Photo Byte Friday: America

Feeling patriotic in San Francisco.
Feeling patriotic in San Francisco.

In honor of the Fourth of July, this week’s #FriFotos theme is America. Here are a few of my favorite patriotic symbols I’ve found in the Land of the Free.

The flag flies over Sedona's red rocks.

The flag flies over Sedona’s red rocks.

A totem eagle in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Kyle poses with an eagle totem in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Me and the Washington Monument in DC.

Me and the Washington Monument in DC.

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Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty

Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower

View from the Top of the Rock in NYC

My favorite view of NYC.
My favorite view of NYC.

New York City is such a vibrant place. It’s the city that never sleeps. The hustle and bustle of it all—the people coming and going at such a hurried pace—it’s all a bit overwhelming. NYC is probably the only place in the world where people can fit 25 hours’ worth of activities into a 24-hour day. It’s chaotic. It’s messy. It’s Manhattan.

But from high above it all, the city seems quiet. All the details fade away. Everything becomes background noise to the beauty and grandeur of the place that’s called the greatest city on earth.

Rockefeller Center.

Rockefeller Center.

My respite in the city is the Top of the Rock. The view from the 70th floor of Rockefeller Center is truly unmatched, and gives you some perspective on what’s going on below. I love this view for several reasons. Most first timers to NYC want to stand atop the Empire State Building, but at the Top of the Rock, you get that iconic building in all of your pictures! And, you get a bird’s eye view of Central Park, dotted with thousands of picnickers on a warm spring day.

Sure, you’re sharing the view with several hundred pushy, loud tourists, but somehow that doesn’t matter as you gaze out over the city that just seconds before you were a part of. 40 seconds is what separates you from the chaos of a NYC sidewalk, and your perch on top of the world.

Here are some of my favorite views from the top.

The view from the Top of the Rock.

The view from the Top of the Rock.

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What to know if you go

Make sure to book tickets in advance, or plan to stop to get tickets early in the day.

Places

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States
http://www.topoftherocknyc.com/

On Location in NYC: The City’s Best TV and Movie Sites

On Location Tours.
On Location Tours.

Last weekend, one of my best friends, Ali, and I made a whirlwind trip to New York City. Since I live only about 4.5 hours from the city, I have the luxury (?) of going down and back in the same day. Ali had never played tourist in NYC before, so we tried to hit up as many of the must-sees as we could in under 12 hours.

I’ve been to NYC a number of times in the past 15 years—including last Christmas—but have only recently found my bearings. Since I tackle the Big Apple in very small bites, I’ve never gotten to see all of Manhattan in the same day. I’ve always wanted to take a bus tour to get the lay of the land. I knew the hop-on-hop-off bus was an option, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper. I had done a movie tour in San Francisco last fall and loved it, so when I found a similar one in NYC, I knew that was the way to go.

Ah, New York City!

Ah, New York City!

On Location Tours “straddles fiction and reality” as you tour the major sites featured in hit movies and TV shows. The tours are run by actors and actresses hoping to make it big. Some have played small parts in major movies and TV shows; some have taken on theatrical or comedic roles. Our guide, Courtney, holds Off-Broadway credits, and even won top female performer on Israel’s version of American Idol.

On Location Tours generously upgraded us to priority seating at the front of the bus, which allowed us to get great pictures out the front window. It’s definitely nice, but if you don’t want to pay the extra $10 to sit there, you’ll still have a great time on the tour.

Here are some of my favorite spots along the way:

The tour starts just a few blocks north of Times Square, affording great views of the iconic heart of the city. Too many productions to count have used this spot, including Letters to Juliet, Captain America, Glee, Smash, and of course, New Year’s Eve.

Times Square.

Times Square.

The Empire State Building has been immortalized (and romanticized!) by classics such as An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle.

Empire State Building.

Empire State Building.

The beautiful Flatiron Building in Madison Square was used in Spider-Man and Godzilla.

Flatiron Building.

Flatiron Building.

We got out at Washington Square Park on Fifth Ave. to see the replica of the Arc de Triomphe in France. This spot has been used in lots of productions, including Enchanted, When Harry Met Sally, Friends, Remember Me, and Big Daddy.

Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park.

Across the street is the gorgeous set of row houses used in Hitch.

Building from Hitch.

Building from Hitch.

A couple of fun stops included Hook & Ladder 8 on North Moore Street, used in Ghost Busters, and this quaint little café in Greenwich Village that just so happens to be the apartment building from Friends.

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Some views along the way were iconic on their own—no lights or cameras required. This resolute building means so much to so many, and it was nice to have a quiet moment to take it in.

One World Trade Center.

One World Trade Center.

The tour ends at McGee’s Irish Pub, the place that inspired MacLaren’s on the hit show How I Met Your Mother. Naturally we had to go in for lunch!

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And just across the street is the Original Soupman from Seinfeld. Even though I’ve never seen a single episode, I could appreciate the beautiful architecture surrounding the building.

No soup for you!

No soup for you!

What to know if you go

On Location Tours operates TV and movie tours in NYC and Boston, with many themed tours to choose from in both cities. I took the New York TV & Movie Sites Tour, which runs daily at 11 a.m. It takes approximately 3.5 hours and costs $41 per adult.

Places

It’s Christmastime in the City

Christmas displays in NYC
Christmas displays in NYC

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…

Despite the fact that when I tell people I’m from New York, they automatically assume I live in the Manhattan, I only get to the City about 2-3 times per year. I’ve always wanted to see it at Christmas—those iconic sites you see in the movies: Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Central Park—all aglow with holiday flair.

