We had to be a part of it – in old New York. We do this almost every year around Christmas, often with disastrous results. There was the memorable Three-Hour Traffic Jam to go into the Lincoln Tunnel, the time we irritated several filled-to-capacity train cars with our screaming toddler twins, the massive parking ticket of 2009, and a car impoundment circa 2005. There are always numerous spousal disagreements regarding taxi vs. subway and exactly where to go to maximize our day there. Due to schedule and financial constraints, we rarely stay overnight, although I have seen airbnb places that could accommodate us and I do plan to avail myself of that opportunity sometime, but not this year. Instead, this year we had a friend of Fiercely’s who we shall call Nifty and her friend from Sweden along with us for a total of 6 kids, myself and Mr Fantastic, and an age span of roughly 37 years. Twins, the Big Apple, 3 teenagers, a tiny budget, an overloaded minivan, and the most wonderful time of the year – what could go wrong?
Staten Island Ferry
After attempts on multiple forms of transportation- including the Chinatown bus, Amtrack, NJ transit, Megabus, the Ikea ferry, and driving directly into Manhattan – we have come to the conclusion that the best plan for us is to drive to Staten Island, park there and take the ferry to Manhattan, then use the subway or taxis from there. Parking is only $8 for 18 hours if you can get a spot on the city lot at the ferry terminal, and not much more at the adjacent private lot with shuttle service (though it’s so close you can just walk) to the terminal. The ferry, which I remember paying 50¢ for in the late 1990’s, is now free. As a bonus, you get a ferry ride and a great view of the statue of liberty. Oh yeah, we impressed the Swede, and we were just getting started.
Clockwise from top L: the SI ferry, the kids looking at one of the massive aquariums on the SI side, exiting on the Manhattan side, kids on the bike-share bikes – wow am I psyched about this! I had to include it- near the Manhattan ferry terminal, Poppa with the twins en route on the ferry.
Here is where we made a major mistake, but we just didn’t know at the time. Now, I love public transportation and I am a big fan of the New York Subway system. The artwork, buskers, and the general people-watching are marvelous, and the system is clean and fast. These days, one buys a metro card to enter the turnstile at each stop. We had 8 people and we knew we would need at least 3 subway rides each, so we used a metro card machine and put close to $100 on a metro card. We used it at the turnstile to enter, but it stopped working after 4 entries. Apparently you can only use a card for 4 entries at each stop. Why??? Metro decision-makers, why??? Even if we want to run our card through 24 times all at once, why is that a problem? Money is deducted each time the card is swiped and we pre-paid so Metro is not losing any money. But we lost on our pre-payment because of the 4-swipe limit and we had to buy another card. Being the ahem, concerned customer that I am and being highly attuned to budget realities, I had discussions, one might say heated, with several unfortunate Metro employees who informed me that they could not split our balance onto two cards. They gave me an envelope that I will get to one day into which I am supposed to put our card with the $50 balance, send it to some NYC office, and hope for a check. The $50 metro card is good for a year, but I’d rather have a refund because who knows when we will be back. I feel like trying for the refund is a gamble but I’ll probably give it a try. Other than that, the subway rides worked out nicely.
Cleverly and a busker (L) and the twins at a turnstile (R)
Our first stop was Chinatown for lunch. We walked through a beautiful courtyard near the subway stop, then wandered around the fish markets and trinket shops, eventually sitting down to some vegetarian Chinese food. We also walked through some of Little Italy on our way to the next place. It was bustling, the day was sunny, the fish were stinky, and we were off to a great start.
American Museum of Natural History
This place rocks! We could have spent all day here, and in my ex-Biology-teacher heart I absolutely could spend several days here, but instead we did a quick tour of the mammal dioramas and the rainforest and ocean areas and headed out. We couldn’t resist the origami Christmas tree either. The place just goes on and on with a great mix of modern and historic displays. FYI, the admission is pay-what-you-want and I have no guilt over a rather skimpy donation since we pay taxes in New York State for the property near Ithaca, and wow are those taxes high. And then there’s that $50 which may end up as a donation to the transit system…
We walked through a nice stretch of Central Park as we headed from the museum to a subway stop somewhere on the other side. Don’t ask me about where we were – Mr. Fantastic did a great job with that so I just followed along. The weather was mild, but recent snow was still gracing parts of the park which the kids loved. Yes, there were snowballs, and some tears but mostly happy kids. We walked by the frozen lake, on several lovely bridges, and through the grandeur of Bethesda Terrace, one of my favorite places. We enjoyed an acrobat show, the giant bubbles (see below), and an amazing cello and violin duet under a bridge.
Clockwise from top L: John Lennon memorial, outside Bethesda Terrace (note giant bubble to the left of Mr Fantastic!), tile work from ceiling of Bethesda Terrace, snow and skyline and 3 Fantastics.
Of course, NYC at Christmastime is synonymous with this place. We saw the tree, the skaters, and an excellent light show on the Saks Fifth Avenue building. The crowds were thick so we moved on pretty quickly. We rested at a coffee shop with some hot chocolate and asked the people sitting on the sidewalk what they were in line for, which turned out to be SNL tickets. The Christmas special with Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon was that weekend, and it promised to be a good one. I had to talk myself out of joining them – deep breath, four kids, Swedish national, the husband… In any case, we kept on and walked to the astounding toy store F.A.O. Schwartz with its life-sized stuffed animals and giant two-pound candy bars.
Clockwise from top L: Saks building light show, Cleverly and Truly by the Rockefeller tree, FAO Schwartz
The Bergdorf Goodman window displays are epic. If you only go see one store’s Christmas displays, this should be the one. This year the theme was ‘holidays on ice’ so there were elaborate, icy scenes of Halloween, Christmas, etc. We just ogled. We saw a few other stores, but I believe all my pictures are from B-G.
New Year’s on ice with timepieces at B-G (L) and the kids in front of a more conventional display (R) of clothing
And back to Staten Island
We really did a lot in a day, and it was time to head back to the car. The ferry was different at night, nice views of the lights, and they permitted us on the deck which for some reason was not allowed on the trip out. We listened to a great tape on the car ride home – The Winter Cherries by Odds Bodkin. Highly seasonal and recommended. It was a lovely ending to a lively day. We ♥ you, NY!
Clockwise from top L: the city with the ferry at night, Nifty at the barre with her impromptu ferry deck ballet class, lovely lady liberty, the Fantastic four looking at the city.