I went to New York City for the first time in July of 2010, all by my lonesome. Usually I don’t mention the “solo female traveler” aspect of my travels. No offense to my fellow solo travel bloggers, but it’s been done and overdone. You’re not the first. I certainly was not the first woman to travel to NYC alone. The reason I specifically mention being alone on my first trip to New York City is because I had spent the previous year living in a small town in Turkey, enduring a tumultuous relationship and no job, and an illness that affected me in ways I wasn’t even aware of.
This solo trip to New York was essentially my way of putting off real life just a little bit longer. Mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t ready to face real life yet. I needed to be distracted just a bit longer. When I looked at flights from Izmir to the US, most had a two-hour layover in New York City. Two hours? Well, that just wouldn’t do for a first trip to The Big Apple. I extended my layover to five days. Sort of.
I want to address the myth of “extending a layover.” I called the airline, before booking. I don’t remember which airline it was, either American or Delta, and I told them I wanted to have a “long layover” for a few days in New York, instead of just two hours, for the same price of the ticket with a two-hour layover.
They laughed. They said I just needed to book another flight from NYC to my final destination, thus dispelling the myth of the “extended layover,” especially at no extra charge. Several people had told me this mythical “extended layover” existed, but I noticed none of them had ever actually experienced it. Now I know why. It doesn’t exist, at least in the United States.
But I digress. I was in New York City for the first time and I intended to take full advantage of it. I did my research and I was ready! This was the first time I used Airbnb. I rented a room in Brooklyn for $35 a night from a Taiwanese girl who was having an affair while her husband was out of town. Awesome. Her boyfriend was an artist and very cute. I didn’t meet her husband until my last day as I was leaving. Her eyes were as wide as saucers as I shook her husband’s hand on my way out the door. Until that moment, I didn’t even know she was married.
Day #1 – Times Square and Sleeping Alone, both of us
By the time I arrived at my host’s brownstone, I had just enough time to brush my teeth and head out again, straight to Times Square. I bought a 7-day subway card for $29, which was better than paying $2.50 per ride, even though I’d only need it four days.
Times Square was just a 30-minute ride away on the subway. I was greeted with bright lights, crowds of people, and rain, three things I normally avoid. I didn’t care. It was so exciting to finally see Times Square. There were advertisements everywhere, tourists everywhere, restaurants, souvenir shops, clothing stores, hot dog stands, all touristy. None of this matter to me. I was in iconic Times Square. It had energy and I loved it. I had a SIM card, my metro card, and my NY City Pass. I was ready to go.
Disclaimer: The links on this post for NY City Pass are affiliate links. If you click them and purchase a NY City Pass, I will make a small commission to help keep the site running, but at no additional cost to you. This is NOT a link for the NY C3 Pass, which I do not receive a commission on, but it can be accessed through these links as well.
I walked around Times Square, got a hot dog (overrated!), an ice coffee at Europa Cafe for about $3, and just walked. I looked at everything but a map. NY is on a fantastic grid system and once I figured out north, south, east, and a west, I had it made.
I wandered over to the Empire State Building and thought about going up, but it was cloudy and I decided to wait. I was also starting to get tired. Jet lag tired. I headed back to Brooklyn on the L train, took a much-needed shower in a bathroom I hoped would be cleaned tomorrow (it was), noticed only one toothbrush in the holder for some reason, and went to bed. I fell asleep to the bass of someone’s ridiculously loud music just outside my window.
Day #2 – Art and Tarts, not the dessert kind…
Woke up bright and early today. I had a lot to see and do! I went to breakfast at a place near Park Ave and 42nd Street. It is a landmark NY restaurant called Pershing Cafe, but I didn’t know it was a landmark at the time. It was pricey, but good. I walked over to 5th Ave and headed north. My first stop was the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is just inside Central Park on 5th Ave. I walked a long way with Central Park to my left and then there it was in all its glory. The Met.
I walked in and looked for the ticket window. Didn’t see it. I had my NY City Pass all ready to activate, and then I just walked in. No ticket. What? Could this be right? A museum in the US is free? Surely not. I walked in to the Greek exhibit and no one asked me for a ticket, so I walked back out. People were buying tickets, but from what I could tell it was for the special exhibit, not the museum itself. I just walked back in again, but decided to skip the Greek exhibits since I’d been to Greece a few times, but it was an impressive collection.
