Browsing Date

September 2015

North America, Travel Tips

35 Things to See and Do in New York City (A Local’s Bucket List Before She Leaves for Good)

September 26, 2015 • By

Last week, Condé Nast Traveler published 25 Things You Absolutely, Positively Have to Do in New York CityIt’s a comprehensive list worth reviewing, whether it’s your first trip to New York City… or your 100th. However, the writers targeted the upscale tourist who can splurge on a spa visit to the Mandarin Oriental and dinner at Momofuku.

Perhaps I can offer a more customized version of things to see and do–from the perspective of a local who often delights sightseeing in my own city.

After living in New York City for most of the past 11 years, I wrestled with the idea of packing my bags and departing New York City for greener pastures and colder shorelines: Chicago. I assembled my personal New York City Do-Do agenda and invited friends to join me as I checked off some boxes and relived favorite moments. One friend suggested labeling my list something other than a “bucket list,” which she considered a bit morbid.  I insisted the allure of New York City is deep, and leaving it when I am not necessarily ready is sort of like dying, so I kept the name with the mission to leave New York–with no regrets.

Here is my New York City bucket list, created on a dreary and stressful day in November 2013 and completed with little time to spare on October 31, 2015

(If visiting from out of town, I recommend creating a home-base for yourself by staying at an AirBnb. Be a “temporary local” for your stay.)

1.) Take a horse carriage ride through Central Park and dine at the recently renovated Tavern on the Green for lunch or dinner

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Central Park Carriage Ride with friends, Must do in NYC

2.) Tour the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with my parents. (This item also topped my dad’s must see and do in New York City.) Tip: Reserve with as much advance notice as possible to visit the statue’s Crown.

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Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island

3.) Stop counting calories and order a chocolate malt or an ice cream sundae at Serendipity.

4.) Bike the entire Island of Manhattan at sunrise, cross the George Washington Bridge and admire the views of the city and the Hudson River.

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Biking the Island of Manhattan

5.) Eat at New Leaf Restaurant after strolling along the Hudson River. (Tag on a visit to the Cloisters as well.)

6.) Satisfy your sweet tooth for years to come at Magnolia Bakery. (Since 1 cupcake is never enough, I ate 4.) And why not stroll around the corner and check out the “home” of Carrie Bradshaw from HBO’s Sex and the City at 64 Perry Street in Greenwich Village?

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Times Square, NYC, Bright Lights Big City

7.) Walk through Times Square and appreciate the bright lights and the immensity of the buildings. It’s a fantastic place to people watch, catch a Broadway show and shop–if you can manage the crowds.

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Under the Brooklyn Bridge

8.) Walk the Brooklyn Bridge and dine at the River Cafe, which is usually reserved for special occasions but worth the splurge for the views and ambiance. For the budget-conscious, hit the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory or Grimaldi’s Pizzeria to save money and time.

 

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9/11 Memorial Ground Zero

9.) Spend a day at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I lived in NYC when it happened, and the memories are still fresh today. The museum is incredibly thoughtful and meaningful and should not be missed.  Do not rush through the exhibits. Spend time walking the grounds, reflecting on that tragic day.

10.) Rent a boat at the Central Park Boathouse and paddle your way into the middle of the pond, from where you can enjoy views of the skyline and drink in the beauty and tranquility of the park.

11.) Take in a sporting event, whether it’s baseball (Mets, Yankees), basketball (Knicks, Brooklyn Nets), hockey (Islanders, Rangers) or a match at the U.S. Open. Hit golf balls at the city’s only driving range at Chelsea Pier. As fortune would have it, when I lived in New York, I attended both the Women’s and Men’s Final of the U.S. Open, a special treat as a tennis player.

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USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

12.) Devour a deli sandwich at Katz’s Deli. You won’t need to eat for days.

13.) Take the tram roundtrip from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island.

14.) Catch the Ferry to Governor’s Island and spend a day admiring the city’s views from the middle of the East River.

