Thursday, August 16, 2012

finding our way in the city

When we knew that our east coast adventure would include several hours of free time New York City,  I looked around (google) for something new and interesting. We’d done big buildings, the circle line, the park and the theatre in recent years. While there’s certainly no end to the possibilities for fun in the greatest city in the world, my kids are at a sort of in-betweeny age, and many of the ideas I toyed with were judged with silent yet fervent eye rolls.  

I suggested that we look into a hop on/hop off bus like the one mom and I had so enjoyed in Rome. I explained that it’s a great way to get an overall view of a city, with a guide or program to point out areas of interest.  I talked about seeing the 9/11 memorial, broadway, Chinatown, the village, SoHo, etc in one fell swoop… and they both piqued at the mention of Chinatown. So we decided to do a bus tour and hop off for lunch in Chinatown, then hop back on to continue the ride.  We didn’t make any reservations or definite plans, it would be our first day back east and we figured that we’d sort it out as we went after having a whole night to scheme with our lovely and illustrious host MB.  

We schemed, we yakked, we caught up, we had a few refreshing beverages. Eventually we gathered up some maps and went night night, determined to talk before setting out in the morning once Mar was at work with her computer and I was fully conscious with my brain. 

We woke to rain in the city, and a crazy ominous weather forecast that included tornadoes and floods and probably locusts. I thought: “huh.”  Then I picked up my book and had some coffee and deeply enjoyed the slow, quiet morning. Around noon the sun burst forth, and the kids and I said: “oh!” and got ourselves packed up to move ‘em on out.  MB had given us a few recommendations for lunch in Chinatown, and once we knew what sounded exactly perfect and good, we spent a moment looking up videos about how to eat it.
We grabbed two of Mar’s umbrellas and each of us pulled our own rolly suitcase while wearing our carry on. We headed downtown, thinking maybe we’d grab a cab but it was really nice out and we *had* spent the entire previous day travelling on our butts and we *did* keep getting closer and closer and I sort of nudged them in the right direction block by block until “we” decided to walk through the park and every time anyone asked me if we were almost there, I said “yes!  just a few more blocks!” I had very helpfully neglected to take out any cash so we couldn’t even stop for any sort of refreshing cart offering, but we love the park and it was gorgeous and we I was really glad we had chosen this path. 

When we came out near Columbus circle, I sort of took us slightly in the wrong direction for just a little minute, and then we were at a literal crossroads. I gave the kids a choice: we could go to that ATM then get ice cream and keep walking, or we could get in that cab. 

Wise choice, young citizens

The poor driver must have thought we were going to the airport, I guess most New Yorkers don’t stroll around the town with their luggage in tow.  He was probably disappointed that we were only going a mile, so I had him drop us in Times Square where we could walk the last 3 blocks and he could find a better fare. We dropped our bags at the world’s most ingenious company, then we set out to explore.   It was too late to bother with the bus, so we hopped down to the subway after a quick emergency stop.

and all is right with the world

I wasn’t at all confident that I knew where we were going or how to get there, but I only took us onto one wrong train and I figured that out in just one stop. We emerged at the edge of Chinatown, and although I had a map in my backpack and a phone with GPS, we just sort of zigged and zagged according to some crazy sense of where things might be interesting. It was fun, we felt safe and adventurous and really really hot. Just at the point when our bladders and appetite began to roar in protest, I took out my phone and looked up the restaurant we were hoping to find, and lo, it was on the next block!

soup dumplings at Shanghai Cafe! who knew such glory even existed?

Afterwards, we puttered around and enjoyed the spectacle, then eventually made our way back to the subway, to the luggage, and to Grand Central to meet Mar for the train to Connecticut. We hadn’t done much in terms of spending, and we hadn’t visited any big time tourist attraction that so often beckons from the big city. We’d had a really cool day of finding our way around and using public transportation and feeling like we could figure out whatever we needed to get to our next destination. Of course, we had Mar a phone call away and we did reach out for reassurance and/or assistance a few times (text while perusing the menu at Shanghai: “What am I supposed to get here again?”), but for the most part we just figured it out. 

It reminded me of a post I’d written after another hot day when the kids and I had to find our way around unfamiliar streets. It occurred to me that although my kids are at the weirdish age when it’s hard to find just the right activity to please everyone, they are at the exactly perfect age to become my copilots and navigating buddies, and  it was entirely awesome to take on New York like we did.


Me, You, or Ellie said...

Aw, I love this. I love your little traveling buds choosing Chinatown -- this *is* such an awesome destination. And I *love* the look of those dumplings -- I could throw a few of those back right now.

I think you all did a marvelous job of getting around and finding your way and pleasing everybody. *And* getting ice cream.



Beth said...


And bravo to the evasive, keep-on-walking-and-pushing-those-suitcase maneuvers!

I've never been to NYC's Chinatown, looks like a fine, fine place to lunch. Like Ellie, I'd be happy to try a few of those dumplings RIGHT NOW!


MB said...

I swear I commented earlier -- I guess it didn't take. It was SO fun having you 3 in NYC last month! And now I'm craving dumplings. xo