After a fruitful first week in Maryland, my next stop is seeing family in Albany and Long Island, New York.
I flew via United Airlines and arrived just in time to see my Ai Myra and two of my favorite cousins, Matt-matt and Shoti Mark. Our itinerary is to tour Albany on the day of my arrival, and then pack up for Long Island the next day.
This is pretty much the vacation/pleasure half of my stay in the US, so I made the most out of it by doing all of my sightseeing and shopping here. I soon realized that three days just isn’t enough to tour and experience New York, but I managed to do 15 things before flying back home to the Philippines.
1. Visited Washington Park Historic District, Albany
While doing some research on Albany, I discovered this park and saw that it had pretty good reviews from members of the community.
It turns out that both Ai Myra and my cousins haven’t been to this park as well, so we went and did a bit of sightseeing before heading back home for dinner.
2. Shopped at my first Barnes and Noble
I finally got to step in and shop at Barnes and Noble, one of the most popular bookstores in the US.
The moment I stepped in, I was speechless. My eyes wandered towards the lines of shelves and display tables full of books. Sections for toys, board games, children’s books, and gifts were also available. A Starbucks Cafe was conveniently established to give readers a chance to relax and read.
Everything gave the store a homey feel that it was difficult not to think about the time or the fact that my aunt and cousin were waiting for me.
While I couldn’t buy more books, I did take home three at their bargain section:
- The Creative Writer’s Notebook by John Gillard
- The Nikola Tesla Puzzle Collection by Richard Galland
- Dogs: A Visual Reference by Dr. Bruce Fogle
It was a good thing I remembered to check Pokemon Go for potential catches. While I didn’t catch anything new, I spotted Pidgeotto!
3. Ate a Smashburger
Before heading to the park, we had a quick snack at Smashburger. They pride themselves in using fresh ingredients, and sure enough I tasted the difference in their rosemary and olive oil fries.
4. Experienced my first automatic car wash
It sounds simplistic, but when you’ve only seen automatic car washes on television your whole life, you get pretty excited being in the real thing.
5. Crossed the Brooklyn Bridge
On my second day at New York, my Auntie Tess took Shoti Mark and I to Manhattan. I was excited since I’ve not been to the city in over ten years.
Shoti’s prepping for school at NYU, so we needed to visit his dorm first to drop off some of his stuff for school. We got to pass through the Brooklyn bridge thanks to that quick stop.
As you can see, it’s a perfect day to go sightseeing at the city.
6. Rode the subway
We parked at 57th Street and took the subway to avoid the hassle of looking for parking space. It was a smooth ride that it reminded me of quiet days riding the MRT back home in the Philippines.
The ride was a short one that we were soon on the streets of Times Square.
7. Shopped and walked around Manhattan
Our first stop is Times Square, a pretty busy section of Manhattan.
It was pretty hot when we got out of the subway and onto the streets. Tourists and locals walked the streets, taking pictures or heading off to work.
I got to stand in front of Good Morning America, the Hershey’s shop, ate legit New York pizza, and rode a train from Grand Central terminal. I then bought Jayson and the kids souvenirs from the M&M’s World and the NBA Store.
M&M’s World is especially chocked full of chocolate and M&M’s merch that I had to take photos of the place.
Being completely immersed in Manhattan, you’d imagine my surprise when I saw the Philippine embassy on the way. A pang of nostalgia hit me right then and there.
8. Shopped at the Nintendo Store/Pokemon Center
When my aunt asked me where in the city I wanted to visit, the first place that popped into my head was the Pokemon Center in Manhattan. I visited the store last 2002 with my dad and sisters, and always remembered how awesome that place was.
The Pokemon Center had plushies, the Pokemon games, and stations where you could plug in your console and get rare Pokemon during special events or promos. I remember buying my first Pokemon starter trading card deck, which is how I learned to play and how I brought the game back to the Philippines.
Now that I’m back, I’m determined to bring home Pokemon merch for myself and the kids. They all love Pokemon just as how I loved the franchise as a kid, so it was at the top of my list of places to visit.
It turns out that the Pokemon Center is now a section of the Nintendo Store. I saw how it was reduced to just a fourth of the 2nd floor, and that most of the Pokemon on display are from the later generations, particularly B/W and X/Y. All of the Generation 1 and 2 Pokemon were either not available or sold out. Not even a Pokeball plushie was available for purchase!
It was disappointing, but I eventually shrugged it off and got right down to shopping. I picked out plushies and collectibles the kids would like, as well as a Legend of Zelda shirt for my sister, Annie.
Finally, I got myself a Rayquaza shirt as my own souvenir to remember the place by.
9. Visited Liberty Island for a photo of the Statue of Liberty
In all of the excitement, I almost forgot the one monument that New York is especially known for.
