Whirlwind Weekend in Manhattan

Nothing like a last minute trip to the big city!  A friend of mine was in Manhattan on business for a week and was required to stay for another week, which meant weekend in New York!  Despite booking airfare only the day before it was surprisingly reasonable and by booking on the American Express website and using points I was able to book airfare for less than $200.

I flew into JFK and decided to take a taxi into the city. Originally I was going to take public transit but after much research discovered that due to construction at the main station nearest her hotel, I’d end up taking a cab for the last part of the journey or figuring out two or three subway transfers.

Now, I’m all for being economical but there’s a trade off between convenience and monetary savings. In this case taxi’s have a fixed $45 rate between Manhattan and JFK. The amount I was going to save simply wasn’t worth it to me to battle rush-hour subways on a Friday evening!

Due to rush hour traffic my cab took surface streets toward the Brooklyn Bridge which felt like forever. Not sure if this was the right way to do it, but with a flat rate I wasn’t going to complain and we arrived at the hotel in the financial district in just under an hour.

Our first night found us wandering the financial district a bit and over to the South Street Seaport area. Most of the restaurants there were closed so we wandered up Front Street where we discovered a great little Italian restaurant called Il Brigante. Turns out they have excellent Zagat reviews and we certainly enjoyed everything. Great atmosphere, excellent service and very reasonably priced.

With both of us rather tired from some long days we didn’t stay out late but retired to the hotel where we decided on our plan of attack for Saturday.

We lucked out with great weather on Saturday and decided to play tourist with a trip out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. I’ve been to New York several times but have never done some of the more ‘touristy’ things and was looking forward to it. After all, people come from all over the world to have these experiences!

After breakfast at the hotel we wandered down to Battery Park and the Castle Clinton National Museum to get our tickets for the ferry.  Apparently our desire to play the tourist doesn’t correspond to our desire to wait in line. With a 45 minute wait just to board the ferry we decided we didn’t want to spend the entire day waiting around and jostled by crowds so back north we went.

It was time to go shopping. And where is shopping fun – Chinatown! There’s something about wandering and haggling in Chinatown that I adore. Knock-off purses hidden in secret back rooms, scarfs, cheap handbags, perfumes, tea rooms and more. The parks are full of men and women playing cards, checkers and other various games.

Another reason I love Chinatown is the food! After wandering the streets and soaking it in we found a little restaurant where we dinned on soup dumplings, pot stickers and a fried chicken noodle dish.  For dessert we continued up into Little Italy where we picked up some wonderful cannoli from a street cart.

Our meanderings took us to the northern edge of SOHO where we tucked into a little cafe for a rest and a glass of wine. It was time to get to our next “tourist” destination – the Empire State Building. We had picked up a map from the hotel front desk and with the help of our waiter we found the closest subway stop and had a nice short journey to 34th Street.

If you’ve never experienced a New York subway, or any subway for that matter they are pretty easy to use. You find the ticket machine and follow the directions on the screen. For $2.50 you purchase your ticket using cash or credit. The machine gives change in coins ($1 coins) so try to use a $5 or $1 bills. The metrocard is a great choice if you’re going to take 4 or more rides as you can quickly purchase a $10 card.  If it’s crowded it’s best to have your  money readily available so you’re not fumbling in your bag or wallet while the line gets cranky behind you.

Once you have your ticket head toward the turnstiles, swipe your card/ticket and proceed. Once you’re “inside” the system you can keep using your ticket for up to 2 hours (double check your ticket though I could be wrong on the timing).

The 34th Street station opens up between the Empire State Building and right in front of Macys. We resisted the call of this famous department store and headed over to the building avoiding the ticket brokers haggling tour packages out front. These guys are not part of the Empire State Building so just proceed inside and purchase your tickets. You do have to go through airport style security so be prepared!

We decided to go for the whole ticket package, 86th Floor Observatory and 102nd Floor Observatory (extra $15).  The 86th floor was great! Outside viewing deck and beautiful night time view of the skyline. The 102nd floor wasn’t worth it. It’s small, cramped and inside. Definitely not worth the extra $15.

This long day deserved a fabulous dinner back in Little Italy. There’s a restaurant in Little Italy I find myself returning to time and time again. Maybe it’s because I can remember the name when I spot it, maybe it’s because the food is wonderful. Perhaps a little bit of both. Lunella Ristorante is always worth a visit.

The dining room is a bit cramped but the menu and wine list are excellent. Homemade pasta, perfectly cooked pork chops and a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc. One thing I enjoy about this restaurant is they don’t rush you and you can enjoy a nice relaxing evening after a long day of shopping and site seeing.

A quick taxi ride saw us back to our hotel where we surveyed our purchases and planned our options for Sunday in the event the forecasted rain arrived.

And arrive it did! When traveling you can’t let rain hold you back! You either have to push through, find museums or simply stay in your hotel all day. The latter is not for me. So we bundled up, grabbed our umbrellas and our subway map and off we went.

Despite the rain we wanted to at least see Central Park. The sidewalks up in Midtown are much wider which makes it easier to navigate in the pouring rain with an umbrella. After a bit of persevering we decided on an early lunch and bloody mary’s at Rue 57, a great bistro/cafe on 57th St and Ave of the Americas (since I’m not a New Yorker I’m not sure if I got that street combination in the correct order).

At this point it was a toss up as neither one of us enjoy wandering in the rain but we decided to push on down toward Rockefeller Center and Times Square which became nearly impossible to push through with umbrellas. Quickly ducking out of the crowd brought us to the Times Square Alliance. Located in an old restored theater you’ll find volunteers who will be thrilled to share their knowledge of Times Square with you. Did you know that underneath all those billboards are gorgeous art deco buildings?

The rain hadn’t let up and our spirits were sagging so we decided to escape into Macy’s down on 34th Street. Unfortunately, it seemed that many other people had this same idea but it was fun to wander this enormous department store and ride the old wooden escalators.

After a quick subway ride back to the Financial District we holed up in the hotel restaurant to get off our feet and enjoy a lazy evening with a nice dinner and a glass of wine. After all it was off to work Monday morning for my friend and off to the airport for me!

Monday morning I was back at the airport, my home away from home having looked back at my wonderful weekend in Manhattan. It was a whirlwind trip but completely enjoyable and worth every minute.


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