15.) Forget about the diet for one day and eat until yourself silly at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg every weekend April – November.

16.) Feast on fried green tomatoes and BBQ chicken at Harlem’s own Dinosaur BBQ.

17.) Visit the Intrepid (maritime museum) and tour the submarine. *I won’t be joining the Navy!

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The Plaza Hotel afternoon tea and champagne

18.) Feel like Royalty and enjoy afternoon tea and champagne at the opulent Plaza Hotel.

19.) Visit the High Line on a weekday (try catching sunset from here) and then grab a beer at the Standard Hotel Biergarten.

20) Dine at Campagnola for old school Italian food with piles of Parmesan cheese and meats to start.  It’s so good, I ate there more than three times!

21.) Rent a car and the visit the site of the Woodstock Festival (in White Lake near Bethel, New York). *Note: Do not go to Woodstock, New York–a different location altogether, which I later discovered after inadequate planning.

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Site of the famous Woodstock Music Festival, Bethel Woods Music Center

22.) Road trip to Cooperstown and visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.

23.) Participate in the Village Halloween parade. (A bit tired from a night out with friends, I watched from the sidelines. Still an experience, to be sure.)

24.) Go back in time and imagine life in the days of Michelangelo or Rembrandt by wandering the galleries filled with the work of artisans who created some of the most famous paintings and sculptures in the world at the MET Museum.  Afterward, when it’s time to relax, enjoy a drink or coffee at the Roof Garden Cafe and Martini Bar and admire the views of Central Park.

25.) Stroll through Chelsea Market and enjoy homemade cheese, ice cream, bread or buy fresh seafood and cook at your AirBnb location.

26.) Plan a trip around your favorite New York City Parade. I was honored to participate in the St. Patrick’s Parade.

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The Rockefeller Tree Lighting

27.) Join the masses in celebrating the magical Rockefeller Tree lighting. It’s my favorite New York experience. The tree towers between the buildings, inspiring hope with its stature and vibrant colors.

28.) Indulge on cocktails at 230 Fifth Avenue or sample the best of Italy at Eataly in the Flatiron District.  Both venues provide great views of Manhattan and a lovely experience to share with friends or if flying solo.

29.) Sneak in a last minute show (or plan months in advance) to see your favorite performance on Broadway.

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Late Show with David Letterman and Paul Shaffer

30.) See Letterman Live. A quintessential NY moment I loved.  Now that Dave is gone, why not try to see Jimmy Fallon, the View or LIVE with Kelly and Michael.

 

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The View from Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Plaza, NYC

31.) Location, location, location! The best views are always at the TOP! Take in the Empire State Building by night and Top of the Rock by day.

32.) Walk or bike Park Avenue without cars on summer weekends in August.

33.) Two words: Coney Island. Ride the Cyclone and eat a Coney Dog at Nathan’s Famous hotdog stand.  I missed the Cyclone, but hitting the beach, strolling the boardwalk and eating a Coney dog was worth the 40 minute train ride from Manhattan.

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Central Park features Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theater

34.) Cheat to see Shakespeare in the Park by joining the Public Theater and getting a ticket for free.

35.) And lastly… eat a bagel; get blisters, strolling the streets; take the subway; jump on a tourist bus; roam a museum; shop until you drop… and come back for more.

What are you waiting for? New York awaits…

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Europe

Italy’s Precious Gem: Lake Como

September 15, 2015 • By

(To follow is a text conversation between my mother and me on the train from Monterosso al Mare to Milan)

Kelly: Oh my god! If they talk the whole way, I might die.
Joyce: Driving me nuts.
Joyce: Marry her, fuck her or throw her off the train and cut the BS.

… And so began our strenuous journey from Monterosso in Cinque Terre to Lake Como via the train to Milan.

Hot and irritated (more me, less Joyce) after struggling to carry our luggage up the station steps, across the platform and through the train’s crowded aisles before securing it in a holding area and ourselves in our seats, we devised a plan of reading, resting and relaxing during our ride. It’s said the best-laid plans often go awry… so why should this trip be any different than others?

