Monday, October 26, 2015

Broadway, Baby!

Taken from Top of the Rock observation deck.

I recently returned from four days in New York City with my best friend. Though we've been friends for almost 30 years, this is the first time we've taken a non-business-related trip together. I'm a hot-water shower hog. She assured me her snores would rattle the windows. She's an introvert. I talk to everyone. She could walk for miles. I have a bad knee. She hates having her picture taken. My camera rarely leaves my side. Would our friendship survive the trip? You betcha!

Grand Central Station

Deciding we wanted to be in the middle of the action for my friend's first trip to the Big Apple we booked a room at the DoubleTree Suites in Times Square. If you don't mind walking from your hotel into a sea of people it's a great location for it's proximity to ABC and NBC studios, Broadway theaters, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center, and Junior's. (more on Junior's later)

I've always enjoyed seeing places through the eyes of another generation but there's a lot to be said for traveling with someone your own age. Being teens in the 1960's, it wasn't difficult to agree on two of the plays we wanted to see: Jersey Boys and Beautiful.

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons are part of the soundtrack of my teens and Jersey Boys is their story. I've been aching to see this show since 2007 and am happy to report that it was all I had hoped it would be...and more. We scored seats two rows from the stage for an amazing, up-close-and-personal view. Of course, I knew all the words to all the songs but I managed to restrain myself from singing out loud (mostly). Sitting still, however, was beyond my abilities. I don't think my feet or head stopped moving the entire time!

Beautiful is the Carole King story. King's Tapestry album was a key component of my college soundtrack so, of course, I knew many of the songs in this show as well. What I didn't realize about the show until we saw it is that it not only tells King's story but that of other singers and songwriters of the time who worked with and around her. Again, as with Jersey Boys, it was like taking a step back in time to those carefree days of high school and college and the music that framed the tapestry of my own life. While I already knew a lot about the artists showcased in both musicals (Tiger Beat was my first magazine subscription), I learned new and interesting things about both during the shows. If you visit New York or the traveling company of either show comes to a theater near you, I highly recommend seeing both of them.

The beautiful NYC Library
You know how I mentioned up above that I like to talk to people? As we were waiting for Beautiful to begin, I started chatting with the woman who was seated beside me. Turns out she's from a town in Michigan that's 14 miles from where I grew up. Also, during the 90's, she taught at one of the grade schools I attended in my small hometown. Then she introduced me to the couple traveling with her and her husband. They were closer to my age, grew up in a farming community on the other side of my hometown and we discovered we share many mutual friends. What are the odds that I would travel from North Carolina to New York City and meet someone from the small Michigan town (population 1800) where I grew up? Amazing, the things you discover when you say hello to a stranger!

Best beef brisket ever!
Restaurants were, of course, another priority of our trip. My friend laughed when I told her a barbecue place was high on my list of "must visit" restaurants. After all, we live in the south where barbecue is king. Let's just say she was a wee bit skeptical about putting NYC and good barbecue in the same sentence but once she tasted the mouth-watering moist brisket at Hill Country Barbecue Market she was singing a different tune! Full disclosure: I was skeptical too when my friend, Stacey Agdern introduced me to Hill Country during the RWA conference in NYC last July but I'm now a believer. I've eaten some really good barbecue over the years but Hill Country's is the best I've ever tasted. The. Best.

Cheese lovers' paradise

If you watch The Chew you've probably already heard of Mario Batali's Eataly.

Did I mention the cheese?

Eataly is like Disney for foodies. It's not just restaurants. It's not just fresh markets. It's an experience.

Fresh produce of every color and kind.

Walking through Eataly is like taking a stroll through an Italian village on market day. The cheese market alone would have kept me happy for days.

The only Caprese salad I've had that was better was in Italy.

There are a number of specialty restaurants - sit down and take out - scattered throughout. We chose La Pizza & La Pasta for their gluten free options and it was fabulous. Other Eataly restaurants include Il Pesce (a raw bar plus Italian seafood in antipasto and main dishes), LeVerdure (soups, bruschetta, and warm or cold dishes spotlighting seasonal Italian veggies), Birreria (a rooftop restaurant and brewery serving hearty meals featuring housemade sausages, meat and cheese plates, etc.), and Pranzo (a specialty lunch restaurant that educates diners about regional Italian cuisine).

Pasta people! Love it! 

Rounding out the restaurants are La Piazza (a stand-up food and drink bar featuring tastings of meats and cheeses and a raw bar), and Manzo (a formal restaurant). Then there are the cafes where you can buy your food to go: Focacceria with its traditional Italian breads made daily, the Gelateria (who doesn't love freshly made gelato?), Nutella (served in crepes, gelato, pastries), Panini (hot or cold made to order), Pasticceria (fresh pastries and cakes), Rosticceria (rotisserie chicken, meat with sides, and sandwiches made to order). And, of course, Eataly Vino, where you can choose Italian and local wines to take home. See what I mean about Eataly being an experience? It's not to be missed!

My friend says the hot chocolate is pretty awesome too!

