New York City 2012

Several days in New York City, April 2012. Some tips and comments:

Finding baggage storage in New York City is a bit tricky if you’re not staying at a hotel. One option is Schwartz Travel and Storage – they have one location about five blocks from Grand Central Station and two other locations. The place is reasonable at USD 10 per day per bag/suitcase and the staff is very friendly, but it’s hard to find. Look for the Subway restaurant on the south side of 46th Street between 5th and 6th Ave. Right next to it is an unassuming door with a small “Schwartz” sign in the window. Baggage storage is on the 4th floor. Just an empty room in an unpolished building, but it does the job.

Falafel and gyros from street corner vendors taste just fine. Rabbi-inspected bagel shops (for example, Leo’s Bagels in the Financial District) are a must. So is pizza, whether popular Grimaldi’s or some other place. Find some good deals during happy hour in West Village.

Maybe I was just hungry, but the spinach pie and baklava at hole-in-the-wall Mamoun’s Falafel (119 MacDougal Street in West Village) were perfect. A bit greasy, but tender and flaky and delicious. And the baklava….mmm.

In Vino is a small, romantic wine bar and restaurant at 215 E.4th Street, between Ave. A and B in East Village. Good pasta, great wine selection. But it can get loud, especially if it’s girls’ night out.

Miss Lily’s (132 West Houston Street at Sullivan Street) is a Jamaican style diner that even offers jerk seitan. Good jerk chicken, plantains, and mixed drinks. Reviews are likewise mixed, but we must have been there on a good night. In any case, Jamaican is something we definitely won’t find at home in Riga. Lily’s is apparently quite the hip place right now and the wait staff are all tall and beautiful. Made me feel a bit frumpy.

Traverse the whole world in New York in one day: American breakfast, Middle Eastern/Indian Perfume Row on Broadway, Cubans and Mexicans on the Lower East Side, a walk through Little Italy, lunch in Chinatown, Yiddish and Russian (with varieties ranging from Ukrainian to Uzbek and beyond) in Coney Island and Brighton Beach, and a Thai dinner on the way home in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Walk a block and hear twenty different languages. This is not the America I grew up in. Now I understand how the city can suck you in. But being spit out again isn’t bad, either.

Strangely, no one we talked to has been to Coney Island. Pick a nice day and don’t let first impressions of the place send you straight back to the subway station. We went to this far end of Brooklyn during the off season – partly inspired by Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, but also in the hopes of finding good subjects for photography. In fact, the place was less seedy and in better shape than we had imagined. But just walking down the boardwalk to Brighton Beach, watching the hair color turn to Russian red, was interesting enough.

A former elevated freight rail line along the southwestern edge of Manhattan has in recent years been made into an almost 1.5-mile-long walking trail. The High Line stretches from the Meatpacking District almost to Hell’s Kitchen. Great concept and a nice change from the concrete of the city below, but quite crowded.

We stayed at the World Center Hotel literally next to the World Trade Center site. We did not visit the actual site, but I found the memorial exhibits in St. Paul’s Chapel across the street to be moving enough. Given a choice, though, we would not stay in the Financial District again – too busy during the day, too dead and distant at night. Wall Street is a bit eerie.

Having decided to spend one more night in Manhattan but not being able to extend our existing hotel reservation (through at a reasonable price, we used the app “Hotel Tonight” to find a same-day room. Very recommended. What we got was an elegant USD 350 room at the Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington Avenue for a mere USD 129. We will definitely use Hotel Tonight again.

Next time in NYC: museums, more food exploration, and Brooklyn.

More tips:

Believe people when they say to wear comfortable shoes. Despite being America, New York City is definitely a pedestrian city.

That said, watch out for the crazy bicyclists.

See the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park and save on time and ferry money.

Avoid Times Square if possible – it’s just lots of tourists and flashing lights.

If you’re going to buy train and subway tickets from the machines at stations (and often that’s the only option), beware that if using a credit card, the machines will ask for a ZIP code. Foreigners, make sure you have cash or do some research about ticket buying options.

Last but not least: buy an unlimited Metro Card to use on the subways and buses. It’s a lot easier than figuring out the transfer system and trying to come out even with the Regular Metro Card – you’re guaranteed to lose money whatever you do. Besides, you’ll save a lot of time in planning your day and routes. USD 30 for a 7-day Unlimited Pass is worth it even if you’re in the city for just three days. If you’ve still got a few days left on the card, restore someone’s faith in mankind – and beat the NYC transit system – by giving the card to a new arrival at the airport on your way