Heading to New York City for Vacation

I had the opportunity to fly down to New York City with Steven to do a little bit of exploring between June 7th and 15th. Not wanting to be late, we left my house at 4:30 am for our flight that was departing at 10. We both had Nexus cards, which lets us skip the security line in the airport but I had a fear that we could be somehow late for the plane anyway. By the time we had arrived to the airport, it was only 7 am. (Thanks Air Canada for telling us we had to be at the airport three hours before our flight ... not). By 7:30 we were sitting in the airport lounge after breezing through security and check-in. We grabbed some Starbucks to waste the time, and then discovered that on the iPads attached to the tables there were free games to play that let you earn points for food! I played a slot machine game and earned 10,000 points, enough for a bag of Sunchips, Coke and entries to win an iPad.

We flew out from Toronto Pearson Airport with Air Canada, after our plane was delayed by almost an hour. Having flown before, I enjoyed the flight thoroughly as it was a short one. I wasn't sure how Steven was going to handle it as he had never flown before, but thankfully, he was more excited than nervous.

Getting to the Airbnb that we had rented out was another story. We landed in New Jersey at Newark Liberty International Airport without knowing how to get from there to where we would be staying. Our first thought was to just check our phones, as most other people would think to also. We had turned on airplane mode for the duration of the trip so we wouldn't be charged international rates but we figured the airport would have wifi. It turned out it didn't, but luckily there was a welcome centre in the arrivals area with staff who were more than happy to help us figure out a route to our destination. We ended up taking the AirTrain to a NJ Transit station which took us to Manhattan to get onto the subway.

Coming from the mid-sized city of Toronto, I had obviously rode the subway before. What I wasn't aware of was that in New York City, more than one subway station can have the same name. Once we reached Dekalb Station on the B/D/N/Q/R/W lines, we thought we had arrived our destination but after a little confusion, we realized we wanted to be at the station of the same name, only on the L line (you can see how far apart the two stations are on the maps below). We finally got to our rental ... and nobody was there to let us in. We knocked for ten minutes or so before I asked if we wanted to give up. Finally an employee of the owner of the building opened the door and welcomed us to Brooklyn.


By the time we arrived downtown it was only 1 pm, and our checkin wasn't for a few more hours. We decided to make the best of our free time and explore a little (or, in our case, get lost a few more times). Throughout the weeks before I had been singing The Weeknd's songs non-stop and constantly talking about how neat it would be to see him in concert. In the subway station, I brought it up once more. "Yeah, it would be really awesome to see him," Steven agreed. Then I surprised him: we were seeing him in concert that same night. I wanted to start off our trip in New York with something memorable, and I thought that was an exciting thing to do. By the time we got to the Barclays Centre at 6:30, we were starving. For some reason, taking public transportation always makes me hungry. The concert was due to begin in a half hour, so we were in a hurry to find somewhere to eat. We discovered a place called 67 Burger and decided to give it a go. Though I can't remember exactly what I got to eat, I remember it being really good. We were about 20 minutes late to the concert, but we only missed a portion of the opening act.

The next morning we set out to find the place Steven had been yearning to explore most: 1 Police Plaza, the police department headquarters of NYC. It didn't take us long to find it with the help of the directions loaded onto my maps app before we left, but unfortunately the didn't offer any sort of tours and the city's police museum had been closed until further notice. Hungry and disappointed, we left and searched for something to eat for breakfast. We'd never really had street food before so we tried a couple bagels from a street vendor. They weren't bad for the price we paid, but I'm not used to eating my bagels without cream cheese. Of course it didn't take Steven long to locate the nearest fire station — impressively without the use of a map — so we ventured in that direction to take a peek inside.

Next we headed to see the 9/11 Memorial. We didn't know what to expect, but the monuments were huge! It was shocking to see the large crowds of people visiting the fountain to pay their respect to the people who passed in the tragic accident. The World Trade Centre was in the area, so we took a stroll through the building to see what it looked like before heading to Times Square, which ended up being less crowded than I had initially expected (that's not to say there weren't tons of people there).

The New York City Fire Museum was the next activity on our list, and it was easy to get to (we only had to take one subway line) with the help of our trusty subway map. The museum had a few old firetrucks on the first floor with some of the equipment used in the rescue missions during 9/11. On the second floor there were badges from each fire station throughout the city — each one had a different motto on it.

Being the nerd he is, Steven purchased a fire department t-shirt as a souvenir and we headed back to our rental to call it an early night. On the walk back from the subway station I saw a frozen yogurt shop, and being the addict I am, we cheated and had it for supper. It's yogurt, so it must be healthy, right?

We slept in until 10 on Friday because we were still a little bit tired from the travelling on Wednesday. Once we were out of bed and ready to explore the city some more, we wondered around Bushwick until we found a place to grab some breakfast. I got a smoothie and a pesto bagel sandwich with avocado — I was never a fan of avocado before then, but I definitely am now!

