Dork For New York: Midtown Walking Tour

New York City:  It is darn expensive.  Like, you can sneeze and somehow lose twenty dollars.  In less than an hour.  And twenty dollars is perhaps a conservative number.

However, in this wallet-sucking city, there are still plenty of sights and sounds to take in for… are you ready?… FREE.  No, really.

You may remember from my previous posts, I talked about checking the insane extravagant holiday lights displays in the Dyker Heights nabe in Brooklyn, as well as the holiday windows and FAO Schwarz tour in Manhattan.  Yep, those were good, free times.  Well, when my in-laws — who had never seen any of NYC beyond the Statue of Liberty — visited for New Year’s, we wanted to cram in as much as we could into the three days they were going to be here.

Josh and I planned and mapped it out, and we think (hope) it was a successful/educational/entertaining/hopefully-all-three trip, hitting some of the better known touristy highlights, as well as a few lesser known surprises thrown in as well.  If I gave you our entire itinerary, it may be more confusing than if I just provide you with a walking map, pointing out some of the (free) landmarks we checked out (I’ll also point out some landmarks we didn’t get to check out).  For today, I’ll show you our map of Midtown and the surrounding area.  (Tomorrow’s all about Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.)

The total walking tour is about 3.6 miles, so maybe not the best for a novice walker or someone with back or knee problems, however there are plenty of subway options along the route and if you break up the walking by stopping for lunch in between, it’s really not so noticeable (and you’re going to stop and take pictures anyway, right?)

Click on the map for an enlarged version:

Click on this image for an enlarged and printable version

For an even better printable version, check out this MS Word doc:  gpp midtown walking map

Hope this is helpful for future trips!  And if your ideal Midtown itinerary varies a bit from mine, type it into Google maps and select the walking option (or mass transit or whatever).  You can re-arrange the order of the letters/landmarks so you’re not doubling back or wasting time — though every corner of Midtown Manhattan has some famous name, landmark, and street sign, so no matter where you end up, you’d hardly be wasting time.

Check back tomorrow for a (slightly more detailed) Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge walking tour!

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Dyker Heights Lights

NYC Holiday Windows

Also…

This blurry picture of Josh and I at Grand Central Station.  We were yawning and pretending like Grand Central Station isn’t one of the most beautiful places ever.  We’re actors.

Dork for New York: Free Things To Do in NYC, Christmas Edition

Hope everyone had a lovely weekend!  Mine was particularly great as Josh and I had a day off together (whaaa???) and my dad came to visit!  Yeah, I know… I’m still sort of pinching myself.

Am I about to give you a summary of what we did over the weekend?  Yes.

Did I take pictures to document these events?  Uh huh.  

More importantly, were all of these things free (or almost free)?  You betcha!

In fact, with the exception of a couple of cheap meals and the subway fare, it was completely FREE.  So, for those of you scratching your heads wondering how anything enjoyable could be free in Manhattan, here’s the play by play of what we did:

On Friday — the day Josh and I had off together — we decided to be tourists in our own city, so we hopped on the subway to Manhattan to check out the Rockefeller tree and the FABULOUS windows on Fifth Avenue.  First of all, everyone talks about the “windows of Fifth Avenue,” however after doing some research, I realized that only some of the iconic window displays are on Fifth Avenue.  The most notable displays are found at Bloomingdale’s, Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, and Bergdorf Goodman.  So, I did the ol’ Google maps things to try to find a good walking path and still catch the tree along the way, and here’s what I came up with:

(If you click on the image, it’ll open to a window with a bigger image.)

A.  Bloomingdale’s

B.  Barney’s

C.  Bergdorf Goodman

D.  Rockefeller Center Tree

E.  Saks Fifth Avenue

F.  Lord and Taylor

G.  Macy’s

All in all, this walking tour is 2.1 miles, but no big deal; we’ve grown accustomed to doing a lot of walking. And since these windows are one of the (free) highlights of Christmas time in NYC, we were all about it.  So, with comfortable shoes on our feet (and multiple layers to minimize the whining I often do when I’m cold), we set out.

First stop:  Bloomingdale’s.  Now, Josh and I have never actually done the whole looking-at-all-the-pretty-windows thing in NYC before, so we didn’t really  know what to expect.  Bloomingdale’s entrance (below) was super pretty (though it looks like this –or a version of this — throughout the year):

Bloomingdale's NYC store front

Bloomingdale's NYC store front

Sparkly.  Oooh….

The theme for their windows was shopping bags from previous years.  Some of the windows were just the images, but three-dimensional.  Others opened like a pop up book, showing an expanded take on the shopping bag images.  Some of the windows even had touch screen cameras so you could tap a star with your hand, and it would take your picture and show it on the screen inside the window.

