This title is deliberate, because of course I’ve talked about various trips to New York City before, but they’ve been family trips led by a couple of parents who lived in the city for eight years and have their own preferences and “must dos” (like eating lots of crazy food, or seeing the Thanksgiving Day Parade, or drinking a pitcher of margaritas for a date weekend or dropping by for a quick museum stop along a road trip, or heading to the outer boroughs in search of food and family fun).
This trip was all about G, and if you have ever wondered what an international teen who’s heard about New York mostly from TikTok and Instagram wants to do and see, I’ll tell you. Some of it is stuff I absolutely had never thought of doing.
Our trip was over Veterans Day weekend, which means G had Friday off from school. We decided to make the most of it and head south immediately after school on Thursday. You know I hate driving, but I’m also a cheapskate, so we compromised by driving down to Poughkeepsie and then taking Metro North into Grand Central. The happy side effect was that Grand Central is a nicer entrance into the city than Amtrak’s Penn Station destination, although I haven’t seen the new renovation, so maybe I’m selling Penn short. Nope. Grand Central is beautiful.
From there, we took the subway to Brooklyn. One super-happy innovation since my last trip through the NYC subways is that you can now just tap your credit card instead of getting a MetroCard. Even better, it “maxes out” at the 7-day Unlimited price, so if you used to spend part of your visit planning pondering whether it was more strategic to purchase individual rides or a weekly pass, you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
Hotels in NYC are extremely expensive right now, so we were extraordinarily fortunate to have the use of my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She has family in Manhattan and often stays uptown near grad school, and it was actually a particularly opportune weekend for him to join her uptown, since she was planning for a big school event. They were super-welcoming. After getting us lost in the new neighborhood (I really missed Cute W, who was arriving in Iowa to help with M’s surgery), we met up with my brother and went out to dinner. And now I’m realizing that, ugh, I did not do a good job of remembering where we went, both for dinner and breakfast the next morning. For dinner I can tell you that we had very delicious homemade potato chips and dip and burgers, plus the server brought us two free martinis. Not necessarily my bag, but I’m not one to pass up a free drink. After dinner, my brother took us for a little walk, saying that he had a surprise for us. It turned out to be Transmitter Park, a lovely park along the river with some gorgeous views of Manhattan.
After dinner, my brother dropped us back at the apartment and headed into Manhattan for the weekend, while we got to bed early in anticipation of a few super-busy days ahead.
We started Friday with omelettes at a nearby Brooklyn deli, then headed to 5th Avenue. It was not fully decorated for Christmas, but it was still fun to check it out. Then we went to Rockefeller Center, where G wanted to skate. She had never ice skated before, and I was extremely nervous about a possibly calamitous fall with trip-ruining injuries. But she did great! Yes, she pretty much clutched the side rail and/or me the entire time, but she had fun and didn’t get hurt, so I’m putting that one in the win column.
We took a lot of pictures, but mostly of G. I thought this was pretty enough for its own picture, though.
After our skating adventure, we hit another must-do item of G’s list: a visit to Magnolia Bakery. This is an old favorite of Cute W’s, but I somehow hadn’t registered that it’s become a chain and you no longer need to go to the Village for your banana pudding or whatever. But the place was packed, so G was not the only tourist who had it on her list.
I suggested that we check out the American Girl store. G had never heard of American Girl dolls before coming to the US, but my kids were fans and they’re a huge part of the culture, packed with US history, plus the store is its own spectacle. It’s also just fun seeing all of the delighted girls carrying their boxes and bags.
Part of our Fifth Avenue agenda was a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but knowing that G is a churchgoer, I suggested that we could also catch a mass while we were there. They have plenty of half-hour masses stacked up during the day, so it was easy to fit one in. Even better, they had a little cathedral lapel pin for G’s Rotary blazer in the gift shop.