Kyle and I try to give “experiences” for Christmas as often as we can. We decided it would be lots of fun to take his parents to NYC with us as their gift this year, since his dad had never visited. We would get to do all those fun touristy things you have to do on any first trip to Manhattan, but somehow, it would be just a bit more magical at Christmas.

And it was. I’m not going to lie, I become a different, slightly more aggressive version of myself in NYC crowds, but despite all that, the City really is beautiful all decked out for the holidays. We began our day with a visit to Bryant Park to check out the Bank of America Winter Village. Although it didn’t exactly have the European ambiance I so desperately want to experience again, we had some ridiculously decadent hot chocolate that was to die for—and some people may have! It was fun to sip what I can only fathom was pure, melted Ghiradelli chocolate while perusing the little huts filled with treasures crafted by artisans, and watching ice skaters fly around the rink.

Next, we walked up to Rockefeller Center—we had a mission to see it in daylight and darkness. We were almost unimpressed by day, but at night, the tree absolutely came alive. (And so did the masses).

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A highlight of any New York City trip at Christmas is seeing the elaborate window displays. We passed by Saks Fifth Avenue, marveling at their fairytale-themed windows, depicting the stories of different characters. We wandered into Tiffany’s to get a better look at the massive trees all decked out in that iconic blue. And I couldn’t help but drool over the incredible façade of Harry Winston.

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It was a nice day, so we took a stroll through Central Park. Even in the wintertime, it’s such a beautiful place. I first visited on my last trip to the City in April. I’d always had this love-hate relationship with NYC, but walking through Central Park last spring, seeing that New Yorkers really do take a moment to stop and smell the flowers in this little bit of an oasis inside this bustling city, made me realize that I really do love New York. And winter is no different. I loved seeing all the horses and carriages decked out in rich reds and deep purples for the holidays.

After our stroll, it was time to see the City from above. Most people go to the Empire State Building on their first trip to Manhattan, but I think the best spot is the Top of the Rock (aka, Rockefeller Center). You get the same view, plus you’re directly across from the Empire State Building, and thus, it’s in all of your pictures. The view never gets old. It looks so quiet—so peaceful—high above it all. That speedy elevator ride transports you 70 stories to a parallel universe. Pro tip, though: Leave your pocket knives at home. Somehow Kyle always brings the pocket knife I got him in Switzerland—and his dad had his, too—so Kyle had to stay with them on the ground. Luckily we had done the Top of the Rock last year, so he was perfectly content to go shop the NBC Store while he waited for us.

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

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No NYC trip at Christmas is complete without heading to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes preform the Christmas Spectacular. Kyle’s mom had seen the show in high school and remembered it fondly. Honestly, I knew it would be great, since nearly every show in NYC is, but I had only seen Broadway shows (mainly Wicked three times!) so I really didn’t know what to expect of this show. But it was fantastic from start to finish, aside from the bouncing children “sitting” in front of us. The use of light displays and even 3D was really impressive, and the different scenes were both fun and poignant. I especially enjoyed the “New York at Christmas” scene where the Rockettes dance on a double-decker bus, and the “Living Nativity,” complete with live camels and sheep. It was hard to believe 90 minutes had gone by when they got to the last of 14 scene. I highly recommend this show if you ever find yourself in the City at Christmas. It’ll get you in the spirit of the season!

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Since we caught the 4:30 p.m. Rockettes show, the City had completely transformed while we were inside. Manhattan by night is an experience all its own. The famed Rockefeller tree was absolutely dazzling, surrounded by literally thousands of people trying to take that perfect selfie. Despite the crowds, it really is worth it to venture there to see it, so put on your body armor and your game face, and witness one of the iconic symbols of Christmas in America.

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

Just as we did, make some time to shop Times Square. It’s completely touristy, but an absolute must for any first-time visit. We went in all the clichéd shops from M&M’s World to the Disney Store. And we saw that beautiful Waterford Crystal ball that will drop is less than two weeks—yikes!

For me, every single NYC ends on a sweet note: a visit to Cake Boss Café. It’s a Thompson family tradition—seriously. We typically travel to and from the City via bus, and Port Authority is conveniently located next to this little decadent paradise that helps me endure the 4-hour bus ride home. The personal tiramisu cake is my absolute favorite!

I’m so glad I finally got to experience NYC at Christmastime. I’ve always said NYC really is beautiful if you don’t look too closely, but this time of year, the beauty is truly in the details. In a year when I haven’t put up any decorations of my own, it got me feeling very festive, and I’m so glad we could share it with Kyle’s parents. I love helping people experience new aspects of travel for the first time.

Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, look for some beauty in your corner of the world. Whether it’s an elaborately decorated tree in the center of town, a local merchant’s window display, or a festive wreath on a neighbor’s door, appreciate the details, and soak in the spirit of the season.

Happy holidays!

Places

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States

Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York, NY, United States

Central Park

Central Park, New York, NY, United States

Times Square

Times Square, New York, NY, United States

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States
http://www.rockefellercenter.com/

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States
http://www.radiocity.com/

Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York, NY, United States
http://www.bryantpark.org/things-to-do/wintervillage.html

Central Park

Central Park, New York, NY, United States
http://www.centralparknyc.org/

Times Square

Times Square, New York, NY, United States
http://www.timessquarenyc.org/index.aspx
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