I’ve previously shared my love of visiting New York City. However, traveling to the chilly island surrounded by water in the dead of winter, aka January, was not something I’d seriously considered. After a visit last month, it may now be one of my favorite times to visit.
The reason for a trip during the off-season? I was selected to attend TravMedia’s International Media Marketplace (IMM), a networking event on steroids at NYC’s Javits Center. TravMedia connected hundreds of the world’s leading travel and tourism professionals with journalists like myself. How could I decline, especially when I’d have a few extra days to experience new parts of the city, meet up with friends and dine at favorite restaurants? Cold and rainy weather aside, I was off for the Big Apple.
In the interest of time, I’ve condensed into bullet points a week’s work of exploring centuries-old landmarks; dining at a multitude of restaurants; juggling the challenges of vacationing on a budget and most of all, enjoying one of the best destinations in the world. As always, feel free to email me if you’d like more information about any topic, including how to vacation in NYC without spending a fortune.
· Bird’s eye view – One of my favorite places in NYC is located 850 feet in the air. Top of the Rock, found at the pinnacle of 30 Rockefeller Plaza’s 70th floor, delivers spectacular, unobstructed views of the city skyline. With terraces facing east, west, north and south offering glimpses of Central Park, East and Hudson Rivers, Queens, New Jersey and the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock’s panoramic sights make it, in my opinion, the ultimate observation deck in NYC.
Once you descend past the stunning 35-foot chandelier containing 14,000 crystals, spend time roaming around the nearly century-old Rockefeller Center complex. In addition to stunning architectural features, the complex contains studios for NBC News, The Today Show and late-night talk shows. Underneath it all is a winding area filled with shops and restaurants. Lunch at open-air restaurant Five Acres yielded an average burger and fries but superb people-watching.
Equally as outstanding in its own right, the Empire State Building’s two observation decks (86th and 106th floors) offer unmatched vistas of NYC and a panorama stretching across six states and views up to 80 miles away. Touring the building billed as the world’s most magnificent Art Deco skyscraper and tallest building in the world for nearly 40 years after its completion in 1931 was a major highlight. In 2019, a $165 million renovation enhanced room after room of colorful interactive, historical exhibits and breathtaking architecture highlighted by luxurious marble, gold and glass walls, floors and ceilings. It’s a stunning masterpiece that’s not to be missed.
· Lower Manhattan is a must – Two must-visit places in the southern portion of Manhattan and beyond are the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the State of Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial Museum, built on the site of the Twin Towers destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, is an unparalleled repository of more than 74,000 artifacts documenting the fate of victims, survivors and first responders of attacks of the buildings in 1993 and 2001. It’s impossible to describe the enormous collection of material evidence in the form of destroyed first responders’ vehicles, personal items, historical records, video and phone recordings of first responders and victims and films depicting a myriad of events surrounding the attacks.
Outside, two one-acre pools with the largest man-made waterfalls in the U.S. occupy the footprints of the Twin Towers, symbolizing the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The names of 2,983 victims are inscribed on 152 bronze sheets surrounding the memorial pools: A visit to the museum is both emotional and sobering but something every American NEEDS to experience.
To lighten the mood, walk a mile or so down to Battery Park and board the Statue of Liberty Ferry for the short ride out to Liberty Island. I’ve visited the island a few times now, but it’s still thrilling. Walking around the island inhabited by Canadian geese and gazing up at the magnificent statue that will be 100 years old this October never gets old. Also on the grounds are a professionally-designed museum, observation deck, café and gift shop.
· World’s best cuisine – I don’t have enough space to describe the outstanding cuisine found in NYC. Instead, I’ll highlight favorite meals, food items and restaurants from this trip:
1. Carlo Bake Shop’s breakfast sandwich, a delicious combination of a crunchy homemade croissant, fried egg and bacon; melt-in-your-mouth cherry cream cheese turnover; famous black and white iced cookies and other homemade pastries. (Buddy Valastro of Cake Boss fame is the owner).
2. Junior’s Restaurant’s mile-high pastrami sandwich
3. Bubby’s James Beard’s sour cream pancakes topped with blueberries with a side of Canadian maple syrup. Hands down, the best pancakes (and syrup) I’ve ever tasted in my life!
4. Crab cake, salad and homemade olive bread at Bryant Park Grill
5. Becco Italian’s white bean hummus, olive bread and Bolognese lasagna
6. Grand Central Station’s Oyster Bar’s shrimp cocktail and steak. I’m still sad the restaurant was out of Hudson Valley apple pie…
Last, but not least – I recommend the location of Hilton New York Times Square, both for its easy walking access to the subway, attractions, restaurants and adjacent Target for last-minute items; Delta Airlines for getting me seamlessly to and from Mississippi not just on time, but early both ways; my new Rollink Flex Vega Carry-On that glided smoothly through airports and folded inward to save space upon arrival; ONN cell phone power bank, a $20 Walmart find that saved my life when my battery ran low and most of all, New York City Tourism + Convention’s CityPASS. It provided access at a significant cost-savings to the main sites I wanted to visit and alleviated waiting in long lines. One scan of the app on my phone sent me to the head of the line and in some cases, through the VIP entrance.
I don’t have permission to share James Beard’s famous sour cream pancake recipe or Becco’s Bolognese lasagna but a quick google will take you to online recipes. Or email me and I’ll share them with you. I was able to recreate Becco’s white bean hummus, just in time for the Super Bowl.
I enjoyed my trip immensely, but to borrow Dorothy’s famous phrase, “There’s no place like home” …and that goes for Mississippi.
White Bean Hummus
2 medium cloves garlic
1 small handful fresh parsley, about ⅓ cup
1 green onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 ½ cups cooked cannellini beans or 15-½ ounce can cannellini beans, drained
3 tablespoons tahini
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice, about ½ lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
With a food processor running, add garlic, parsley and scallion. Process until minced – about 15 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth and creamy, a full 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Drizzle with olive oil and serve. Perfect with chips, crackers and bread.