Next, we walked down to Times Square where I got into the TKTS line while G roamed around and took pictures. One big must-see on her list was the M&M’s store (I am including the apostrophe because that’s how they spell it, but it’s under protest, because it is grammatically incorrect). This wouldn’t have occurred to me. I had never been to the M&M’s store. I’ve still never been to the M&M’s store — it was a long line! But G had fun, and I scrapped the original plan for a Friday night show in favor of a Saturday matinee with better seats and cheaper tickets: we decided on Aladdin.
Then there was more walking around and shopping, most notably a very long visit to Forever 21. We also stumbled on a Shein “Home for the Holidays” pop-up that had G and many other young women super-excited. I, meanwhile, was like, “Uhh, I’m a deeply un-hip 53-year-old woman, can someone explain to me why I should care?” Everyone was too excited to explain, plus it was shrouded in mystery because it was on the bottom floor of Forever 21, fiercely guarded by security. I’m not kidding. I decided to try to sleuth it out while G tried on clothes in a dressing room. First I was told to scan a QR code to fill out a form to get on a digital waitlist. Then I was told that people were having more luck going in person to a kiosk to get on the same waitlist. Then I was told at the kiosk that we were number three hundred and something and it was likely a 2-hour wait to get to the next step, which was to wait on an old-fashioned line to be admitted onto the down escalator. At this point, we decided to scrap the endeavor. To this day, I have no idea what we missed out on.
Oh, speaking of wild goose chases, the next day we were accosted by enthusiastic hype girls who offered us free samples of PRIME, a drink that’s like Gatorade, but grosser. Then we were informed that we could walk a few doors down to get a chance to win half a million dollars. G looked at me, confused, and I shrugged and basically said, “Do you want to try?” and she wavered, and I said, “Look, it will probably be a waste of time, but one could also argue that falling into a glitzy corporate marketing scheme is a seminal NYC tourist experience.” We waited for a few minutes, each pushed a button on a prize wheel, and, shocking no one, we did not win half a million dollars. However, we were each gifted with an additional bottle of the drink (new flavor, still awful) and two logo baseball caps (I aspire to pick off the logos and embroider something cute on them). But I digress.
At this point, we were starving, and I took G to John’s Pizzeria, which I’ve always liked, especially their basic-but-tasty salad. We waited an extremely long time before getting seated at a teensy, high-traffic table, and then split a pizza while I singlehandedly put away the house salad, described on the menu as easily shared by 2 or 3 people, since G is not a vegetable enthusiast (my valiant, near-vegetarian J tried beef tongue and reindeer in Italy, but clearly G was not quite as sold on the Rotary’s “say yes to everything” philosophy).
On Saturday, our first stop was Union Square for a quick walk through of the farmers’ market and G’s first-ever bagels at Tompkins Square Bagels. When I saw her intrigued by their gimmicky flavors like chocolate chip cookie dough cream cheese, I insisted that we order one plain bagel with plain cream cheese just as a control bagel, and then we each ordered a bagel more to our tastes (I think she went cinnamon bagel with birthday cake cream cheese and I had a salt bagel with sundried tomato cream cheese). I was glad that I’d insisted, because we shared around and she liked the plain one best. And by “liked” I mean loved. She is strongly pro bagel.
Saturday was the prettiest weather day, and we’d planned accordingly, going for a walk along the High Line next. Have I mentioned that we stopped for a lot of pictures? I got a couple of great ones of G in the park that she especially liked, which was a triumph for me. We also walked around Chelsea Market, which was lovely and then became increasingly, uncomfortably packed. It was also a bit of a pity that we hadn’t planned to arrive hungry, since there were plenty of options but we were still bagelful. I know that that’s not a word, but it should be.
Next on the list? A trip to the Friends Building. It had literally never occurred to me to visit the place that’s the exterior shot of the famous series, but when we showed up there, it was clearly another popular tourist destination. The mood was a bit subdued so soon after Matthew Perry’s death, and there was a pile of flowers, cards, and mementos piled up at the base of this pole. Someone mentioned that a previous bigger pile had already been removed. Yes, that’s G in the adorable black-and-white outfit.
