Monday, May 07, 2007

"The Bronx is Up, The Battery's Down"

"The people ride in a hole in the ground.
New York, New York, it's a heck of a town."

New York Trip: Day 1

This last weekend we went to NYC for a family vacation. This was to be the first time for us to travel as a family where we were not specifically visiting family and where Dada was old enough to really understand where she was. I happened to need to be in Philadelphia on Friday so we made a weekend out of it. [All the pictures of this trip are in Flickr set, NYC Trip May 2007. Most of the pictures are friends and family only.]

We started with a very early flight from Austin to Philadelphia Friday morning. Our flight left Austin at 5:40 a.m. Of course, Dada woke up as we were putting her in the car and stayed awake until we were in the cab heading to my appointment outside Philadelphia, where she fell sound asleep.

Dada was a great traveler. We really didn't know what to expect but we knew that with any 3-year-old you have to be prepared for anything. As it happened, Dada only had two very minor meltdowns, the first when we tried to put the seatbelt on her on the plane in Austin, the second when we tried to put the belt on her in the cab from the Philly airport. Other than that she was happy and delightful the whole time. I think too that in the future we will try to schedule our travel to not be at quite such horrendous times.

Our plan was to take the train from Philly to NYC. We were assured that from where my meeting was, we could take a cab around 4:00 and easily catch the 5:15 train to Penn Station. The next regional train left Philly at about 6:30, so I really wanted to get that earlier train so we wouldn't be rolling into NYC really late.

We got our cab at 4:00 and started toward the 30th street Amtrak station in downtown Philadelphia, only to discover that traffic all over the area was jammed. Our poor cab driver was pretty stressed. He ended up taking really twisty back ways, but he finally got us to the train station at 5:05. We rushed in, Julie and Dada got in line for the ticket booth and I went to a kiosk to try to buy tickets. I was able to do so, after a couple of maddening false starts and we rushed for the track, which meant getting in a long line of people heading down a single escalator. But we got on the train with two minutes to spare and were headed for NYC.

In the run-up to the trip we had been explaining to Dada that we would be going to "New York City", to which she would respond "New York City?! Oh my gosh!". We have no idea where she got that, but it was painfully cute.

We arrived at Penn Station tired but happy to finally be within striking distance of our hotel. We hadn't had much to eat all day so we stopped at the first Deli we came to in the train station and had a sandwich and something to drink. Fed, we headed up and out of the station, stopping at an ATM to replenish our cash supply (the cabs in the Philly area had been way more expensive than I had expected).

We popped up into the bright afternoon sun there on 7th ave in front of Madison Square Garden. There was a long queue for cabs so we started to head for the subway until we realized we had no idea how to actually get on the subway, except that we knew we needed fare cards. So we got in the cab line and waited.

P1000069The line actually went quite quickly and soon we were on our way to the Tutor Hotel at the UN, which is between 3rd and 2nd avenues on 42nd street, on the edge of the Tudor Village, in the shadow of the Chrysler building. We got into our room without too much trouble. I had booked the room with Expedia and it was supposed to have had a queen bed but it just had a double. We were so tired that by the time we realized the problem we weren't willing to deal with it then.

Dada was wound up and Julie needed a rest and a little time to herself after a long day of wrangling Dada while I had my meeting, so Dada and I went down to the street to see what was happening.

P1000024As it happened, there was a little playscape just down the block from the hotel. The Tudor Village is this little collection of quaint brick buildings that sits just south of the UN building. There is a little park complex that sits above 42nd St. with playscapes on both sides. So Dada and I spent about 30 minutes playing on the playscape and enjoying the beautiful spring evening air. Dada was demanding ice cream so we walked over to a little bodega that was right there and got an ice cream bar. We sat in a little park to eat it, listening to the sounds of some kids having a whiffle ball game in back of one of the buildings next to the park (we know it was whiffle ball because at one point a whiffle ball came flying over the fence).

Finally we went back to the room and went to sleep, with Dada "camping out" on the floor, after a few plaintive declarations that she wanted to sleep on the bed.

The next morning I went back to the bodega to grab some bagels and coffee while Dada slept, coming back to the room just as she was waking up. We ate our breakfast and got our acts together and headed out, our eventual destination being the Museum of Natural History, by way of Time's Square.

P1000043We walked down 42nd Street, stopping in at Grand Central Station to check it out and see if we could figure out how to get a fare card. No dice (we just didn't know where to go and hadn't noticed the dedicated subway entrance on Park Ave.). So we continued on to Times Square, where we discovered that Broadway was blocked off following what we assumed was a celebration for Spiderman3, given that there was red and white confetti everywhere. We walked around and tried to find an uptown subway entrance, with no luck, although we were able to get a subway map at the Times Square information booth.

P1000047Finally, tired and frustrated, we stopped into the Hello Deli, of David Letterman fame, and had a cup of coffee and a snack. The lady behind the counter told us that we could find a bathroom at the Starbucks around the corner and that there was a subway entrance across the street. Both were sort of true, except the Starbucks she pointed us to was a My First Starbucks with no bathroom, but there was one half a block up that did. We stood in line and eventually everyone got their potty break. Then we went to the subway entrance, only to discover that it was weekdays only. Doh!

We were starting to get a little stressed, as we were only at 53rd St. and didn't really want to walk even to Columbus Circle at 59th (the south edge of Central Park), much less the museum up at 89th. We wanted a cab but didn't see too many, partly because the closure of Broadway had undoubtedly diverted many cabs. But finally I was able to flag one down and he whisked us to the museum.

