NYC on a Shoe String

IMG_0772For Graciana’s 18th birthday we wanted to do something really special. Graciana had been talking about New York City for the past two years and we were ready to make her dream come true. We saved a few dollars to buy two airplane tickets and with our sky miles, we booked a four star hotel on Manhattan Island in New York City.

On Thursday, Nov 13 we celebrated her birthday with a few friends in Austin, where we surprised her with a card that read, “Pack your bags, you’re leaving for NYC at 8am tomorrow morning.” She was over the moon!

Day 1: We arrived the next afternoon into La Guardia, bought a $30 unlimited train pass and hoped on the Q70, transferred to the blue line and got off on 51st st and Lexington. We walk a few blocks south to The Lexington Hotel where my mother (Graciana’s nana) surprised us in our room.

Our first night in NYC was like a sugar high. Talk about sensory overload, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We met an old friend, John Silvis, in SOHO. John is an artist, investor, art curator and gallery owner. He’s lived in Brooklyn for about 20 years. He met us at the subway and took us on a little walking tour around SOHO.

IMG_0769We made our way to an art opening that showcased a new, hot, South African artist named, Serge Alain Nitegeka. It was a small room and as soon as we walked in all eyes turned our way. John introduced us to those standing close to the door and began to make his way deeper into the room. I turned to the right where there was a man leaning against the wall and I began a conversation with him that lasted throughout our time there. His name was Steve and most of my questions about his life were deflected with funny anecdotes and one liners. He asked me questions in kind and I shared freely about who I was and why I was there. At one point in our conversation, a Brooklyn based artist, named Sol Sax, joined our conversation and while I was asking him about his art form, a short, bi-racial man with an afro and 70’s style ski jacket came over and sort of mumbled something to me, when I looked over he mumbled again and then abruptly walked away. My attention turned back to our group as Steve was telling Sol about how our family travels and plays music. With delight, he called us the modern-day Van Traps. That was all the prompt my mother needed and she enthusiastically suggested we share one of our songs right then and there. Steve and Sol concurred and so, we sang an acapella piece just under the noise of the room as to not over power. Our listeners were touched and later John mentioned that he heard the music from across the room but totally though it was a CD playing in the background.

We left the first gallery and walked deeper into the heart of SOHO, eventually finding our way to a second gallery where John was excited to introduce us to one of his artists, Robin Kang. The room was wall to wall with people and my mom and Graciana were very hungry, so we told John that we could only stay a minute. I went into the gallery to meet Robin and enjoyed her amazing tapestry work. While we were squeezing through the sea of people I bumped into that same man who sort of mumbled to me at the first gallery, the man with the 70’s ski jacket. I almost knocked him over actually, and startled him in my attempt to catch his fall. I realized who he was and tried to make note of seeing him earlier but he was skittish and moved deeper into the crowd. It was a strange but notable interaction only because we were in New York City with millions of other people. I mean what are the odds of us bumping into another human being twice.

We finished the evening at a lovely Italian restaurant called Galli. It was pricey but it was late and we were famished after a day of travel. Between the three of us we shared an entrée, main dish and salad, plus two glasses of wine for a total of $75. We finished around midnight and rode the subway back to the hotel. Our heads hit the pillow, belly’s full, feet throbbing from a long day of walking, and our minds whirling with excitement for the day to come.

IMG_0794Day 2: The next morning started with a stop at Angela’s grocery, across the street from our hotel for a $7 green smoothy. Then we walked to Grand Central Station and enjoyed the beautiful architecture, eventually making our way down towards Wall street to a discount fashion store called  Century 21 (C21). Graciana found a few treasures and then we grabbed a light lunch  at a little deli called Pret. We all shared a sandwich, three cups of soup, chips and three drinks for $26. The coolest thing about the restaurant was that a portion of the proceeds go to feeding the homeless.

After lunch, we made our way down to see the 9/11 memorial and New World Trade Center. On our way the mood was light and expectant, but as soon as we came up out of the station at the Trade Center there was a cloud of grey that swept over us. It was sobering walking around the area, slowly making our way around the large city block, stopping at the monuments and seeing all the new things that are being built.  Graciana was five years old when the twin towers were struck and my mom shared with Graciana the story and impact that the event had on her.

While we were walking back to the train, we stopped by to see a group of street performers. There were about 6 young men, dancing and putting on a great show.  During the performance, a finely dressed man from India was called out of the audience to participate. It was a comical skit and he was a good sport. We threw $5 into their kitty and kept on our way.

IMG_0816We went back up to SOHO for dinner at an Americana restaurant called Freemans, which Graciana had heard about through her fashion blogging friends and was keen to try. It was a sweet little hole in the wall and beckoned us with twinkle lights. We arrived about 5:15pm for an early dinner and happened to walk through the doors to get our name in before the rush. We waited about an hour at the bar and met a cool group of folks who were there for the weekend to shoot a commercial. Our conversation flowed smoothly, as if we were old friends. We found commonality in growing up in Michigan and found that our current stop of Austin was home to one of our new friends. We were sat in a cozy corner and ordered the Cod special, the Fillet Minion and the Mac-n-Cheese. Our dinner was delicious. All up our bill was $120.

