In part one of Revisiting My Dream Vacation I introduced an idea of why I believe I’m so drawn to New York City. That reason may be a little far-fetched for some. However, I was pleasantly humored by all the positive feedback I’ve received. For part two I have promised to share our itinerary and many of the photos taken during our time there (find those at the end). I will keep my promise (this is going to be a long post), but first I must tell you how this once-in-a-lifetime vacation came to be. This is where fate stepped in.
Allow me to take you back to July 2012. My husband and I had been in the grueling process of finding a home to purchase all year. We came across many we put in offers for. None of which turned out in our favor. We finally found a perfect starter home just before our lease was up at our apartment. Unfortunately, this house was a short sale so it was bound to take more time to close than we had available. We were going to be homeless. We could have stayed with family I suppose, but those options would have not included Longhorn. I would rather sleep in a car than give her up or make her stay outside all day and night. Time was running out and we let our real estate agent know about our predicament. She took it upon herself to discuss this matter with the woman selling the house we were hoping to buy. The seller must have been an angel. She decided to let us move in to the vacant home before we closed on it. It was a hard decision to make, but we said yes. We were worried that we would have to move again if the transaction didn’t go through as planned. I ultimately came to the conclusion this opportunity wouldn’t have been given to us if it wasn’t meant to be. So we moved in and closed on the house a month later. Everything worked out as it should. Sometimes you shouldn’t question events. Sometimes you should go with the flow.
Anyway, before we closed and after we moved into the house, we decided we needed a bit of fun to alleviate all the stress from current events. Denver hosts an annual Dragon Boat Festival that we have always wanted to attend. It just so happened to take place on the weekend after our move. There was a ton of wonderful food there. This was the first time I got to try Boba and sesame balls with red bean paste. Both were amazing! We watched the boat races, listened to the music, and I bought a nice hat to protect me from the sun while in the yard. We had been there for a while and I had $5 left after all the sampling of new food. On the way out I noticed a scooter that was being raffled off. I am absolutely obsessed with scooters and have wanted one for way too long. I figured why not give it a try. I usually don’t win things, but you never know. Tickets for the raffle were just $5 (how convenient). I paid the guy, filled out the ticket, placed it in the tumbler, and we went on our merry way.
A week or so went by when I got a call after I had forgotten I entered such a thing. I listened to the message that was left on my cell and as soon as the voice said I had won I was picturing myself cruising down the road in my shiny new red scooter without a care in the world. Then, I stopped daydreaming and realized she said I won two round-trip tickets from JetBlue airlines. What?!!! That’s even better! And we got to pick the destination! Not having a clue where JetBlue flew to I looked them up and saw NYC on the list. Well, that was a no brainer. I immediately called my husband and told him the great news. He was just as excited.
You might think that’s the end of the story. Everything went perfectly fine and we made the plans without any problems. Sorry, it wasn’t that easy. We did make the flight arrangements and then we closed on the house (which was an even more stressful process than looking). We got a great deal though and even had some money left over from what we saved for the down payment. Perfect, we were going to have spending money for the trip. Not so fast. That’s when Longhorn got diagnosed with Lymphoma and we had to make a decision on whether we were going to start treatment or not. As you know from a previous post we did start treatment which took a big chunk of our spending money since we had to max out the credit card we paid off. That seemed to be going well then hurricane Sandy hit and we thought our plans were really over. I didn’t want to give up, but then we got a call from the East Village Bed & Coffee we booked to stay at saying all reservations were being cancelled due to their place being flooded out. I was bummed. Everything about that place was perfect. I almost threw in the towel. I thought we weren’t going to be able to find another affordable location so close to Thanksgiving. I looked anyway and was amazed to find a decently priced hotel (especially for the time of year) that wasn’t completely booked and was super close to Times Square. It was the Paramount Hotel and it was too good to be true. It was true though and the trip was back on.
Our fall vacation was booked from Sunday, November 18th to Friday the 23rd. I did a ton of research on all the vegan restaurants there are, what to see, and what to do. I wanted to be as prepared as possible. Once I narrowed down my list to a manageable few I scheduled when we would eat where and when we would see what. For the most part we stuck to the plan. To make things easier I pinned all the places I wanted to go on a Google map I created. It looked like this…
We booked a town car to pick us up from the airport to take us to the hotel. We decided to do the town car instead of a cab because there was one place we needed to stop at before we did anything else and the town car service was a flat fee, not based on mileage. The place that was so important was Dun-Well Doughnuts in Brooklyn. We got there right after they opened and purchased a dozen to go. We arrived at the hotel and waited in the lobby for our check-in time happily munching on our doughnuts. Making ourselves sick as we ate our way through the breakfast of champions box. I wanted to finish all of them, but throwing up after a gluttonously sweet breakfast was not how I wanted to spend my first day there so I stopped and saved the rest for later.