P1000049We got to the Museum of Natural History at about 11:00. Dada was very excited to see dinosaur bones, partly because she had her own "bone" (a little plastic bone pool toy) and she wanted to re-enact a Curious George episode where George tries to trade a bone he found for a dinosaur bone. We saw dinosaurs and stuff then decided to get lunch at the cafe at the dinosaur area. Sadly it was closed, so it was back down to the 1st floor to another cafe. Had some decent food then started heading out toward the park to enjoy the beautiful weather and get some ice cream, which Dada was very keen on. On the way we looked at dioramas of birds and Asian animals and stuff. Oh, and while we were waiting in line for the bathroom (apparently there was only one bathroom on the 1st floor, a family bathroom), Dada spent a lot of time studying the large snail display. She appears to have developed a solid interest in snails. [She also recognized the Continental logo as a snail ("are we going to fly one with a snail?"), which it looks a little like, at least compared to the large brown and white snails we've been finding in our yard.]

Eventually we popped back out into the day. We got some ice cream and sat down on a bench to each it, with Dada eating the chocolate coating while Julie and I ate the ice cream itself.

By now it was time to start heading back toward the hotel for nap time, so we wandered south, staying close to the edge of the park so we could pop back out and get on the subway. We wanted Dada to run around in the park but she would have none of it, wanting to ride in the sling. So I carried her in the sling as she got sleepier and sleepier. We eventually found the 72nd St. station, bought a couple of fare cards after a little trying (the machine wouldn't accept my ATM card when I tried to buy the second card) and went in, only to realize we'd gone in on the uptown side. But we had unlimited ride cards so we just went out and found the downtown side. Finally we made our way to Grand Central, Dada sleeping like a baby. We had to transfer at some point, I think at Penn station, which was a long walk, but we made it.

We got back to the hotel, Dada still asleep, and put her on the bed, where she immediately woke up. We also discovered that one of her tennis shoes was missing, having come off at some point on our subway trip. Julie had bought these shoes in Philly as we'd failed to bring anything other than flip flops for Dada in our haste to leave Friday morning. Oh well.

P1000067We tried to nap but Dada was awake and not going back to sleep and I couldn't really sleep, so Dada and I went back out to play on the playscape while Julie napped. There were a number of kids at the playground and Dada had fun playing with them. Unfortunately for Julie, Housekeeping came around and chased her out of the room, so she came and kept us company.

From a family standpoint, the Tudor Hotel worked out really well, being right there in a very family-friendly neighborhood. We definitely got a little of the experience of what it's like to live in NYC with children, at least in a place where relatively wealthy people live. The main downside was that the closest subway was several long blocks away at Grand Central. But it was otherwise a nice hotel--I think we got a deal because the UN is out of session and they were having a "grand reopening", have named the hotel back to the Hotel Tudor after having been a Comfort Inn or some such for a little while (this name change seriously confused one of our cab drivers).

About four or so it was time to head towards dinner.

P1000068We had decided to go to Little Italy for Italian food. We collected our jackets, made one last potty stop at the hotel, and headed back up 42nd St. to catch the subway at Grand Central. As we were walking, miracle of miracles, we saw Dada's lost tennis shoe waiting for us right on the corner of 3rd Ave and 42nd St. We were amazed and quite happy.

P1000073We found the right subway line and headed down to the Canal St. stop, coming up out into a very different city at Canal and Lexington, where Chinatown and Little Italy overlap. We walked up to Mulberry and found our destination restaurant, a place our "New York with Children" guidebook had suggested as good but moderately priced. It was a great place, full of people and Italian-speaking waiters. At one point the owner, a man in his 60's, came over and fussed over Dada's pasta, taking it back to the kitchen to add some water and butter and then feeding it to her. She was a little taken aback at first but then gladly accepted the food.

After our dinner we wandered up Mulberry, taking in the sights of Little Italy, in search of a place to get some, yes, ice cream. We stopped at a little Italian bakery and gelato place, where I had an amazingly good cup of espresso, we all had fantastic little cookies, and then we had very good chocolate gelato.

P1000075Sated, we headed on into the setting sun. After a couple of blocks we decided it was time to head back to the hotel and dropped into the subway to go back north.

We were back in the room about 9:00. Julie succeeded in getting Dada to sleep on the floor while I took some pain killers and a hot bath to help my back, which was a little stressed from a day of carrying Dada around in the sling.

But we'd had a wonderful first day in NYC, with perfect weather and only a few travel snafus and two minor miracles (the other being that some hats we'd bought and left at the Italian restaurant were still there when we went back after eating our ice cream and realizing we'd left the hats, which we realized because we bought a little bag of cookies and wanted to put them in the hat bag to carry).

Our plan for day two was to eat dim sum in Chinatown and then visit the Statue of Liberty before heading out to Newark Airport for our 8:20 p.m. flight back to Austin.

Next up: Day 2, Wooden Ships on the Water


At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot fricking believe you found the shoe. And on what quaint little boulevard, what winding, tree-shaded country road again? 42nd Fricking Street?

Also, I'm very impressed that you carried Dada in the sling. We went to NYC with 3 year old in tow, thinking we could snub the stroller as we so often do. We were cowed by day two (and too many city blocks of carrying, albeit without sling) and broke down and bought one.

So far, this is looking like a great trip, and, given y'all's writing talents, even the not-so-great parts make a wonderful story. Hurry up and post day two!!



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