Auntie Tess was kind enough to buy Shoti and I tickets to Liberty Island, where we could take close-ups of the infamous Lady Liberty. The experience seeing the 151-foot monument in person—in such good weather too!—was breathtaking. Definitely an item off of my bucket list!
We rode the Miss New York ferry boat back to Battery Park, where Auntie Tess patiently waited for us. Before heading home, I made sure to buy authentic INY shirts for my in-laws.
10. Ate a rainbow bagel at The Bagel Store
Shoti and I decided to go back to the city for another round of sightseeing and food tripping. Our first stop was The Bagel Store in Brooklyn where I got to try their famous rainbow bagel. I had it smothered with cannoli cream cheese; little did I know that cannoli was pretty sweet, so the bagel became a burst of sugar to start my morning right.
I should’ve gone with Shoti’s bagel though. He got a regular bagel in artichoke cream cheese. Tasted like pesto.
11. Bought books at the Strand Books
“18 miles of books”—The New York Times wasn’t exaggerating. Strand Books‘ tagline intrigued me so much that I placed it at the top of my list of go-to places in Manhattan.
The moment I saw its storefront, I made a beeline for the entrance. I tucked Pokemon Go inside my bag and stepped inside. I didn’t reopen the app until I was done and out with a Strand Books canvas bag full of purchases.
The bookshop was everything I imagined it to be. I leisurely inched my way around numerous, tall wooden shelves of books of a wide range of genres: fiction, poetry, sci-fi, drama and theatre, architecture, art, instructional, and non-fiction.
But the best thing about Strand Books is their pricing and that their inventory contains hard-to-find books that you probably won’t find in major retail bookstores. I was able to take home Mary Oliver and Eavan Boland’s poetry collections are half the price, the latter being an out-of-print edition. I also bought cool magnets and picked up four of their bookmarks to give to my friends back home.
I wish the bookstores in the Philippines would emulate Strand. Then I’d want to visit and buy from them more.
12. Visited Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park is smacked right in front of Shoti’s school, New York University. It’s a beautiful park with plenty of trees and flowers, and you can see the Washington Square Arch up close.
A huge fountain sits at the center of the park where kids, students, and adults are playing, conversing, reading or studying. It’s the kind of atmosphere I’ve longed for growing up.
While resting, I couldn’t stop thinking how awesome it would be to send any of the kids to this school. Everything is within reach, and the students hail from different countries, cultures, and possess many interests. If such an opportunity would present itself to them, I do hope they’d be as enthusiastic as I am about it.
13. Caught Pokemon at Central Park
We took some time off from sightseeing and shopping at Central Park. It’s one of the biggest parks I’ve ever been to, and sure enough we could only cover a fourth of the park before it was time to head back to the city.
Shoti and I love Pokemon Go, so we took the advantage and caught as many as we could. We didn’t even have to feel awkward or embarrassed, because everyone else at the park was playing the game. Good thing I remembered to take some photos of the place!
One of the things I love about the park is how it provides brave and talented people a place to perform and entertain others. You’ll find people playing instruments like the trumpet or trombone, or a puppeteer with his puppet pals entertaining the children while their parents rest and relax.
While you still need to be wary of suspicious individuals, it pays to give the hard-working ones your attention and generosity.
14. Visited the Central Park Zoo
I never knew there was a Central Park Zoo until we saw the sign board in the middle of our walk.
The entrance fee is $12 for general admission, and $18 if you want the 4D animation experience.
Education and wildlife preservation are the two things the zoo prides itself of. You get to learn more about how animals in certain environments thrive, what they need to continue the species, and what we may be doing that could destroy their chances of surviving.
Out of all of the zoo sections, the Tropic Zone was the most interesting for me because they managed to mimic the environment, including the temperature and humidity. The Central Garden is also a must-see because it’s where the sea lions can be found and viewed at close range.
Finally, I made a beeline for the Grizzly Bears section since I’ve never seen one in person. It was breathtaking to see Betty and Veronica, the two bears living in the zoo.
15. Visited the Grand Army Plaza and saw the Plaza Hotel
Why the Plaza Hotel? Because this is where Home Alone 2 was filmed in!
But besides it being one of my favorite movie locations, the Plaza Hotel looked amazing up close. And I only realized I was standing in front of the hotel when I saw the hotel flag flapping against the evening breeze.
The Grand Plaza itself was pretty packed when we arrived, and being surrounded by all of the tall and aged buildings was breathtaking. Unfortunately, since it was almost time to go back to Long Island, we didn’t stay for long.
Thank you, America.
That caps off my 2016 adventure to the United States. The experience has been priceless and one that I will always remember. I hope I’ll be able to visit again, and this time for a longer period of time with Jayson and the kids.