We did some wandering around the Village, and I made sure to bring G by Washington Square Park, especially since we’d screened When Harry Met Sally before our trip. Meanwhile, at about this time, I was getting reports from Cute W about M’s surgery, so I walked a few paces away from where G sat to people watch while I was on the phone with him. And when I got off the phone and walked back to her, we realized that poor G had failed at people watching, too mesmerized by the musician and cute dog to her left to notice that there was a marriage proposal taking place directly in front of her. I called out her name and she looked forward, toward my voice, and was like, “Why is everyone around us randomly clapping?”
Next it was time to go to the theater for Aladdin. G loved the show. She was entirely charmed and transfixed, and for her, the only drawback was that she wasn’t allowed to take photos and videos throughout the performance. But I did get a little video of her breathless review during the intermission, which I will treasure forever. There is nothing quite like a big Broadway spectacle, and getting the chance to offer it to someone really feels like giving a gift to yourself. I’m actually getting a little weepy thinking about it now. You know, you just don’t get that level of enthusiasm and appreciation from your own daughters when they have grown up going to a variety of big shows since they were preschoolers.
Another major must-do on G’s list: Little Italy. Once I knew that this would be a stop, I decided that we should plan dinner there, both because there are plenty of delicious places to eat (yes, I know that they are touristy, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not extremely tasty) and because I think Little Italy is especially charming when it’s lit up in the evening.
G was buttonholed by a friendly and convincing… umm, recruiter? What do you call those people who stand outside the restaurant and persuade you to visit their place instead of heading down the street? Anyway, I typically shy away from anyplace that feels the need to do this, but I was also trying to let G take the lead. When she looked tempted by Osteria Barocca, I did a quick Yelp search and found out that it’s a newer place with excellent reviews, so we went inside.
We started off with an antipasto platter that was really tasty and felt very much like something I might have eaten on our family’s recent trip to Italy.
In fact, when I sent this picture to our family group text, J said, “I’m getting flashbacks!” Then G had Fettucine Alfredo and I had Spinach Risotto. It looks like the menu’s already evolved since our visit, because I can’t find this appetizer or my main dish on the menu anymore. It was all really delicious, and someone from the restaurant stopped by our table asking for feedback. I can’t compare it to all the other places, but it’s worth a try for sure.
We skipped dessert at the restaurant, but after a bit more walking, we each treated ourselves to a Shake Shack shake before heading home.
We really lucked out with the weather, because Sunday turned out to be much nicer than we’d anticipated. I managed to get us extremely lost by walking toward the wrong subway station from our apartment, then failing to note the intricacies of modified weekend service. Oh my goodness, I missed my sweet husband! He is a delight to be around, of course, but even though I have to hustle to keep up with him sometimes, it’s nice not to have to think so hard about everything. At long last we made it to Central Park, which was on G’s must-see tourist list, and I timed it for the New Yorker’s choice of going early in the morning when leash rules are relaxed and all of the dogs in New York are at one of the major parks. G, a dog enthusiast who misses her pup from home. Here she is admiring them all and wishing that the guy in the hat would get off his phone call because she could tell her was Brazilian and she wanted to say hi.
No luck. We eventually gave up on him and crossed the park, checking out the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain and the Alice in Wonderland sculpture as we walked to The Met. I’ve actually got some regrets about our visit to The Met because G is inherently more of a Museum of Natural History girl, but she had a Rotary trip planned that would be going to that museum, so we decided to go with art.
And of course The Met is fantastic and I love it, but if you are not a super art-museum person and you’ve been running yourself ragged as a tourist for a couple of days, it can have a bit of a somnolent effect. Which it did. It was like, “Are we walking through a museum, or the Wicked Witch of the West’s poppy field?” We did our best. But then, THEN, the Rotary organizers switched their trip’s museum visit from Natural History to the Met, which we didn’t hear about until after our trip. Ack, I was annoyed. The silver lining is that, on her trip to NYC last weekend, G was able to lead her exchange student friends directly to the 19th century European paintings, AKA my favorite part of the place. So she felt good about knowing her way around. I’m still hoping that a Rotarian or her next host family (yes, there will be a new host family in the new year, which is a typical Rotary plan) gets her to the American Museum of Natural History.
