So, now that I’m finally getting around to catching up on blog posts, I wanted to share about our time in New York City. I barely remember spending a week in the Big Apple because it was during our whirlwind summer before moving overseas, affectionately referred to as the Jackson Tour of the US. But, we had a great time in the city that never sleeps before becoming city-dwellers ourselves in the city of light. So I don’t want our adventures there to get overlooked.
If you remember, we crammed as much as possible into 8 weeks – more than I would recommend anyone do, particularly before making [several] huge life changes. So, after moving, flying to Seattle, attending a conference in Colorado, returning to the east coast, and attending a wedding in DC, we boarded a bus in Richmond and journeyed north to the most iconic city in America. (I know, we’re crazy!)
The reason for our visit? Our favorite band, Phish, had taken up residency at Madison Square Garden… for thirteen nights. With a few nights off scattered in between, Phish played the garden 13 nights in a row, making it the longest residency of any artist there – ever. They named their stint The Bakers Dozen, with a donut theme to boot.
About halfway through, fans started to notice that they hadn’t repeated a single song. This isn’t hard for Phish to accomplish, as their trademark is mixing up their setlists with their 35-year repertoire and improvising to almost every song. We caught the tail-end of the tour, seeing the last 5 out of all 13 concerts, which make our tally 99 out of 243 songs played during the run. Even if you don’t enjoy Phish’s music, you have to admit – that’s impressive.
And fun. They capitalized on the donut theme, basing each night’s setlist on a different donut flavor. They really went all out, from creating donut-shaped tickets with original artwork for each night, to collaborating with Federal Donuts in Philadelphia to offer the first few hundred attendees a free donut that matched the evening’s flavor.
The most exciting part for us as fans, though, was seeing how they honored the donut flavor in their song choice. For example, for Boston Cream, they played a mash-up of covers by Boston and Cream, segue-ing in and out of Sunshine of Your Love and More Than a Feeling. On the donut hole night, they played a really dark version of O Holy Night. The crutch of the whole tour was jam-filled night, where they played an unexpected extended 30-minute jam to one of their (normally) shortest songs.
The second to last night fell on my birthday – I couldn’t have asked for anything more. That was definitely one of my top birthdays. Phish is always the most fun thing you could do in a day, and to get to explore New York City and then see my favorite band with my husband and a fun friend was just the best.
As for the rest of our trip, our schedule revolved around seeing Phish, but allowed us to explore New York during the day for about a week. We stayed with some friends who kindly hosted us in their 600 square foot apartment in Washington Heights. We hadn’t spent a lot of time with them before, but the four of us really clicked, and we wished we lived closer to them. Later in the week, our friend came to go to the last couple of shows with us, so we split an airbnb with her in Brooklyn.
We saw and did a lot, but since our main focus was seeing the band, we tried to not exhaust ourselves or our budget, so we had a pretty relaxed pace and tried to do a lot of free things.
What we did
The neighborhood that our friends live in, Washington Heights, is mostly Latino. Taking advantage of that fact, we grabbed some delicious Venezuelan areaps from Tu Cachapa. We also did the New York thing to do and ordered Thai food in one night. Apparently, delivery is free in the city (within limits), so getting take-out – and having your groceries delivered – is very common.
Since we were so far north, our friends recommended we check out the The Met Cloisters, as most people don’t take the time to veer that far away from the action. The Cloisters is an old French monastery housing art from the Met (though we didn’t pay to go inside) located in Fort Tyron park with a stunning view of the Hudson River. We enjoyed the green space knowing we would mostly see concrete the rest of the week.
In the Flatiron district, we got Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, which is the location featured in Something Borrowed. Eataly NYC is across the street from the park, so we braved the crowds for some melty gelato (banana + stracciatella), which was perfect on a hot August day.
I had been to New York a couple of times before, but had never done some of the really touristy shopping, so we hit up Rockefeller Center and 5th Avenue to check a few places off the list, including the Nintendo store, American Girl Place (Whit’s mind was blown, haha), Anthropologie, M&M’s World, and the Channel gardens. Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed at wanting to spend time here after living in Paris and typically staying far away from the Champs Elysées, but we had fun at the time.