We had to wait a while since we arrived in New York around 6:30 am and our check-in time wasn’t until 1 pm. I was ready for lunch and didn’t want to put off another meal until after settling in to our room. We dropped our luggage off for the hotel to hold on to and started the trek to our first real meal in New York at Angelica Kitchen on East 12th Street. We walked 36 blocks South and 6 blocks East in the cold wind that colored my face red, stung my ears, and unattractively blew my hair out. The hike made the hot lunch even better. Honestly, I didn’t mind the walking and we walked A LOT during our stay. It gave us time to really take it all in, appreciate the beauty you can only find in overpopulated urban cities, and realize just how lucky we were.
After we ate it was time to walk back to the hotel and check-in. We desperately needed a shower and a nap before heading out to dinner. We chose to have our first dinner at Zen Palate on 9th Avenue, not far from the hotel. Good news for my feet since I dressed up in heels for our first big night. On the way there we spotted our first celebrity! Walking out of a restaurant with her posse was Joan Rivers. I took a look around to see where the cameras were. There were none. I guess the famous are capable of living without lenses pointed in their direction at all times. I’m sure they even prefer it that way. We arrived at our destination and were seated immediately. Not because I made a reservation, which I did, but because it was dead. We were the only ones in the room until they sat another couple two tables away after we already ordered. It may have been too early for the city that never sleeps. It made for a quiet romantic evening filled with multiple courses of delicious food and a few drinks to kick things off. I remember we started with the Vegetable Dumplings and for the main entrée I had the Sizzling Medallions while my husband chose the mysterious-sounding Red Mist. No complaints about any of it. Our vacation was off to an amazing start.
The next day we did a lot of sightseeing. We made a great decision when we purchased the New York CityPass. With it we were able to go to the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, MoMA, The Met, and the American Museum of Natural History. There were other things included in the booklet, even coupons to go shopping. Some we decided not to use because of time and others we wish we could have, but weren’t able to because of Sandy. Ellis Island was still off-limits and wasn’t open to the public again until months after our visit. Oh well, it leaves us something to see for next time. After all the touristy stuff we decided to finally take a walk in Central Park. We walked until it got dark and we got hungry. We found ourselves on the Upper East Side and thought it was the perfect timing to go to V-Note on 1st Avenue, an organic wine bar and vegan bistro. This was such an incredible place I recommend it to everyone at the slightest mention of New York. Obviously we had to try the wine which we paired with Mushroom Phyllo Cigars for a starter and I had the Poblano En Nogada while my husband enjoyed Pistachio & Pepper Dusted Tofu. I’m pretty sure my better half finished his meal with Chocolate Ganache Cake. I wasn’t paying much attention since I was too busy dying and following the light that was on my dessert plate of Tiramisu. That was and will always be the best dessert of my life. Dare I say it was orgasmic. I’m talking Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally satisfying. After the indulgent feast we needed to take another walk to burn off some of those calories so off to the hotel we went for another 40 block, give or take, hike. If there was ever a city to walk all over by choice this is the one to do it.
Of course there were so many places we wanted to dine at, but we couldn’t afford it. So I did some research before the trip to make sure we found a grocery store with plenty of vegan options. The place I found was Westerly Natural Market on 8th Avenue, right in between our hotel and Central Park. I am so happy I decided on this place after sifting through all the mixed reviews. They really did have a lot of vegan options of ready-to-eat goodness. We had a few meals from them and tried a lot of it. They had cold wraps and sandwiches, salads and other side dishes, and different soups to choose from every day. Everything we tried was fantastic. I recommend stopping by to see what they have to offer if you too can’t afford to gorge at fancy restaurants for every meal. Shopping at this market really made me feel like a local. We took one of our lunches from there and had a picnic in Central Park where we shared some food with the local wildlife, i.e. squirrels. A bunch of beggars they were, cute ones though. Who can say no to squirrels? After lunch we were off for more walking and touristy stuff.
The day before Thanksgiving we decided to go to the American Museum of Natural History not knowing this is where they prepped all the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We had no idea this was an event in itself. They blocked off the whole area, there was music blasting and you could watch them blow up the balloons and take your pictures with whatever character you wanted. When we got out of the museum we were trapped and had to slowly make our way through the crowd to the only opening they allow. This took forever and made us feel like herded cattle. Luckily though, the exit from craziness shot us in the direction of our next amazing food experience at Peacefood Cafe on 82nd Street. It was another windy cold day so we partook in two hot drinks that sounded too good to pass up. Eric ordered the Brazilian Nut Chai and I had the Orange Apple Cider. That drink hit the spot and really warmed us up. To eat we each had a sandwich and shared their rather famous Chickpea Fries. Those things really are amazing! Get some and like it. Before we left we devoured dessert which consisted of Chocolate-Dipped Macaroons and a Grasshopper Cookie Sandwich. How was it, you ask? Are you kidding me? Yet another recommendation high on the list. I hope you’re writing this stuff down.
