New York – pint sized edition

This little cutie is coming to visit in May

I often wonder what it’s like to be a kid in this city. I have seen the nannies on the upper west side struggling with strollers and wandering 3 year olds, dads taking their sons to central park to play catch or explaining the cosmos after a visit to the natural history museum, the groups of mothers meeting for play dates. I’m not sure how they do it, but I can understand why they do. This city is wondrous. It provides enough fodder to ignite the imagination of any child. I am 28 and I still get awestruck when I look up at the Chrysler Building , or see the New York skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge, or pop out of the subway in the evening under the bright lights of Times Square.  I’ve been making mental notes for the day of places to go when one of my nieces, nephews or god kids come out for a visit.

American Museum of Natural History – 79th @ Central Park West

This is one of my favorite places in New York, part of the reason is the little gasps from kids walking in (I feel the same way). This museum is gigantic, you can see a diorama of a blue whale, cower under dinosaur skeletons, observe butterflies in the conservatory and then sit back and listen to Whoopi Goldberg tell you about the birth of stars. They have a lot of kid specific activities too. It can be a lot to take in if you try to see everything in one visit. My suggestion is to skip out on all the various human diorama exhibits.

Central Park Zoo

I’ve never been here, so I’m actually really excited for the chance to check it out. I wonder what they do in the winter?

Central Park (in general)

There are so many things in the park for kids to enjoy: a small carnival, a castle, a zoo, fishing, boat rides, model boat sailing and lots of open space to run around on.

Brooklyn Bridge (park & the walk across into Manhattan)

Walking seemingly precariously over traffic & water, with the wind whipping your hair and loose ends of clothing about, there is nothing like a bridge to bring a little thrill to a day. There is a beautiful park on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, perfect for a little picnic (grab a pizza from Grimaldis & sit in the grass).  South Street Seaport is close by on the Manhattan side of the bridge and offers something similar to fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco. There is also a really cool playground shaped like a boat, near the Seaport.

Serendipity

This may be more of a little girl thing, but I think Serendipity is fun. There are all kinds of restaurants like it. The food is ok but the atmosphere is whimsical, like you fell down the rabbit hole and are now in Wonderland. I think their signature offering is the frozen hot chocolate.

That’s my short list of things to do with the kiddies. I’m sure there are a ton more fun things, so if you know of anything I must take Kian to, I’m open to suggestions.

Inevitabilities

So you’re visiting New York, maybe for the first time or the first time in a long time. You have been living in the relative comfort of your California lifestyle; all sunshine, cruising with the top down, wide open spaces, relaxation. Here are a few things you should probably prepare yourself for:

Improv Everywhere - Tourist Lane

You’ve got legs, now use ’em!

You are going to walk A LOT. To minimize the pain make sure to pack comfortable shoes. Don’t make the mistake of buying new shoes for your trip, you want ones that are well broken in. If you don’t want to stick out as a tourist, try not to go right for the sneakers. Flats for girls are a good option and there are all kinds of stylish street sneakers.

Prepare yourself for a brisk walking pace. If you want to avoid the white hot rage of the New York commuter, stand aside to gawk at the tall buildings and pretty lights. If I’m with you, please let me know if I’m walking to fast (sometimes I get into a zone).

You Will Get Lost

Manhattan is set up on a pretty good grid system. It doesn’t help much though when you pop your head out from the subway and have no idea if you’re looking north or south. I still get lost sometimes, and I remember visiting and walking block after block only to realize I just walked 10 blocks in the wrong direction. If you have a phone with apps it would be a good idea to download google maps and a subway map before heading out, it will help in a pinch. The quickest way to get your bearings though is to just ask someone.

Things are Expensive

That’s a picture of a $25000 sundae, it is also served here in NY. I want to estimate that the average mark up for stuff in Manhattan is $5. Want a beer? That will be $8 a cocktail $14-17. Dinner out in California would cost me about $20-30, here in New York it’s easily $35-50. I regularly shop at Whole Foods for groceries, my monthly rent check could easily rent me a nice sized CA condo.

NY is Dirty

Towering stacks of garbage bags, dog poop smeared on the street, rats on the platform, these are average sights on my morning commute. New York is a city with lots of people who produce garbage, with dogs that also produce their own special type of garbage and rats that like to sift through said garbage. Is it gross, absolutely but what are you going to do? My suggestion plug your nose and just keep walking, carry hand sanitizer & get over it.

“New Yorker’s are Jerks!”

