Posts Tagged ‘tourist sites’

Alright, so, it’s been a year and half since I left NYC. But recently, some of my friends have been planning trips to the City and asking for travel advice, so I figured it was time to compile my wisdom into a blog post.

Step one for grad students: find awesome roommates. This is the single most important thing for you to do. They can be fellow students or other interesting city people, but make sure they are awesome. Also, try to live somewhere that doesn’t have bedbugs (see below).

Step one for tourists: check hotel reviews to try to find one with as few bedbugs as possible. Bedbugs are rampant in NYC and having them in your hotel room will be miserable, but not as miserable as when you bring them home with you to your regular dwelling. Google your hotel, read the reviews, and do a search text for “bedbugs” and “bed bugs.” stay somewhere with very few hits in the text.

OK. So once you have your awesome roommates or your low-bedbug hotel room — it’s time to see the city. This blog post does not include reviews of the famous museums — if you are a grad student, you will have plenty of time to see any of them that interest you (but do make an effort to do so, which can be tricky, because they tend mostly to be open only during business hours), if you are a tourist, I am sure that you can find information online that will allow you to pick which of them you want to see and then go see them. Do note, that most museums in NYC are free, even those that seem to charge. The charge is actually only a suggested contribution (though it is not approached as such). I recommend giving some sort of donation, whatever you can afford and makes sense to you, but especially if you are a poor grad student living in the city, and only have an hour or so before the museum closes, I think it is fair to offer a smaller donation to the person who “charges” you admission.

Whether you are living in the city or a tourist, your location at any moment is going to largely determine what you do. Despite being a small island and having excellent public transportation, it can take two hours to get from Washington Heights to the lower east side. Someone living in upper Harlem, who has a girlfriend in Brooklyn, will refer to their courtship as a “long distance relationship.” Distance changes in the city and it is hard to get from one place to another. So, when you are hungry, pull out your Iphone (Droid, etc.) and pull up Urbanspoon (or Yelp, but Urbanspoon rocks in the city) and find a restaurant near where you are standing. Don’t forget, you’re in New York City, so unless you are desperate, don’t eat anywhere with less than an 80% (4 out of 5) approval rate.

Below are some of my favorite things in New York City. If you find yourself near any of these locations, or up for an adventure, I suggest you check them out.

Either before you go (they have tour shows now), or once you are in the city, definitely see In the Heights — probably my favorite musical. It is good to see either before or after you have actually been up to Washington Heights — on the west side, along the Hudson River, beginning at 155th street. If you are a grad school student living in the city, note that most Broadway shows have a lottery system in which they sell front row seats for about $25 to those who come ahead of time and are lucky enough to get their name drawn from a hat. Yes, I have actually gotten tickets to a Broadway show this way. However, In the Heights is so good, that I don’t know if I would risk it. If you are thinking about seeing another show while you are in town though, then you can always give this a try, as long as you have good back up plans so that you are not too disappointed if you don’t get picked.

On your way uptown, if its a warm day, stop at the boat basin. A beautiful place to sit in the sun and sip on a drink, watching the boats on the Hudson.

Once you get up to Washington Heights, get a morir sonando. They won’t be hard to find, but you’ll have to be looking for the street vendors pushing grocery carts filled with oranges and limes. Just ask for one, smile, and throw in a “por favor”, and any other conversational Spanish you have you your back pocket. Morir sonandos are Dominican beverages made from fresh squeezed juice from two oranges and one lime, a touch of vanilla, chopped ice and evaporated milk — amazing. It means “to die dreaming,” which is exactly what would happen if you were hit by a bus sipping on one of these awe inspiring beverages.

On your way back downtown, if you’re around midtown and craving something sweet — hit up Buttercup Bake Shop — the people who responded to the trans fat ban in NYC with, “We think it is really tough, thank goodness we only use butter, so it won’t affect us.” Boutique cupcake shops have popped up all over the U.S., so this might not be a particularly novel place for you, but if you haven’t ever been to a boutique cupcake shop, I recommend checking out this one.

Alright, once your back downtown, it’s time for a tour — and the only one I recommend in the city is Big Onion Tours — especially the multi-ethnic eating tour.

Take the time to stand on the top of the Empire State Building — quite a quintessential NYC experience. The line can be long during the day, but the secret is that the last elevators go up at 1:15AM, and you can pretty much walk in and right onto the elevators after 11PM to get a great view of the city lights.