The peace of our three-hour scenic ride through the Italian countryside ended where it started when a young man seated next to me spoke in rapid-fire Italian without pause or even hesitation to the woman across from him–next to Joyce–from the moment we boarded at the Monterosso station. His voice reached singsong decibels reserved for the hearing-impaired, puppies or the love of a mother.

What 20-Something doesn’t at least play on his phone or text?

Silence is truly golden! Unfortunately, silence was nowhere to be found on this train.

About to lose my marbles, I placed my Bose sound-proof headphones securely in my ears and allowed my mother to suffer through the cacophony until a commotion prompted me to lift my gaze and I watched Joyce pour a glass of wine into a plastic cup. I peered over quizzically. She rolled her eyes, explaining loudly over my headphones she needed it for the pain. She never informed me which pain she might be referring to–the sciatica, hip or the constant bombastic sounds of the young man yelling full-blast in Italian. Eventually, we determined the awkward pairing of our talker and his attentive listener: a mother and son. If only I spoke Italian, and could have intervened.

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Lake Como

Finally, we arrived in Milan a bit ragged but ready for the last stop on the Mother-Daughter 70th birthday bash. A car transported us through the streets of Milan, along a highway an hour and 15 minutes to Tremezzo on Lake Como. Tremezzo, situated on the western shore of Lake Como about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the town of Como, sits directly across from Bellagio, the pearl of Lake Como and one of my mother’s favorite spots in Italy. She reveled in the surprise.

Lake Como or as the Italians say, “Lago di Como” is Italy’s third largest lake and one of Europe’s deepest. Tremezzo is located center lake, or where the lake branches into two long arms (the lake is Y-shaped). The foothills of the Alps frame the lake perfectly to the east and west, creating a border of idyllic scenery. Small villages dart in and out of the landscape some at the shores of the lake and others dotted high on the peaks and nestled in valleys.

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View from a hilltop Tremezzo, Lake Como, Italy

The region is known for historic villas, parks, shops, hiking trails, leisurely boat rides, risotto, lake fish, red sauce and wine. Lake Como is a popular retreat for the wealthy dating back to even Roman times. You will find stunning villas and palaces mostly converted into modern hotels or museums at this point, yet maintaining the ancient charm, character and the elegance of Lake Como. Generations of families live in the region, helping preserve its historical significance.

The likes of Gianni Versace, Richard Branson and Madonna have all had homes on Lake Como. If you are in the market to purchase, it is rumored George Clooney may be selling his villa for a mere $100 million. He paid $10 million in 2001, but apparently lakefront property is hard to come by and garners huge (even ridiculous) offers to sell.

Joyce and I stayed at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo opened in 1910 by Enea Gandola on the edges of the lake. The Gandola family said they wanted to create something of “class and sophistication” on the most beautiful lake in the world. They succeeded. Greta Garbo referred to Tremezzo as that “happy, sunny place” in the film the Grand Hotel.

The hotel is lavish and majestic, decorated in Art Nouveau style with a nod to today’s modern design and amenities such as a heated pool and private gardens, and a spa worthy of queens and kings. We marveled at the view of Lake Como from every angle in our room and we laughed when we learned the luxurious hotel catered to only wealthy tourists. During our stay, it seemed to serve my dearest New Yorkers.

While a week or even month in Italy’s lake region would be ideal, Joyce and I would make the most of our three-day escape before reality awakened us.

On day one, we settled ourselves at the Grand Tremezzo, toasted our good fortune with cocktails on the lakeside pool deck and savored the moment. A few hours later, we dined at Crotto dei Platani in Brienno about 20 minutes from our hotel and inches from the lake.

