Our whirlwind New York City vacation

We don’t get to travel very much. Our vacations are usually to visit Jim’s family in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which luckily, is a great place to visit. Now that my daughter is getting older I really wanted to take her some place new. She’s been very into musicals lately and when she found out that Be More Chill was being revived off-broadway this summer she begged us to take her. We weren’t totally sure it was something we could do since NYC can be quite pricey, but we looked into it and realized that if one of us took her we could do it on the cheap.

Since it happened to be around the time of my birthday, we decided that I’d be the one to take her. I was a bit nervous about it since I’ve barely been to NYC but I was also excited to take my kid and show her around. I found a decent travel package through expedia.com that included flights and hotel. The flight back included a layover in Pittsburgh so from there I decided to spend a couple of days in that area with some of my family, then instead of flying back, we would take the train—an environmentally better option than flying.

I imagined that my time in NYC would be filled with eating vegan food that I could later blog about, taking a tour of the NBC studios  (mostly because we’re big fans of 30 Rock and we thought it would be fun/funny) and general sightseeing. We would be on a budget so it wasn’t going to be too crazy, but I figured we could have some fun.

We would have 1 full day book ended with 2 half days.

I was really worried about the cost of getting from LaGuardia Airport to our hotel in the Times Square area. I figured that expense alone was going to be over $60 and it just hurt so much. I kept trying to figure out an alternative, but there’s little info about taking public transportation so I had cold feet with trying that. In the end, I found a $20 off Uber deal for first-time users–yes, it’s true I’ve never used Uber!–and that got us to our hotel for just over $20 bucks which was a great deal as far as I was concerned! Of course, it also got me worried about the trip back because that meant it was over $40, but I decided to worry about it later. I’m a great procrastinator, for better or for worse.

We weren’t able to check into our hotel until 3pm, but they let us leave our bags with them so we could go tour around the city for the next 4 hours.  Our first mission was to find food and I thought it would be a good opportunity to find a vegan place, but I quickly realized that there weren’t any as close as I thought they were to our hotel.

I had made a Google Map of the places I wanted to check out and it seemed like there were many places that would be pretty easy to get to, but when you have a child who’s not used to walking around a giant city bustling with millions of people on a hot, humid and rainy day the reality kicks in and the places I wanted to visit might as well have been a million miles away from each other, it just quickly felt impossible and I knew my wish list had to be whittled down to a few options, if I was lucky.

My daughter was wilting, so we just had to find something fast. There was a salad bar/hot bar place nearby, but I was very disappointed that they only had plastic containers to put the food in. Since I was just coming off of the Plastic Free July challenge,e this was a big bummer. I didn’t bring much in the way of reusables and to be honest I kept leaving our reusable water bottle behind every time we went out because I’m not used to carrying a water bottle around with me.

Next, we headed towards Central Park. On the way, we passed by Rockefeller Plaza so I thought I’d buy the tickets for the tour, which for some inexplicable reason I hadn’t already bought. Well, actually I didn’t buy them because I figured we could see how we felt when we got there. Did we want to go in the morning or afternoon? On the first day or the second day? Did I mention that I procrastinate?

I had checked the website earlier and there were a handful of options. We decided we’d do the morning tour on the 2nd day, but since we were at the building I wanted to buy the tickets. “That one’s sold out.” Ok, when’s the next available? “Sunday at 2:40” My heart sank! Our plane would be leaving on Sunday at 4pm. I practically burst into tears right there. I couldn’t look at my daughter, but I had to break the news to her. “We can’t do the tour. I’m so sorry!” I knew she was angry with me, but she also knew how upset I was. I think I probably wanted to do the tour more than her.

We kept walking towards Central Park and she started seeing the carriage rides. I had to make up for the tour fiasco, but there was no way I could do a carriage ride with horses. Good thing there were electrically powered pedicabs with very nice tour guides available. I know a lot of people have had terrible experiences with these things and it was a bit on the pricey side, but we had only been in NYC for about 2 hours and were already disappointed and exhausted. Having someone drive us around Central Park seemed like a great idea, and it was!

