New York City Trip – Travel Tips and Stuff we Saw

The view from this area.

We had some fun money left over from our New Zealand vacation and I’ve always wanted to see U2 in concert.  Their website said that they’d be in New York City for several days and we know that airfare to NYC is regularly very cheap so…

TRAVEL TIPS
Ticketmaster Resales
Tickets were horrifically expensive but I think that was partially because we waited too long and it was basically sold out.  Ticketmaster has a reseller feature that was new to me where folks, in essence, can scalp tickets from the convenience of their homes.  The only advantage for us was knowing that we’d be buying legal and usable tickets.  It’s a really simple feature to use.  When you are looking at the floor plan of available seats you just click the filter that allows tickets that are being resold to show as well.  For our concert at least, ticket prices varied wildly with some worse seats going for much more than better seats so be sure to check around if you choose to use this option.  I don’t know if I would have used this feature if we weren’t traveling from so far away for the concert, but I’m glad we got to see the show.  It was the best I’ve ever experienced.

Kayak Price Alerts
Many of you know that I like Clark Howard for his financial advice.  What you may not know is that he made his early money in a travel agency.  He travels a ton and has the best specific travel advice I’ve ever heard.  His general rule is book your trip 6-8 weeks out.  Booking further out and the worrywart planners (me) get punished.  Booking closer and the last minute planners, business guys, etc. pay through the nose.  The exception can be booking at the very last minute.  Sometimes at that point the rates apparently drop again.

I set up a daily price alert on Kayak about 10 weeks before the trip so every day I’d get a sweet little email with a chart showing the daily price on various airlines and a chart of the weeks prices.  It also gave suggestions of whether to buy or not, similar to a stock report from a financial institution.  It was a lot of fun to watch just how much the price changed every day.

Shortly after we were within the eight week window, the price really dropped one day on JetBlue (First time flying with them.  Ok.  Not better than Southwest.) and so we grabbed some tickets.  I left the alert running until the day of the trip as an experiement and the price never got that low again but it got close a couple more times.  After the six week mark the prices steady climbed into the stratosphere, eventually doubling what we paid.

The moral of the story:  listen to Uncle Clark when he says shop six to eight weeks out.

TripAdvisor
We used TripAdvisor to great success on our New Zealand trip and I thought I’d give it a try domestically. I used it to look over a bunch of hotels (I love being able to see recent mobile phone shots of what the rooms actually look like).  I had it quickly narrowed to five that were in our price range and close to Madison Square Garden.  There was one hotel that was decent looking and super close to the Garden and another a friend highly recommended (Thanks Rhonda!).   Both of those also went on the Kayak daily alert.

I didn’t have as good of a feel for when to buy here but the prices changed much more slowly than the airline tickets – like looking at gentle waves of price change instead of the saw tooth of airline prices.  At some point in the 6-8 period the price at one of the hotels dropped down lower than it had been for at least a week and half so I bought.  It turned out to be a good thing as the price never got that low again.  With the hotels, the swings in prices weren’t as great but why not save the money if you can?

Google My Maps
Google has a feature called “My Maps” that turned out to be super helpful on this trip.  You have to have a Google Account (free) and you already do if you subscribe to any of their services like Gmail or YouTube.

On My Maps you simply create a new map for your trip.  After that, you look stuff up just like you would with Google Maps and it starts putting pins on the map where those things are located.  Then you choose if you want to save them or not.  Once saved, you can color code them, add notes, and draw on the map (I think).

This way you don’t need an itinerary for almost anything.  You just pick stuff you want to see or do before your trip, invite all the people going on your trip to be able to view the map, and then from any smartphone you can call up that map with your current location dropped in.  You can get directions to places or more importantly, see the stuff that is close to your current location with quick links to their websites.

We LOVED having this info so easily available on the trip!

Google Maps for Subway Schedules
Google Maps is great for getting directions from place to place, but if you click on the mass transit icon in NYC it gives you a fantastic bus, subway, and train schedule personalized to your trip.

