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Christmas Time in New York City

Author: Host Ciao
Date of Trip: December 2009

When I read about people canceling trips to New York, all I could think of is that if I did not already have plans for a long, longed-for trip to Rome, I would be planning a return trip to NYC, bedbugs be damned! I love New York and after my 13 days there last December, I would definitely go back at the same time when I can.

There is something magical about Christmas in the big city — not just the beautiful windows, the decorated buildings, the crowds, and, of course, the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree, but all the other fun activities of NYC are there at Christmas too. And I will admit I covered a lot of them.

To me New York City means theatre, and when I am there I take in as many plays as I can afford. In fact I started buying tickets in June and bought one or two a month, a method that helps me afford this pleasure. Believe me if I were going this year, I would have bought a ticket the very day I read in the “New York Times” about Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones starring in “Driving Miss Daisy.”

This is what I did last year the day I read about “A Little Night Music” starring Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta Jones — Wonderful! And I don’t believe I hesitated more than a day when I read about Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman in “A Steady Rain” — also Wonderful! I also thoroughly enjoyed “Hair” for the fourth or fifth time, “39 Steps,” Finnian’s Rainbow, and a revival of “Bye, Bye Birdie.” I had to see that because it was one of the first two Broadway musicals I had every seen, 49 years ago. The other? Camelot! No wonder I fell in love with New York theatre.

Another theatrical highlight was a back stage tour of the theater where Phantom is playing. I had seen the play twice so didn’t plan on doing so again. However, before I left for New York I had connected with the editor of the first yearbook staff I ever advised (50 years earlier). He has long lived in New York and had worked some in stage design. He knew one of the wardrobe women for Phantom and arranged for us to see the back stage area and costume closets. That was great fun and those costumes are every bit as heavy as they look. We then at dinner at Sardi’s on the actors’ menu because she was able to do that and bring guests. The actors’ menu is a long standing tradition for people in the theatre, and is quite a bit less expensive than the regular menu.

Let me get back to Christmas a bit. If you don’t like crowds you probably will find some times that you would rather be some place else. I’m not a lover of being in big crowds, buts there are times it doesn’t matter, and this was one. Let me illustrate the crowds. My hotel was near 5th Avenue so on the second Saturday evening I was there I was walking to St. Patrick’s for 5:30 Mass. Right across from the tree in Rockefeller Center is Saks Fifth Avenue with fun decorated windows.

The crowd there was so dense that “body gridlock” is about the only way I can describe it. I was beginning to wonder if I would make it to the church on time. Finally I managed to move sideways toward a door. I cut through the store and came out across a side street from St. Patrick’s and got there on time. And the Mass was very crowded too. So many people went to Communion that the priest saying Mass said the final prayers while others were still giving out Communion.

I enjoyed Christmas displays at Macy’s when I went down to the Empire State Building one night. I hadn’t been there for a number of years. I also took a Gray Line Holiday Lights tour and another evening bus tour, which dropped us off for a short walk in Little Italy, where there were more holiday lights to enjoy. And who could skip the Rockettes and the fantastic Radio City Christmas show. I had seen it the year before, but would go again any time. After the 5 p.m. show was over I headed to the Top of the Rock for great views of the city from that angle. I enjoyed a Cirque du Soleil Christmas/Winter show too, “Wintuk.” Since I had never seen a Cirque production, this was especially fun.

One of the “regular” tourist activities I enjoyed included the Statue of Liberty, and this time I added a visit to the museum in the base. This was very interesting. I also spent more time on Ellis Island than I had before and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you do this boat trip don’t be surprised when you return to the city to find several “statues of liberty” just begging for you to have your picture taken with them! I also toured the United Nations with one of the guides, a very interesting time.

The Neapolitan Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum is naturally beautiful. Be sure to time it so you are looking at it when they turn on the lights. I was sorry that no photos were allowed, but there are lots of postcards available. I also enjoyed several other areas of the museum. Another beautiful tree is the Origami tree at the Museum of Natural History, where you are greeted by the large wreathed dino topiaries outside.

I took two really interesting walking tours with my favorite walking tour company, Context Travel. They have fairly recently branched out from several places in Europe to include New York City and Philadelphia. The first tour was called New York Architecture. We walked 42nd Street from near the East River through Times Square to the new McGraw Hill Building. Visits in side several buildings were featured. The second tour was Central Park, American Landscape. This was a bit of a history tour, which discussed the ideas for the park and the design theories. Both were very interesting. You can find the Context site on line.

Another tour I thoroughly enjoyed for the second time was the Enthusiastic Gourmet’s Melting Pot Tour. We started at Essex Market and toured there tasting 3 or 4 cheeses at one of the stores in the Market. We went to Economy Candy, which is a dream of old-time penny and nickel candy filling shelf after shelf — a real nostalgia trip. At a Kosher bakery I tasted a sesame bagel, a real New York bagel with a shiny crust from the local water. We also watched a Kosher matzo bakery at work and tasted the matzo. At a Chinese bakery I had a two steamed buns, a savory sticky rice wheat bun and a sweet peanut and coconut filled rice flour bun. A return to the Pickle Guys gave me a chance to taste their pickled pepper and pickled garlic from a choice of many different barrels of “all things pickled” or at least so it seemed. We ended the tour at an Italian restaurant where I had a mini pastry that I can’t spell.

I also visited the World Trade Center Tribute, well worth a visit as is St. Paul’s Church, which is full of 9/11 history. I also added a walking tour that left from the Tribute Center. This was lead by two women. One lives in the area and had been away that day and could not go home for quite a while. The other lady had lost her fireman husband in the tragedy. This was a very interesting and moving walk. Sort of in connection with this I visited both the Police and Firemen museums. They are not really close to each other but easily found on maps and with public transportation.

Another new place I visited was the African Burial Ground, a new National Park near Wall Street.  It is set up to tell the history of the many African slaves who were brought to New York and who died here and were buried in unmarked graves.  Some of these graves were found when digging for a new building.  So this memorial is the result of the finding.  There are interesting exhibits to see, and I also heard a very informative and interesting presentation.

Another bus tour I took before I came home was Gray Line’s Sunday morning Gospel tour. The guide couldn’t give us much information at the start of the trip because we were going through areas covered in other tours. However, as soon as we reached the Harlem area, we learned about the history from the Revolution and also saw well-known buildings. We then spent time in a black church with a concert which included a short prayer. After the concert we left so the parishioners could have their regular service.

During this trip I stayed near Times Square. Of course, it cost me a bit more than I might normally spend, but I know this area well and traveling alone I prefer to stay where I know I can go out on my own and I could walk to the theaters. I found this place, The Hotel on Times Square through Venere, a hotel search area I have used before. In large cities you can search by area and find price and rankings. This is a fairly new reconditioned hotel. I had been planning on another hotel, but quite by chance found out three weeks before I was leaving that they were closing for renovations. They hadn’t gotten to me yet to place me in another hotel. The area they thought they could put me in was way over near the United Nations, an area I was not very familiar with. I searched on my own and found this hotel. The price included breakfast, but the bagels weren’t “true New York City bagels.” The hotel was fine.

And I flew Jet Blue for the first time. Now there’s an airline I could learn to love!

I did all the research of tours and entertainment on my own using articles I had saved in my “favorites,” Google searches, and, of course, Independent Traveler information. Now that I’m retired, I truly enjoy the planning my trips and recommend it if you have the time and enjoy reading and researching. Do, some time, try New York City at Christmas time.

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