Author: Fred Chalmers
Date of Trip: February 2008
On the spur of the moment we decided to take a quick getaway to NYC while the kids (boys 18 & 15) were on February school vacation. On three days notice we found a terrific weekday rate for a mid-town hotel – La Quinta Manhattan on W.32nd St. near Herald Square, 2 queen beds, free continental breakfast for $120/night, AAA rate. The room was clean but small, which is (I’m told) typical for NYC hotels in older buildings. Bathroom was relatively spacious and very clean.
We left Boston at 8:30AM on Thursday morning, drove to Stamford, CT to catch the MTA to Grand Central Station and were there by 1PM. Parking in Stamford was plentiful but pricey for commuter parking: $18 per 24 hr period. We chose Stamford because it was located below the branch-offs of the New Haven line, so trains were more frequent (every 10-15 minutes at rush hour) which gave us more flexibility for our return trip.
We travel light (two backpacks for the four of us) so the 4PM check-in time at the hotel didn’t bother us. We hopped on the subway from Grand Central to Canal Street, where we did some window shopping and haggling with street vendors before getting lunch in Little Italy. We then got back on the subway to Battery Park, where we took a round trip on the Staten Island Ferry. It was a bit on the cool side (high 30’s) but sunny and clear so sitting outside wasn’t too uncomfortable, and the price (FREE!) was right. Our only complaint was that the timing of the ferrys doesn’t allow you to dash to the return ferry immediately; one’s pulling out at the same time yours is pulling in, so figure on a 30-minute wait (15 minutes during rush hour) to catch your return trip. The views of the Statue of Liberty and of lower Manhattan are terrific, and the ferrys carry anywhere from 3500 to 6000 passengers, so there’s always plenty of room.
Upon our return to Manhattan, we took the subway to see the World Trade Center site, which even though it’s now a *huge* construction site, rendered us all speechless. The plans they have for the future site truly are touching.
Another short subway ride brought us to our hotel, where we checked in and took a quick nap before our evening excursion. Turns out that 32nd St is on the edge of “Korea-town”, and we found a great place to eat just a few doors from the hotel by following the locals. Kunjip is small and crowded which only added to the fun. Speed is essential, and they even take your order while you’re waiting in line. That may put off some people, but since we were very hungry it worked to our advantage because the food arrived at our table within minutes of sitting down. Can’t tell you what we ordered; we mostly pointed at pictures in the menu, but it was all good, and dinner for four set us back $90 pre-tip. Go to www.kunjip.net for a better idea of what they offer.
The Empire State Building was only a block away so we visited the observatory. There were no lines at 9PM (on a normal day, lines can run 2-3 hours) but we still had to walk through rat mazes for close to 5 minutes before finally getting to the elevators that take you to the 86th-floor. Despite our fear of heights, the night was clear (but cold) and the view of the city at night was breathtaking!
Times Square is only about 8 blocks from there so we walked up Broadway to see the lights. It was nothing short of spectacular, and typical for New York the place was hopping even at 11 PM. I can’t imagine being there on New Year’s Eve, packed like sardines for block after block. We walked back to the hotel and had no problems falling asleep at midnight.
On Friday, the weather had turned blechh, as it snowed all day long (NYC received 7 inches total), so after we enjoyed the free continental breakfast and checked out of the hotel, what better way to spend the day than to walk the 27 blocks up 5th Avenue to Central Park :^) Despite the cold wet weather, it was an enjoyable trek with lots to see. We made stops at the NY Public Library, and then Rockefeller Plaza where we passed on ice skating (they hadn’t cleared the snow off the rink) and the studio tour ($18/pp to see the empty Saturday Night Live set? I don’t think so…). We next toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral across the street; the architecture was simply amazing…you should see it yourself regardless of your religious affiliation (or lack thereof).
Eight blocks later we arrived at Central Park. By then it was snowing harder, and being out in the open made it even more miserable, so we cut the visit short and headed back to Grand Central to catch our train home. The kids were enjoying the stroll despite the weather so we decided to walk the 17 blocks.
We stopped at a Starbucks on 56th St to warm up with some hot cocoa, (and discovered later that just 90 minutes after we were there, some guy got mugged there for $150,000 in cash!) We made it back to GCS by 1PM and spent a few minutes walking around to check it out. It is an amazing place, and the architecture is stunning.
Left GCS on the 1:30 train and drove home from Stamford. Stopped at Rein’s Deli just north of Hartford for dinner, and discounting the hour we spent there, the return trip took us 6 hours (vs the 4.5 hrs it took us the previous day.) Word of caution: the Connecticut DPW does a horrible job of keeping the roads clear. Never thought I’d see somewhere that did a worse job than the Mass DPW, but CT takes the crown.
All told we were in the city for roughly 24 hours, which only allowed us to hit some of the highlights. We walked a lot of miles and rode a lot of subways at all hours, and never once felt endangered :^) Our next trip (which will be sooner rather than later) will hopefully be longer and allow us to investigate stuff we missed on this trip (the Village, Chinatown, Central Park, etc., etc. etc…). Can’t wait to go back, and for a native Bostonian to say that really says a lot!