My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.
Soaking up the City That Never Sleeps
It was 2008. Deeply in love with the man of my dreams, we decided to take our first trip together. New York City was our destination with a piggyback journey to Washington, DC. We would eventually marry and, along with other travel, make yearly trips to the Big Apple. Never tiring of the people, the lights, the attractions, the city became our personal playground. The song "Running with the Night" became our New York theme song as it captures that excitement not only for the city but for each other.
Feel the rhythm of New York City by letting the video play as you read the article.
The First Trip to New York
We planned our trip for late May, knowing the weather would be ideal and the crowds of tourists not yet descending on the city. Rick had been to New York several times before, but this was to be my first adventure in the city. I had grown up with Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York" and knew the nicknames of the city; "The Big Apple," "The City that Never Sleeps," and "Gotham."
I was anxious to see a Broadway musical, Times Square, and all the other wonders that the city had to offer. He had the whole trip planned, and each day brought surprises and new adventures. New love (and in my case, matured love) is fabulous! To this day, and even as I prepare to write this story, the memories and the smiles envelop me!
The hotel we stayed at was located right in the heart of Times Square. We arrived late morning and were off and running shortly after we checked in. Feeling the excitement of a child walking out onto the sidewalk, I couldn't see everything fast enough! I was on sensory overload with the sounds of taxi horns, masses of people, and the neon signs that shone brightly even during the daylight hours.
How We Spent our Time
The first day was to be a taste of the city, so we headed south on 7th Avenue and, after a couple of hours, found ourselves at Battery Park, the area we would need to be the next day for our visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. As we headed back to Times Square, we detoured to Chinatown and had a romantic dinner in Little Italy.
After walking for about ten miles, we were still full of energy and decided to meander over to 5th Avenue where we explored St Patrick's Cathedral and Rockefeller Center and rode the elevator to the Top of the Rock. In less than one minute, the shuttle takes you up 850 feet, where you are greeted with spectacular city views! It truly is a "can't miss" adventure!
Inside Rockefeller Center, as you prepare for the elevator ride, there is a spectacular chandelier. If you look up into the chandelier, you will see that it is in the shape of 30 Rock.
On the breezeway level, you will, no doubt, see the Radiance Wall. Created by Swavorski, it is a wall made up of thousands of crystals. Hidden inside the crystal panels, if you look closely, you will see tiny animals and crystal figurines.
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Day Two in the City
Day two would find us back at Battery Park to take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Instead of walking, we chose to take the subway. Although Rick had been to NYC several times before, neither of us knew that the subway train we were on did not go all the way to Battery Park.
The trick here is that you must be in the first five cars to go all the way to that destination. I don't recall how we found this out, but somehow we needed to get off the train and move to those first five cars. Rick decided to move to the next car venturing between the moving cars. He made it through and motioned from the next car for me to follow.
I stood paralyzed and afraid, shaking my head "NO!" So, there we were in different subway cars, and as if we were thinking as one, at the next stop, we both quickly exited our respective cars and ran like the wind to get back on the train, making sure we were on the part of the train that would go all the way to Battery Park.
Obviously, we made it and boarded the ferry for the 15-minute ride to the monument. The Statue of Liberty is fantastic and is exactly as all the brochures portray it. The grounds are pristine, and the exhibits are well worth a person's time. Ellis Island had a profound effect on me.
Being the daughter of an immigrant who sailed to the United States in 1923, I walked through the Registry Room and Hall of Records, imagining my father and grandparent's footsteps and tried to hone in on what I imagined their thoughts would have been. I learned that in the height of immigration that 560,000 immigrants were processed per year.
Years later, I would take my daughter and granddaughter to Ellis Island and found myself surprised that they experienced the same feelings of awe and pride that I experienced on my first visit.
The Following Days
Over the next few days, we would take a carriage ride through Central Park, go to the Broadway production of Mama Mia, spend time in Times Square, visit the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, and Wall Street, and shop on 5th Avenue. Seeing Ground Zero rustled our sense of pride as Americans, and visiting St. Paul's Chapel (across from Ground Zero and known for surviving the horrendous 911 attack) was equally inspiring.
An often overlooked venue is the United Nations. Beginning with 51 countries in 1945 and now currently representing 193, the organization is a global coalition of nations that addresses common issues and attempts to negotiate shared solutions. The assembly rooms and display of gifts from member nations are sensational! We ate steak on a stick and New York pizza. We experienced Carnegie Deli and sought out small authentic diners.
After countless trips to New York City, my advice on the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock is as follows: Schedule your visit to the Empire State Building for the first entry of the day. Despite having tickets for a specific time, the lines after about 11 a.m. are very long. The views from the top of both are similar, so I would suggest visiting one during daylight hours and the other during nighttime hours to get different experiences.
