New York City with No Agenda

Whenever we travel to a location that we’ve never been to before or one that has too many attractions to visit in a single trip, we make sure that we prioritize the places we want to see, but leave time for the unexpected. We just got back from a four day trip to New York City and we made the most of our time, but still left room for exploring. We used to live on the east coast, so we’d been to New York City a couple of times, but just for day trips, in and out with a few hours in the city, so we were excited to spend several days and immerse ourselves into what the city has to offer. We had a few priorities while we were there, the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, seeing a Broadway show, and eating a New York style pizza, but we purposely left room for opportunities that might arise. By the time our trip was over, we had an unbelievable time and have tremendous memories of the sites, the food, and the people we met.

Central Park
Central Park
Dona and Pete on Top of the Rock
Dona and Pete on Top of the Rock
Empire State Building
Empire State Building

We arrived in New York City on Saturday, July the 4th, and obviously the city was abuzz with excitement for the fireworks, but our first destination couldn’t have been more different. Being from Colorado, the heat and humidity of New York was somewhat of an adjustment. As we arrived by taxi, a billboard taunted us with the Minus 5 Ice Bar, a bar where the tables, glasses, seats, and the walls were all made of ice. We dawned fur coats and gloves and a few drinks later we were ready to start exploring the city. We always like to take our first day and try to acclimate ourselves to our surroundings, so we made our way to the streets of midtown Manhattan and worked our way towards Rockefeller Center. After a couple of glasses of wine at the Rock Center Café Summer Garden and Bar, we saw Radio City Music Hall and the theatre for the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, found a little restaurant for some food, and by the time the lights of the city were burning bright, we made our way to Time Square for some pure tourist photo opps.

Time Square
Time Square
NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza
NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza
Minus 5 Bar
Minus 5 Bar

Day 2, now was the time to start making sure that we hit some of the attractions that were important to us. Our first stop was at the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center with amazing views of the city including a view over the roof of our hotel, which was just two blocks from Central Park. Even if you have a little bit of vertigo, seeing the city from these heights simply can’t be missed. After viewing the city in all of its glory, we went to Central Park to get some lunch. As is our typical practice, we asked several locals where we should go. We knew that Tavern on the Green was quite famous, but everyone we asked said to go to Loeb Boathouse on the lake, we were not disappointed. Gondolas and row boats in the lake, a wonderful bar for wine while we waited with the throngs for a table, and as luck would have it, we met Bill Cower and his wife as they too were waiting. Apparently there is no expecting celebrity status here. Fortified with a good meal, we were off to explore Hell’s Kitchen and find a place to watch the finals of the Women’s World Cup. After sticking our noses in a couple of interesting places, we found the Mercury Bar that was right for us, with a good crowd, good food, and plenty of excitement for the game.

Loeb Boathouse in Central Park
Loeb Boathouse in Central Park
Central Park Fountain
Central Park Fountain
Loeb Boathouse
Loeb Boathouse
Freedom Tower in NYC
Freedom Tower in NYC

We’d gotten plenty of suggestions on where to get the best slice of pie in town and one place definitely stood out as far as recommendations. So, on our next full day in the city we grabbed a cab and headed towards lower Manhattan. When we arrived at the restaurant, mouths watering, the sign on the door Arturos indicated that they didn’t open until 4:00 pm, our pizza experience was going to have to wait. These are the little surprises that make a trip that more enjoyable. After walking a few blocks heading towards the 9/11 Memorial, we came across a tiny Italian restaurant and stopped to check out the menu. The owner came out to greet us, full Italian accent, ingratiating smile, and we had to stay for lunch. We couldn’t have been more pleased, Peplino Restaurant was one of the most satisfying meals of our entire trip. Once our stomachs and souls were nurtured, we continued on to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Words cannot describe how emotionally overwhelming it is to relive that horrific day through audio, video, and tactile content that truly moves the soul. Someday soon, we’ll talk specifically about that experience, but it is too much for a single post about New York City. Upon leaving the memorial museum, we were emotionally exhausted, but there was more of the city to be seen and we were determined to get our New York slice, so we headed north towards Arturos. Luckily we arrived just in time, this place definitely has a reputation for a reason and the place was packed with locals, always a good sign. We order a full pizza, knowing that it will likely be too much for us, but every bite was as delicious as the next, and for another few moments, we felt like locals sitting in our local watering hole.  Our day wasn’t done yet, though.  It was a long walk back to the hotel from Arturos (100 blocks), about half way, we were ready for a break and we were fortunate to find the Belgium Beer Café just in time for their happy hour.  Oysters and Manhattans while we were in Manhattan seemed a must.

