My Favorite New York Moments

Thursday, February 27, 2014

They say that if you get bored in New York, it’s your own damn fault.

And there I was, 3 weeks in and bored out of my mind. New York was the place you wanted to be when you were watching it from an HBO movie or seeing it from in-flight magazine.

It was deliciously enticing from afar.

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Photo Credit: Michael Mariano

The New York that greeted me was pompous, busy and self-absorbed. It displayed no interest in me or any other outsider. The moment I stepped on to Midtown I was taken aback by how fast paced this city was. Pedestrians walked by with no care whom they bumped into or stepped on in their haste! Everyone acted like they were late for some important meeting. There was no poetry here, no wasted moment to sit and watch the sun set.

I first explored the city cautiously, not wanting to get lost in too many avenues or watch too many Broadway shows. I had planned to stay here for a long time and I knew friends from all over would beg me to take them to touristy places. It's easy enough to navigate with all the subway options and cab rides. But a car hire in New York is the best way to get around.

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Photo Credit: Michael Mariano

Finding yourself in a new place is like a flirtation at a cocktail party. Everything starts out very superficially. You look at them from afar, say hello. Then you try to find things in common, starting with something shallow like a favorite restaurant or a scene from a movie. And if no one starts to back away, you anticipate the connection. Finally, you wait for that moment when you see them in a whole new light. That moment, when the noise of the crowd falls away. And it’s just the two of you, exploring each other with words and images.

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Photo Credit: Michael Mariano

It took some time, but my moment with New York did come. 

I had been walking home from my office on 32nd street and instead of taking my usual route, I decided to walk straight from Penn Station. I walked without any sense of destination. I just followed the fading rays of the sun at 8 in the evening. It was the height of summer and we never had daylight last this long back home.

I had walked over 10 blocks from midtown when I felt a sudden shift in the environment. The crowd got so dense that the sidewalk became almost impenetrable. Everyone seemed like they were walking to the beat of an urgent, demanding drum. The excitement in the humid air was palpable, electric. Here I was, thinking I would steer clear of tourist spots when realized I was headed right into the most obnoxious of them all.

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Photo Credit: Michael Mariano

Times Square in all its glory.

I’ve been told to pass through here with an ironic detachment- to look as though I was about to leave. To avoid looking overtly at the billboards. Or worse, snap pictures. But my feet were frozen on the pavement. I finally gave in. I stopped trying to act cool like a local. My mouth fell agape.

I was blown away by the energy and power of Times Square.

I spun giddily at a 360° universe of colossal neon lights, speeding yellow cabs and screaming billboards. The perpetual hustle & bustle of the intersections and sidewalks embody the mantra of this city that never sleeps. It’s amusing that most people pretend to be locals and yet it has the largest concentration of people from anywhere and everywhere.

Times Square is certainly an assault on all the senses. Every corner has an attraction vying for attention. Actors and aspiring rappers try to pull you in and it’s difficult to know where to look. There are people dressed in outrageous costumes trying to sell you everything from CDs to comedy show tickets. You see ballerinas or hip hop dancers performing for people who gather around. And you find at least one newly married couple posing for the required shots of Times Square.

I felt in that moment, the city finally revealed itself to me.

And this was the true essence of New York. It had a sneaky way of making you feel invincible. Its bright lights shining down on you made you feel like you are onstage in the best performance of your life. You’re on the crossroads of the world!

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Photo Credit: Malcolm Arevalo

I returned to Times Square many more instances after that. Usually to take visiting friends and family around. I saw Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre- overlooking Times Square. It’s a great way to experience the square and feel like you’re part of this magical place, not some gawking tourist. I was even part of a wedding party once. We braved the cold of a harsh winter day and slipped our coats off. We smiled as though we were not freezing right on top of the TKTS staircase.

The restaurants in the area of Times Square are to be avoided at all cost. Unless you’re just in for the experience and not the cuisine. But I did have a couple of memorable encounters. The first was on a date with a guy after watching Phantom of the Opera in nearby Majestic Theatre and craving for cheesecake afterwards. And there’s no better place for creamy, decadent cheesecake than Junior’s- an establishment that’s been in business for over 60 years.We both ordered Junior’s New York-style Cheesecake. I have to say it’s the best in the city!

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Photo Credit: Michael Mariano

The second memorable encounter was meeting with my kindergarten teacher 24 years. We found each other through facebook and she invited me for lunch at Hard Rock Café. This place is a bit too touristy and pricey for an authentic New York experience but she had insisted. It was a touching gesture for her to want to give me a taste of the city with a incredible view from the café. It was so amazing to see her after such a long time and to hear stories about me as a little girl. 

It was definitely one of the best New York moments I’ve had.

If you had only a day to spend in Times Square, I would suggest you have a late brunch at Ellen's Stardust Diner on Broadway at 51st St. Their singing wait staff is the perfect start to your day of entertainment. Try their bagels with cream cheese and a big cup of coffee. 

Then spend an hour walking around and checking out the shops and nearby attractions. Kids would love you if you bring them inside Toys R’ Us and the huge Hershey’s store. If you’re a big music fan, stop by MTV Studios and the Colony. I am personally more into photography so I often visit the Museum of International Center of Photography at 43rd and 6th. And if you’d rather meet all of your favorite stars albeit in wax form, walk into Madame Tussauds with a camera in hand.

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Photo Credit: Michael Mariano

Even just sitting down and observing people, taking a photo or 2 and just soaking in the sights can be quite a reflective experience. If the crowds start to get to you, walk a few blocks down to Bryant Park where you sit a bench, have a coffee and read a book. Get your discounted Broadway and off-Broadway tickets in advance and drop by the TKTS booth. Have a few photos taken on the glowing red staircase while you’re at it. If you start getting hungry before the Broadway show, have some appetizers at Churrascaria Plataforma, a large Brazilian restaurant with a wide variety of different cuts of BBQ meat. Satisfy your sweet tooth by ordering dessert at Junior’s after the show. For drinks, Café Un Deux Trois is the perfect setting for some spirits and intimate conversations.

2 years ago, I was back in my favorite city to reconnect with old friends and visit some newly sprung places. I had not planned to be back in Times Square. But after watching Wicked for the first time on Broadway, I felt nostalgic.

I experienced the familiar pull of the place that sparked a flirtation into a full blown romance.

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What I appreciate most about this place is its honesty. It is loud, obnoxious and bares itself out in the open. It is the heart of the city that beckons, “Come, sit, feast on your life!” And as it opens the door, it understands that everyone who comes through will certainly leave. 

But it patiently waits and welcomes you back because it also knows one can stay away too long.

What's your favorite New York moment?

Cover photo credit: Michael Mariano

Lois is the Editor-in-Chief of the female travel blog When she's not having adventures around the globe, she can be found surfing, surfing someone's couch or giving motivational workshops and retreats.

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2 sole trails

  1. Ahh, New York! Such a beautiful city! I love your clothes, Lois!

  2. Yes it's my favorite city in the world Joni! Hope you make it out there one day :)


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