Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New York City must-sees

As some of my family and friends will be visiting NYC in the near future, I thought I'd put together a quick list of some of our non-food-related highlights. But who am I kidding, it's impossible to talk about highlights without mentioning a few more good eats. Here were some of our favourite excursions, in no particular order:


The High Line is a public park created on an elevated, historic freight line. It stretches for 1.45 miles along Manhattan's west side. Construction is currently underway on the third and final section of the park, which will add a further half mile to the northern section.

Beautifully landscaped, the park has plenty of spots to sit and enjoy the view. A movie viewing area, food carts and art installations are three more reasons to visit. Note the yellow billboard below.


We visited Central Park on a beautiful sunny day. Our original plan was to find a deli and have sandwiches made for an idyllic picnic in the park. When delis proved elusive (we were without Internet access *horrors*) we were happy to find Rouge Tomate's Cart in the Park. We both ordered a burger and chowed down on a park bench in the Central Park Zoo. The burger was one of the best I've had in a long time.
We met up with a friend and spent a couple hours walking around. I had downloaded two Central Park apps that included maps, points of interest and historical info - no Internet access required - and it allowed us to do an informal self-guided tour. Hence, when we came across the body of water below, I was able to look it up and find that it was the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and why it was named after her. The trail that loops around the reservoir is popular with runners and stretches 2.5 kilometres (or 1.58 miles).

Speaking of miles, the book nerd in me was beckoned to the 18 miles of books on offer at the Strand book store. The banned books table was very intriguing - it included everything from Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach to Where's Waldo?
If this coffee table book on tree houses wasn't so heavy, it would have made its way into my suitcase. Instead, I bought Mindy Kaling's hilarious book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Before our trip, we deliberated over visiting MOMA versus The Met. We weren't the first to contemplate this as "MOMA or Met" comes up under Google's suggestions when you type in "MOMA." We really like modern art, the MOMA's size is a bit more manageable than the Met if you only have a few hours, so that's how we made our decision.

They had an exhibit about Applied Design that was interesting - it featured the design elements of computer games such as Pac-Man and SimCity, a honeycomb vase made by bees, and the hybrid energy-delivery device (below right) with a design inspired by ivy. The "leaves" are flexible photovoltaic panels that generate solar energy, while their fluttering generates wind power.

If you need a coffee break, head to Terrace 5, which is, incidentally, a terrace café on the fifth floor of the museum. Josh and I had beer and tea respectively, and we shared a cheese plate. The city view from here is fantastic.
We didn't go in search of the Flatiron Building. We just stumbled across it on our ever-present search for delicious food - namely, Eataly. So if you plan to make your way to Eataly, you'll get a good look at the impressive architecture that is the Flatiron Building, located at 175 Fifth Avenue. It's just one of those iconic New York landmarks that shouldn't be missed. 
For me, a trip to any major (English-speaking) city just isn't complete until I squeeze in a play or musical. The Book of Mormon was on my radar months before our trip, but, due to my propensity to procrastinate, I didn't go online to buy tickets until a few weeks before our departure. The online booking system told me they were sold out, except for some Amex-branded swindle where you buy "premium" seats for about $300 each. I thought we were out of luck, but we weren't. There are actually a few "back-up" methods for getting tickets when they say a show is sold out - you can find them here. 
We tried the ticket lottery, but didn't win. Although I consider myself to be pretty freakin' fortunate, I never win lotteries/contests (with an exception of a colouring contest at Lakeland Plant World when I was 12, which I probably won for my age group because other 12-year-olds were too darn cool to enter colouring contests).
So instead, we went to the box office and bought "partial view" box seats. All this means is that due to the fact that your seats are in the boxes to the right and left of the stage, you don't see the first foot or two of the side of the stage you're aligned with. It really didn't make a difference - we could see the actors just fine. 
To get these partial view seats, or try your luck on the lottery, you have to show up to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in person - it can't be done over the phone or online. The moral of this story is that simply because the show says it's sold out online and your only option is to pay the princely sum of $300 - just wait until you get there and see what your options are.

Here's one last tip:
As I mentioned, I'm a procrastinator. Don't be like me.
Plan a few months ahead if you want tickets to a play and don't want to make extra trips to the theatre once you're there. We made two trips to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre before we actually showed up on our third trip to see the play. Manhattan is BIG, so this can take up a lot of your precious time. Our first trip to the theatre was to try the lottery and the second time was two days later when we sucked it up and bought partial-view tickets the morning of the show. However, if you win the lottery, tickets are only $30, so if you have the time to spare it's worth a shot to save a few bucks. If you win the lottery, you can bring one person with you - perfect for couples.
Same goes for a live taping of a TV show. A week before our trip I looked into Jimmy Fallon tickets and learned that most tickets are snapped up 4-6 weeks before the taping. Instead, we showed up at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to get standby tickets at 9 a.m. one morning. When we arrived with our coffee, we were 32nd and 33rd in line; and hence, given standby tickets with these numbers on them. This doesn't guarantee admission; it means you saunter back to 30 Rock at 3 p.m. to see if you're in luck or not - based on how many no shows there are. At this point, you get in an orderly line based on your number and they tally up how many standby's are getting in. When the NBC page (sadly it's not Kenneth) announces that everyone from 1-19 is getting in, everyone with numbers 20 and up walks away dejectedly. This was us. Don't let this happen to you. If you don't get advance tickets, show up at the standby line with your latte at 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. Yep, standing around sounds boring, but you may end up seeing a celeb or two. And the odds will be ever in your favour of seeing Jimmy Fallon...or Seth Meyers depending on when you visit.  
But let's end on an optimistic note, shall we? New York is a big, exciting and sometimes overwhelming metropolis with its endless opportunities. Remember to stop and smell the flowers, like our friend Biff did in Central Park.


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