Among all the eating we did make time for some things I had to see. Places specifically from a few of my favorite movies and shows set in New York. Yes we went to FAO Schwarz to see the Big Piano. That was a bit of a let-down. It wasn’t open like it was in Big. You had to wait in line with a bunch of kids that they let play with it 10 at a time. Not my idea of fun. Secret bonus though, I had no idea there was going to be a Zoltar machine there! I freaked, as you could imagine, and I had to get my picture taken with it. I took the picture after it gypped me from getting a card. The darn thing is a con. It said I needed to give it another dollar in order to tell my fortune. It made the experience more memorable anyway. I also had to see the Shop Around the Corner from You’ve Got Mail, now a dry cleaners, and the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. There are several locations of the Soup Nazi, but the one I saw is actually really close to Westerly Natural Market on 55th Street. There’s a huge banner on the side of the building so you can’t miss it. Of course we couldn’t go to New York without seeing a play. I surprised my husband with tickets to a show. I chose to see Peter and the Starcatcher. The theater it was playing at was conveniently right behind our hotel. That play is hilarious by the way. Add that on to my list of recommendations.
I keep saying that we walked, but we did brave the subway a few times. It wasn’t so bad. In fact, I really enjoyed it and next time we go we’ll make sure to purchase the 7 Day Metro Card which is a huge money saver. A Metro Card will cost you $29 for unlimited rides for 7 days while a single ride will cost you $2.50. It depends on how much you plan to ride it. My tip is to really know where you are going and which line to take. Out of all the people we talked to and encountered the only two people who were rude were the subway workers. I’m warning you not to ask them a darn thing or you’ll regret it. They don’t particularly care for innocent tourists. We first took the subway down to the East Village where we went to that B&B we originally wanted to stay at to pick-up our refund. While we were down there we ate lunch at Caravan of Dreams on East 6th Street. This place was also dead, but everything was down on that side. They got the worst of it from Sandy. It was like walking through a depressing ghost town where you could see how high the water reached on the side of the buildings. Anyway, Caravan of Dreams was an interesting place. We enjoyed the Live Nachos for an appetizer and for an entrée I had the “Miso and Maple” Glazed Squash Platter, I don’t recall what Eric had. My dish had a lot going on and all of it was fantastic. If you enjoy Spanish food you will love Caravan of Dreams. Since we were in the area we decided to have our dessert at Lula’s Sweet Apothecary. They were closed due to damage from the storm, but we were in luck. The cutest gift shop nearby, called Sustainable NYC located on Avenue A, that has a small cafe inside offers Lula’s ice cream so we went right over. That was the creamiest dreamiest vegan ice cream we ever tasted. Nothing so far has compared. You can still get Lula’s, but under a different name that apparently is a secret. If you can’t find Lula’s actual location at least you can still find it at the gift shop.
On Thanksgiving day I felt like death and didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t know what was wrong. My stomach was killing me, but I wasn’t sick. Even though the parade was going on just blocks away from our hotel room I watched it on TV from the comfort of the hotel bed while Eric walked down to Westerly to pick up our lunch. As much as I wanted to stay in bed for the rest of the day I couldn’t. I called way in advance to make a reservation at Candle 79 for their famous Prix Fixe Thanksgiving dinner. The woman I placed the reservation with made sure to let me know there would be a $75 cancellation fee if we end up not making it. I didn’t want that to happen and I didn’t want to miss out on the incredible menu they took time to prepare. I got myself pretty, we took the subway since I didn’t feel well enough to walk, and waited longer than we should have even with a reservation. I enjoyed what I could and we took the rest home. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy the full experience, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. That is one place we will definitely return to.
The day after Thanksgiving was our last day to soak it all in and I felt well enough to do some more walking. I went through my list of restaurants one more time to pick out a place for our last lunch. I wanted some comfort food so we headed back down to the East Village to S’MAC on East 12th Street to get our grub on with some vegan mac & cheese. This place is incredible. You get to build your own mac & cheese by choosing what size you want and adding in whatever mix-ins you desire. I ordered the Major Munch size with shiitake mushrooms, spinach w/ garlic, and jalapenos. Don’t let the size fool you into thinking it’s a standard medium. We could have easily shared one major munch, but we each got one and couldn’t finish it all. That was the best last meal. We couldn’t have picked a better place. We got it to go and ate it in a park we came across on the way back to the hotel, just enjoying the sights and sounds one last time.
Alas, it was time to go. We had an unforgettable experience and I only have one complaint. Where is all the vegan breakfast? Of all the wonderful places there are to find vegan food in NYC I had a heck of a time finding a good breakfast. We did have bagels and tofu cream cheese from Bagel Stix on 8th Avenue for two of the morning we were there. They are not shy with that cream cheese. I recommend trying the tofu vegetable cream cheese. For the other mornings I found Green Symphony a few blocks from the hotel that offered vegan smoothies and very large breakfast bars along with a few other things for breakfast. As healthy as that was I was hoping to have at least one unhealthy American veganized breakfast while we were there. Still, I have absolutely no regrets as to what we did fill our tummies with.
Now I know this was a lot to read and I will be surprised if anyone reads every single word. If not, I hope that I was at least able to point you in the right direction with my recommendations that you see highlighted throughout. Below you will find a few of the photos from our adventure. In part three of Revisiting My Dream Vacation I will cover what we gained from our experience. For me this will be the emotional part of the story, probably not so much for you.