I didn’t get a picture of those (this was before I got trigger happy with the camera, but trust me they were pretty cool).
Here are two of the “bags” I got pictures of:

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to take pictures of just these two over some of the others that were perhaps even better.

Also, one of the windows featured ornaments that had been designed by celebrities, with 100% of the profits going to charity.  Here’s the window from a distance:

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

And here they are up close, so you can actually read the names of the participating celebrities:

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

I’m not sure which one is my favorite, though I have to admit, I don’t really appreciate that each one has the name or initials of the celebrity.  That doesn’t exactly motivate me to buy them.  Hm…

Framing the bag with the ornaments were two jack-in-the-boxes dressed in tuxes and top hats, adorned with festive paraphernalia:

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

Bloomingdale's 2011 window displays

I’m not really sure why these were part of this particular display, but I guess such things are left to be pondered by the artsiest of the fartsiest, and perhaps not me.

All together, Bloomingdale’s was a pretty cool display, but our socks weren’t completely knocked off.

(Don’t worry, we’re not always such a tough crowd; our socks are later knocked off when we see the Bergdorf Goodman windows.  Read on…)

Next stop: Barney’s.

Woof.  And not in a good way.

I can’t even pretend that I liked one iota of the Barney’s display.  I’m all for minimalism and artistic expression, even if it’s vague sometimes.  As a performing artist and the daughter of a (visual) artist, I’m no stranger to such things… but the Barney’s windows looked a lot more like an unfinished… I don’t know what.  Blah.  First of all, here’s the entrance:

Barney's 2011 windows

Barney's 2011 windows

So… certainly interesting.  I read it had something to do with Lady Gaga (so that explains a lot), but this entrance doesn’t exactly inspire Christmas spirit.

(For those of you who have just stumbled here, I am not exactly the traditional red and green Christmas type o’ gal.  However, I need a little more than what Barney’s had to offer.  You’ll see.)

Here are the actual window displays… and P.S.  These are the finished products.  This is not a work in progress:

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Well, the lighting is nice…

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Can you hear me yawning across cyber space?

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

It’s like a very unexciting holiday museum.

And in case you’re thinking that I’m holding out on you, that maybe the bigger picture has a bit more excitement… the answer is no.  And just to prove it to you:

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

Barney's 2011 NYC windows

See?  I told you.

So, Barney’s in summary:  Yes, the lighting is stunning.  And any other month of the year I’d be like” That’s nice and simple, I guess”… “Those are pretty vases.”  But these are the holiday windows in NYC!  They’re kind of a big deal, and Barney’s has a history of having great (and usually tongue-in-cheek funny) windows.  We felt a bit let down.  But we soldiered on…

We then walked to Bergdorf Goodman.  Just so happens that right across the street is FAO Schwarz (and no, there is not a “t” in that word, despite my strong convictions otherwise… how did I never notice that before?).  It also just so happens that Josh and I have never been to FAO Schwarz.  Despite the fact that we’re both 26 years old, we decided we needed to remedy this.

Oh boy! Oh boy!  Home Alone 2 and Big don’t even begin to cover it!  Sooo amazing… and we took a lot of pictures.  Perhaps more than anywhere else.  Here’s the view of the main level, looking back at the door:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Here’s their candy store, FAO Schweetz:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

I can’t even fathom the profit they make, considering that A) to exit FAO Schwarz, you must go through the candy store and B) the candy here is $13.49/lb.  What!?!

While in the candy store, Josh found a candy snake.  He had some very strong feelings about it.

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

My cool-ideas-for-home-decor radar never rests, so I had to snap a pic of part of the ceiling in FAO Schweetz:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Pretty, right?  Go go gadget Pinterest.

Inside the candy shop, there’s a Make-Your-Own Muppet station (for a mere $99).  I couldn’t not get a picture of their clever lighting:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Here’s the actual station where you can get the muppets made:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Josh found one of the general muppets for sale and somehow it ended up on his hand.  For the rest of the evening, he repeatedly said “I’m really into this whole ‘make-your-own-muppet’ thing!”  (Not gonna happen, sweetie.)

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

The view from the second level, looking down on the main level:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Quidditch supplies?  For real???  Yeah, I nerded out for a minute.

And then… I found a Sorting Hat.

sorting hat

"Pleeeease, Ravenclaw, pleeeaaseeee......"

The finger crossing because I was desperately hoping to be sorted into Ravenclaw (I mean, that’s what the Facebook test told me).

