August 17, 2009

A girl's weekend in New York

While most of the New Yorkers go away to countryside or beach, visitors come to the Big Apple, not minding the 90-degree heat. It's not easy to be in New York during summer, nevertheless, it's one of the most exciting seasons to visit - open cafes and bars, parks and fountains, and European leather goods sales.

To and From New York by Bus

Take a bus to New York, serviced by Bolt and MegaBus from most big East Coast cities, such as Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC. Arrive in style with a little bit of sweat from all the standing in the lane to load the bus under direct sun, and carrying your weekend attire (including your New York stilettos.) Ticket prices range from $12.00 to $25.00, but some serious in-advance planners score one-dollar tickets on Megabus, or at least that's what I hear. Urban legend? I'll never know because I, personally, more of one-day-before-I-have-to-leave kind of planner when it comes to traveling locally.

New York Places and Walks

Make sure your boyfriend booked a nice hotel in the city, such as W Hotel Union Square on Union Square - in our case. Take a shower and head to Noodle Republic, a local Asian fusion spot right next to infamous Coffee Shop (open 24/7). A wide array of meat, seafood and vegetarian dishes to choose from - opt for glass noodles with chicken and organic beet/carrot juice if sitting outside (only eight tables available for outside seating) or a bowl of beef noodle soup, if seating inside. Enjoy a rather alive crowd of the regulars at this spot that is sometimes overlooked by the guidebooks, but that would never go out of business as on any day, they are full. The turnover of people is fast, but the service is friendly and they never hurry you out of the restaurant - just kick back, relax and people watch all you want.

(Beef Satay, another delicious dish, and only $7)

Then head down the University Place towards Soho and lower west side for shopping and more people watch. New York University's many departments and dorms occupy the area, along with many unique boutiques, shops, eateries and bars - not to mention ice-cream and frozen yogurt parlors.

Farmer's Market on Union Square is at full action on Saturday, pretty much through 5 or 6:00 p.m., and offers a wide array of vegetables, fruits, baked goodies and home-made home-squeezed lemonade. Many locals would browse through, and it doesn't matter if they live in Queens or Brooklyn - the farmer's market offers organic foods that you won't find at many local grocery stores; and it wont' be that fresh and organic any way.

Street artists, along with homeless and freaks, occupy the south side of the park, sometimes taking it as far as protesting for various agendas.

(Union Square, a view from the top)

In and around Thompson Street, there are many steps to sit at and gaze at people walking by, as well as many cafes and bars where a cold beer won't hurt on a 90-degree New York heat.

Night on New York

At night, opt for Sway Lounge, which is not bearing the name Sway from outside, but rather McGovern Bar - go figure, but a local would know that once inside, DJ spins a mix of 80's and 00's, from Michael Jackson's Billy Jean to Lady GaGa's Just Dance while you sip a cocktail on one of the red plush couches the Moroccan style.

For dinner (a special occasion, I might add) our friends picked Kittichai, an Asian fusion restaurant on 60 Thompson. And even though we've already had our share of Asian fusion food during lunch, we agreed to the place as we had no other choice but agree. The place is very dark inside, romantic, but it takes a while to make sense out of the menu as it's very dark to read it. Floating candles in a little pond-aquarium in the middle of the floor is a nice touch, but I can't say the same about the prices. Overpriced small dishes are tasty, but too small to really enjoy. This is how three couples ended up paying $200 per couple for a small appetizer, a small main dish, two deserts split between six people, and a couple of signature drinks. (Although, my Baked Chilean Sea Bass marinated in salted yellow beans was pretty good.) But that's "New York". Surprised to see full restaurant, I thought hard about the current state of the recession. Is it really happening? If so, then people are still willing to pay big bucks to fill out their tummies. This - on top of an apartment rental that takes up to 70 percent of one's pay check. Go, figure.

(Coffee Shop at Union Square, open 24/7. Burgers never looked so good at 3 a.m.)

Sunday Brunch and More Walks

On Sunday, there is nothing like a long brunch with friends at a local place where they serve specials and $3 Mimosas and Bloody Marys. Egg Benedicts over crabcakes with homemade frittes is a working recipe for a hang-over! Try Jack Bistro on 11th and University Place. We, former New Y ork residents, were pretty happy to pick a local spot for our friends, although on any given name I'd opt for a local bagel shop - New York bagels are out of this world!

If you only have a weekend of New York time, intermixed with times spent over beer, wine and food with friends out of town, then opt to stay in the nearby area (unless it's Harlem), and invest the most of time walking around the nearby neighborhoods, which in our case were Lower East Side, Lower West Side, Soho, Noho, and Union Square.

(Soho, NYC)

Local Entertainment and Bibliofilia

Got a few extra bucks, stop by the Strand Bookstore around the corner from Union Square (on the corner of 12th and Broadway), a huge warehouse of books of all your soul and mind wants and cheaper than anywhere else, including My buys this time were Secret by Rhonda Byrne and one of many Sigmund Freud's genuis books. And if you are, like many (including myself) who just saw Julie & Julia movie about Julia Child, a woman who brought French cooking to American housewives, then you are out of luck. Last week - they had the first masterpiece by Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, this week - they're out of stock, as many other stores. Though, Amazon still has a few left, but who would pay $299.99 dollars for a two-volume cookbook? Definitely, not me. At least - not now. I'll wait till the buzz dies out.

My other favorite section in the store is, of course, travel. A few months ago I stumbled over a rare book A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union picture book with photos of the Soviet times that I remember so well, and which images are still so dear to me - from uniform school pupils to the October 7th Red Square parade. And while some of the images are long gone with the Moscow's Putch in 1991, some of the images still pertain to today's life in Russia, such as ice-cream parlors operated by Russian women in white robes. This book is available on Amazon, and Strand Bookstore still hold one copy of the book (as of August 15, 2009.)

A Very Local New York Treat

Of course, a stay in New York would not have been complete if I haven't had at least a bag of street roasted sweet nuts. These, along with New York street pretzels and hot dogs, would never go away. At least not until people like me stop buying them two bags at a time. My favorite locations for "nuts vendors" are Soho (on the corner of Prince and Broadway), Union Square (on the Corner of 13th and University Place), and Midtown East (on the corner of Lexington Ave and 60th). The criteria by which I rate "best nuts vendor" in New York is simple - the nuts should be fresh, crispy (not chewy), and the bags should be filled up (not just some lazy 8 nuts in the bag.) $2.50 a bag - and I guarantee you are coming back for them next time!

(New York 'Nuts' street vendors)

Bus Tips To and From New York

A few tips you might want to know for taking the bus to / from New York:

1. Make sure you print out the confirmation number, which is your ticket to get on bus;

2. Make sure you get to the bus pick-up location at least 30 min. in advance as the lines of passengers form quickly, and with many buses leaving for different locations - you want to make sure you are standing in the right lane, with a confirmation number (either text it to your phone, or email it to yourself when using iPhone, print it out, or write it down if you can't print it out;)

3. And if you show up earlier and there is a free seat on the bus, you might be lucky to leave on an early bus. And lastly - have some food and drink with you, as a 4 hour ride might turn into six hours (you can't never predict the traffic to and from New York.)

You still have a few summer-ly weekends to visit New York. Drop me a line if you'd like me to help you plan it.

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