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A city girl’s heaven

[New York City, NY]

My Friday started off with another run around Prospect Park in Brooklyn. As I was making my way around the pond in the middle, the sun was just rising and I managed to take a picture with my phone mid-run. What a great way to start my day!

After breakfast, Martha and I headed into the city. Martha had to work that day, so I went with her to her office at the New School in Union Square. We took the F train all the way from her neighborhood in Brooklyn to her work, and it was my first experience on the NYC subway. At this time of day, the train was full of people going to work, although not overly crowded on a Friday before a holiday weekend. But on a Friday evening, Martha said, it would turn into a party train as droves of young people make their way into Manhattan to party. I enjoyed the people watching – something you can only do at airports in LA – and I was psyched to be using public transport. The city girl in me will always get giddy at the prospect of not driving, as I grew up in Sofia always getting around in my own two feet or taking buses and electric street cars.

After a quick stop at Martha’s office, I popped into a nearby Barnes and Nobles to get a street map of Manhattan, and as I was walking up the street towards it, I got my first views of the Empire State building.

First view of the Empire State Building right outside of Martha's office

I made my way down to Union Square, where I picked up the 4 train to downtown. I got off at Battery Park and hooked up with my friend Svetlana, who was also in NYC visiting a friend of hers, Maria. We took the commuter ferry to Staten Island, and along the way we were rewarded with great views of downtown NYC and the Statue of Liberty. The commuter ferry doesn’t stop at Ellis Island or the Statue itself – which was fine, as Ellis island would have gobbled up the whole morning, and we couldn’t have gone up the Statue of Liberty anyways as it’s closed for renovation – but we enjoyed the views nonetheless.

After a brief stop at Staten Island for some coffee and a mid-morning snack, we rode the ferry back downtown and we visited Wall Street and its “mascot”, the bronze status of a charging bull at Bowling Green park.

5.1346410070.ny-stock-exchange-on-wall-st

Afterwards it was time for lunch, and Maria took us to Seaport – one of the very few malls in Manhattan that features plenty of shopping and dining right by the water. After a very good meal at a Spanish restaurant, we enjoyed the third-floor patio, which offered gorgeous views of the Brooklyn bridge.

After lunch, we headed to Century 21 – the discount designer brands shopping mecca in NYC. I wanted to check it out more so for its iconic status in New York and not so much for the shopping itself, although my friends and I did peruse the women’s section – I mean you have to, right? However, the place was very crowded and there was a huge line for the fitting room alone, so after I tried on a couple of things, I was ready to get out of there. My Bulgarian friends went on to the 9/11 memorial (which I am doing on Sunday), while I met up with Melissa, the wife of my b-school friend Dan. Melissa and Dan lived in LA for a few years while Melissa was in law school and Dan was working on his MBA at LMU, but once Melissa was ready to take the bar, they decided to come back to their East Coast roots and settle in NYC. Melissa was free on Friday afternoon and so she suggested we meet at the Broadway entrance of Century 21, right by the women’s shoe department. While I escaped the rest of Century 21 without any damage to my wallet, I was worried that I would need a rescue mission out of the shoe department; however, despite a very hesitant 10 minutes in front of a very tempting collection of discounted Manolo Blahniks, I was able to escape that department, too, with my credit card balance unchanged.

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One World Trade Center

Melissa and I headed to the Meatpacking district where we checked out Highline park – the coolest urban park I had ever seen! The Highline is an addition to Manhattan only a few years old, and its a park where an elevated section of the New York Central Railroad used to be. It is now an aerial greenway that takes you from the Meatpacking district through Chelsea all the way up to Hudson Yard near the Garment district. Along the way, we enjoyed gorgeous views of Chelsea and the Empire State and Chrysler buildings further East. The park itself featured several areas where people could hang out and just enjoy the outdoors and the views of the city several stories above street level, as well as a section akin a food court where you could buy coffee, beer, food and souvenirs.

Afterwards, Melissa and I headed to the Empire State building, where we braced ourselves for long lines both to buy tickets and to go up to the observations decks. However, both lines were virtually non-existent, which came as a great surprise to my hostess Martha, who’d never been to the Empire State building without waiting for at least an hour and a half to go up. After we bought tickets, Melissa and I sat at a nearby Starbucks where we caught up and people-watched while waiting for Dan to join us after work. We both loved that in NYC, people from all walks of life and backgrounds are so much more intertwined than LA. LA is so very segmented that, depending on where you live and work, you could go for weeks being surrounded by your own kind. By contrast, NYC is so much more like a true melting pot – just going down a few subway stops can take you in an area completely different from the one you left.

When Dan finally joined us, we went up to both the main deck of the Empire State building on the 86th floor and the top deck on the 102nd floor. The deck on the 86th floor was cool – it was an outdoors one and provided 360-degree views of New York. Being able to see the entire island helped me a lot with getting my bearings, and the NYC skyline was amazing in every direction (except maybe West, where there weren’t as many high-rise buildings, and the Jersey shore beyond was fairly boring). The deck on the 102nd floor, by contrast, was narrow, indoors, and provided no better views than the 86th floor except for North. From this high up, we got much better views of Central Park without the south-side high-rises in the way. In summary, if you are ever in NYC, save yourself $17 and skip the top deck.

Our next stop was the nearby Macy’s – a flagship store that’s the largest Macy’s anywhere, and an NYC icon. We didn’t get to see all 11 floors of it – even I don’t have this much passion for shopping – but we did peruse the shoe department. Well, Melissa and I did while Dan was scouting out dinner locations. We ended up getting Korean Barbecue nearby, after which we checked out Times Square. Of all NYC landmarks, that was the most underwhelming one for me. I could see the allure during NYE or another special event, but the giant screens and the droves of tourists didn’t grab me on a random Friday evening. It just seemed a bit… pointless.

Times Square

It was getting late anyway, and I was exhausted – the temps and humidity and all the walking around had taken their toll and I was ready to head back to Brooklyn. Melissa and Dan rode with me part of the way home on the F-train, and we made plans to see each other later in the weekend.

My first day in NYC was a blast. The city girl in me was psyched to ditch the car and use a world-class, 24-7 subway system, which transports more than half the population of Bulgaria (over 5 million riders) back and forth between the boroughs every single day. I still find it hard to believe most of it was designed more than a century ago, especially the express tracks, which, in addition to allowing certain trains to stop at fewer stations through Manhattan, allow the MTA to reroute trains when there are problems on other lines, and close local, non-express routes for maintenance for extended periods of time. I loved the energy of this amazing city, and I can’t wait to explore more of it in the coming days.

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