I’ve gotten attached to these Christmastime trips to the Big Apple. New York boasts a particularly impressive amount of holiday cheer per square foot, and it is starting to feel like a bit of a December ritual for me to visit and get a hearty dose of the Christmas spirit.
I didn’t buy my flight the first time I checked, which was a bad call. They jumped up soon after and it didn’t seem like they were going to come down again. I started to think I’d missed my chance, and then I got a flight alert for a much better price. My friend Lana and her husband invited me to stay with them, so my trip was a go!
I drove to NC a day before my trip as I usually do, and got to meet Kelli’s sweet new baby boy and hang out with Jimmy and Emily as long as we could all keep our eyes open. Emily woke up entirely too early in the morning just to drive me to the airport, which is above and beyond in the friend department.
Since it was frigid outside, my plane had to be de-iced before take-off. I am easily amused:
My flight was also late taking off, late landing, and therefore I was more than an hour late getting into Manhattan. That wouldn’t have been an issue if not for the fact that I was trying to catch the last tour of Gracie Mansion on the only day that they’re offered.
It does often happen that the city welcomes me full throttle, as if it’s checking to see that I still have what it takes after being away for a while. Luckily, I love a challenge, so I ran several long blocks in my boots with my bag on my shoulder and my suitcase rolling along behind me, and then I spotted an available cab rounding the corner, hailed him like a pro, and was about to hop in when a woman came walking toward me from halfway down the block, proclaiming that she was “here first” and therefore it was her cab. Oh no, honey. The cab drive promptly picked my side and I was on my way while she walked off to no doubt steal someone else’s cab.
I made it just in time for the tour and subsequently caught my breath strolling along by the river in Carl Schurz Park before hopping a bus back over to Lana’s to settle in.
I was excited to be able to attend the tree lighting in Washington Square Park, since my previous trips were too early in December to see that tree with lights on it. I had a bit of time to kill before the lighting started, so I decided to go down to SoHo and then walk from there back to Washington Square Park.
Naturally, this was a convenient excuse to drop in on my favorite church.
On my walk back toward the Village, the sun was setting, so the sky looked gorgeous and I kept catching the occasional glimpse of WTC1 between buildings.
I was FREEZING by the time I got close to the park, and I was ravenous, too. I stopped into a The Half Pint bar, which was packed with NYU students, and had an amazing bowl of chicken chili that warmed me up nicely.
Two minutes back outside had my teeth chattering again, but I had my heart set on the tree lighting, so I stuck around the park and waited for the other brave, Christmas-loving souls undeterred by the frigid temperatures to join me.
We were a small but merry bunch, huddled together with our chorus books, keeping warm by singing everything from O Holy Night to The Twelve Days of Christmas. We sang for about an hour and then the crowd dispersed and I became suddenly aware that I couldn’t feel my toes.
I had bought a ticket to go on the “Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour,” and I still had an hour before it started, so I pretended to shop in a Duane Reade along the walk until I regained feeling in all of my appendages. The cruel cold made me feel even better about my ticket to ride around on a charter bus for three hours.
Lana had schlepped it out to Brooklyn with me on my first December trip and we walked around Dyker Heights, famous for its audacious Christmas displays all over the neighborhood. The bus tour covered that ground as well as the Bay Ridge area, and as a further bonus, we were transported around on a heated bus and got out for short neighborhood walks in the best sections.
I was happy to find that Brooklyn still had a coating of snow, which really took the Christmas scene up a notch. We went to several new areas as well as some I’d seen before, but hearing all of the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the fellow tourists provided the perfect ambience for the cheeseball experience I had hoped for when I bought the ticket.
After visiting the two neighborhoods, we made a third stop just to see this specific house, which looked like an arcade game – a Christmas-themed arcade game!
After we’d seen all the Christmas lights, as promised, we were taken to a bakery where cannoli and hot chocolate had been set out for us in a private room in anticipation of our arrival. It was a delicious night cap before we boarded the bus one last time and returned to Manhattan.
2013 was the Centennial for Grand Central Station, so that coupled with the frosty air made it a great time to finally take the official tour. It was interesting to see places in the building that I probably never would have wandered on my own and to hear the story of the at-odds partners responsible for the building and then its eventual restoration after having fallen into disrepair.
After finishing the tour and grabbing lunch at the new Shake Shack in the basement, I made my way over to the New York Public Library to check out their tree…
…and then over to Bryant Park, which is a fun spot all year round, but particularly bustling once the Christmas shops, huge tree, and ice rink move in for the season.
I hopped on a bus downtown to meet Lana after work, and she said she’d go wherever I wanted, so we hopped a train down to the South Street Seaport. She doesn’t go there often and had never seen it decked out for Christmas. The extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy prevented them from having their tree in 2012, so I was excited to see it again, because it is my favorite.
I was a little disheartened that it wasn’t “singing” like it had been when I first fell in love with its tacky splendor, but it was nice to see it back in its rightful place.
From there, Lana took me down to Fraunces Tavern, the site where George Washington gave his farewell address to the Continental Army officers in 1783.
We found two chairs by the fire and kicked back for a while, and then decided to go back to the apartment and order in dinner. Conveniently, we sat down to eat 5 minutes before White Collar came on, and Lana and Colin let me rule the TV for an hour, after which Lana gave me the grand tour through their wedding album and we enjoyed a lovely night in by the glow of their Christmas tree.