Immediately the cool breeze refreshed us, our guide was very pleasant and chatty. He pointed out things as we drove by, but he also stopped often and gave us time to get out, take pics, walk around a bit then climb back in and continue on. At one point he gave us explicate instructions that we should walk down to this water fountain, take some pictures, check out a bridge, then walk through an old tunnel and he’d be waiting for us down the road.

Central Park

At one stop, I suddenly realized that this was the area that the Doctor Who episode Angels Take Manhattan was shot. We’d watched the episode a few times so we were both overly excited and taking pictures: “Look this is the rock they were hanging out on!”. It was such a great surprise and our tour guide knew nothing about it.  He kept pointing out places where this or that was shot, but we really didn’t know the movie or tv show he referenced. He didn’t point out that this is where Doctor Who or Rosemary’s Baby was shot! Coincidentally, Stella was wearing one of her Doctor Who shirts!

Of course, he also pointed out the water fountain from Friends which I took a half-hearted picture of and later found out that this is an urban legend. The water fountain is not in NYC, it’s in LA! It’s so dumb, but I just wanted to let you know, because apparently, the guides do this. My daughter wondered if our guide actually knew that it wasn’t the real fountain because he seemed genuinely honest and was really nice. We both agreed that he didn’t really know, but was trained to point these things out so he was just doing his job.

After the Central Park tour he dropped us off by Times Square and we finally got the full daytime experience of that. Total insanity. I think there was some sidewalk construction going on that made it all the more crazy. It’s certainly a good place to people watch.

The crowd in Times Square

We got back to our hotel and were finally able to get into our room. My daughter really needed some downtime! I took a quick shower, but I didn’t use any of the items the hotel supplied. Everything was packaged in plastic pouches, even the soap. Luckily I brought my own shampoo bar that we were able to use for both hair and body.

I looked to see if there were any vegan places that we could go to for dinner, but we were just too exhausted and I didn’t have the confidence yet to take the subway. I found a small place called Green Symphony nearby, they offered a hot bar and salad bar but with vegan options. I wasn’t really that hungry and realized that my appetite actually shrinks when I’m traveling so I got a small salad with some beans and fruit. I also purchased some muffins that we could eat for breakfast the following morning.

Green Symphony food options

The next day we planned on taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry so Stella could see the Statue of Liberty. We woke up to a rainy morning, so we put on our raincoats (yes, I was prepared!) and the hotel lent us an umbrella and we were off to enjoy our only full day in NYC.

I was confident enough to take the subway and with the help of Google Maps was able to navigate to a vegan-friendly restaurant that was on the way to the ferry. First, we had to stop in the Marimekko store that was near the subway exit. I’ve been a fan for decades and own a duvet that I’m very much in love with. I absolutely love their iconic bold and colorful floral prints and the timeless style of their homeware goods. Apparently, Stella feels the same way and we both enjoyed looking around. She snagged a notebook that she immediately started using for her Russian language studies.

Terri NYC breaksfast sandwich

Terri was our next stop for a quick bite. They’re a small NYC chain that offers plant-based food. They don’t have tables, just a counter in the window that seats about 10. I ordered a sausage, egg and cheese muffin with Hollandaise sauce (yes, it was vegan!), which was so filling I could only eat half of it! I saved the other half for later. Stella wasn’t hungry but opted to try a vanilla shake. Everything was tasty and I wish they’d open some places in Chicago because I’ve been craving that breakfast sandwich ever since!

The Ferry experience was a bit confusing at first. It was super crowded and you’re immediately approached by people trying to sell you other ride options. It’s helpful to do some research before you go! One fellow tourist asked me if we had to pay to ride the ferry because the scammers had him all confused.

The Statue of Liberty viewed from the Staten Island Ferry

Once you get on the Ferry, everyone goes to the sides of the boat so they can get a view of either the Statue of Liberty or the skyline…most are going for the statue view. I found the ride very pleasant despite the crowd. Most people were busy taking selfies, including me! It’s about a 25-minute ride one way and by the time we got to the other side, Stella said she was feeling a little seasick and was horrified to realize that we had to take the boat back to Manhattan.

