I’ll preface my upcoming blog posts with this – I apologize for the delay in new content. I can summarize the lag in one word - Coronavirus.
Although I have been extremely active and productive during the cleared calendars COVID-19 created, my motivation to write has been non-existent. Days at work have been long and consume most of my brain power. When I get home, all I want to do is forget the day, so I’ve channeled my anxieties into many, many different physical labor projects around our acreage to tucker myself out completely. I’ll write about my experience during this time after I do some reminiscing and sharing of other stuff that has gone on over the past few months outside of the pandemic.
One thing is for certain – I already miss the ability to travel and am worried we won’t be able to travel safely again for a while…
Because we’re pretty much stuck around our home and family cabin right now (I recognize the privilege in being able to say this) I’ve been daydreaming about trips Joel and I have taken recently along with ones I hope we take as soon as it is OK to do so.
I jumped right on sharing resources we used on our trip to New York City over Christmas. But I never did get around to writing about the trip itself!
Since the moment Joel and I connected, our love for New York City has been one thing (of many) we have in common. I remember sitting across from him the first time we formally got together and lighting up when this topic came into the conversation. We had both been when we were younger and yearned to go back. Ever since then, we’ve dreamed about going to New York City during Christmas to experience the magic. 2019 was the year it came true.
You may be wondering how it was to be gone over the holidays. Intending no offense to our families – we really enjoyed it. Here’s why. Instead of cramming so many commitments into one to two days, the holidays felt much more intentional. We opened up our home and invited our family members over to have one-on-one time with us before we left. For those we couldn’t fit in before the holidays, we spent time with after we got back. This allowed for more sincere connections. It took a lot of the “overwhelmed” feelings out of the season which felt better to both of us. Although we were both dreading telling our families our plans, they all took the news extremely well and were very supportive of us taking the trip.
It took us a bit to fully believe this trip was happening! We had been talking about it for years and planning it for months. Everything was reserved and paid for – the only thing out of our control was December weather in Iowa, but thankfully it cooperated fully. It was an unusually warm and not snowy December.
Our adventure began the moment we got off the plane. In an effort to use as much public transportation as possible to save money, we took a bus to the subway to another bus to get to our Airbnb. With all of our luggage in tow. Nothing screams, “I’m not from around here,” more than that. Luckily, everyone we interacted with was super nice and, while we were eyeballed, we were never hassled. I believe if you can survive this process – you can literally survive ANYTHING.
We absolutely loved our little New Jersey Airbnb located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The view was STUNNING. Especially at night. We’re not super picky when it comes to where we stay as long as it is a convenient place for us to land at the end of the day and the price is right. The interior was nothing fancy, but its location was in a safe, quiet area with easy access to the New Jersey Transit bus line (just a few steps from our door) that we took into the city every day. Our host was very nice and a really good communicator.
We tried to map out our days loosely so that we saw what we wanted to see for sure, but with flexibility so that if we needed to rest we could rest. Which when you are walking 20,000 steps per day on average, was needed! I’ve outlined some of the trip highlights below and at the very end a photo slideshow is provided for your viewing pleasure.
December 21 – After we settled in at the AirBnb and walked around the neighborhood a little bit, even with all of the traveling/commuting we had already done, we couldn’t help going into the city! We chose to walk around the Times Square/Rockefeller Center area. We covered A LOT of ground. We saw Times Square and its street performers. The Rockefeller Center tree and skating rink. The NBC studio that hosts SNL. Radio City Music Hall. A charming little Christmas market in Bryant Park. The New York City Library. And the New York Times building. It felt like every corner we turned held a landmark we were shocked to be seeing in real life!
December 22 – We visited the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It was delightful. So many famous works of art. I discovered that Picasso and Matisse are two of my favorite artists, which was unexpected. There’s nothing better than being moved by art. It’s one of my favorite feelings. We ended the day with a yummy Italian dinner (BEST I’ve ever had) in the city. On our way through the bus depot to head “home,” I bought and enjoyed my first authentic macaroons!
December 23 – Venturing to the southern tip of the island on the subway, we attempted to go to the Statue of Liberty but the wait was several hours long. We decided to return early the next day. Instead, we ended up going to the 911 Memorial site. It was as moving as we imagined. Very hard to believe the events that occurred. Seeing the names of all who lost their lives made it all real. The memorial is absolutely stunning. The perfect way to honor all those connected to the event. One special thing I learned is that on each person’s birthday, a white rose is placed by their name.
It was about lunchtime when we finished and we were so hungry we didn’t want to waste time wandering around, so we went to Burger King. Why is this significant? It was a two-story Burger King that served you like you were at a sit down restaurant. For some reason this really amused us and I thought it was worth noting! Who knew that was even a thing?
We then made our way to the Upper East Side area and took in all of the beautiful architecture. On a whim, we decided to go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). This was one place that was a must for me solely because of their Costume Institute. We visited that area of the museum first, and although you only get to see limited pieces from the Institute, it was breathtaking. Alexander McQueen is one of my all-time favorite designers and I got to see one of his pieces, along with Chanel, and so many other talented designers. I did cry in this exhibit and I’m not ashamed of it!