Speaking of experiences, if you like cheesecake, Junior's is one place in NYC that you will not want to miss. I've eaten there many times - thanks to the Times Square restaurant's convenient location across the street from the RWA hotel - and have never been disappointed. A casual, family-friendly restaurant with seating inside and out, Junior's is great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or my favorite post-theater/post-RITA ceremony meal: steak fries and cheesecake. Hey! Don't knock it 'til you've tried it! :) We ate there twice during our recent stay (try the fresh mozzarella omelet - it's fabulous) and popped in a third time to pick up cheesecake to go for a late night, post-theater snack in our hotel room. They have multiple locations so wherever you stay, there's bound to be a Junior's in the vicinity.

Central Park bronze sculpture of Duke Ellington

While New York is a thoroughly modern city in what it offers, it's also a city that appreciates its history. The best way to see both the modern and historic sights of Manhattan, Brooklyn and other areas - in my experience - is to take a double-decker, hop on, hop off, bus tour. There are closed buses but for the best views I prefer the ones with an open-air upper deck. We took the Uptown and Downtown tours and had outstanding tour guides - both native New Yorkers - for each. Although I'd taken the tours on a previous visit, I still learned something new this time around...and took some great photos!

Yes, that is Lance Bass!

Another tip for a trip to NYC - or any city, really - is to expect the unexpected. You never know when an opportunity will drop into your lap. Thursday morning, we were standing outside Rockefeller Center buying tickets to go to the Top of the Rock observation deck when a representative from the Meredith Vieira Show approached us with free tickets to that day's taping. We decided to take a detour from our planned schedule and go. The show isn't shown in my market so I'm not sure if we made it onto TV but we had a good time. While waiting to be taken into the studio I started chatting with two women (from Florida and Georgia) sitting next to us. The woman from Georgia was in the audience for Oprah Winfrey's first "Favorite Things" episode. She told me that, yes, it was just as fabulous as you would imagine!

Proof that I really was up there!

We did make it to the Top of the Rock after the Meredith taping. The views from the observation deck are spectacular, especially on a clear day, but be prepared if - like me - you have a fear of heights. The (open air) rooftop deck is 70 floors above the ground. I get jittery just typing that!

I've managed to conquer my fear twice now and even took a video this trip that required me to walk around (so proud) though I'm sure my hand was shaking. ;-)


So what did I learn on this trip? I learned that traveling with a friend can be a fun and adventurous experience. I learned that even though this was my fourth trip to NYC, I have so much more to see there. I learned that there is no such thing as too much cheesecake. I learned that while I've enjoyed the theater for most of my life, there's nothing quite as exciting as theater on Broadway. I learned that sometimes you find the best food in the most unexpected places (barbecue in NYC) and I learned that I could visit Eataly every day of my stay and never get bored.

For more photos of my trip, check out the NYC October 2015 photo album on my Facebook page.

Have you taken a girlfriend trip? Where did you go? Did you enjoy it? Did you learn something new?

Have you been to New York City? What was your favorite part of the trip?

Are you planning any trips for 2016? Where are you going? Where would you like to go?

What foods set your taste buds to dancing?


  1. I'm sitting here drooling over all the foods you mentioned. lol. I have never been to Eataly. I'm definitely going to gather my 5 older daughters and make it an Eataway. :) Sounds like you had another wonderful trip to NYC. I'm in Jersey so I'm going to make that trip soon. Thanks for sharing with us.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    1. Carol, you and your daughters would have a great time at Eataly! I hear it's crazy busy over the weekend.

  2. I'm sitting here drooling over all the foods you mentioned. lol. I have never been to Eataly. I'm definitely going to gather my 5 older daughters and make it an Eataway. :) Sounds like you had another wonderful trip to NYC. I'm in Jersey so I'm going to make that trip soon. Thanks for sharing with us.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  3. Hi PJ,

    A few years ago, during my 'mad Gerard Butler crush' phase I got tix to SNL when he hosted. So a bff and I flew to NYC for 2.5 days. Whirlwind trip. There was something else happening in the city that weekend We ened up in a room that wasn't much bigger than a large walkin closet with a bathroom the size of a telephone booth. We took the downtown bus tour and walked and walked. I had been to NYC two times before as a teen-- and once since for RWA in July this year. I love the city. We did the Top of the Rock, also -- but you are braver than I -- I wouldn't go outside.

    Since my daughter is studying musical theater and has never been to the Big Apple I think it is time for her to see it. So I have promised her a trip. She also wants to go to England and Scotland so I need to decide which trip first.

    PJ, how many days were you and your friend in NYC? I need to figure out a practical amount of time to see a couple shows and get the sightseeing in that she'll want to do. Hard part is her limited availablity with her school schedule. Christmas might be beautiful but walking around in the cold and possible snow is not my idea of fun. :)

    Glad you had a great time!

    1. Annie, we weren't there much longer than you. We flew in Tuesday morning and flew back out Friday afternoon. Tuesday afternoon we explored Grand Central Station, the library/Bryant Park area, and Times Square. Tuesday night we saw Jersey Boys. Wednesday morning was the Downtown Tour followed by Eataly and a second stop at Grand Central. Wednesday night was An American in Paris. Thursday morning was the Meredith Vieira Show, Rockefeller Center, Top of the Rock, and Hill Country BBQ for lunch. Thursday afternoon was the Uptown Tour followed by Beautiful Thursday night. Friday morning was Good Morning America followed by a late breakfast at Junior's then the return trip to LaGuardia.

