East Side was in fact the opportunity to discover more than that, as it is at the junction of the northern part of Chinatown and Little Italy, Nolita, and the southern part of East Village. This is where I went to the Essex Street Market, an indoor farmers market of small size in which I had the feeling that every local or foreign community owned one single booth each, to display and sell its national specialty items; i.e. there were booths selling items from Japan, Mexico, Greece or Jamaica, some of the shops were focused on produces while others sold cooked items to-go. Overall it was quite a nice market, and I even ran across an Italian store selling various kinds of imported olive oil, including one from Nice my hometown in the South of France! What were the odds?!
- On Broadway at 12th Street, go to the Strand Bookstore in Noho, and on Union Square stop at the Barnes and Nobles Bookstore. I love books, nice paper and decorated stationery items, I always have. In both bookstores, I’ve been happily (and very) surprised to find out that New-Yorkers really are into books (both stores were packed with crowds!) and that shelves also are loaded with quantities of notebooks, sketchbooks, letterhead paper and envelopes, well a whole lot of items that tend to disappear here in France, as people go all-electronics. I think it’s great that Americans still value that much the art of handwriting cards, thank you notes, Holidays wishes, and so on. In the Strand Bookstore, known as the “18-mile of books” store (that is to say how big it is!), I’ve been impressed by the number of books that were displayed in a bit of an old-style bookstore, with no room for nice and fancy decoration (unlike in Barnes and Nobles) but an entire space fully dedicated to books from floor to ceiling!
- Wander around the quiet and empty Streets of Nolita. This small area in the center of Manhattan is a quiet enclave of narrower streets full of trees, small shops and art galleries, where nobody goes. Well, at least not in the cold winter mornings, from what I’ve seen. This really made me wonder how the owners can run their business when there’s simply no customer around. In Prince St., you can visit the Old St Patrick Cathedral before going out of Nolita, which still remains a nice district to visit, or just go back the uptown direction on Broadway and admire the beautiful architecture of Grace Church.
- Go to the Guggenheim Museum. If you like contemporary art, but don’t want to spend too much of your time on it in case you’re, like me, on a tight travel schedule, this small museum is perfect. Exhibits change through the year, the architecture of the building itself is interesting with its continuous spiral linking the ground to the top, and the displayed objects go from silly to hilarious, from unknown to famous, from interesting to “WTF”, and from undefined to very down-to-earth. Tip: the Guggenheim museum goes on a “pay-what-you-wish” basis every Saturday from 5:45 pm to 7:45 pm (last tickets sold at 7:15 pm), so come early or be prepared for a long queue to come in.
- Eat some Lobster. New-York City is far from being on lobster shortage at the moment. It’s of great quality overall, however not all restaurants know how to cook it right and therefore you don’t always get what you pay for. I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting twice and spending time with Ziggy, hungry NYC blogger from Eating With Ziggy, who recommended the Lobster Roll and Fries, Connecticut-Style, from Cull & Pistol in the Chelsea Market, where we met for lunch. It’s basically fresh lobster chunks rolled in a buttered thick tender folded toast, and a tiny bit of mayonnaise. It looks amazing and tastes really really really good! It comes with delicious and crispy peppery skinny fries, ketchup and coleslaw on the side. Ziggy had the kindness and courtesy to take me around inside the Chelsea market and to show me the best places for both grocery shopping and great eats (I’ll need to make plans for my next trip!). I also hung around in the Bowery Kitchen Supplies store before leaving the market, there can be found both good deals and great rip-offs too, but it’s nice to rummage around in the store!
- Try to take pictures in front of the Charging Bull of Wall Street. I say “try” because chances are big that you won’t be able to go through with your plan, except if you show some patience and a good dose of daring attitude. In my case, I just arrived when 2 full buses of Chinese tourists were starting their photo shoot. That reminded me of some good old times travelling in China…! After a good 10 minutes wait and multiple attempts to make my way to the Bull, I ended up speaking Chinese to a lady from the group and asked her to take a picture of me with the bull, made my way through the crowd to it, and got it done! Winner!! Then just a block away, I went to
rest invisit the Trinity Church while a choir was rehearsing.