I went to the Americas exhibit first, but Papau New Guinea stole the show. The wooden statues, a wooden roof hanging from the ceiling, everything was just so beautiful and so impressive. Most of it was for use in ceremonies and included masks, headdresses, and carvings to ward off evil spirits from the house. I walked through several other exhibits, including Tibet, China, India, and Iran, and thought the collections were pretty impressive. Someone told me The Met was mediocre, but I disagree. I loved it.
Outside I decided to head further north to the Guggenheim Museum, also on 5th Ave, also included in the NY City Pass. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who died before its completion. There was a lot of controversy about this museum being built where it is. Its concrete spiral design doesn’t exactly fit in with the pricey apartment buildings on 5th Ave.
I took some photos of the spiral architecture and decided I was hungry. 5th Ave had nothing nearby, so I headed east and found a deli that appeared to be old and famous at the corner of 88th Str and Park Ave, so I went in. It’s Ottomanelli Brothers and they claim to be New York’s best deli since 1900. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can’t prove it’s not. I had a turkey club (with bacon!!!) and chipotle mayo and it was the best sandwich I’ve ever had! It was $7.95 and after a fantastic ice coffee for dessert, I was ready to tackle the Guggenheim.
I finally activated my NY City Pass. The $18 entry fee was included in the price of my pass ($122 on sale). The featured artist was a Korean artist named Lee Ufan. There are some nice pieces in the permanent collection from Degas, Picasso, and other artists, but Lee Ufan? Well, there’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.
Lee Ufan’s exhibit included giant blocks of cotton with fake sticks sticking out of them, rocks on pieces of sheet metal, and strips of sheet metal arranged like pick up sticks. Righty ho. If it looks like I could make it, I am not impressed. After an hour, I decided the building was the most interesting part. It is a spiral on the inside and from the lobby, you can see all the way to the ceiling.
I decided to walk back to Times Square to try to get half price tickets to a Broadway show. After a pit stop at Rockefeller Center to people watch, I walked to 42nd Street and into Times Square. I got half price tickets to Billy Elliot and arrived just in time to be seated in Q11 in the orchestra section to watch a fantastic Broadway show. The book and the movie were great, but the live performance was so much better. I laughed a lot, cried a little, and totally enjoyed myself.
I was dead tired afterwards and my feet were killing me, so I got on the subway and headed home where I didn’t see my roomie, but I did notice two toothbrushes in the cup holder tonight. Her door was closed and I heard some, err, sounds, but hey, at least one of us was getting lucky.
Day #3 – Food and Formidable Looking Friends
I had booked a Food on Foot Tour today that started at 11:15AM from Penn Station. I went a bit early so I could walk around that area. There is a huge post office across the street and lots of shopping and restaurants. My tour met inside Penn Station and there was one other solo traveler, so we were paired together and everyone was told to share, otherwise we would get full and not get to taste everything.
Food on Foot was started by Corey who lost his job three years before. He is the CEO, the tour guide, the scheduler, the secretary, the janitor, everything. He created Food on Foot because he is a foodie and he couldn’t find a job, so he created one. It is incredibly successful. His website is informative and user friendly, and he gives a great tour. We made six stops, all in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan, most along 9th Ave.
Our first stop was falafel, then shrimp dumplings, and third was Amy’s Bakery where I had the best red velvet cupcake ever. Next was Lazzara’s Pizza, Little Pie Company (I tried key lime and it was outstanding) and lastly, we stopped at Papaya Dog, but I was too full. These hot dogs looked way better than the ones the street vendors were selling, but I couldn’t order anything. The tour I chose begins at Penn Station. We hopped on the subway, went two stops, and then walked through Hell’s Kitchen. Corey explains all transport for each tour on his great website.
I got to talk to a lot of people and try a lot of food while walking it off a bit in between stops. We finished the tour around 2:30. Group size is limited, so be sure to make a reservation in advance. You pay for your own food at each stop. It’s not included in the ticket price. We didn’t visit any expensive places and my food was probably about $15 total. You can find inexpensive, good food in New York City!
Next, I took the subway to the Seaport Museum while in a food coma, to see the Bodies Exhibit (27.50 and worth it) which is not included in the NY City Pass. I’d heard about this exhibit and was very curious about it. The bodies used in the exhibit were Chinese prisoners and there was a plaque explaining that they couldn’t guarantee the prisoners were not tortured or executed. There’s been some controversy.