This isn’t actually true, most people living here are pleasant, bright people. They are also incredibly busy and therefore generally don’t have time for B.S. That being said, there are also plenty of people in New York who are just bat sh*t crazy! Most of them are harmless, so just ignore them and you should be fine. If they can’t be ignored, then record it and put it on the internet

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Get Cozy

There are over a million people living in Manhattan, this doesn’t include the tourists and commuters who come in from the boroughs to work. They are all vying for space on an island that is approximately 23 sq. miles, it’s going to get crowded. My morning commute always reminds me of worker ants on an ant farm, there are just so many people trying to get to their individual jobs. My advice is to be patient. If the train is too crowded and the idea of being pressed against a total stranger freaks you out, wait for the next train it’s coming in the next 5 minutes. Streets too crowded? Take a break, sit down, get your bearings and work up the courage to brave the wave of people again. Many of the big tourists spots (Times Square, Union Square etc.) have plenty of seating for the weary tourist.

 

These are the things i hear the most complaints about so I thought I’d get them out of the way first. There are just certain things that come along with a big city, that gets a lot of tourists. If you get over them now you’ll have a more pleasant experience when you get here.

Tourist Tutorial

My friends the Washingtons let me know that they were planning a trip out to New York in May. I was ecstatic and have been mentally planning all of the fun things I can share with them. They aren’t my usual type of visitors and have presented some unique challenges in trying to figure out what would be most enjoyable for them. They are a family of three. Kian my godson is an adorable and precocious 2 year old. Jared is one of my favorite people, a picky eater and general skeptic of New York’s mass appeal. Krista is one of my oldest and dearest friends, likes good food, a good deal and is generally up for anything. As I was making my lists of Jared approved places to eat, Kian’s places to play, & Krista’s places to shop it occurred to me that most of the information I’m going to share with them is information I share with most people that visit so why not post it on the blog. So over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the places I think visitors should check out and what to skip, things to do with the kids, practical planning tips, where to eat, where to shop, and what ever else I think of.

Spoilers!

Photo by Jonathan Grassi (from the Young Lions FB page)

I attend at least one bookish event a week. I love listening to authors read and talk about their books. I was especially excited for the event hosted by the New York Public Library on Tuesday “Karen Russel in conversation with Wells Tower”. If we’ve talked books in the past year, then you’re probably aware of my fondness for Wells but Karen was a more recent discovery. I read her last book a short story collection called St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. She was also one of the most recent writers in the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 series and has been featured in the Best American Short Stories collection. I enjoyed her stories very much and saw her on a panel of the 20 under 40 at the 92 Street Y in November, where I was pleased to find that she was a genuinely nice person. She exuded that kindergarten teacher warmth, enthusiasm and silliness. I was crossing my fingers that her second book a full novel called Swamplandia would be received well. Luckily it has been, most recently receiving glowing reviews from the New York Times, NPR and even The Economist!  I planned to buy the book at the event, since she would be on hand to sign my copy.

The event was held in a lovely ballroom at the basement. It had an ornate ceiling that made you feel like you could look out and see stars twinkling. For those book nerds who have fantasies of getting married at the library, the NYPL has you covered. Going to events like this always have me silently squealing with glee at spotting authors I greatly admire. Wells and Karen are friends, it was pretty obvious by the awkward fawning over each others work. They both attended the Columbia MFA program and were on the 20 under 40 list. The conversation was good, Wells asked very detailed questions about the characters and the setting of the book. I have no reference for the Florida everglades (where Swamplandia is set), so it was interesting to hear about a place where going on a bike ride you are likely to run into alligators lying in your path. I wanted to start reading the book right then and there. Then Wells asked Karen to read an excerpt of the book, what he thought held the real power of the book. I listened intently as Karen Russell ruined the book for me!! I have never gone to a book event where the author basically gives away the ending. I felt like she had just popped the balloon of my enthusiasm. I still want to read the book, Karen is a great writer and based on the reviews and discussion I heard this book is fantastic but it has moved far down on the reading list for me. Damn it! Even without reading it I would still recommend it based on the premise alone. Set in the Florida everglades, Ava Big-Tree a 12 year old girl that comes from a family of alligator wrestlers sets out on a journey through the swamps to find her lost sister. When you read it, tell me how you feel about the turning point in the book. I ‘ll try to live vicariously through your surprise.

Wells Tower & Karen Russell laughing at me - Photo by Jonathan Grassi (from the Young Lions FB page)