Want to go to New York?” asked my friend, Deb. The budget traveler in me replied with a doubt-you-can challenge of “find me a good deal and I’m in.”
“I got one. $650 for airfare and hotel, including taxes” said Deb. My heart swelled with delight but an inner voice deep within my brain screamed, “are you crazy? New York? Too expensive!” Could someone with a quirk about money have fun in this costly city?“Manhattan is on your travel list and our money is at par” whispered my heart. “Book it” I told Deb and we, along with her mom, Anna, were soon flying to New York City for a whirlwind five days.
Upon arrival at Newark International Airport, my gentle prompting steered us away from the $85 cab ride and we hopped on the $15 New Jersey Transit train that got us to Penn Station, in the heart of Manhattan, in less than 30 minutes (njtransit.com).
We walked off the train and into the familiar backdrop of hundreds of movies. My fingers explored real three by six inch shiny white NYC subway tiles of the underground tunnels. I paused to absorb the anonymous floating sounds of a saxophone. We squeezed our luggage and bodies into a cramped station elevator and I was tourist giddy as a heavily accented man from the Bronx, (or was it Brooklyn?) welcomed us with a “hey, how yous doo-in?”
We popped onto the bustling streets, right across from our Hotel. The 1,700 room Pennsylvania Hotel (hotelpenn.com) is the fourth largest hotel in New York City and while it was a bit frayed at the edges, it was clean. The extra wide carpeted hallways reminded me of the Overlook Hotel as young Danny raced his Big Wheel away from two gruesome figures in The Shining.
We threw our bags onto the squeaky, sagging single beds and walked north into Times Square. Glaring neon. Honking taxi horns. Foreign languages. Tourists. Delivery drivers. Police whistling on every corner. Never-ending oops, sorry, excuse me’s. Your senses are overloaded yet enticed at the same time.
The Broadway Theatre District was a few blocks to the west and we returned a few days later to enjoy my one splurge, the hilarious,Lend Me a Tenor. My brain was satisfied with the discounted tickets purchased in advance (broadway.com) so my heart thoroughly enjoyed the show.
The easy-to-navigate NYC subway is the largest transit system in the world and I adored hunting for the descending green stairwells peaking out from densely packed buildings. We purchased daily MetroCards for only $8.25 which were valid for unlimited exploring. The waiting platforms were hot and humid but the trains themselves were air-conditioned and clean (mta.info).
The Century 21 discount designer department store is like Winners but super-sized (c21stores.com). I spotted a pair of black designer sling backs and while most would not think twice of the $49.50 price, my brain was itching for a fight. I tried them on once, twice. “These are exactly what you wanted and you can even have fun saying, I got these in New York” said my heart. “Put them back”scolded my brain. I paced in front of the only size sevens like a new young mother. I got bumped away from my protective circle but continued to keep an eye on them from afar. At one point my heart was ahead in the debate and I grabbed the shoes, paid and told Deb, who was shopping effortlessly, that I’d be waiting outside before I changed my mind. My brain relented somewhat after I discovered that there was no sales tax for clothing or shoes under $110.
We continued our foot tour over the next day and found St Paul’s chapel, located directly across the street from Ground Zero. Built in 1766, it is the oldest surviving church in the city and provided a refuge for emergency responders during 9/11. As a former police officer, I was deeply moved by the photos, letters and uniforms on display. Entrance is free. (trinitywallstreet.org).
The Staten Island Ferry, also free, is boarded at the southern tip of Manhattan and takes you within photo distance of the Statue of Liberty (siferry.com). We stopped periodically for cold beers on our way along the waterfront to the Brooklyn Bridge. Built in 1883, it spans the East River and connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The next day, I explored the Upper West Side while Deb and Anna took in a Broadway double bill. Central Park, which is slightly smaller than Stanley Park, begins at 59th St and I explored the trails, lakes and ponds on foot. I ducked out of the park every few blocks to have a cold beer on nearby Columbus Way. As a Beatle fan, I paused at the 72nd Street park entrance to pay my respects at the Dakota building, where John Lennon lived and was shot on December 8, 1980.
I walked north to 125th street in Harlem and checked out the Apollo Theatre which was preparing for the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. While a few street people approached me for change, I never felt unsafe and used basic travel (and cop) sense and walked with a purpose and knew exactly where I was going. (apollotheatre.org).
Later that night, I explored the TriBeCa area and enjoyed beer and appetizers in its many restaurants (barartisanal.com-since closed). I had already purchased a $20 ticket via the internet to see a band performing the Rolling Stones’s Exile on Main Street double album at the Canal Room (canalroom.com). The venue was tight for 300 people and the front row booth allowed the smooth sounds of the piano, horns and drums to vibrate off my skin.
Our last day included Coney Island, which is actually a peninsula located on the southernmost tip of Brooklyn. The humid 33°C June weather had us wishing we had bathing suits. The beachside boardwalk led us to the 83 year old Cyclone wooden rollercoaster where we screamed like Justin Beiber fans. With an 85 foot drop and speeds reaching 96 km/h, this neck-cracking adrenaline rush was well worth the $8 ticket and 40 minute subway ride to get there. (coneyisland.com)
We completed our scenic walking tour in artsy Greenwich Village, with its second hand record, book and antique stores and ended our night in hip SoHo. We hit four different patios for shared appetizers and toasted the end of our trip with $3.50 pints of Stella at the SoHo Room.
All in all, I spent about $300, not including the theatre ticket. My heart was expanded with intimate and memorable travel experiences as I connected with New York City and its people and because most were low-cost or free, my brain was satisfied too.
I might even wear those designer shoes one day.
© 2011 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by Michelle Sevigny