I don’t know how the bodies were acquired or who gave permission or money. I just know that it was a fascinating exhibit. Each body system is shown in full detail. The skin is removed, for the most part, and the bodies are permanently preserved with some type of polymer that replaces the water in the body. They look kind of rubberized. They showed muscles, organs, cancers, healthy tissue, fetuses, embryos, arteries, veins, and capillaries. Astounding. Highly recommend!
The Seaport Museum is close to the financial district, Chinatown, and the Brooklyn Bridge, but I decided to return north to the Empire State Building and 9th Ave for some Thai food. I ate at Pam’s Real Thai, and it was real. Real delicious. I made the trek over to the Empire State Building and got in line, not realizing that there were two more levels of lines above me. I was in line over an hour. The Empire State Building is also included in the NY City Pass. Without the pass, tickets are $34.
By the time I got to the 86th floor and got outside, it was dark. Still had great views, but it was so crowded and I was so tired, I couldn’t enjoy it. I snapped a few photos and headed back down, which took about 20 minutes because I took the stairs down to the 80th floor. If I waited for the elevator, it would have been longer.
I was disappointed in the ESB, frankly, and wished I had listened to my food tour buddy when she said the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center was better. The view was amazing, but hard to see through all the people.
By this time, I was exhausted. I hopped on the subway and went back to the apartment where I was greeted by three huge African-American men and one Hispanic on the doorstep, playing their music for the entire neighborhood. The largest man said, “Hey there, are you Lita’s new roommate?” “No, I just rented the front bedroom for a few days so I could explore NYC,” I said. The Hispanic guy said, “How do you like it so far?” To which I responded, “I love it. I want to live here!” They all seemed very pleased, parted so I could get up the stairs, and turned their music off. Huh.
When I entered, I was greeted by the boyfriend and Lita, which didn’t seem unusual since I didn’t know she was married. I took a shower, noting two toothbrushes again, and went to bed when it dawned on me that those guys outside were listening to Christian rock music when I met them outside.
Day #4 – Art, Immigration, and Fornication
MoMA was going to be my first stop today. The Museum of Modern Art on W 53rd Street. It is one of the few museums open on a Monday and tickets are $25. It was included in my NY City Pass, which I was trying to my money’s worth out of in the three days I had to use it. I ate breakfast at a place called Lindy’s on 7th Ave and I don’t recommend it. This was my one food mistake in NYC. Overpriced, unfriendly service, and my bagel with bacon and tomato was not even mediocre, but it cost $8.50! I knew when I sat down it was a mistake and I don’t know why I didn’t leave. The three women next to me left after seeing the menu.
I walked one block down 7th, got a huge ice latte for $3 at Cafe Metro, where I should have gone for breakfast, and then headed over to MoMA. I had high expectations and was not disappointed. Modern art is not really my thing, but out of 6 floors, two were outstanding and the furniture floor was interesting and well, brought back a few memories from growing up in the, uhh, a previous decade. First, I went straight to the 4th floor to see the Andy Warhol exhibit. I was on a mission to see the Campbell’s Soup Can, but it wasn’t on display, but I did see Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, along with other iconic paintings by Jackson Pollock and Lichtenstein.
What is all the fuss about with Pollock? Like I said, if it looks like I could do it, I’m not impressed. I visited the 5th floor which contains very famous works by Cezanne, Dali (you know, the clocks?) Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Matisse, Monet (Water Lilies), Picasso, and van Gogh’s Starry Night. I loved MoMA and would love to go back one day.
Now it was finally time to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I took the subway to Battery Park and had to go to the bookstore, not the ticket window, to redeem my NY City Pass for the $13 ferry ticket. Twenty-five minutes later, I was actually on the ferry. Impressive. The line was pretty long.
I took mediocre pictures of the Manhattan skyline, but it wasn’t long before I only had eyes for Lady Liberty. Finally! I had waited so long to see this iconic American image and it was totally worth the wait. She is an impressive site and I can just imagine what all those immigrants were thinking when they arrived and she was the first thing they saw. However, I didn’t have tickets to climb up the pedestal or up to the crown, so I really didn’t see any reason to get off the boat. I had a fantastic view of her from the ferry, it wasn’t crowded or hot, so I just stayed there until we departed for Ellis Island.
