Christmas in New York City

Neither of our children were available to spend Christmas with us this year, a first for us, so we decided we’d go on vacation. While Cherish was hoping for someplace to wear a bikini, I was more in the Christmas-is-better-with-snow kind of mood. A cheap flight to Manhattan, some cajoling with Cherish involving promises of a future bikini-ready travel destination, and boom… a six-day vacation in Manhattan was born. Unfortunately there was no snow. But it sure was freezing (by Georgia standards).

Day 1: Friday December 22

Our last trip to Chicago taught us that 2AM wake up times were to be avoided so we opted for a Spirit Airlines flight to Newark that left Atlanta at 11:41 AM. Spoiler alert: our flight back home resulted in us arriving home at 3:00 AM so we traded one good for one miserable flight time, but we will come back to that.

We landed in Newark, took the train into Penn Station, then decided to walk up 7th avenue to our hotel: the Hilton Hotel in Times Square. It’s smack dab in the middle of one of the heaviest tourist locations in all of Manhattan. It was great! We loved the location. The smell of all the people smoking marijuana, not so much. It was really bad, especially around the entrance area surrounding Madame Tussauds New York wax museum. And boy was it crowded. Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, has a new wax statue that is on display outside of the entrance and there was always a long line of people taking photos with it, along with the normal long line of people waiting to get into the museum.

We did not craft a detailed itinerary, our biggest concern was being able to eat where we wanted as NYC is known for overcrowding during the holidays. This was not our first time NYC in December, but it was the first time we were there so close to Christmas Day. So for dinner we just wondered around the Times Square area until we got hungry and found an excellent meal at the Playwright Tavern on W 49th.

Our big event for Day 1 was watching ‘Twas the Night Before by Cirque Du Soleil at Madison Square Garden. There was a hockey game happening at the same time as our show which caused us to do the stupid tourist thing of “just follow the crowds” which got us a bit lost once inside the Garden. Eventually we made our way back to the central part of the Garden where the entrance to the show was.

Day 2: Saturday December 23

With Bryan training for his first marathon in February every day of the trip started at the hotel gym for either a morning run or strength training. The weather never got above 45 degrees and the thought of going outside to run just wasn’t happening. Sorry NYC we are not that thick skinned.

We read that the birthplace of Seinfeld is the Westway Diner on Ninth Avenue and that it served a good breakfast. The first part is true, the second…. not so much. It wasn’t terrible it just wasn’t amazing.

Next we took a very long stroll south and ended up at Chelsea Market. We blame Peloton’s instructor Matt Wilpers for this one… he strongly recommended Los Tacos as a great place for Tacos during one of Bryan’s recent workouts. It turns out that Los Tacos is a chain restaurant, but the original is in Chelsea Market, not that far from the Peloton Studios. We have a dream of being able to attend a live Peloton class but its about the same odds as winning the lottery if you don’t live in NYC so we settled for some photos from the outside of the building. It did not help things that the Studios are being remodeled and were closed for the holidays so we couldn’t even get into the lobby.

From there it was a short walk to Pier 57 where we hung out for a bit.

Dinner was at Le Pecora Bianca at W 40th Street. The food was excellent, though we couldn’t get a real table – they have this tiny shared space in-between the bar and the regular tables so we were crammed in there.

There is a holiday tradition (tourist trap????!!!!) called Miracle on 9th Street. Each year a bar/pub somewhere in the city is decorated from floor to ceiling with Christmas decorations and holiday drinks are served. The location changes each year and this year it was over on East 9th street. It sounded fun so we booked reservations for 8PM. We took the subway then walked about 15 minutes through what felt like an abandoned ghetto. There was almost no one on the streets, most of the buildings windows had bars on them and we passed a couple of abandoned parks. It’s the first time in NYC I wondered if we were going to be mugged. Once inside the bar things felt more normal and we enjoyed our overpriced holiday drinks.

Day 3: Sunday December 24

The NBC Studio Tour at Rockefeller Center turned out to be much better than anticipated. At the end of the tour you are ushered into a mock-studio and you get to produce an episode of late night television. Cherish was picked to be the celebrity guest on the show and Bryan was chosen to be the contestant on the game show. It was fun.