      Scotland and England are on my wish list. I've never been there!

    2. PJ, Did you have tix to GMA or stand outside like they do at the Today show? That would be fun! :) Thanks for the itinerary run down that helps to know how much I can squeeze in to x-number of days. :)

  4. I really enjoyed reading about your trip to New York with your friend. I've only ever been inside the airport!! I admire you overcoming your fears to go to the 70th floor and take not only pics, but a video too. I'm terrified of heights and theres no way that I would even do this. My son is currently away in Vegas on business, and sent me a pic last night of him and his colleagues with Emeril at his restaurant.

    1. Thanks, Diane! Believe me, going out on that observation deck was not easy but I'm so glad I did. The views really are incredible.

  5. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. I've been to NY a couple of times but a few days here and there and there is so much to see. Loved seeing The Lion King but also just people watching. Saw a young couple that was just married taking pictures here and there (and her in very high heels). The only time I went with a girlfriend was an overnight stay at a casino - we had a blast. There's no travel in my future (husband got laid off) but it's something that I've always enjoyed. Every place has something new to explore.

    1. The Lion King is a show I'd like to see. One of these days! :)

  6. It all sounds wonderful, PJ. I envy you the shows. I have my own Four Seasons-soundtrack moments, and Tapestry is one of my top-five albums ever--although where it falls among the top five depends on my mood.

    My favorite vacation was a girlfriend trip. A friend from my undergrad days and I took off as soon as our teaching duties ended one year and decided day-by-day where we were headed next. We sang and giggled our way through four states, spent time in Old Salem, Williamsburg, Charleston, and Savannah, and created cherished memories. Now that she is gone, those memories are especially dear.

    1. Tapestry has always been a favorite, Janga but now seeing the real-life stories behind the songs played out on the stage makes me love it even more.

      What a wonderful trip you and your girlfriend had! Sweet memories, indeed.

  7. By train, NYC is a little over an hr. so have been several times.

    Been to Vegas and Atl City for girlfriend trips.

    Love my desserts, anything with whipped cream does it for me. Tiramisu, Cheescake, Anything chocolate, fruit desserts, hot fudge sundaes. Yum.

    1. If I lived that close, I'm sure I'd be a regular!

  8. What a fantastic time you must have had. I would LOVE to take a trip with my bestie, but it is hard finding time we can both get away at the same time. New York would be my trip of choice, just because of all the stuff to do and see. I am a cheesecake person, and your pictures and descriptions made me envious. Thanks for sharing with us. Almost felt like I was there with you.

    1. I hear you on the scheduling. We had to search three months to find the one week we could both go.

      My cousin tells me Junior's ships their cheesecakes. She orders one every Christmas. I probably didn't need to know that. *grin*

  9. No I have never done a girlfriends trip. I am on oxygen 24/7 and traveling is not easy. No I have never been to NYC. I would love to go. In 2016 we have an excursion planned with my husbands cousin. We are going to Drew and Mount Bayou MS to see where their moms were born. Then hubby & I are going to Thibodaux LA to research his family history. It should be fun. What sets my taste buds dancing, cheesecake. Just the picture above was making me hungry.

  10. Sounds like a wonderful trip. No, I have never taken a girlfriend trip. We all seems to be tied up in our own little worlds.
    I have only been to NYC twice. Once the end of my junior year in college with classmates who lived on Long Island. Needless to say we didn't see much. Unlike today's college students there was no money for anything but school and cheap train ticket. This was a loooooong time ago. I think we did go to the top of the Empire State Building.
    I forgot another time I went. I did my student teaching in Mt. Vernon, adjacent to the Bronx. I did go in one weekend and spent time in Central Park. They were filming SWEET CHARITY. I discovered just how boring it can be to make a movie. They ran through a part of a musical scene with stand-ins on the bride for well over an hour. We finally gave up and left without seeing the stars. Again, no money and no time, so that was it.
    More recently I was deployed there with the Red Cross during Hurricane Sandy. I had a great hotel room in the theater district less than 1/2 a block from Times Square. I spent Election Night there while the results came in. I would love to have done more, but we were too busy. I only spent 3 nights in town at that hotel. The rest of the time I was in a staff shelter in a college gym on Long Island with 350 of my new closest friends, sleeping on a cot, and trying to deal with broken showers.
    We will be going to Orlando for Thanksgiving week (we have family there) and stopping for 2 nights in Atlanta on the way home. In 2016 we are going to Chcago and the Outer Banks. We will travel a bit more, but I am not sure where. NYC is on our wish list for some day. Our big trip next year may be to Alaska, if my husband retires. An Ireland, England, Scotland trip is a dream, but we need at leaf a couple of months to do it right. Not sure if we can afford it.
    We do travel on our stomachs and explore all that is available. We will be checking out your suggestions when we get to NYC. Cheesecake is a personal favorite and I will indulge.