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Kind of at the last minute—for me, at least—I planned a trip to New York City in late October. A friend had visited a few weeks earlier and had a great time. She told me the city really seemed close to being back to normal. I checked and I had enough frequent flyer miles to do a round-trip and more than enough hotel points to stay at one of my favorite hotels near Times Square, so I booked myself a little treat.
But in the days before I was going to go a duo of storms threatened to combine (one coming in from the west and one coming up the Eastern seaboard) to form a classic Nor’easter, bringing pouring rain and punishing winds to the city. I almost cancelled my trip the day before I was scheduled to leave, but I instead opted to keep an eye on the flights that mimicked mine and see if they were cancelled or left and arrived on time. They did, so on a sunny Tuesday here in San Diego, I boarded a non-stop flight to New York, landing in the remnants of an all-day rain-storm.
Luckily, that was the extent of my weather-related problems and Wednesday through Saturday were beautiful fall-like days, dotted with windy conditions. It rained overnight on Friday, but Saturday saw some sunshine on my final walk through the city and Central Park.
I walked all over the place this time, not once going on the subways, which seem … troubled … right now, to say the least, for a variety of reasons. I walked 12 miles on Wednesday, 11 on Thursday, and a comparatively measly 8 on Friday, but by then these old bones were weary and worn.
I spent Wednesday with a dear friend, one whom I’ve known for for over 30 years, and we roamed down to the new Little Island (pictured below), the vanity project of media billionaire Barry Diller. This is a build-up of an old, abandoned cruise ship terminal (Pier 57) on the lower West Side, and you can still see the remnants of the original pier in the water. It’s a serene and quiet space, with an accompanying amphitheater and plaza for food trucks. As billionaire vanity projects go, it’s a great addition to the city, but unless you’re seeing a concert or some kind of performance there, it’s pretty much a once-and-done visual treat; been there, done that. We had to walk along the High Line to get there, and that was nice. My friend and I love visiting bookstores, so that was the bulk of our day together. We had a nice dinner at Grand Central Oyster Bar before she had to catch a train to return home in the Hudson Valley.
Thursday saw me back “on the road” (or streets) to visit some of my favorite NYC bookshops, including The Strand, Forbidden Planet (my favorite NYC comics store), and the Union Square flagship branch of Barnes and Noble, the one New York City bookstore that almost captures the feeling of London’s Piccadilly Waterstones location and Charing Cross’s Foyles, when it comes to multi-floor bookstore extravaganzas. Luckily they’re all within just a few blocks of each other. I also visited McNally-Jackson, a decidedly independent bookstore on Prince Street, and then made the long walk to The Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street. Both are fine shops, worth visiting, but I didn’t buy anything at either of them. It was a long trek back to my hotel from Warren Street and I felt every step of it, which led me through Washington Square with its iconic arch. That’s an area of NYC I dearly love, too.
Friday was another nice day and I took the pleasant weather opportunity to visit Central Park. I don’t care how many times I’ve visited NYC … I always reserve a day to roam through Central Park. I walked up Fifth Avenue from my hotel on 42nd Street and entered the park at Central Park South and Fifth, right across from the Plaza Hotel. I love that section of the park, with the pond that the Plaza overlooks and the iconic Gapstow Bridge arching over the water. I walked up to The Mall and Bethesda Fountain, two more favorite spots within the park, and then cut over to 72nd Street, where I visited the John Lennon memorial at Strawberry Fields. The Strand took over a bookstore on the Upper West Side, on Columbus Avenue between 81st and 82nd Street, and I was curious to see what they did with it. Ironically, I ended up buying more there than I did at their flagship store at 12th and Broadway the day before. I then roamed down Broadway to Columbus Circle and back to my hotel. The forecast was for rain that evening, starting around 6:00 PM, and I was still tired from my extended walks on Wednesday and Thursday, so I spent my last night in the city packing and relaxing. I guess I’m not quite cut out for 10+ mile walks these days.
By Saturday morning the rain had stopped and I managed to get in one more walk through Central Park, this time sticking to the paths that run along Central Park South, from Fifth Avenue up to about Seventh Avenue. The sun popped out, making every thing shiny from the rain the night before. It was an ideal last walk around New York before I had to head out to JFK and my flight home, one that left on-time and came with an empty seat next to me.
This was the best trip I’ve had to New York City in the past five years. I got horribly sick after a 2017 trip there, skipped 2018, had a so-so but very rainy time in 2019, and of course, like everyone else, went absolutely nowhere in 2020. The city seemed really alive and vibrant and happy to be back this time. I had taken trips to Seattle (in June) and Portland (in October) and nether of those cities seemed “normal” (whatever that is right now). New York seemed almost there, ready for Christmas and the promise and cheer that comes with that holiday season. While my personal choice would have been a trip to London this year (I had one planned for late September), I was very happy for this pleasant and fun “consolation prize.” And it was oh-so-great to be somewhere else, if only for a few days.