- Go to the Museum at the FIT. This is actually a school, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and it has a museum opened to the public, totally free of charge. Different exhibits follow various themes and show fashion through ages. When I was there, two themes were on: Jean’s and Denim through history, and Fairytale outfits. In all exhibits all year long, some of the world famous designers’s creations are displayed next to new designers’s items, and overall it’s quite nice to see for a short break on a crazy touring day, especially when it’s cold and snowy outside!
- Treat yourself with an American breakfast in a typical diner. On a Sunday morning (or any other day you like), there’s nothing more American than going to an old-style diner with leather striped benches, and order warm pancakes with butter, maple or corn syrup and sausages. Plan the details of your day while you wait for that delicious and energy-filling breakfast. As I was residing in the Upper West Side during my stay, I went to the Metro Diner on 101, W. Broadway, and it was great, food and service!
- Go to admire (again and again) the breathtaking architecture of the Flatiron building. I do not seem to get enough of this building and this area of New-York city! Words are useless. just look at my pictures, facing the Iron and seen from below on the east side.
- Enjoy quality food in Hell’s Kitchen and try some Middle-Eastern Food. New-York city is full of great options when it comes to worldwide foods and quality offerings that are not over-adapted to the American taste, and Middle-Eastern food makes no exception. You could, of course, try the food carts and enjoy very nice street Falafels, Schwarma, Gyros, Lamb over Rice, etc., but you also could sit in a tiny restaurant of Hell’s Kitchen called Gazala’s Place (recommended by Ziggy once more) and enjoy some real quality Hummus, Labneh, Babaganoush and Falafels. Israel on a plate!
- Go to Times Square. This seems to be inevitable. And I just love it anyway! Times Square is crazy, crowded, colorful, loud, magical, shiny, silly, and just makes everyone feel simply alive and ecstatic! For the first time, there was room on the stairs at the crossroad of Broadway and 7th Avenue and I was able to go on up and enjoy the view. I will never get enough of Times Square, this place is surreal, and if you thoroughly look around, there’s always something going on!
- Stuff your stomach with supra-delicious Pastrami Bagels that are insanely flavorsome. Although pastrami originated in Eastern Europe, it is now commonly used in Northern America and has almost disappeared from Europe in its original form (pale copies are sold in some supermarket chains, but the quality is far from the original). I went for the non-kosher version, with cream cheese. Pastrami bagel was my first and last meal during my NYC trip. I had the first one at Bagels and Schmear (Park and 28th), pastrami and olive cream cheese on an everything bagel. Heaven on Earth. The last one was at Ess-a-Bagel (3rd Av. and 51st St.), pastrami and veggie cream cheese on a wholewheat bagel. Heaven in Heaven. It was the very first time of my life I ever waited in line outside a store to buy a sandwich (which seems to be very NY-style though), but it was worth every bite! Bagels can be very filling, so I’d suggest a little digestive walk on the beautiful Lexington, Park, and Madison Avenues after lunch!
- Admire the beauty of New-York Public Library inside and out. It can be accessed on 42nd Street in Bryant Park. Known for the beauty of its painted and sculpted ceilings, otherwise entirely made of natural stones, the NY Public Library is a monument by itself. Students and researchers can access rare books, while the public can admire among other wonders one of the original existing exemplars of the Gutenberg’s Bible, the first book ever printed! I took a great shot of this Bible, but honestly, I chose not to post the picture because I want to leave it as a surprise for you. Go visit! Now you have to!