Package Free Shop

Next on my list was the Package Free Shop, run by Lauren Singer of trashisfortossers.com. Lauren is a young sustainable advocate who has gained some fame because she can fit her yearly trash into a small jar and has a TED talk, that may sound like I’m making lite of her achievements, but I’m not at all! The shop is a haven for all your zero-waste, low-impact needs.  They offer all things to help you live a sustainable life like reusable water bottles, stainless steel razors, refillable soaps, and shampoo bars. I picked up a reusable cloth bulk bag to add to my collection, a bamboo toothbrush, and a stainless steel vegetable peeler. The 3 items totaled less than $20. It’s fun to see an iconic place that you follow on Instagram in real life. It wasn’t busy but had a friendly vibe that reminded of the store my husband and I owned in the early 00’s.

Chickpea and Olive vegan coleslaw

On the way back to the subway we stopped at the Whole Foods in Williamsburg which is just a few blocks from the shop. Chickpea and Olive are one of the vendors there and I wanted to try them out. I was still full from my breakfast so all I got was their Carolina slaw. I was hoping it would be like a coleslaw but was really more like a sauerkraut.  I ate that along with the remainder of my breakfast sandwich.

The Whole Foods there was crazy! So busy! I tried to use the bathroom, but the line was so long I decided to wait. To purchase the slaw first I had to order it, then go and pay for it, then come back to pick it up. It really made me appreciate living in Chicago where it’s much less crowded, but you still get all the big city perks. I’ve never had to wait in line to use a grocery store bathroom.

We spent the rest of our day getting back to the hotel, resting and seeing Be More Chill…which should be a post on my daughter’s blog, but she doesn’t have one. It was great! You should see it if you like sci-fi musicals about teenage anxiety! The cast is outstanding and she was able to get her playbill autographed by every one of them. They are so kind and generous. She also got a photo with her favorite George Salazar. I can’t say enough good things about that entire experience and the amazing phenomenon that is Be More Chill.

The next day we needed to get going to the airport. I still wasn’t sure about how to get there. I asked the hotel crew for advice and they all said don’t take public transportation because it could take 2 hours especially on a Sunday, but it was too late to take a shuttle and I didn’t want to pay $40 + for the other options. It was early and I wanted to spend a little more time in the city. Since they said it could take up to 2 hours to get to the airport I decided to just go and Stella was fine with that.

This is where I’m glad I followed my instincts. The hardest part was trying to decide which subway entrance to walk to. You can take the E or the R train to the 74th St/ Roosevelt Avenue station. Once at the station I had to ask to be pointed to the right bus. You need to use your MetroCard to purchase a ticket from a machine then you get on Q70-SBS to LaGuardia.

I don’t know why you need to get that last ticket. No one looked at mine and it made zero sense to me. Why couldn’t I just use my MetroCard?? Talk about a waste of resources–the paper for the ticket and the cost to maintain the machines that dispense the tickets.

Anyway, if you want a cheap and easy way to LaGuardia, take public transportation! I was so nervous to do it, but it was painless and faster than I was led to believe! I think it took about 50 minutes from Times Square to the airport. It felt much faster than taking the Blue Line to O’Hare from downtown Chicago. Everyone I encountered in NYC was friendly and willing to help with questions.

I should point out that we were traveling with 2 regular-sized backpacks (my daughter’s school backpacks, to be precise) and one small carry-on suitcase, so that made getting around much easier. I guess if you’re traveling with full-sized suitcases you might just want to take a cab or something, but they do have luggage racks on the bus so it really isn’t that complicated.

My final thoughts about that leg of our vacation are this: In some ways, NYC was really eye-opening to me as far as sustainable living and its challenges go. This is a city that puts its trash on the sidewalks so you see it everywhere (unlike Chicago which has alleys).

It’s overwhelming to see millions of people that don’t hesitate to pop into a Starbucks and then carry their disposable cups around like a social status symbol (which it totally is). Many salad bar/hot bar places offer healthy food choices, only to put them in plastic containers. Sure, you can bring your own reusable containers (if the store will allow it) but how many of those millions of people are bringing their own reusable items? Store after store use products that are absolutely going to end up in a landfill within the next few years of their life. It’s just simply overwhelming. People love to take Uber, Lyft, and cabs when they could just as easily and more affordably take public transportation. It all seems overwhelming and totally daunting, but we can drive change, we can collectively make a difference.

Next stop Pittsburgh, PA!

Posted on: September 16th, 2018 by Gette

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