Ellis Island basically consists of a huge building that was once used to process the arrival of immigrants in a sort of assembly line fashion. It is a national park, as is Lady Liberty, but admission is free. You only pay for the ferry, which is included with the NY City Pass. The huge building has been restored to its original splendor and is beautiful, inside and out, although I’m not sure the immigrants could have appreciated it after their long and arduous journeys. The first room is a huge open space and is surrounded by a second-floor balcony.
Off to the sides of this huge room are smaller rooms that were used to inspect and poke and prod and question the immigrants. They were checked for diseases, general health, criminal records, you name it. They went through a lot more than today’s immigrants, but then again, a lot of those worrisome diseases have been eradicated. Each small room has a display and explanation of what the room was used for, and there are some pretty amazing photos. I was so impressed with the organization and authenticity of this entire building. It was purpose built to process immigrants and is one of our smallest national parks.
I got back to Battery Park, ate yet another disappointing hot dog from a hot dog stand (I don’t get what all the fuss is about with New York hot dogs) and wandered over to the financial district. I took some photos of Trinity Church and wandered down Wall Street. Somehow I did not get a photo of the infamous BULL! I saw it, but how did I not get a photo?? There were a lot of people on Wall Street as it was time to go home, so maybe I was distracted by all the handsome men in suits.
I walked by the water and found myself at the entrance to the pedestrian crossing of the Brooklyn Bridge. It wasn’t quite time for sunset, but I was hungry and tired and had a long walk across that bridge ahead of me. The view of Manhattan when I got about halfway across was pretty spectacular, even without the sunset.
When I got to Brooklyn, it was time for pizza. There was an older gentleman giving two gals directions and holding his groceries. He clearly lived in the neighborhood, so I asked him where to go for good pizza. He seemed a bit surprised that I was traveling alone, but he got over it and sent me to Monty’s, just a short walk from the bridge on Montague Street. I had pizza and a pint of beer for $10! I decided to explore a bit of this neighborhood and found myself at the waterfront watching the sunset, looking at the Manhattan skyline, and eating two mini fruit tarts that were divine. If you’ve read my post on Paris, you’re probably amazed that I only had two. So was I. This part of Brooklyn really had a community feel to it and a friendly vibe.
I know you’re wondering. Two toothbrushes. Again.
Day # 5 – Pie and Panic
My last day in New York City. What to do? Eat, of course! I had an evening flight, so I had plenty of time to visit two places I’d wanted to go since I arrived. My first stop was a bakery in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn called Baked. I saw the owners on Martha Stewart. They had such an interesting menu, a great website, and now it was finally time to experience it! I took the subway as far as I could, but it doesn’t go into Red Hook, a former industrial neighborhood by the river that is an up and coming arts district. I walked from the subway.
Baked is close to the water and very easy to find, and it’s on a great street. It’s a long, narrow space with lots of yummy goodies and a great coffee menu. I ordered an ice coffee and a banana, cashew, chocolate pie that was amazing. There were so many great things to choose from I was just overwhelmed. I read the newspaper and when that got too depressing, I decided to look at the Baked cookbooks. Mistake. I bought two of them, and a sweatshirt, my only New York City souvenirs besides my pictures. Check it out at Baked.
I occupied the window seat for a long time, and then it was time to walk to Junior’s, a NY landmark restaurant on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn. It was about an hour walk, and necessary since I knew what Junior’s had to offer. Now there is also a location on Broadway in Time’s Square.
Junior’s was not what I expected. I expected a diner, because that’s what it is, but it was huge and had definitely been updated. Junior’s is famous for its upscale, but fairly reasonably priced, diner fare and cheesecake, and I planned to totally indulge. I got a 10 oz cheeseburger with steak fries, two giant onion rings, and a piece of raspberry white chocolate swirl cheesecake. My first piece of NY style cheesecake was decadent and light and creamy, no whipped cream or garnish necessary. My bill was about $25 and I did not care. I was in a food coma.
Now it was time to head back to the apartment, to the airport, and home. When I arrived, no one was there, so I got my things together and when I came out of the bathroom, noting only one toothbrush, I was greeted by the tall, handsome husband and a very wide-eyed Lita. But there was no need for her to panic. I would never reveal her secret.
Goodbye, New York City. It was time to go back to Tucson, back to reality, and soon, back to work in Kuwait for a second time.