Family owned since 1855, Crotto dei Platani is Lake Como’s oldest restaurant and maintains one of the last traditional cellars in the area. It specializes in lake fish and pasta and delivered up one of the best Tiramisu desserts I’ve ever tasted. The restaurant accommodates guests wishing to be seated inside or outside, but we prefered al fresco dining and opted for a table overlooking the lake. The view speaks for itself, but as the sun dipped behind the mountains and the lights from the nearby villages twinkled alive, we pinched ourselves, hoping to make the evening last a little bit longer.

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Eating Tirimisu at Crotto dei Platani a delicious restaurant on the shores of Lake Como in Brienno

The second day of our Lake Como adventure coincided with my mother’s 70th birthday and I plotted various surprises to make her day memorable. Before I left the U.S., I asked friends and family across the globe to send cards, letters or assemble a video on the occasion of her milestone. People delivered recorded greetings, acting out memories from the past or simply sang happy birthday in various languages and tones. My dad told a story about their wedding day, my mom’s brother and sister-in-law recounted a famous family mishap about a purse gone missing and friends from near and far composed beautiful stories and heartfelt passages for her to treasure the rest of her life.

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Opening cards from friends and family across the globe. Happy Birthday! 70 big years celebrating Italian Style, Lake Como

We kicked off the day with breakfast lakeside followed by my presentation of the videos and letters. She loved the gift. My next surprise entailed a two-hour boat trip on Lake Como, complete with strawberries and champagne. We boarded the boat in front of the Grand Tremezzo at 10 AM and it took no less than 15 minutes for my mother to abort the mission. Who knew she was afraid of boats and rough water? I always knew she became ill in rough seas, but apparently I missed the fear memo. She nearly abandoned ship, holding onto the sides of the boat with a death grip. Our Captain spoke limited English so I acted fast and I pointed to Bellagio for a quick escape. We swiftly moved through the water’s waves docking safely in Bellagio. With my mother off the boat, the Captain and I worked out in befuddled Spanish/English that he would return in two hours and transport us back to the hotel. I made a mental note to Google “fear of water” in Italian.

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Bellagio, Pearl of Lake Como, our favorite place to shop and eat

Visiting Bellagio (code word for “shopping”) was planned for later in the day but when Lake Como gives you lemons, you make lemonade!

We ventured to the main thoroughfare to see if our favorite stores remained. Our good fortune continued as we quickly identified our favorite linen and lingerie store, Molinari Silvana. We entered, we browsed, we scrutinized, we conversed, we reasoned, we negotiated (with ourselves about how my dad will feel paying the bill) and then, clearing all obstacles, we BOUGHT lots of very much needed pretty napkins, hand towels and nightgowns. Our two hours were nearly up, and we made our way back to the dock.

I explained our dilemma to the Captain, who assured me a smooth return trip to the hotel just across the water. The lake calmed, and he safely and swiftly delivered us back to the hotel in about 10 minutes. As we departed the boat, he handed my mom a beautiful display of strawberries and she commented at the loveliness of a gesture. (She believed this to be a result of her alarm and subsequent panic, not my thorough planning.)

The day continued with less drama. We hiked a low-grade hill behind our hotel, giving way to a spectacular panorama of Lake Como and a better perspective of the nearby villages. It is without doubt a must to see Lake Como from high in the hills. Given it was a clear day, we could see the entire length of the lake, boats and ferries whisking people to and fro and the topography of the mountains. It’s a breathtaking view that delivers a rare tranquility away from the bustling main road. I dare say I preferred the elevated vantage point to the ground level because it provided an opportunity to take in the entire scene, the lush vegetation surrounding the lake, vibrant flowers in backyards and varying sizes of villas hidden in the brush. Lake Como is clear, crisp and mighty. When cloud cover creeps over the mountaintops, the lake’s current moves briskly and ocean-like waves crash against the break walls of the towns. Then the sun emerges and weather patterns change, and wind gives way to calm and flat and sparking waters.