We LOVED this feature too.  It made travel simple.

NYC TRIP REPORT
Note:  We were traveling fast and very light so all pix were just grabbed with my phone for reference. Sorry for blurriness, etc.

We just shot up on a Friday morning, saw the concert that night, and came home the next night.  This saved us money, but we’d also already been to NYC before so there was a lot less “must see” stuff for us.

We just used mass transit or our feet to get everywhere and that worked really well with one notable exception (tearfully recounted below).  We knew we’d be walking a bunch but Mel’s iPhone said we walked 15 miles the first day and 10 more the second!  We slept well when we got home.

First view of Manhattan after we got off the subway. We even got to share some space with the Brooklyn Bridge.
First view of Manhattan after we got off the subway. We even got to share some space with the Brooklyn Bridge.
The park area at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge had little areas for kids to play, sculpture, place to sit in the shade and read a book.
The park area at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge had little areas for kids to play, sculpture, place to sit in the shade and read a book, etc.  They even had tourist info people, manned water fountains, and nice public toilets.
The view from this area.
The view from this area.  The tiny green dot on the far left is the Statue of Liberty.

Shake Shack
We had initially come to this area for lunch at Grimaldi’s Pizza (voted one of the five best places in the city – we couldn’t spare the 3 hour wait of the #1 place (Di Fara)), but they wouldn’t open for an hour so we went down the street to super nice and new-looking Shake Shack where we were the first customers of the day.

I thought we’d eaten at one the last time we visited NYC but I was wrong.  I was hoping for a 5 Guys-level burger but it tasted almost identical to the Shoney’s burgers I used to get occasionally as a kid – not the best but certainly a cut above most other fast food.  My vanilla shake was good.  Melanie had one with chocolate fudge that was better but still not within striking distance of a Loop Oreo shake or a Chic-Fil-A peach or peppermint.  The cheese fries were everything you’d want them to be.

Overall, this place was neat with good moderately-priced food that came fast and I’d eat there again.

9/11 Memorial
We didn’t have a lot of time so we didn’t lock in tickets for the museum before our trip which completely ruled out going inside.  This place had the most people of any location we visited on the entire trip (including the sold out concert we went to that night).  The line to get in the museum looked like something from Disney World  that snaked back on itself multiple times.  We were able to walk around the site of the old tower foundations that have been converted into fountains for free.  So many people there too.

That entire park area is very well done and worth a visit.

The south fountain. Look at all the people.
The south fountain. Look at all the people.
North fountain with just as many people.
North fountain with just as many people.
New trade center.
New trade center.
Some new building. It was huge and so sculptural.
Some new building. It was huge and so sculptural.

The Evolution Store
Another NYC frequenter gave us the hot tip to check out Evolution (thanks Cyndi!).  She said, it is full of lots of weird stuff that is just fun to look at.  That is exactly what they had – everything from meteorites to butterflies to the skeleton and stuffed body of a two-headed calf.

JPatz_20150731_20150731_125833_WebEileen’s Special Cheesecake
While people think about New York as a place for pizza and apple pie, apparently what they are best at is cheesecake.  I’ve heard the pro’s and con’s of both Eileen’s (warning: site has a soundtrack) and Junior’s but, at the end of the day, Eileen’s is ranked #1 and Junior’s was just too hard to reach.

We were still stuffed from our heavy duty lunch so we split a mini serving of the strawberry (which Eileen says is their best flavor).

The verdict:  Melanie and I knew within one bite that this was the best cheesecake we’d ever eaten!  Soooo good!  The thing that puts it over the top is that it is a little bit airy.  Not exactly light, but not nearly as dense as most.

Best cheesecake ever.
Best cheesecake ever.

Breads Bakery
The next closest place was Breads Bakery.  There was no way we were going to eat another thing right then but there was no way we were passing up this place made famous (to us at least) by the show Seinfeld, Jerry.

If you recall the great babka debate, the choice was between cinnamon and chocolate.  Jerry feels that cinnamon takes no backseat to any other babka.  Sadly for him, Elaine and George are correct.  The masses have spoken and this place is loaded with chocolate babka.  We grabbed one to eat later.

