It was Christmas Eve, and I was in a frenzy packing for my week long trip to New York. It wasn’t long before I realized I’d have only 5 minutes to get to the BART station and catch the next train. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get there. With my hiking backpack filled to capacity, I sprinted down the hill, through throngs of tourists along Powell, and made it to the station just as the train pulled up. I sat down with a smirk on my face. Then the doors shut and my smirk immediately disappeared as I realized I’d forgotten to bring a jacket.
Fast forward to Christmas Day. The red-eye flight happened without a hitch, and I arrived at JFK International early Christmas morning. As I waited for the Long Island Rail Road to take me to Manhattan, I multitasked putting on another shirt and scrolling through my phone trying to figure out how to wear a scarf. When you’ve spent your entire life in sunny California, these things don’t come naturally. Needless to say, I felt like a total scrub and tried to act natural while shivering in the early morning cold.
It was much warmer in the train, and during my ride I stared out at the sights of the neighborhoods passing by. Nas’ classic Illmatic provided the perfect soundtrack to the start of my trip. Before long, I found myself outside the gates of Columbia University, with my brother Alan and my mom waiting for me inside the toasty dorm hall my brother lived in. After wishing them a very merry Christmas, I promptly fell asleep until the early afternoon.
And so passed the start of my weeklong trip to New York. I’d visited New York City earlier this year, but there were several key differences between the trips. First, I was on vacation this time around, so I didn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn (Pacific time) and work all day. Second and most importantly, I was visiting this time during the holidays, so the trip was bound to be a fun and memorable one.
As expected, the trip was a fun and memorable one indeed. Over the course of the week, my brother, mom, and I celebrated Christmas, New Year’s, and experienced a ton of New York sights and attractions on the days in between. Read on for a recap of the trip!
After my Christmas morning nap, we took the subway all the way to Flushing, Queens. My brother had raved about the Asian food and $5 haircuts there, so we entered an Asian mall upon arrival, enjoyed Christmas dim sum, and what do you know? My brother got a $5 haircut right after. Flushing reminded me of Oakland Chinatown mixed with parts of suburban Asian neighborhoods in Rowland Heights or Cupertino.
We made it back to Manhattan in time for a late afternoon stroll along the famous shopping district on Fifth Avenue. The experience was closer to swimming – the place was so packed with holiday crowds it was hard to move, let alone walk. With some quick pictures in front of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, we ducked into the underground area of the plaza and enjoyed Christmas dinner at Rock Center Cafe, where I’d made reservations a couple months in advance.
In between bites of lobster bisque and filet mignon, we glanced out the glass windows to watch people ice skating. Near the end of dinner the rink cleared out as someone proposed to his girlfriend. The restaurant patrons and crowds outside simultaneously erupted into cheers and applause. Love and holiday cheer were in the air, the perfect ending to a wonderful Christmas Day.
The In-Between Days
I’ll classify the days following Christmas and before New Year’s Eve as the “in-between” days. Hardly the doldrums, these were the days we did the most of our exploring around Manhattan.
No trip to New York is complete without a Broadway show. Jersey Boys, which follows the triumphs and setbacks of the 1960s rock ‘n roll group The Four Seasons, was the perfect one showcasing great music and a compelling storyline. We sang, we laughed, and we danced in our seats – it was a fun show!
Another fun afternoon started off with delicious food from Halal Guys. One of the original halal cart vendors in New York City, the franchise boasts the slogan (and potential 2 Chainz theme song) “We’re Different.” I’ve tried similar carts, and it’s true, none can compare with the amazing chicken over rice platter with their equally famous white sauce and hot sauce.
We went to Central Park to enjoy our food and then took a post-lunch stroll in the beautiful park. After walking a bit, we arrived at Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), where we saw tons of famous art from masters such as Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, as well as really cool exhibits of artwork from Africa, Oceania, Europe, and America.
Another day trip involved a lunch stop at Chelsea Market, an urban food court and boutique store mall similar to San Francisco’s Ferry Building or LA’s Grand Central Market. The place had a really cool old warehouse/steampunk vibe and all the usual offerings were there – fusion restaurants, fancy coffee, and cutesy boutique stores selling a variety of trinkets.
We explored another park called The High Line, located on a disused elevated railway platform that stretched for almost a mile and a half. The view of the neighborhood was incredible and I enjoyed the various art installations along the path. We ended that day with dinner in Chinatown, choosing a popular favorite, Joe’s Shanghai, which served some amazing Shanghai-style soup dumplings (xiao long bao).
With further visits to Washington Square Park and Union Square Park, we had our fill of New York parks and decided to check out the New York University (NYU) area. I say area and not campus because much of the school is within the city, and we definitely enjoyed the downtown/college town vibe there.
One of the coolest night excursions by far was our Brooklyn Bridge crossing. We took a subway into Brooklyn and walked back to Manhattan via the bridge in the freezing cold. The walk was worth it because the view of the city at night was awe-inspiring – something I’ll never forget. There’s just something about gazing at a nighttime cityscape, lights twinkling, through a mixture of massive granite/cement towers and suspension cables.
And who could forget the juicy burgers at Shake Shack, washed down with an in-house Shockmeister Ale and topped off with frozen custard for dessert? We wondered through Times Square in a post-dinner delirium, walking past huge crowds and bright lights from giant store signage and advertisements. This was quintessential New York City. A quick photo stop at Grand Central Terminal capped off our in-between days.
New Year’s Eve
Before long, it was New Year’s Eve. The week had absolutely flown by! By now it was getting really cold, and thankfully during one of the in-between days my mom had bought me a Uniqlo down jacket as a Christmas present. Still, walking around the downtown area felt freezing, and we took a brief respite from the elements in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
The museum was both an impressive and somber reminder of one of the darkest days our country had experienced in modern times. From actual parts of the buildings & rescue vehicles to news broadcasts to heartbreaking personal voicemails, the exhibits were so well done – I felt they definitely honored the memories of those who lost their lives that tragic day.
After a last look at the beautiful fountains outside, we headed over to Lincoln Center, the location of the Metropolitan Opera House and Juilliard School. Originally, we had planned to ring in the New Year in Times Square. However, none of us were enamored with the 12 hour wait standing in the freezing cold with no food or bathrooms. We decided to do something a bit different and watched The Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center in a nice warm tent instead.
The show was a mix of laughs and entertainment and at the very end, we counted down the start of the new year and drank champagne as the clock struck midnight. Pandemonium ensued as the crowd cheered, clapped, and welcomed in 2015.
Closing Thoughts & Lessons Learned
Whenever I travel, I try to take away some personal lessons from my observations and experiences in a different environment. My New York trip led me to two realizations, which I’ll quickly detail below.
First, family is what truly matters. Now I’d be lying if I said that I never had any arguments, disagreements, or annoyances with my own family. But my trip to New York reminded me that family is what made me who I am, and long after anyone else has forgotten about me, my family will be there, supporting me and cheering me on.
Second, New York is an amazing city. Personally, I see New York as a place I can visit many more times in the future and always be able to find something new and interesting to do, along with old favorites. But I find it harder to picture myself living there – it’s a city that’s perpetually in motion, which is something I’d love to experience once in a while, but not every day. To be fair, I spent most of my time in Manhattan, so I’m certainly not leaving this off the table without experiencing the other parts of the city.
But that’s for my future self to determine. For the time being, I can say gladly that I had a blast celebrating Christmas and ringing in the New Year with my loved ones, in one of the most famous places in the world.