Day Eight: Out With A Bang (and a big dent in our pockets)

As I sit here in the JetBlue terminal at the JFK International Airport, I can’t help but fight the urge to put off writing this final post. Like many other things in my life, I believe that putting something on paper (or in this case, a blog) solidifies it and makes it real. The end of my trip is something I don’t want to give life to. Not right now, possibly not ever. But I need to close this particular chapter and open my heart to the next one. So here we are: cheers to my final NYC post.

Saturday started similarly to most other mornings: the struggle to crawl out from under the warm comforter, the seemingly never-ending mental debate over what to wear, and no matter how you plan ahead you still manage to keep yourself a half-hour behind schedule. It took a while for Ana and I to fall into a swing, but once we did we hit the ground sprinting.

Our first stop of the day was Sarabeth’s Kitchen. Whenever my family took trips to NYC, we’d try to snag brunch at the Sarabeth’s on Madison. Today we decided that the South Central Park address made the most sense for our day’s itinerary. A few stops off the M train heading Uptown and we were in a swanky part of Manhattan. The wait at Sarabeth’s was out the door and when I asked the host about the wait, he and the rest of the wait staff looked amused when I gave him my name for a table. Too bad they weren’t amused enough to give me a free meal..

Brunch was phenomenal. As soon as we sat down, our waiter asked if we’d like to try the drink special for the day: a raspberry mimosa. Ana and I decided to share one to start the day off right. For substance, I ordered the smoked salmon eggs benedict and it was devine. I somehow managed to finish off every bite. And it was well worth it.

I love the service at Sarabeth’s. Even though the wait for a table had gotten much longer since we’d arrived, I never once felt rushed to eat, pay and leave. Our waiter was friendly and accommodating. Much of that could’ve had to do with the section of New York that we were in. With the Plaza Hotel around the corner, Rolls Royces and Escalades creating lines of traffic, and the meat of the Upper East Side up the street, Sarabeth’s at South Central Park is used to seeing the wallets of the (overly) comfortably wealthy. Ana and I felt like we belonged there and basked in the amazing treatment we received while we ate.

On our way to explore that particular part of the city, we made a stop at The Plaza Hotel. Passing through the front stairway and the sparkling and broad arches, we were greeted by a pink Christmas tree in the foyer, decorated especially for The Plaza by Betsey Johnson.

We made our way past the main dining area and downstairs to check out the shops. Of course, few things found in the stores below The Plaza Hotel are affordable for a college student, but with the spotlessly white hall filled with a live piano player fingering off various Christmas songs, I could have easily spent the entire day there.

FAO Schwartz across the street beckoned to us and we’d already committed to going inside before we saw the halfblock-long line that had formed to enter the massive toy store. It moved quickly and we were inside within a couple minutes and submerged in the chaos of holiday shopping and yelling children. I remember visiting FAO as a child and loving the candy section. Both Ana and I relived our childhood and went a little sugar-crazy in FAO Schweets. Although the toys there are definitely meant for much younger boys and girls, we had a blast looking through all of the sections, impressed with updated versions of the dolls and games of our youth.

When we were finally able to breathe fresh (and frigidly cold!) air outside, we walked past Bergdorf Goodman to lust over the amazing clothes displayed in their windows. I was practically drooling over this red Marchesa gown. Easily my favorite designer at the moment. Such class and technique with each piece. So flawless!

Passing Bergdorf, we made our our way to Le Parker Meridien to view the gingerbread house exhibit. We weren’t there too long before we decided to start our trek through Central Park to the Met. Walking through the park in the winter was a very strange but beautiful event. Since I’d arrived in New York, the temperature had dropped a good 10 degrees and the lack of sunshine amplified the brisk air even more. The bare trees of the park looked haunting, but if you take in the bigger picture of where you are (a beautiful park in the center of an even more beautiful city), it seems much less barren and full of spirit. It’s easy to imagine the lawns covered in snow and the ponds iced over. The walk from 59th to 79th street was long, but worth it. We even stumbled upon a sculpture of Alice in Wonderland characters.

Once we arrived at the Met, we ventured through to the Christmas tree. No photos allowed or else I’d give you one, but even a picture wouldn’t be able to fully capture the beauty of that tree. It was covered in angels and the base was surrounded by various scenes of the Nativity. From what I’d read, each small human and angelic sculpture was made from twine and clay and was fully pliable and capable of moving positions. It was such an impressive piece of artwork.

Our next stop was The American Museum of Natural History on the opposite side of Central Park. We crossed over and went to observe yet another Christmas tree. This one was smaller than the one at the Met, but it was covered in hundreds of origami figures. Lions, centipedes and even a fist-sized diamond were a few of the many origami shapes on the tree.