Verdict:  Tasty.  Don’t need to get again but would eat it if offered.  Like a croissant stuffed with chocolate chips and Nutella.

Clearly a popular item if they have posters of it around the shop.
Clearly a popular item if they have posters of it around the shop.
Making our getaway with the babka.
Making our getaway with the babka.

Books of Wonder
Just down the street is a bookstore dedicated to children’s books so we popped in.  What a cool place!  Even if you hate kids and their books, jump over to the site and look at the original artwork they have.  It was so neat not having any ideas about this place and slowly realizing that there was original art for the original Wizard of Oz books hanging around us!  So if any of you want to sell your car and buy one for us, we will make shipping arrangements.

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The spectacular collection of original artwork.
The spectacular collection of original artwork.
Row after row of children's books.
Row after row of children’s books.

Adorama
We were also really close to one of the two great camera stores so naturally we had to visit Adorama.  For being such a potent online presence, their store is pretty tiny.  It was nice to walk in but that’s about it.

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Flatiron Building
Next up is the reason we came to this neighborhood.  On a previous trip one of my big regrets was not being able to visit the Flatiron Building.  This place is super famous for many reasons.  It has a super cool triangular shape.  At 22 stories, this early skyscraper towered over its neighbors.  It is an early example of the way tall buildings are built today using a steel frame to carry the loads and exterior curtain walls.  Because of its size, shape, and construction, it created quite a sensation with people afraid to be near it for fear of it falling on them.  The expectation was that it couldn’t possibly stand up to the wind loads being so skinny and tall.

I love this building. Used as the assassins resting place in the movie John Wick.
I love this building. Used as the assassins resting place in the movie John Wick.
I didn't remember it was so ornate.
I didn’t remember it was so ornate.
It is a skinny fella.
It is a skinny fella.

Hotel Edison
It had been a long day of walking and travel and now we wanted to check in to our hotel, drop off our bags, and rest up for the concert.  As discussed in the travel tips section above, we had booked a room ahead of time at the Hotel Edison.  This is an art deco palace that has been seen in several movies and was famously lit for the first time by Thomas Edison when he flipped a switch many miles away in his lab and the new-fangled electric lights came on.

This place was renovated sometime within the last decade or two and is currently undergoing another renovation.  The new redo’s look stunning but we chose to stay in a cheaper older room.

Bottom line:  Quiet, clean, well maintained, cheap (by NYC standards), family friendly, perfectly located near Times Square.  We will definitely look here first the next time we come to town.

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Our hotel was next door to the Copacabana.

Patzeria
How in the world could we pass this place up?  Look at the name.  It was literally touching our hotel and it had good reviews.  Sadly, the Patzeria gets its name from the owner’s first name not his last.  We aren’t related.

This tiny tiny place has nowhere to sit, but you can buy by the slice and it is good.  It reminded my of Sbarro.  Service was fast.  I’d eat there again.

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U2
U2 was a bucket list band for me and this concert did not disappoint.  Joan Jett is still the most rockin’ concert I’ve ever been to but this one was the best – great music, great venue, great performance, great crowd interaction, the absolute best stage design/show.  Loved the positive Christian vibe and topping it all off, President Clinton was in the audience, and they brought Bruce Springsteen on stage for two songs!  The Boss is another bucketlister but I assumed due to scarcity and cost, I would never get to see him.

We had perfect seats. Close enough to see facial expressions, but far enough back to see the entire stage and screen. The big black metal mesh box hanging above the catwalk was a screen that the band could get inside and interact with.
We had perfect seats. Close enough to see facial expressions, but far enough back to see the entire stage and screen. The big black metal mesh box hanging above the catwalk was a screen that the band could get inside and interact with the pictures and video being projected on it.