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Make a wish! Celebrating 70 years at Grand Tremezzo with Chantilly cream cake and it was yummy

For Joyce’s 70th birthday, we celebrated at the restaurant La Terrazza in the hotel and I was able to somewhat unsuccessfully deliver the champagne by faking a bathroom break and accosting the maître d’. It wasn’t the best meal in Italy, or even our favorite setting, but we enjoyed each other’s company. The kitchen delivered a sweet, freshly baked Chantilly “birthday” cake scripted with “Happy 70th Birthday” in Italian. My mom made a wish (I hope it was for me to win the lotto), inhaled, and with ease extinguished the candle. We concluded the evening with a Baileys and coffee in the T-bar where my mother tried really hard to convince the piano player (classically trained) to play something upbeat. She failed, and with one look around she announced to the room, “this looks more like the Book of the Month club than a bar.”

She wasn’t wrong. Guests abandoned people-to-people fun, live entertainment and more cocktails for solitude and comfort in whatever their phones delivered.

At this point, it was a wrap on Joyce’s birthday but that didn’t mean it was time to throw in the towel. For breakfast, the kitchen asked if we wanted any remaining cake. I replied without hesitation, “Why not?” Who doesn’t want rich cream and cake with their eggs and oatmeal? It’s a vacation! While my mother chose to eat her piece sparingly, I went all out–which I later regretted. We readied ourselves for the day and hopped a ferry to Bellagio (size of the boat = safety) for a day of shopping.

With purpose and attitude as knowledgeable tourists, we marched jagged steps, tore through shops, wandered alleys and wove our way through the charming streets of Bellagio with the finalé to our adventure firmly in sight: lunch at our favorite wine bar Enoteca Cava Turacciolo. The gregarious owner retired since our last visit but the staff carries on his attention to detail and service. Carved from the bowels of the old-city, exposed stone and brick contribute to the ambiance of the cave-like space as much as Italy’s finest wines and olive oil lining its shelves. At the suggestion of our server, we paired two white wines and two red wines with a sampling of meats and cheeses: cow first, goat second and sheep last. There is nothing wrong with a day starting with cake, followed by shopping and wine.

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Al Veluu service and food matched by stunning views, making mustard, Tremezzo, Italy

To cap off our evening and our last dinner in Italy, we booked a reservation at Al Veluu Ristorante per the recommendation of a friend. The affectionate owner greeted us with homemade Bellini’s, which we sipped as we admired sweeping views of the entire Lake Como region. The moon illuminated what was left of the pink and turquoise rays of light as we dined on sweet tomatoes and fresh zucchini from the garden and filet with bitter and spicy mustard sauce served tableside. I highly recommend Al Veluu for the heartwarming welcome, the farm-to-table flavors and the impressive views of Lake Como. Its romance and simplicity can be found in a secluded spot overlooking the lake, perfect for couples or even mothers and daughters.

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Toasting with bellinis and sunset at Tremezzo Al Veluu, Lake Como

MUST DO IN LAKE COMO

    1. Spend a day in Bellagio shopping and eating – Check out Molinari Silvana, Saraceno Michele and Enoteca Cava Turacciolo.
    2. Visit Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, known for its impeccable views of Lake Como and its vibrant gardens. Pack a lunch and spend the day strolling through the immaculate and stunning grounds.
    3. Plan a trip to Villa del Balbianello. Wander the expansive villa and gardens and admire views of the lake from the grounds. If you are newly engaged, plan a wedding! Built in 1787, it is the site of a Franciscan monastery.
    4. Take a cooking class–eat your own risotto while sipping wine.
    5. Sail, ferry or boat all day on the beautiful waters of Lake Como. Captain your own vessel, hire a private guide or hop on a ferry darting to each of the villages.
    6. Walk from village to village, admiring the different views of the lake.
    7. Plan an adventure: Hike the foothills of the Alps or rent a kayak or canoe and become more acquainted with the lake.
    8. Drive the scenic 4-hour loop around the lake or plan a day trip and stop off in Mennagio or Varenna and end in Como town.
    9. Taste your favorite Gelato.
    10. Check out Duomo de Como in Como town. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Como considered one of the most beautiful places to visit in Northern Italy.
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