The Met is truly unbelievable. It is endless. There is so much to see and do and learn. We did our best to take in everything, but if you took your time, you could probably spend two or more days walking around. They have a little bit of everything. We were there when they had a really neat knight exhibit up. One of the most shocking moments is when we entered a room and were eye to eye with the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware! Wow.
This experience was hands down one of our favorite parts. There is just so much history and variety housed in The Met. Everyone can find something that interests and excites them.
It was dark by the time we left so we cut through Central Park (not as scary as depicted in Home Alone), passing the Museum of Natural History and the site where John Lennon was murdered, on the way to our subway. Not surprisingly, this day clocked in at 20,613 steps!
December 24 – This was Statue of Liberty day! Not a shabby way to spend Christmas Eve. (If you ever want to visit the statue, please see my tips about going to NYC so you don’t get swindled.) We visited both Liberty and Ellis Island on our tour. I recommend going to both.
Coming upon the islands riding the packed ferry, shoulder to shoulder with other visitors, you couldn’t help but put yourselves in the shoes of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in a very similar way (without the privileges we have, of course). Lady Liberty and the museum just behind her was our first stop. And although seeing her and being so close was moving, visiting Ellis Island was emotional.
If you’ve seen the movie Shutter Island, you will vaguely be able to picture Ellis Island. That’s what it reminded me of. A lot of dilapidated, inaccessible buildings with a museum inside a partially restored main building where all immigrants started their journey back in the day. I felt like the spirits of the immigrants who passed through the building were palpable. It was eerie, but very grounding at the same time. I felt grateful for their strength, determination, and visions for the future.
The educational exhibits were wonderful and we learned so much. The element of our time on the island that added an entirely different layer of meaningfulness is that upon doing research in the museum’s records area, I discovered my great, great grandfather (Dimitr Toneff) and other family members arrived at Ellis Island! So as I walked through each area, I pictured them along the way. I was seeing what they saw. That’s pretty powerful.
This was another big walking day because after we left the Statue of Liberty, we visited Greenwich Village. Definitely my favorite nook in Manhattan. It’s where the artists live, and you get that vibe immediately. Joel had a list of Bob Dylan landmarks to see, so we checked those off the list, ended in Washington Square Park, and called it a day.
December 25 – Christmas Day! Ice skating in Rockefeller Center day! It was surreal waiting in line to ice skate. It was a really beautiful, still day. Warm enough where we were just wearing sweaters and vests. The energy in Rockefeller Center was electric. So much excitement! You are able to purchase a 90 minute skating session. Luckily, we got there just in time so we only had to wait as the session before mine finished.
I’ll tell you this, honestly. It was pure magic and I absolutely loved it. But…I was also terrified and instantly in pain. The moment I launched onto the ice, my body tensed up and I was just focused on not falling. Which is typical I suppose. There are a lot of people watching people skate. I didn’t want to be the one everyone laughed at or God forbid was videotaped as an ice skating fail! I made it around between 3-5 times before quitting. Under 10 minutes total of a 90 minute session. Two successes – I did not fall and I did not grip the wall. I quit while I was ahead.
We spent the rest of the day without a plan. The big department store window displays were nearby so we took a look at those. We hopped on the subway and went to Grand Central Station. Then we went to Central Park. It’s very beautiful and there is a lot of entertainment going on! Talented street performers dancing, singing, playing instruments, making huge bubbles. It was a nice way to experience the area.
Landing in Bryant Park, one of our favorite hubs to stop by, we enjoyed hot chocolate while watching everyone hustle and bustle around us. It was a memorable way to end a very special Christmas Day.
December 26 – This was our last full day in NYC. We took it pretty easy. Joel brought up the idea of going to the Tenement Museum located in the Lower East Side. I bought our tickets online as the bus took us to Manhattan and it was a done deal.
The museum was the perfect addition to the experience we had at the Statue of Liberty. It was focused on immigrants and their lifestyles during peak immigration times. It was so interesting! When you go to this museum, it’s not your typical museum. You choose a “track” to go on. We were able to get tickets for the “Business Owner” track which featured Manhattan immigrant entrepreneurs. The tour included the recreation of an old pub, the living quarters behind the pub, an outline of life living in the tenement building, and information about a family who owned a lingerie business. They had a neat interactive historical activity at the end. You grabbed an item that correlated with different immigrant entrepreneurs (book, stein glass, hat, etc.), put it on your table, and magically a story about them played! Super futuristic.
The Lower East Side has kind of a bad reputation, but we didn’t have any problems. We had authentic New York bagels and schmear at a bakery across the street from the museum and walked around a little bit. Saw the site of what used to be CBGBs, which was cool, and a lot of graffiti.
We did a final wander around Manhattan using the subway (which we were so sad we wouldn’t get to ride anymore) and then headed back to get ready for our flight in the morning. We are strange creatures so we spent our last night at a packed laundromat doing our laundry. We dislike traveling with luggage full of dirty clothes. The night was capped off with a dinner order through Uber Eats!
If you have any questions about traveling to New York/New Jersey, I’d be happy to help! I did a lot of research before going and we learned a lot of good practical tips while we were there.
As promised, here’s a slideshow of our trip. Thanks for reading if you made it this far and enjoy!