Bubby’s
Day two started after we slept as late as we could. We headed down to the start of the Highline where Bubby’s was located.  We were seemingly going here for breakfast, but Melanie and I both knew the real reason was to try their famous double-crust apple pie. Sadly, after eating quite possibly the most delicious breakfast (it at least ties The Metro Diner, but probably beats it by a little), we had no room for pie. They twisted the knife further by saying that they also had peach pie since peaches were in season.  Simply no room!

We ate inside. Nicely decorated in there.
We ate inside. Nicely decorated in there.
Bubby's with the start of The Highline just behind it.
Bubby’s with the start of The Highline just behind it.
Crazy building. It comes to a knife edge on the right hand side. I don't know how there is enough space for someone to stand and open that last window.
Crazy building! It comes to a knife edge on the right hand side. I don’t know how there is enough space for someone to stand and open that last window.

The Highline
The Highline is an elevated garden/park made from a reclaimed elevated rail line.  I know right?!  You want to walk it.  If you are in NYC, just do it.

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This wavy gravy metal plated building butted right up against the Highline.
This wavy gravy metal plated building butted right up against the Highline.
Paths would widen, narrow, split, and continually change. This area was tight with all the folks going through it.
Paths would widen, narrow, split, and continually change. This area was tight with all the folks going through it.
Typical view off the Highline down a street.
Typical view off the Highline down a street.

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One of several voyeuristic viewing
One of several voyeuristic viewing “stadiums” with windows that look down on an intersection where you can sit and watch life happen.
I want this in my back yard!
I want this in my back yard!
An old rail dead ends into a building.
An old rail dead ends into a building.
Popsicles for sale at the midway point.
Popsicles for sale at the midway point.
A cool fountain. Water bubbles out of the far slit, runs across the pavement, and into the near grate.
A cool fountain. Water bubbles out of the far slit, runs across the pavement, and into the near grate.
Lots of places to rest. Mel says it is comfortable, but it was too small for me.
Lots of places to rest. Mel says it is comfortable, but it was too small for me.
Sculpture of Manhattan island complete with tiny skyscrapers.
Sculpture of Manhattan island complete with tiny skyscrapers.
Bench grows out of the floor. Reminiscent of a railway junction.
Bench grows out of the floor. Reminiscent of a railway junction.

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Every detail thought out. The start/end of the concrete walkway mimics railway shapes seen along the path.
Every detail thought out. The start/end of the concrete walkway mimics railway shapes seen along the path.

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It's about 1.5 miles start to finish.
It’s about 1.5 miles start to finish.

B&H
We were near the big bopper of audio/video equipment and I was compelled to stop by.  I mail ordered my very first camera from B&H long, long ago and I wanted to visit them.  This place was HUGE in comparison to Adorama but it has terrible store hours.  It wasn’t even open at all the day we were there!  I would have loved to go inside and touch everything!!!

This place is large, Marge.
This place is large, Marge.
Closed on Saturday?!
Closed on Saturday?!

Peter Luger Steakhouse
I have eaten at many steakhouses before.  Having made many many trip to Dallas, I’ve been to lots of places claiming to be one of the best.  Usually, someone will say “Well, obviously not as good a Peter Luger, but still very good.”  Peter Luger is recognized by carnivores from around the world as the best place to get a steak.  They have been in business since the 1800’s, have an entire floor of their building dedicated to a secret dry aging process, and until recently served only steak and about four side dishes (one of which is 1/4″ thick bacon).

As soon as I knew we were going to NYC, I called to make a reservation.  The lady on the other end of the line was clearly getting a lot of calls and wanted me off the line as fast as possible.  They only had three reservations left for the one day we could go 1:45, 2:45, and 3:45pm.  This was more than a month out!  I grabbed the 1:45pm and before she could hang up inquired about the dress code.  I really didn’t want to lump around a suit that I was going to sweat up just to eat lunch.  “For lunch we are casual, hon.”  “Does that mean t-shirts are ok?”  “No writing on the shirt and no showing tum-tums.”  “Got it.  Thanks.” click.

I couldn’t believe it.  We were in!  This was the #2 priority of the trip.  This was going to happen!