After the AMNH, we were starting to get pretty cold so we went back to our hotel to grab a few more layers before hitting the town for the remainder of the evening. We rode back uptown to the St. Regis Hotel to have a drink at King Cole Bar. It was prime bar hours and it was pretty packed, but we grabbed our Stellas and chatted for a bit before we decided it was due time for some dinner.

I wanted to try to get into Jekyll and Hyde Club for dinner that night. It’s a fun little themed restaurant off of 5th Avenue based off of the novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. There are multiple floors where pictures and sculptures come to life and interact with you throughout the night. From what I remember of when I went as a child, it’s a pretty freaky place. Unfortunately, the line was a bit too long for Ana’s stomach and mine, so we crossed the street to a small pizza parlor where we bought our cheapest meal of the entire trip. Caprese pizza with beer, all for the low, low price of $6. What could be better?

Our next stop of the night was the Empire State Building. We’d purchased tickets back at our hotel earlier so we walked straight in and up to the 86th floor. The sites were amazing from that high up. It was the perfect night too. Everything was so clear. And even though it was far colder than freezing once the wind hit you, I had a difficult time pulling myself away from the view. It left me breathless and awestruck. It was amazing and exactly what I wanted to see on my last night in the city.

Dessert time came next! We ventured over to 60th and Second Ave to Serendipity3, which had a wait of 3 hours. No thank you! That was disappointing because I could have gone for a huge ice cream sundae or something similar. Instead, we walked down the block to Dylan’s Candy Bar. Dylan’s is a three-story confectionary owned by Ralph Lauren’s daughter and it is literally covered in candy, even down to the steps of the stairway. We went up to the third floor and ordered a couple slices of cheesecake. White chocolate raspberry for me, and crême brulée for Ana. Both were pretty good. Not the best I’ve ever tasted, but they still hit the spot.

Our final stop of the night was recommended by one of my mother’s friends: the Gramercy Park Hotel bar at Lexington and 23rd Ave. From the outside, it seemed like a quiet night, but stepping into the lobby you could hear the buzz of the bar. The Gramercy had an almost speak-easy kind of feel to it. Dark wood covered most visible space and large panes of glass in the windows and wine cabinet brought a touch of modernism into the room.

We made our way to the bar and ordered a couple vodka tonics with lemon (thanks Isabelle!). The scene was certainly older and while we got a few odd glances at first, it wasn’t long until we were blending into the group. Another round of drinks (vodka pineapple, my personal favorite) and we were off reminiscing about middle school and high school and gossiping about all the people we used to know. We finished up and checked out the lobby on our way out the door. It was very homey feeling, what with the low chandelier, thick rugs, and stone fireplace mantle. The Gramercy is now on my list of great hotels/bars. Thanks for the suggestion!

We managed to get back to our hotel before 1am, but I had to pack up my things before passing out since I was planning on heading to the airport by 5am. I was wiped by the time I finally got into bed, but it was all worth it. I couldn’t have planned a better last day in New York City.

This single post has witnessed quite a journey: originating in the JFK airport in NYC, filling up during my flight across the country, and finally concluding at my home in San Diego. It’s hard to believe that just this morning I was on the East coast in an entirely different city and timezone. It really broke my heart to leave New York. Much more so than I’d expected. I’m struck by one of my favorite quotes by Anthony Bourdain. He said:

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

Travel does change you. It opens your eyes and expands your universe ever so much more. And while we often think that only our souls and our bodies are effected by travel, we do make an impact on the places we go. You’re interacting with new people and a new environment. There’s no way for you not to leave some sort of mark on your surroundings. While they may not be visible, they’re still there. Much like the marks that travel can make on your heart, they can be just as deep.

In only eight days I was able to see and do everything I’d planned on. I don’t feel unaccomplished in any way. But of course, it’s New York City. There will never be a single moment when there’s not something to be done there. I think that’s the biggest draw for me. I need movement and I need change. I need excitement and I need to learn something new every day, either about the world or about myself. I never want to be stuck, neither in location nor growth. New York City provides all aspects of the life I’ve envisioned for myself. It can be fast-paced, it can be easy and leisured. It can be flashy and ritzy or it can be thoughtful. You can mold and change New York to be whatever you want it to be and that’s the true beauty of it. It doesn’t carry a stereotype of people or of culture. It’s the epitome of a melting pot.

While I’m heartbroken at having said goodbye to a city I’m so in love with, I know that my path will lead me back to New York, short term or long term. I’d be happy with either and I can’t wait until I can greet the city again like an old friend. Thank you for the amazing trip and thank you all for coming along with me on my journey.

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