Top of the Empire State Building

Also, take the time to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (tip: walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan and not the other way around if you want the best views of the city).

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge

I know I said that I wasn’t going to give a rundown of all of the New York City museums, but by two favorite are:
1. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum
2. Ellis Island
Of course, if you’re going to Ellis Island, you might as well hit up the Statue of Liberty too.

Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty

Also, I know I said that you would pretty much just end up eating anywhere Urbanspoon tells you to that is close to where you are standing when you get hungry, but if you are looking to plan a meal in advance, here are some favorite restaurants:
1. My absolute all time favorite NYC restaurant: A Cafe — 973 Columbus Avenue, between 107th and 108th Streets. It’s a pretty sweet deal. 25 bucks gets you a delicious appetizer and dinner, and it’s BYO — so pick up a delicious bottle of wine at a bodega and bring it in with you, there is no corking fee.

Friends at A Cafe

2. Vatan Indian — all you can eat vegetarian Indian food. You get a plate that has a sample of everything on it and once you know what you want, they will bring you more, and more and more of it. If, after your Indian food, you want a manicure/pedicure at 11PM, hit up Hair Party 24 Hours. Your pedicure comes with a free glass of wine and a massage chair. If you drag your boyfriend along, and he doesn’t want a pedicure, he can still get the wine and sit in a massage chair for free.
3. Ed’s Lobster Bar — best. lobster roll. ever.
4. Gramercy Tavern
5. If you absolutely must hit a Little Italy while you are in the City, try to get up to the one in the Bronx, much more authentic and much better food than the one on Manhattan.

Enjoy your adventures! If you have any other advice about traveling in the City or disagree with any of my advice here, feel free to leave comments below.

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Last weekend, my litter sister, Kelly, flew to DC and completely surprised me for my birthday. She and Dan had been in cahoots. I am amazed by how many people were able to keep it a surprise. I came out of my building after work on Friday expecting to see Dan and was shocked by the gorgeous tall woman standing next to him, who I soon realized was my little sis. Friday night we grabbed appetizers in Dupont and then Kelly went off to surprise another one of her friends at Georgetown University.

Saturday, we walked through Eastern Market and joined my friends for dinner in Georgetown followed by a piano bar in Barracks Row. Sunday we walked the Mall a bit, saw the Capitol and the Washington Monument and went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum — allowing Dan and I to check yet another place off our DC tourist map. I found the museum to be more of a memorial than a museum, and it didn’t teach me much I didn’t already know — though as Dan pointed out, I was a history major, so maybe most people don’t have the same knowledge of the time period. I was searching for a greater understanding of “how” — how an entire population, an entire world, could know what was happening and do very little to stop it, how a people can allow themselves to be interned. I know about the horrors, but I understand less about how. Maybe Rwanada and Darfur help explain how. The museum is powerful as a memorial, and an important one. One of my friends commented on the shoes — an exhibit showing rows and rows of shoes piled on top of one another — shoes that were abandoned outside a gas chamber. And though I am aware of differences, my mind flashed back to what another friend, who was living in NYC at the time, had said about 9/11 — “it was the shoes, the shoes outside the buildings.”

Kelly and I finished our weekend with a movie at home on Sunday night. It was wonderful to get to see her and catch up on some of that sister stuff that is sometimes tough to share over 2,000 miles.

In somewhat related news, Dan, who has a genuine gift for such writing, has updated his Yelp profile to include reviews of some of the restaurants we have visited in DC, funny and insightful. If you are looking for a place to eat in DC, or just want to know more about what we have been eating since we got here, check out the reviews.

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check, check

Dan and I have been making the rounds on some of the tourist destinations in DC. We started getting a feel for our neighborhood early on — which took us to the (outside of) the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Since then, we have been trying to hit a few more sites every couple of weeks. We have been doing a far better job than I did at seeing the sites in NYC. So far, we have been to the National Museum of American History, the U.S. National Arboretum, The National Building Museum, the National Sculpture Garden, the National Gallery of Art (West Building), The National Air and Space Museum, the Christmas display at the U.S. Botanical Garden, the (outside of) the White House, the Ellipse to see the National Christmas Tree, the Japanese Lantern and First Cherry Tree Planting, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the National Zoo.

Continue reading if you want to learn more about our touristy adventures.

We hit the first four sites — the (outside of) the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial — at night. The Monuments are open late and make great evening stops if you want to avoid the crowds of the day and don’t mind missing out on riding the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument (which, I have heard is pretty cool and gives you a great feel for the layout of downtown.)