- Explore the Upper West Side by foot. This is one of the most residential areas of New-York city, within which its inhabitants really create a local life, stay in their district and enjoy their time within the area. The UWS is my favorite district in NYC. It is actually a district where it’s nice and enjoyable to just walk the streets and run your errands, first of all because it looks beautiful (the most beautiful brownstones of Manhattan are in the UWS), and second of all because although you can feel the NYC beat but you don’t have to necessarily run at the NYC fast pace. To sum-up my idea, let’s say that you’ve got everything available that New-York has to offer, without the crazy pace of NY life. In my opinion, the best area is located between 86th Street and 72nd Street (downtown direction is the best to walk) on Broadway and part of Amsterdam Avenue too. The same section is not so interesting on the parallels of West End Av. and Columbus Av., but on the other hand Central Park West simply is amazing!
- Pay a visit to the famous gourmet deli Zabar’s in the Upper West Side on Broadway at 79th Street. Fresh quality products, a stunning section of yummy deli foods, Jewish specialty items and kosher meals for take-out, a massive section of local and international cheeses to choose from, Zabar’s offers no less than that. They even have a sandwich shop next door with all sorts of delicacies to eat. I have tried something new to me, a sweet and savory item that I even had never heard of before, the Blintz: it’s a sort of lightly sweet (but not too sweet) soft crepe filled with a subtle mixture of ricotta cheese, cream cheese, vanilla, lemon, sugar and salt (as main ingredients). Eaten a bit warm, it is absolutely delicious! I MUST find a recipe to try that at home!!
- Wander about in the Upper East Side and Midtown East, and check out all the luxury stores and towers on the very chic Fifth Avenue. This is where the big money is. Within a few blocks, you’ll find the Trump Tower (sorry for the pic, with golden reflects everywhere it’s hard to take a clean shot, lol, and this is “very Trump” anyway), Tiffany’s, Bergdorf, The Plaza, etc., and will end up at the Rockefeller Center. The Saint Patrick Cathedral is worth a visit just across the street. A little prayer for forgiveness after you spent all your money on over expensive useless items?!
- Do you like cooking? Are you interested in how American (richer) housewives shop and cook? Visit a regular grocery store, then a WholeFoods Market (I went to the one in Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle near Central Park) and a Trader Joe’s (on 21st St. in the Flatiron district). I know, it sounds silly to include that kind of tour while I am on holidays and taking a break from my daily good wife’s routine, but honestly it was really interesting for me! This is so much different from what we have in France!! The way the food is displayed is so clean and lean, the variety of products in the deli sections is amazing, the diversity of ready-to-use sauces made my day, and I loved that some foods are okay to try before you buy (which is something that does not exist in my country except for special events organized in-store). I bought a few things to bring back home for my husband and I to try new things, which was a great idea! Click on the pictures to open a wider view (watch out, your mouth is going to start watering in 3, 2, 1…!)
- Go to Brooklyn for a weekend lunch. That sounds like a regular nice getaway activity for lots of people living or working in Manhattan all week. Brooklyn Heights Promenade offers great views of South Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. For a nice lunch, explore the south-west area of Red Hook, a former industrial zone below the Brooklyn piers that used to be operative docks. Now the numerous warehouses have been re-modeled and host new businesses, whereas the seaside zone per sé has been re-designed to host restaurants, most of them serving lobster, seafoods and crab-based items.
- Finally, wander the streets of Brooklyn. Especially the north-west area is very nice and full of houses made of brownstones again. The atmosphere is nothing like Manhattan. This is the most populated borough of New-York City, but surprisingly lots of areas in Brooklyn can offer peace and quiet times while being outside discovering the borough.
That was the first time in years that I had gone on a solo trip and had arranged to meet some people along the way. It was really nice and fun, and I got to see (and eat) great things everyday! I can’t wait for the next chance to travel again to anywhere as interesting as NYC in the world!
Finally, you surely noticed I love food, so before you leave this page, I’d be very pleased and honored that you check out the page dedicated to my Cookbook.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi, © 2016 All Rights Reserved.
All itineraries also are created by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi, © 2016 All Rights Reserved, and may not be used as such by a third party for any commercial purpose without prior written agreement with the Author.