Pizza at Arturos
Pizza at Arturos
Freedom Tower
Freedom Tower
9/11 Memorial
9/11 Memorial
Pasta of the day at Peplino
Pasta of the day at Peplino
Ravioli of the day at Pepolino
Ravioli of the day at Pepolino
Manhattan at the Belgium Beer Cafe
Manhattan at the Belgium Beer Cafe
Oysters at the Belgium Beer Cafe
Oysters at the Belgium Beer Cafe

With one full day left in the city, we booked our Broadway show, “Finding Neverland”, and started out for a full day of enjoyment. Today was the day to do the Empire State Building, more incredible views of the city and another stark reminder of the loss of the twin towers. After enjoying such an incredible view of the city, lunch was in order and we lucked out by finding another little restaurant where local’s way outnumbered any tourists. Parker & Quinn was quiet when we arrived, but most of the people in the know knew to make reservations, even for lunch. They wouldn’t be disappointed, featuring a menu of small fares, an English style of tapas, they provided a variety of exquisite nibbles that hit mark.   After an afternoon of roaming the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, we found an Irish restaurant with a good happy hour and excellent food called the Malloy’s Irish Pub and from there we were off to Broadway. The show was incredible, we laughed, we cried, we were thoroughly entertained.

Tapas at Parker & Quinn
Tapas at Parker & Quinn
Scallops at Parker & Quinn
Scallops at Parker & Quinn
Pete and Dona at the Empire State Building
Pete and Dona at the Empire State Building
Playbill for Finding Neverland
Playbill for Finding Neverland

All in all, it couldn’t have been a better trip. We were about to jump in a rental car and head to Valley Forge Pennsylvania for our son’s wedding, but everything about the trip was as magical as we had hoped. We weren’t on a schedule, rushing from attraction to attraction, but we saw incredible sights, met amazing people, and actually decompressed from our day to day lives and enjoyed a completely new environment. As we left New York City, we looked at each other and said, “We could live here, we like the energy, all of the variety that the city has to offer, it is our kind of city”. But we have many more adventures ahead of us, maybe we’ll decide to make a bold move and head to New York City or who knows, we’ll have to see what other locations move us to the point of making an adventurous decision.

A Tale of Two Vacation Styles

Not surprisingly, as our lives have changed so has the way that we take our vacations.  When we were younger, our vacations were all about the kids.  We refer to those days as the time when we took “education vacations”.  It was all about museums, national parks, and an occasional amusement park.  Now, as we’ve gotten a little older and the kids are off on their own adventures, our vacations are more like the honeymoon we never had.  Sometimes we might spend all of our time sitting on a beach or by the pool, not moving much except to grab a drink or head to a restaurant for lunch or dinner.  Other times we like to wander the streets of an unknown city, stopping randomly to grab a bite or have a drink at a local watering hole while we’re on our way to some special attraction.

Old Time Family Photo
Old Time Family Photo

We really enjoyed the vacations we spent with the kids, although budgets were tighter in those days, so many of our vacations were dictated by places that were within driving distance for us.  It didn’t matter how much we may have had to tighten our belts, we always felt that it was important for the kids to see different sights and learn interesting facts about the world and the country we live in.  We would drive to Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Roswell New Mexico, or just travel around the beautiful state we live in, Colorado.  Some trips were more elaborate, like driving to Vegas and then onto Disneyland and California, or visiting Washington DC, Williamsburg, or Philadelphia.  One of the things that we always tried to do to make the trips more memorable as well as educational was to get the kids involved in activities when we traveled.  We have wonderful memories of the kids digging for fossils, going on ranger led hikes, or enjoying guided tours in the museums.  Another tradition of ours was that we would always go out for at least one special dinner while we were on vacation and we would let the kids try whatever they liked, the only rule was that they had to be willing to try new and different things.

Standing in Front of the Louvre
Standing in Front of the Louvre

Nowadays we basically have two types of vacations.  We are either heading to a place of complete relaxation such as the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Punta Cana, and to the mountains to relax in Beaver Creek, Aspen, and Breckenridge.  The second type of vacation, which is our favorite, is to travel to locations that are more exotic such as India, Morocco, Spain, France, and England.  Wherever we go, our goal is to live like a local the entire time that we’re there.  Even in locations such as India and Morocco, our goal is to try different local dishes every day.  One of the best ways to enjoy as much food as a destination can offer is to stop at several restaurants, grabbing small bites at each one, instead of sitting down to a large meal at a single location.  We want to understand the culture of the people who surround us and attempt to learn at least enough basic phrases to meet, greet, and ask questions of those we meet.  It only takes a little effort on our part to make some new friends and feel like we truly immersed ourselves into a new world.

We look forward to sharing some of those past adventures with you over the coming weeks and months as well as sharing some of the restaurants and locations that we’ll be experiencing in the very near future.