Next on the agenda? Another place I hadn’t heard of, but everyone on TikTok had, apparently: Levain Bakery. This place had an extremely long line, one of those lines where you think it’s over but, oh, no, you loop around and go way longer. And as we waited (I did not time it, but it was at least 45 minutes and possibly twice that), it got even longer, snaking outside and down the block. As we were waiting, I was internally muttering to myself, “These cookies better. be. good.”
Oh, my God, they were! We each got ourselves two items (I went with the Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie and the Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie) and both of mine were fantastic. Each one is big (I’d say about three times as big as a cookie I’d bake), and the exterior is crunchy without feeling burned and the interior is soft enough to almost feel dough-like while it’s clearly fully baked. Once I tasted them, I was filled with Deep Regret that I hadn’t purchased more. Which is probably for the best, since Cute W wouldn’t be home to help eat them. You can order them to be delivered, and you can also order them online to pick up, which costs a couple of dollars more, so I refused to do it when I discovered the option about half an hour into my wait, but I’d definitely choose to pre-order if I went back.
Fully satisfied with our cookies, we took the subway to Brooklyn next.
When G first said that she wanted to visit Brooklyn and DUMBO in particular, I was surprised. Hmm, yes, there are better parks there now, and it’s more developed than when we lived there, for sure. I guess that would be a nice place to walk around and pop into little shops and such, like I used to like to walk around the Village in Olden Tymes. But gradually, I realized that what she really meant is that she had to go to this exact spot at the intersection of Washington Street and Water Street:
It is a social-media famous place to take selfies and landmark shots, and after seeing so many of the images from afar, tons of tourists want to check it out for themselves. I’d say that when we arrived, there were probably about 30 or 40 people there taking photos and selfies all over the place. To make it even more comical, it’s an active street, so there were cars driving up ever-so-slowly, clearly used to seeing tons of tourists standing in the middle of the street, not looking for cars, posing. I believe the driver of the retro pink car gets a kick out of just looping around repeatedly so that the car is included in the various personal photoshoots. I was completely unaware of this landmark until G brought me to see it.
Our weekend was coming to a close, and the original agenda had us hanging out in Brooklyn until sunset to take photos of the Manhattan skyline, then heading back into Manhattan, then heading to one of my favorites, Thai Villa, for dinner (G had never tried Thai food yet), then a subway ride to the apartment to pick up our stuff, then another ride back to Grand Central for the train and drive home.
But at this point it was about 3:30 pm, and I believe our only nourishment for the day was a shared (terrible) hot pretzel and one (delicious) cookie each (we saved the others for the train). This was a bad habit of ours for the weekend, basically having a sweet instead of lunch. It was cold, we were exhausted, and we were basically killing time until the sun went down. And a nice quiet Shake Shack was right there. Basically across the street from the park where G wanted to take pictures, with huge windows so that we could monitor the lighting situation. I immediately suggested that we blow off the (delicious, extraordinary, soul-inspiring) Thai food in favor of the (basic-but-tasty, served on open tables in toasty warmth with an instantly-accessible public restroom) Shake Shack. It was the right decision for that moment. We relaxed, then headed outside to take pictures.
And that was it! We navigated our way from DUMBO Brooklyn to Greenpoint Brooklyn to Grand Central to the Poughkeepsie station to beautiful Niskayuna without incident. I am grateful that I’m such a tense driver that even when I’m unbelievably tired, I still can’t relax enough to fall asleep while operating an automobile.
G did an amazing job getting up first thing Monday morning to get to school, but I was extremely grateful that I could recover a bit more slowly. I was almost fully restored by Wednesday night, when Cute W arrived home after bidding farewell to our recuperating daughter and driving roughly 17 hours and it was back to his turn to the Most Exhausted Parent.