New York City During the Christmas Holiday Season
We began visiting New York yearly, mostly during the holiday season. Folks, I have to tell you that NYC during that time of year is so completely different from any other time of the year! Going to the Rockettes Holiday show, seeing the tree in Rockefeller Center, the windows at Bergdorf Goodmans, visiting the original Macy's on 34th Street (with the dancing Salvation Army volunteers outside), and the light show on the outside of the building of Saks on 5th Avenue are spectacular! Amazingly, the entire city is even more alive than usual! The air is full of festivity!
Each year Bergdorf Goodman contracts with designers, spending obscene amounts of money, and chooses a different theme for their holiday window display:
To get the best pictures of the window displays at Bergdorf's, wait until late in the evening when the crowds wane to take pictures with unobstructed views.
The Christmas Surprise
Rick's birthday is close to Christmas. So, one year, I planned a trip to the city for his birthday. At this point, we had been many times, but this adventure was going to be different. I planned a surprise event each day. The caveat? He couldn't ask any questions and just had to agree to be wherever I said at whatever time I specified. He was a great sport, and the trip turned out to be fabulous.
One evening, some friends we had met on an international trip drove in from their home in Connecticut and met us for dinner. We ate dinner in a revolving rooftop restaurant in the Theatre District and enjoyed stunning 360 views of the area! Then there was the production of Jersey Boys he wanted to see (even though we had already seen it several times).
But the coup de gras was Dyker Heights, a neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough famous for its spectacular holiday displays! Most of the community participates in this event which reportedly began in the early 1980s. Research taught me that most homeowners do not place the decorations themselves. Instead, they rely on local decorating companies and spend roughly between one to forty thousand dollars! These elaborate displays go live on Thanksgiving and attract visitors until early January. The only fee to attend was that of a tour company or driver.
As we meandered up and down the streets, we met a man. An NYC police detective who founded the not-for-profit organization, Michael's Cause. The display of his home is dedicated to collecting donations for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. His son is afflicted with this terrible disease which affects young men and usually does not have a good outcome.
The donations go towards research for this crippling and devastating disease. Having recently lost a daughter to a different rare disease, this chance meeting and subsequent conversation with this father profoundly affected me. It changed the way in which we viewed the rest of our evening. By identifying with this man and his dedication to his son reinforced our recent efforts. The importance of the celebration of life reminded us of the true meaning of the holiday!
Instead of taking a tour bus, I hired a private driver for the evening. He would take us and wait while we meandered through the neighborhood. I believe that even if a person isn't into holiday displays, they would be impressed with this world-famous expression of celebration! As we walked through, some of the homes had music and gigantic wooden soldiers. Some were color-themed, but all were simply breathtaking!
Other than a few neighborhood kids selling hot chocolate or roasted chestnuts, we found it to be surprisingly non-commercialized. Truly capturing the essence of the holiday spirit, the atmosphere was festive yet serene. The evening we attended had a crisp chillin' the air, which added to the ambiance of the outing.
On the way back, we stopped at a local ice cream shop located beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. As we enjoyed our waffle cones, we gazed across the river at Manhattan. We took in the view from an entirely different perspective. The night was magical and one that we will never forget!
Final Impressions of New York City
For many reasons, New York City holds a special place in my heart. It is one of the most exciting places that I have had the opportunity to visit. And forever holds the distinction of being the first trip with my love. I have also visited with friends and my daughters. Growing up, New York was always that place where the magic happened.
Songs have been written about it, countless movies have been produced, stories passed on, and the New Year's Eve celebration, Broadway, Times Square, Wall Street, fashion, and historical monuments have been part of the allure. The city welcomed my immigrant father and grandparents. And, of course, the 911 tragedy.
But, it's more than all that. In my opinion, it is the true essence of the United States, the melting pot of the world. One can walk down the street and hear languages and eat food from around the world. There is a palpable 24/7 pulse in the city. It's a city where the ultra-rich and the homeless cohabitate and where the people are resilient and steadfast.
New York City in the News
Recently, New York has received bad press, with crime surging and people fleeing the city. In 2015, it was the 9th most populated city in the world, and in 2022, it dropped to 41st position. In the 1980s, the city had a reputation for crimes, drugs, prostitution, and filth. And then, with a change in political power, it revitalized. That seems to be a cycle not only for New York but other major global cities.
And I predict that it will clean up again. New York has a backbone and so do its people. Rest assured, when Tony Bennett and Billy Joel sang the words included in "New York State of Mind," "Some folks like to get away/ Take a holiday from the neighborhood/ Hop a flight to Miami Beach/ Or to Hollywood/ But I'm taking a Greyhound/ On the Hudson River Line/ I'm in a New York state of mind," they were speaking of all those who those, including me, that love New York City endlessly!
New York City is a destination that has instilled in me a sense of adventure and discovery. It has provided a sense of self-confidence and pride in our country and our glorious world!
And now, whenever I hear the song "Running With the Night," I think of New York City, "the Big Apple," and I smile with beautiful memories and the anticipation of future visits!
Until next time, friends, remember, "To Travel is to Live!"
© 2022 Dee Nicolou Serkin