After dinner we walked down Broadway so Graciana could shop at all of her favorite stores, getting ideas for her blog, DutchyGazelle. While she was shopping, my mom and I took a seat at The Crosby Street Hotel, a beautiful boutique hotel just off of the main drag. We ordered hot ginger tea for $7 each, relaxing and talking about how much we had already seen and experienced in our first twenty-four hours. We made note of all of the unexpectedly friendly conversations we had on the subway, in the little shops and at restaurants.

At about 11pm, we rode the train to Times Square. When we came up out of the subway station we were blown away by the absolute ridiculousness of all of the big screen TV’s, lights and larger than life advertisements. A few steps into Times Square and we met a man named David, who was trying to sell us tickets to a comedy show. We stopped to chat with him and found out that he used to work on the SS Badger (the car ferry that crosses from Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI) with my brother and sister-in-law!! Really people it’s such a small world. Anyway, we didn’t make it to the comedy show but rather made our way back to our hotel. While we were walking on 49th and Lexington, I spotted the Indian man from earlier in the day walking towards us. I was so surprised that I stopped him with delight claiming (probably in a high voice) that I had seen him earlier that day and how fantastic the odds were that one could see someone twice in one day, especially in two different parts of this great big city. He smiled, concurred, wished me well and carried on.

IMG_0789Day 3: We arose later than expected, my mom and I feeling a bit weary from all of the walking, and decided to enjoy a more leisurely day. We started at Angela’s  with our $7 smoothy and rode the train to the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked around for a bit, taking in all of the old world architecture of the city municipal buildings and then began to walk our way across the bridge. It was a cold, blustery day but worth ever minute. The bridge itself was breathtaking and the views of all the different sides of the city were fantastic. We walked to Walters, a quaint little restaurant that our friend, Matt Nakoa had suggested. We met Matt in Austin at a Folk Alliance event and found out he lived in Brooklyn. unfortunately, he was in Upstate New York but we met his friend, Michelle, enjoyed a lovely meal and when we finished found that Matt had already taken care of our tab. Gotta love a free meal in NYC, specially from a friend.

After our long, enjoyable lunch we began to make our way back across the bridge to Battery Park and to get a closer look at the Statue of Liberty. The sun was going down and the chill was a bit much so snapped a few photos and we rode the train a few stops north to Little Italy. We stopped for a coffee and pastry at the infamous, Ferrara Bakery and Pastry Shoppe. It was delicious and worth the $8 each for the taster plate that included three amazing pastries. We strolled around Little Italy for a bit and then made our way back across the Brooklyn Bridge for one final meal with our friend John. He took us to Sea Thai. The restaurant had a cool laid back vibe with a DJ in the booth spinning, techno and low lighting. We ordered family style, getting a sushi roll, a curry dish and noodle dish to share. All up it was about $80 for four people, our cheapest dinner thus far. After dinner we rode with John in his car to his work studio and learned more about his art and gallery world. He dropped us back at the subway and we went straight home to the hotel, exhausted from a wonderful day of walking.

IMG_0872Day 4: On our last morning in NYC it was raining like cats and dogs. It was cold and windy but we found $5 umbrella’s available to us right outside the hotel doors. We packed our bags, checked out of our hotel, grabbed our traditional $7 smoothy and made our way to the upper east side of Manhattan Island.  We took a quick stroll from the subway through Park Ave to Central park and then to the Metropolitan Art Museum. The MET asks for a suggested donation of $25 per person, but we were down to our last dollars so we donated $30 total for our two-hour visit. It was a bit overwhelming but our favorite exhibit was the instrument exhibit, showcasing primitive to modern instruments from all over the world, including a number of original Martin guitars. Graciana spent most of her time at a fashion exhibit called Death Becomes Her; Century of Mourning Attire; curated by Anna Wintour.

IMG_0878By the time, we finished there and grabbed a quick bite to eat at a little cafe, it was time to catch our plane. The trip back was relatively uneventful except for the fact that we got delayed in Houston and had to stay an extra night there. Needless to say, we all were a bit underwhelmed by the flat, desolate landscape that surrounded the Houston airport and longed to be back in the rhythm of that beautiful Big Apple. We spent $250 per plane ticket, the hotel cost us 8 years of saving, 110,000 miles for the four nights at the Lexington, and we spent $175 each for food/drinks, $30 each for our unlimited train pass, $30 for our pass to the MET and Graciana spent about $100 on little treasures she found along her way. All up, our budget for the long weekend was approx $1060 or $530 a person. Truly a once in a life time for us nomadic travelers.

Our songbird fell in love with NYC and when the time is right, I don’t doubt she’ll be back!

Dutchy Gazelle