Then we headed downtown, but not without running into trouble. The subway line closest to us had been delayed and we had to go down to the street to get onto a shuttle bus. By the time a bus had arrived with enough room for us to get on, the delay on the subway had cleared up and we had to go back into the station. We headed to downtown Brooklyn and discovered something really, really weird: an intersection where the push button to signal you want to walk was literally half way up a light post and I had to jump to reach it.

The Fire Department Headquarters had a nice quiet courtyard that we were able to sit in and relax for a while before taking a walk around. Unfortunately it too was closed to the public which was disappointing, but we ended up finding a dog park which made up for it. After cooling off with mini bowls of ice cream, we set off to find the Brooklyn Bridge and ended up walking in the wrong direction.

To get to the Brooklyn Bridge, we had to walk along Jay Street, but we didn't realize that we could've just taken the bus instead of walking (in defence of us being lazy, it was very hot out while we were in the city). We reached the bridge and found a cute little park by the water where we sat down to enjoy the view. However, we soon discovered that we were actually at the base of the Manhattan Bridge and that the Brooklyn one was further down. We had a decent view of both bridges and decided that it wasn't worth venturing to.

Next on our schedule was the Top of the Rock viewing platform at the Rockefeller Centre, so we headed to find the nearest subway station (which, by the way, all have free wifi which helped us a lot). Since we were so parched after walking so much that day, we stopped into a trendy-looking cafe and ordered two iced teas. They tasted completely horrible but they quenched our thirst nonetheless.

By 7:30 we were downtown Manhattan again and went to grab our tickets to the attraction, but since we hadn't picked up our CityPass booklets yet, we had to wait in a  long lineup. The next available time was around 9:30 and we had nothing to do until then, so we went to the restaurant located right beside the Rockefeller Centre. We ordered some dips and pita bread to start, and I ordered a bacon burger and fries. From my previous encounters with hummus, I've never quite been a fan, but I changed my mind after that meal. After waiting in the line for a short time, we were whisked up the elevator to the 70th floor to enjoy some amazing views of the city at night. Sadly my Canon T5 camera wasn't able to take good photos at night, but my trusty iPhone camera endured for me. There was even a neat art/tech installation which tracked where you were walking with sensors throughout the room and lit up lights on the ceiling that followed you around!

Saturday was a late day for us. We woke up around 10 a.m., and set out to find a good cup of coffee — something that could compare to an unapologetically Canadian triple triple from Tim Hortons. FirstLive Coffee House was the first place we found, and since a painting outside boasted they had "damn good coffee," we decided to go in. We then walked over to Broadway Junction where we boarded the train to downtown Manhattan. Deciding to get off earlier than our destination to explore, we discovered Gansevoort Market. It was full of so many good smelling foods, but we had to keep trekking onwards to our destination: the Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum. One of the things Steven wanted to do while we were in NYC was to hail a cab from the side of the road. We hopped off our bus and tried several times while walking down a busy street, but we had no luck. Too bad, since it was 35 degrees celsius that day and it we were dripping from sweat. There was so much to see at the museum, including an actual submarine, a huge ship called the USS Intrepid (which used to be used in WW2 and the Vietnam War, but was decommissioned in 1974). We had the opportunity to view several drones, including an Amazon Prime Air drone.

Once we were done exploring the museum we wondered over to Central Park to lay down and relax for a while. I always knew that Central Park was big, but I had no clue just how large it actually was! It was nice to just law in the grass for a while after a exciting and exhausting morning.

Our next destination was supposed to be The Metropolitan Museum of Art, but once we got there we realized we most likely wouldn't have enough time to see everything the museum had to offer. (While I was figuring out something else that we could do we cleaned our feet off in the fountain outside). Remembering my goal of visiting all five boroughs of New York City, I asked Steven if he wanted to Staten Island. After some hesitation and him asking me what there is to do there (hint: there's pretty much nothing) we decided to go anyway since not much else was open at that time.

We weren't sure how to navigate to the ferry terminal without our map or our devices (our batteries were running dangerously low) but likely there's kiosks in some of the subway stations that will give you directions to different places throughout the city. Following a quick restroom stop in Chipotle (where they don't let you use the facilities without purchasing something first) we proceeded to the docks. When we first arrived there wasn't much of a crowd but as the time to departure approached more and more people arrived to board the ferry. The half-hour journey on the boat was pleasant (and ended with Steven being called "extra" for standing too close to some dude's kid). We could see the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, which became illuminated as the sun went down. Our time on Staten Island was kept short because of our dead phones and not knowing anywhere to grab supper at 10 p.m. Back on the mainland we decided the best place to find some food would be Times Square which, FYI, is quite amazing to see at night. We found a TGI Friday's restaurant and since we'd both never been to one before, decided to give it a shot. We got pretzel sticks to start and I (obviously) ordered a burger. Usually I'd order an alcoholic beverage too, but since the drinking age in the U.S. is 21 for some strange reason, that was out of the question.