Nearby, we got THE BEST GLUTEN-FREE PIZZA IN THE WORLD at Don Antonio. We also loved the grilled cheeses at Melt Shop. We visited two locations during the week because 1) cheap food and 2) we were going to see Phish after all – so we had to have a grilled cheese, even though there was no lot scene. Apparently we also went to Otto’s Tacos, but I don’t remember it AT ALL so maybe it wasn’t amazing.
Of course we walked through Central Park at some point. I had wanted to see a ton of things in the park that I had never seen before, but it’s so big and we didn’t have a ton of time. It was delightful in the summer though! We did find cheap shoulder massages by the fountain, which was probably better than any attraction we would’ve seen after sleeping on a couch for half a week.
My favorite area out of all the places we visited was the Nolita/Soho neighborhood, particularly around Houston Street and Elizabeth Street. There were endless shops – some of my favorite chains as well as adorable boutiques – and intriguing restaurants. It was super hip and had that quintessentially cool New Yorker vibe. Looking back, it also reminds me a lot of Paris. Elizabeth Street even has some of the coolest French stores, Sézane and Le Labo, though I didn’t realize that at the time.
My birthday wish (before the Phish show) was to get a latte and meander the streets. I started with a gluten-free birthday bagel with rainbow cream cheese from Tompkins Square Bagels. Then we hit up Gasoline Alley Coffee (which I didn’t love), Whit tried on clothes in John Varvatos (to channel Mike Gordon), we found a free restroom in Crate & Barrel, and I bought a couple of Phish-related souvenirs in a cute little shop.
For lunch, I happened upon some amazing street tacos to go from Tacombi, which won the award for most Instagrammable restau (the tacos are served out of a VW van in a brick courtyard, while Whit and Meredith fueled up on Cuban plantains and elote at Habana to Go.
Not too far away, Erin McKenna’s Bakery provided gluten-free dessert.
Next we explored Chelsea Market. Because of the name (and its history), I assumed this was going to be a huge indoor market. Not so. It’s more a network of restaurants, reminiscent of a mall food court. Of course the food is much more upscale and trendy. It was really crowded and pretty expensive, so we didn’t buy anything, but it was worth walking around.
The High Line is a very cool concept – a walkway and gardens built on abandoned train tracks a couple stories in the air. Since it was finished a few years ago, its popularity has skyrocketed, and our “bit of quiet and green in the city” was a crowded tourist mess. It was beautiful, but I wish there had been 80% less people.
Later in the week, we switched to an Airbnb in Bed Stuy. It was not the safest neighborhood, but our Airbnb was spacious and affordable. The train ride into Manhattan was a little long (~40 minutes to get to MSG), but it was worth it for us to save money on the apartment. However, I would not recommend it for single women or 2 ladies traveling together based on the number of streets around the neighborhood labeled with a “red” crime rating. If you do stay in Bed Stuy, take an Uber at night instead of walking home from the train station.
In Brooklyn, we ate an incredible Caribbean lunch at Glady’s (be aware they close in the afternoons), and grabbed early afternoon drinks (aka New Yorker brunch??) one day with Meredith’s friend.
Our last big tourist activity was walking the Brooklyn Bridge. I feel like this is something everyone has to do eventually if you come to New York (though I’m saying this having never visited Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, or the Empire State Building). However. This was my least favorite thing we did. It LOOKED cool, indeed. But it was SOOOO CROWDED. I can’t emphasize enough how crowded it was. And how over crowds I was at this point.
I’m an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), which means I am more sensitive than the average person to external stimuli, and thus become over-stimulated quicker than most people. After spending a week in the most populous city in the US, I was pretty maxed out on stimuli. So maybe walking the Brooklyn Bridge wasn’t our best decision. (The problem is that the pathways are narrow, and there are a million people trying to cross – while trying a zillion times to get a good photo, all while bikes are cruising past trying to not hit everyone. ALSO the pollution + humidity was very high all week – so high that I had to trash my contacts the day after we arrived, and I was very not into the pollution from the cars on the bridge on another humid day.) Anyways, I’m happy to say I’ve done it, because the views were spectacular, but if you’re a fellow HSP, don’t schedule this for the end of your trip!
All in all, it was a super fun week and I’m mostly proud of us for surviving and enjoying the week after being exhausted from a previous MONTH of travel and mentally preparing to leave for France in less than a month. And getting see five spectacular, history-making shows during the Baker’s Dozen was worth any hassle or complaint we had in trying to navigating the city. 😉
Have you been to NYC in the summer? What were your favorite free activities?