travel, hike, eat. repeat.

my adventures are often on a budget… and always clumsy.

new york city: 3 days, $200, even more pizza

Ellie lives in the Brooklyn neighborhood Bed-Stuy. It’s residential – packed to the brim with brownstones and middle school kids. The brief four-block walk to her closest subway station is a live-action soap opera: a 13-year old couple tearfully fighting on one corner, three boys perfecting their rapping skills on another, and a cute brother-brother duo walking their dog and intently discussing the merits of the newest James Bond movie. If I lived in Bed-Stuy, I’d save a lot of money getting rid of cable and walking for entertainment (the poor man’s Gossip Girl?).

I woke slowly Saturday morning at nearly 10:00. I can’t remember the last time I slept that late – I guess that’s what happens when Theo isn’t around to wake me at 6:45am, sharp! I stretched on Ellie & Andy’s queen-sized air mattress and turned over to answer my ringing cell. Noelle suggested we meet for bagels at Bergen Bagels off Flatbush and Atlantic in Brooklyn. Bagels? Did someone say bagels? That got me out of bed.

Noelle is my closest girlfriend from my brief stint in Los Angeles after college. We interned together at Ms. magazine. We became quick friends back then, surviving working two jobs each with undue amounts of laughter, weekend hikes and movies at the $1 theater. I miss her, and catching up was as easy as it gets.

Some say Bergen Bagels are the best in Brooklyn, and though I have nothing to which to compare them, I agree. The line snaked through the small shop, even close to 11:30am. We ate toasted everything bagels, and I bought a dozen to go with a few sides containers of cream cheese – for the grand, inexpensive total of $17.50. Noelle introduced me to the famed New York black and white cookie. I’m a big fan.

I followed breakfast carbs with lunch carbs. After Noelle and I parted ways on the subway, Ellie and I ran to Brooklyn Heights. (I promise, there were a few hours in between!). We met up with Dan – New York Times social media producer and former DCite and TBD reporter (I roll with the bigwigs!) – for lunch at Grimaldi’s – one of New York’s most famous, and oldest, pizza joints. (Anyone keeping track? If so, yep, I ate pizza every single day!)

If you’re ever looking for Grimaldi’s – it’s the white building front under the Brooklyn Bridge with no real sign except a lopsided, small one precariously hanging near a barred window, and the line is down the block. It moves surprisingly quickly for a place that only accepts cash and doesn’t do slices.

We ordered a large with extra cheese, pepperoni and sausage, and we each got a soda. We devoured it in minutes. It came to $33 with tip for the 3 of us, making it my most expensive meal thus far. We stuck around to watch the first quarter of the Nebraska (Ellie & me) versus Penn State (Dan) game and snuck out during a commercial to find a sports bar to finish the rest of it.

We stumbled into a bar whose name I can’t remember. Dan called it one of the reasons he loves New York: “You can’t just finda bar like this in DC.” He may be right. I ordered a cider and a Nebraska victory, and both were served cold. 🙂

Determined to still get some touristy sights into my short visit, Ellie and I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. On our way, we stopped into Jacques Torres Chocolate. It smells like heaven in there, and the chocolate is divine. We ordered one piece each – I got a champagne truffle, a small hot chocolate to share (they only had enough left for one cup), and they offered us a chocolate chip cookie on the house since they were closing soon ($7). Saddled with goodies for the walk, we climbed the stairs to the Bridge.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge was a true highlight of my trip. At night, the Manhattan skyline is illuminated in front of you. You can spot the Statue of Liberty to your left, and the extension wires line up in the most beautiful fashion. “It’s so old, I just want to hug it!” Ellie said about the Bridge… and then she did.

We came across a column on the Bridge to which multiple locks were attached. Names were inscribed on them. It has become a new tradition for couples to “seal” their love on the Bridge. Maybe it’s gimmicky, but it’s sweet, too.

Across the Bridge, we made the short trek to Ground Zero. Right now the area is under construction, and all you can see is the new World Trade Center being built, a large crane, and a lot of fencing. I didn’t need to see more. What got me and made me stand still for several moments is the church across from Ground Zero. The quietness there by the church is haunting – less peaceful than it is hurting and filled with stories too complicated and painful to share. It meant a lot to me to be there and experience that area. New York is a resilient city, but that area, Ground Zero and the church that took in the wounded on that day, will forever be filled with ghosts of a time we will never forget.

After the solemnity of being at Ground Zero, Ellie and I were about ready to call it a night. But we had one more stop to make. When I planned my New York trip, I mentioned wanting to find Brooklyn’s best tacos. Los Hermanos was fantastic, but was there better? We took the subway back into Brooklyn and walked, trusting our iPhone maps to guide us, until we found the truly hole-in-the-wall Mexican grocery, Chinantla. In the back of the market is a restaurant, complete with table-side service and Latin music.

We ordered three tacos each and a plate of regular (no meat) nachos to share. That was way. too. much. food. They’re not playing with portion sizes! It’s great food and the server only speaks a few words of English, giving me a chance to practice my recently learned, rough, basic Spanish.

Which taco is better? Chinantla had excellent steak tacos, but the others (and we tried them all, nearly) were lacking. Los Hermanos wins the taco war, but Chinantla delivers, and has a larger menu – serving everything from mole to enchiladas to chicken fingers, for the kids.

A block away from the Hispanic neighborhood in which we found Chinantla, we passed a Hebrew school bus to our left, and a group of Hasidic Jewish men headed to Synagogue on our right. A local bar boasted $2 PBR and $5 glasses of wine, all night. Garbage bags lined the streets of brownstones, interspersed with restaurants and coffee shops.

This is New York.

I left New York at 10:30 the next morning. Including breakfast & a water for the road, my grand total for the weekend came to $187.50.

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