We went to the National Museum of American History with my Mom, and it made a pleasant afternoon with a parental unit. The museum provides an good overview of American wars. Dan and I enjoyed learning more about the history of birth control in this country and Dan also liked the exhibit on the history of robots.

DC Arboretum

DC Arboretum

The National Arboretum has become one of our favorite places to spend a sunny afternoon. In the fall, the place was not crowded and provided an excellent location for a hike with a pup along well-maintained trails. It is one place that Dan and I consider underrated overall and we recommend that anyone visiting the city make the Arboretum one of their stops. The trick is that the Arboretum is located relatively far Northeast in the District and getting there pretty much requires a car — so if you are dependent on public transportation, it can be tough to get out there. So far we have seen the Administrative Building, Fern valley (one of our favorite areas), the Azalea collection (which provides a beautiful hike), the National Capitol columns, and the National Herb Garden, which Dan and I both like because of all of the different beautiful peppers that grow in the fall.

We went to the National Building Museum to see their haunted tour. The tour was led by a volunteer, in costume and speaking in first person, which provided an interesting historical story. The after-hours tour also allowed us onto the fourth floor, which is usually closed to visitors. With only our tour group for company, the building had some mystical qualities with only the emergency lights casting shadows.

We walked through the Sculpture Garden on our way to the National Gallery of Art. One of my favorite things about the National Gallery was the West Building Highlights page that is available in case you only have an hour to visit the museum. Despite living in DC and being a history nerd, I often find that hour in a museum is about the right amount of time. And one of the luxuries of living here among the free Smithsonian museums is that we can come back to see parts of the museums over several days. The Highlights page directs you to some of the most famous works in the museum including Gievra de’ Benci, the only piece by Leonardo da Vinci in the Western Hemisphere, The Alba Madonna by Raphael, A Lady in Waiting by Johannes Vermeer, Allies Day, May 1917 by Childe Hassam, Rouen Cathedral, West Facade, Sunlight by Monet, and Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh.

We only had about 45 minutes in the National Air and Space museum before closing, but we got a lighting tour of some parts of the museum and I seriously doubt that my tech-loving boyfriend will let me leave DC without spending another afternoon at the museum and catching a show at the IMAX or the planetarium. One of our favorite parts was walking through a replica of the first U.S. Space Station.

The Capitol Building at U.S. Botanical Gardens

The Capitol Building at U.S. Botanical Gardens

The holiday display at the Botanical Gardens is magical in that holiday way — the kind of place that makes you wish you had kids to take with you. There are lighted replicas of famous buildings around capitol hill made entirely of plant material and surrounded by poinsettias. It took more than 600 hours to create the replica of the U. S. Capitol. There is also a train room full of miniature trains surrounded by a fairy village. The gardens are open late on certain weeknights through December and have live musical performances in the main room with the large Christmas tree. One of the coolest part about the late nights is that relatively few people visit the gardens during after-hours and not only are the holiday displays open, but you can walk around the rest of the indoor areas of the gardens with relatively few other visitors. My friend and I enjoyed walking around the second floor of the rain forest and exploring the desert and Hawaii rooms.

National Christmas Tree

National Christmas Tree

We saw the National Christmas Tree at the Ellipse.

FDR Memorial

FDR Memorial

We passed the Japanese lantern and First Cherry Tree planting on our way to the FDR and Thomas Jefferson Memorials on the opposite side of the Tidal Basin from The Mall. I am sure it is a breathtaking area in early spring. The FDR memorial is my favorite memorial in DC so far. It feels built into the natural surroundings, rather than imposed on them. The quotes illustrate FDR’s desires to ensure full employment, preserve the natural world, and bring peace to all countries. While I recognize his imperfections, and I felt Dan’s eyes role as we walked across the part of the memorial that signified the beginning of his fourth term, FDR is my favorite president.



Lastly, we went to the National Zoo for ZooLights. I highly recommend ZooLights. Not only were the lights fun, but we were also able to get in to view several of the animals, especially those that tend to be very popular during regular business hours, such as the monkeys and pandas. Tai Shan, the four-year old panda that was born in the U.S. will be headed to China early next year, and it was an excellent opportunity to watch him eat some bamboo. Tai Shan is on loan to the U.S. from the Chinese government and must be sent back to China as part of the agreement, likely to enter their breeding program to aid their species conservation efforts.

Happy Holidays to you and yours; we’ll be hitting some more of the sites in the New Year.

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