On our fifth day in the Big Apple, we let ourselves sleep in a little bit again (it helps when it's a Sunday and therefore nothing's open until noon). We made our way to the American Museum of Natural History where we spent the majority of our day. We started off by watching Dark Universe, a 360-degree movie narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson that explains how the universe began. Then we worked our way through the museum from the bottom up. Our first stop was current and prehistoric animals, followed by my favourite, dinosaurs. Next up was ancient civilizations, mummies and rocks.

I forced Steven to wake up on Monday because we still had so much to see before we left the city. By 10:30 a.m. we had gotten our tickets for the Statue of Liberty and were waiting in line for the next ferry, within a half hour, we were on the island taking the statue in up close. It was, as usual, extremely hot outside so we enjoyed some lemonades while listening to the audioguides that were provided to us. We grabbed lunch on the island and then decided to head back to Manhattan. However, the line for the ferry literally wrapped around the island. I suggested that we went to New Jersey instead and just took the subway back to Manhattan, but we ended up skipping some (I should say a lot) of the people in line.

Directly in front of the exit from the ferry was a giant fountain and playground and Steven wasted no time sprinting to the fountain to cool off. I politely declined to join him and since he got soaking wet, he had to go back to the rental to clean off before we could head to our next stop.

Were you really in New York if you didn't have a little picnic in Central Park? I think not, which is why that was our plan for supper. After finally going to the grocery store to purchase some actual food (by the way, groceries in the U.S. are expensive!) we packed up a mishmash of fruit, vegetables, chips, sandwiches, granola bars and a beer for Steven. We went for a bit of a walk around the park and saw a bunch of adorable dogs and then decided to call it a night.

On Tuesday our first stop was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I didn't realize how big the art gallery was. Once we had our tickets (which, oddly enough are just name tags), we set off to find a tour guide to show us some of the work. We followed the guide for a half hour before breaking off from the group and exploring on our own. The highlights of the museum (in my opinion, at least) were the ancient Greece and Egyptian exhibits. There was also a pond in a traditional Chinese garden with some real fish in it!

Once we saw all there was to see at the museum we realized we were starving. In our case, starving meant hungry for something different from the cafeteria lunch we had been relying on for the last few days. After wondering around for a little bit we found a Panera Bread, which sounded like it'd be really good! I ordered a salad and let me tell you, the salad was — dare I say it — the best salad I've ever eaten. It was filled with strawberries and blueberries and mandarins; I've never had a salad that was so fruit-reliant before in my life.

Later in the day we had found a coupon for a 2-for-1 boat cruise with Circle Line Sightseeing Tours and were planning on taking full advantage of that, but we had more than a hour to kill until we had to be at the dock for that. I'd heard about the High Line before and navigated us in that direction because I thought we could take a bit of a walk on it. Unfortunately it was way too hot to be walking in the sun so we set out for the docks instead. Steven had mentioned he wanted to try hailing a taxi from the side of the road and, since it was 35 degrees outside I completely agreed with him. Though there were loads of cabs driving down the road, all of them were filled until we were only a few blocks away from our destination. But since it was so hot outside we decided to hop into one anyway. The cruise was amazing (it cooled us off a lot too) and took us from the west to east sides of Manhattan where we could see the United Nations building and the Brooklyn/Manhattan bridges. It was also nice to be able to explore the city without having to talk so much so I took full advantage of that.

Next we set off for the Empire State Building, which didn't take long to get to. We had already seen the city during the night when we first arrived, and now wanted to see it during the daylight. The views definitely did not disappoint us, and there were both an inner and outer viewing floor that we got to go to.

On our final day in the city it was my turn to decide what we got to do (since Steven had chosen all his police and fire HQ's and museums). I decided upon the New York City Transit Museum and of course, the Bronx Zoo.

Being the nerd I am, I found it really interesting to read about how the New York City subway system and MTA started and what it's doing to improve. There were also several exhibits about how the transit authority coped with crises like 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, and what it learned from these disasters to help it prepare for the next one. They had a handful of different subway cars on display, and each one was from a different decade and had been used in revenue service!

Next we headed uptown towards the Bronx to get to the zoo (on Wednesdays it's free which is a plus). However, I may have accidentally thought we were supposed to stay on the train for longer than we actually should have. The conductor was nice enough to help us out with directions and to let us back into the station without making us pay again. When we reached the zoo we had to choose only a couple things to see because it would be closing before we would be able to walk around the whole place. There were camels you could ride, but I'm pretty sure they spit so I made sure to stand back from them. You could also see lots of birds (we didn't get enough time to see the penguins, though), seals, flamingos and reindeer!

Suddenly it was Thursday morning and we had to get all packed up and clean up the apartment. We slept in and left for the subway station around 11. Once we got there, we had to take the subway to Penn Station and then hop onto the NJ Transit train to the airport station where we'd transfer to the airport train to get to our terminal. Not the most easy-to-use transportation system, I'd say. We arrived at the airport too early (yet again) and ended up grabbing some lunch. Steven didn't want to be late for the plane and made me throw my drink away even though I was parched.

Eventually, after Air Canada changed the departure gate from gate 12 to 11 and then back to 12, we boarded the plane and said goodbye to the big apple.