We celebrated Christmas Eve with a four-course dinner at Tavern on the Green. The soup was a Roasted Cauliflower Veloute, The appetizer was wild mushroom Gnocchi for Bryan and Honey Roasted Fig Salad Endive for Cherish. For the main course Cherish picked a pan seared Halibut with a caviar beurre blanc sauce that was amazing; Bryan choose the slow roasted Beef Tenderloin with a cabernet sauce. Dessert was a spiced eggnog creme brûlée with a gingerbread cookie and a mixed berry coulis.

Day 4: Monday December 25

Waking up on Christmas Day in a hotel bed is a foreign experience. We are used to lounging around in PJ’s while the kids open Christmas gifts. After a workout we headed over to Sixth Avenue for breakfast at Rucker’s Bagels and Smoked Fish. While it might be true that NYC never sleeps, it certainly slows down on Christmas Day with pretty much every American owned business being closed.

We booked a tour at the Edge which is over in Hudson Yards. If you haven’t been to Hudson Yards it should definitely be on your MUST-DO list. While the mall (named The Shops at Hudson Yards) were mostly closed for Christmas, the lunch at a restaurant inside the mall named Queensyard yielded one of the best hamburgers to ever grace our lips.

For our evening entertainment we ate dinner and had drinks at Pink Taco in Times Square.

Day 5: Tuesday December 26

With Christmas Day behind us it was time to shop! Macy’s was the primary destination for the day and it was overwhelming. A hidden gem was a pair of plugged-in massage chairs that we found in the home goods section. That was an excellent 15 minute break.

Lunch was at Stone Bridge Pizza and Salad on E 41st Street. This was our first NYC pizza of the trip.

We stopped by the Library to see the beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the lobby then strolled through a few of the exhibits before moving on.

That evening we took a trip north via Subway then via Train to the New York Botanical Garden to see what they call the GLOW exhibit. The bonus of the GLOW exhibit was entry into the indoor model train exhibit featuring the city of New York. While the trains and city display were impressive, the GLOW exhibits were a huge disappointment and nothing close to the magic proclaimed by the website. The exhibit turned out to be 3 small displays in various corners of the grounds. It was underwhelming and a complete waste of time with both of us struggling to understand why anyone would think this was worth seeing.

Day 6: Wednesday December 27

The city broke us. It was scheduled to rain and we were pretty much over the NYC experience and just wanted to be back home in our comfortably bed with easy access to good coffee. To ease the pain Bryan shuffled off to a bakery several blocks over and returned with some heavenly pastries, but we both were just ready to go home. Our flight was not going to be until 10:10 PM and the thought of being out and about while it rained didn’t sit well. We debated our options and decided to go see a movie.

We packed our bags, checked them with the hotel, then walked across the street to the AMC Empire 25 theater at Times Square to see the movie “Anyone But You.” Funny film. Worth seeing if you have not.

After the movie we spent some time in the lobby of the AMC debating what to do next and decided we may as well head over to Little Italy and Chinatown. We took the subway an got out to find the rain had started. We quickly looked around and decided La Nonna on Mulberry Street would be a good destination just as the drizzle turned into a downpour. Already tired and cold, adding wet to the mix wasn’t how we hoped to end the vacation.

And that was pretty much it. After lunch we ran a few blocks to the nearest subway station to get out of the downpour. Back to the hotel to pickup our bags then we headed to Newark airport via Subway then Train then AirTram.

Day 6.5 and 7 The hellish trip home

At the beginning of the vacation we parked our car at the North Springs Marta station and took the train to the airport. A 45-minute stress free ride directly to the terminal and back is the goal. When your flight arrives after midnight Marta might be worth re-considering. After 9:00 PM Marta single-tracks which slows things down and forces a train transfer to get to North Springs. This extra 10 minutes is normally just a hassle and we knew to expect it. What we did not expect was Marta doing rail line construction as well. It took us almost a full hour to go from the Airport to Five Points station, than another hour after that to get to North springs due to the construction. Much of that time was standing in the cold at Lindbergh waiting for the North Springs train to arrive. Funny thing – it was colder in ATL that night than it was in NYC. Sitting an extra 2 hours on Marta during the daytime would have still sucked, but after midnight all manner of homeless/deranged/high/mentally challenged individuals populate the train and the stations and its just not a nice place to be stuck. When we finally arrived at North Springs, home is another 45 minutes away. We dragged ourselves into our bed just as the clock struck 3:00AM vowing to never take Marta from the Airport again.

That next morning we were thankful that our bodies let us sleep in until 8AM. We both smiled fondly at each other as we snuggled next to the Keurig in the kitchen while it brewed our morning addiction. Home sweet home!

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