Jump forward to mid morning the day of our reservation.  We had just walked down to the UN building but didn’t have time to go in.  We hopped on the subway headed for Brooklyn.  Mistake #1 was made.  I could not tell from Google Maps if we were supposed to get on the express train or the regular.  We played it safe and got on the regular.  Soon we realized our mistake but we thought we could correct.  The express train overshot the place where we needed to transition to another subway line whereas the regular car would stop within a block of it.  Score!  We had padded our travel time and would get there possibly 5 minutes late.  Maybe even on time.  Mistake #2 was not understanding that Google was routing us around the stop we got off on because they had shut down transfers in that station to do maintenance.  They were only doing maintenance on this day!  Any other day and we would have been fine!

I climbed out of the subway to call Mr. Luger and see if there were any last minute cancellations and to apologize for our now faux reservation.  Extremely sadly, the lady on the other end said, “We are booked solid until closing tonight.  There is absolutely no way to squeeze you in.”

Oh well, something to shoot for on our next trip.

Grimaldi’s
So we headed back to the Flatiron neighborhood knowing exactly where we would eat – Grimaldi’s where we had tried to eat yesterday (different location though).  The pizza was very good.  Perhaps my 3rd favorite (almost anything at Mellow Mushroom then the Isabella Rosalini at Carmine’s Pie House then here).

Nice blurry picture of our pie. No wait to be seated since it was mid afternoon too.
Nice blurry picture of our pie. No wait to be seated since it was mid afternoon too.

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The Cathedral Church of Saint John Divine
After a filling lunch we thought we’d have just enough time to head uptown to The Cathedral Church of Saint John Divine before we needed to go to the airport.  That whole area of town is so nice.  It was extremely relaxing to walk around now that the mid day heat was gone and the traffic was much less prevalent.

We’ve visited some really big churches in Italy so I don’t think we were as impressed by the size of this place like most people seem to be.  It is a beautiful place and we both enjoyed walking around in it though.

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I'm convinced there is treasure buried under here.
I’m convinced there is treasure buried under here.
It had a suprising amount of contemporary art. There was a sculpture from the 90's. You would expect statues of only very old folks but here you can see MLK Jr. and Gandhi.
It had a suprising amount of contemporary art. There was a sculpture from the 90’s. You would expect statues of only very old folks but here you can see MLK Jr. and Gandhi.

Points of Interest for a Future Trip
Culture Espresso vs. Levain Bakery – see if either can compete with Mom’s chocolate chip cookies
B&H – actually go inside 😦
Eileen’s vs Junior’s – who has the better cheesecake?
Katz’s Deli
Carnegie Deli
John’s of Blecker St.
Di Fara Pizza
Bubby’s – try the apple pie this time
The Morgan Library – this place looks really great.  Sad we couldn’t do it this time.
UN Building – actually go inside
Grant’s Tomb
Comedy Cellar
Taping of Jimmy Fallon Show
EAT A STEAK AT PETER LUGER STEAKHOUSE 🙂

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5 thoughts on “New York City Trip – Travel Tips and Stuff we Saw

  1. You got a lot in for a quick trip! Getting a bite at Ellen’s Stardust Diner is fun fun fun (if you like musicals). I’ve also been wanting to go to the Tenement Museum. http://www.tenement.org/ Next time I’ll make sure to check out that neat bookstore and the evolution store.

    1. You would love that bookstore. I doubt they have anything that you couldn’t find online as far as current books go but they had autographed editions and a few cases of rare older books. The coolest part for me was the artwork. It was all really well done. I’m fairly certain we’ll be back in NYC too. I still can’t believe how affordable this trip was compared to other U2 options. We looked at going to Phoenix and staying with family or friends and it still turned out to be cheaper to fly to NY and get a hotel since airfare was so cheap.

    1. I’m glad my writing moved you. 🙂 Melanie was impressed with how I handled myself on the phone with them and immediately afterward. I guess it is years of training on how to handle failure. They say that determines how successful you’ll be in life.

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