On these December trips, I am mostly content to revisit all of my favorite haunts and see them decked out in tinsel and lights, but I usually see at least one new place on every trip, so I set off to find the gazebo from the White Collar season 4 finale. It looked cool on film and didn’t disappoint in person, either. I even climbed up on a rock beside the gazebo to get a better view and ended up sitting there for a while gleaning as much heat as I could from the sun glaring overhead.
I walked along the High Line in the afternoon, which was much less crowded than it had been the first time I toured it in the summer of 2012.
I disembarked to walk through Chelsea Market – and to thaw out again.
I will always be a sucker for a fountain, but a color-changing fountain?! Love them.
I walked from Chelsea to the Village, which is a great stroll to soak in the city. I did pause to photograph the Gansevoort as I walked past. I’d like to stay there someday.
I had dinner at Bleecker Street Pizza (heralded by many as the best pizza in New York) and picked up my ticket for the play I was seeing: Buyer & Cellar. I still had over an hour before the show started, so I walked around the neighborhood some more and then went to another restaurant (A.O.C., l’Ail ou la Cuisse) for dessert which was recommended to me by the ladies at the box office. I had the chocolate mousse and it was divine.
Buyer & Cellar was a one-man show starring Michael Urie (best known for TV roles on Ugly Betty and Partners, but best known to me for his role in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which is my favorite Broadway show). The show was hysterical, but came with those unexpectedly touching moments that you find in the best comedies.
I hung out after the show was over to say hello to Michael, and he was delightful. I told him that we had a friend in common – Michael Park, who he worked with on How to Succeed. I agreed to pass along his “hello” and then we said goodnight. I struck up a conversation with a stranger on my way back to the subway station; she spotted the signed Playbill in my hand and I recommended the show to her.
Not quite ready to call it a night, I hopped off the train near Radio City and walked over to Rockefeller Center to see the tree and the Saks 5th Avenue Projection Show. My trip couldn’t be complete without that!
I was supposed to fly back to North Carolina on Saturday afternoon to go to the Grahams’ Annual Christmas Party, so I was going to have brunch with Colin and Lana and then head to the airport. When I woke up, though, snow was pouring down outside, so while the rest of the house was still sleeping, I raced outside into the snow.
I thought the best place to go would be the park, so I returned to the gazebo again.
Then I hopped a bus across the park to see Lincoln Center. It amused me that it was snowing, yet their fountain was on.
Lana texted to say they were readying for brunch, so I made my way back. While waiting for the bus, I talked with an older lady who told me how much she loved the snow, and said she grew up in one of the snowiest countries in the world, and had once crawled out of her second-story window onto snow. She took this photo of me.
Lana, Colin, and I took a snowy, slippery walk to brunch and I was starting to worry about my flight. It was still showing as “on time” and it was nearing time for me to leave for the airport, but it didn’t seem at all likely that my flight was really going to leave – on time or otherwise. My nerves were definitely showing, so Lana encouraged me to call the airline and see what they said. I did, and was told that my flight was still scheduled on time, but that they’d switch me to the next day for free. I kept second-guessing decisions either way, thinking I’d feel foolish if my flight really did leave on time, but knowing I did NOT want to be stuck at JFK overnight. The least stressful decision was to take the postponement, so I did, and a weight was lifted, but I continued to check my flight status for the rest of the day as it was delayed, delayed, delayed, boarded, disembarked, and then cancelled. I’m SO grateful that I was staying with friends so I didn’t have to worry about another night of hotel, and that Colin and Lana collectively talked me down from the crazy cliff so I could just relax and enjoy that I had more time in snowy New York.
Having embraced the notion, I decided to go over to Brooklyn and walk around the park. It was so peaceful.
It seemed like an opportune moment to finally ride Jane’s Carousel, built in 1922 and restored to its original condition in 1984. It was great fun and OF COURSE I let the operator take my photo. My horse held my hat – technically Lana’s hat.
Thinking of what other places I wanted to see in the snow took me back over to Bryant Park, which looks like a Winter Wonderland in December even if it’s 60 degrees. In the snow, it was just that much better. And I found another person to take a photo for me – even though all of these furry hat pictures are hilarious and you may or may not be able to tell it is even me in there.
By this time, it was after 5pm, so I knew that Grand Central would have its holiday light show going, which I had never seen. Plus, I was pretty well soaked by this point, so it was getting harder and harder to stay outside for long.
Santa Con was that weekend – which I didn’t even know was a thing until Lana mentioned it as the explanation to why we saw two Santas carrying cases of beer down the street on the Upper East Side. After that, I saw them everywhere. Apparently, Santa takes the subway when his sled is in the shop. I even saw several women participating in Santa Con, but their Santas had mostly abandoned the red suit in favor of the red light. This guy was a Santa Con underachiever, but I had to stop him to get a photo of his shirt.
Apparently, owing to the Santas transporting cases of beer and/or Santa-hookers, there was concern that these Con participants might get unruly on the trains.
When I left Grand Central, I realized that I could also see the light show from outside.
A hot shower and dry clothes were beckoning to me, but there was one last place I couldn’t miss seeing in the snow:
I stayed up just long enough to say goodnight to Lana and Colin when they came in from their Christmas party, and then quietly slipped out in the early morning to make it to the airport. I breezed through security (unusual for JFK) and breakfasted with a guy who had slept in the airport the night before after arriving on an overseas flight to find his connection cancelled. He was one of the least miserable-looking people at the airport that morning, so I counted myself blessed to have traded up from a day stuck at the airport to a day playing in the snow.