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

I was pleasantly relieved/surprised to see a book section.  And it was pretty…

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly we visited the Big Piano (you know, from the scene in the movie, Big).

The Big Piano

FAO Schwarz

I even returned with my dad the next day and got a video of the “professional piano dancers.”  They were pretty fabulous, and something tells me that they are working/starving actor-singer-dancers like myself :)

Here’s a video of them playing/dancing “Fur Elise” and “Jingle Bells”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nD0ZMjk_yO8

On the way out, we got two more pictures with these incredible Lego creations:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

Really, ALL legos:

FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz

(Josh’s expression is intense on purpose… you know, he’s posing with Lego Indiana Jones.  What do you expect?)

OK, so after that surprise but welcome detour, we returned to our previously scheduled walking tour.  We walked across the street to Bergdorf Goodman.

Without hesitation, Josh and I firmly agreed that their windows were the best by far.  According to Trendland, an online “trend forecasting” magazine, “It may take 2 full weeks to install the elaborate and highly anticipated Holiday Windows of Bergdorf Goodman but it takes David Hoey and the visual team of BG 60% of the years work hours to make this fantasy come to life.”  When you see the pictures (and the incredible detail) you will understand why.

The theme for BG’s windows was “Carnival of the Animals.”  In some cases, it seems they employed a few taxidermists, as there are actual stuffed bear, wolf, and deer heads, to name a few.  Out of context this sounds a bit weird, I’ll admit, but the combination of materials and the actual scenes displayed in each window are fabulous and it’s very effective.  Ok, so here are a few of the men’s windows:

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

Yeah, a real wolf’s head.

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

The word on the window for this one was “Shipshape.”  As you will, some of the pictures are not the entire window.  With the amount of pedestrian traffic on this sidewalk, it was virtually impossible to get all of the windows.  And I had more than a dozen New Yorkers scathingly call me a “Tourist!” (To which I sort of rudely responded, “Nope.  Brooklynite.”)

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

Bergdorf Goodman 2011 Holiday Windows

The word on this window is “Trustworthy” and it features a human-sized cat walking six dogs.  The sheer impossibility of this makes me giggle, especially when I picture a cat attempting to walk my dogs (if a cat got that close, it’d be eaten).

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Stuffed bear head in a leather jacket and scarf = Adventurous.  Ok, I’ll buy it.

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

I loved this one!  The word on the window is “Mighty.”

True story:  The woman standing behind me (also trying to get a picture), said VERY loudly “What the hell is that word?  Mig-it-ee?” To which her friend kindly responded “No, that’s mighty.”  Haha.

The word for this window was “Dapper.”  The details in this window got me particularly excited because they hearkened me back to two previous posts.  First of all, the clever use of vintage yardsticks and rulers reminded me of this post.

bergdorf goodman windows holiday 2011

Not to mention the Singer sewing machine which reminded me of my dining room table :)

A bit blurry, but this one was set in a barber shop and the attention to detail was incredible!  There was even a black and white TV that was playing a football game (it was a looped video, I assume).

That’s a singing cardinal, y’all.

And that was all I got of the men’s.  Super clever, slightly weird, and all around amusing.

Across the street were the women’s windows, and they took on a very different tone.

Bergdorf Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Holiday Windows 2011

A giraffe and an equally long-necked lady mannequin.

Bergdorf Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Holiday Windows 2011

The detail on the giraffe was amazing:

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

There was so much going on in this window (below), I found it very difficult getting a good picture.  Needless to say, it was fabulous and looked like a King Midas/Cave of Wonders love fest.

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Girl, you is purdy!

I was especially smitten with the lighting in this one:

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Niiice.

This little diorama window was only about 8″X10″:

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Ok, I saved my favorite for last:

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Windows 2011

And guess what?  The sparkliness on all of the sea life is actually mosaic tile!  What!?

(Unfortunately, I did not get a close-up as everyone else loved this window too.)

Of course, there was even more at Bergdorf Goodman, but then my camera…

… died.

Rather, its batteries died.

So, while I did visit the windows of Lord and Taylor and Macy’s, which were lovely, I don’t have any pictures.  Sigh…   However, I can assure you the shining star (in the pretty windows department, that is) was definitely Bergdorf Goodman.

Oh, and of course we couldn’t get back to Brooklyn without checking out the tree, and I do mean the tree.  I got a picture of it, albeit a little blurry and crooked, on my BlackBerry:

See the ridiculous amount of people?  Well, when I went with my dad the next night, it was ten times crazier.  I think if someone had sneezed or tripped and fallen down, there would have a been a very unfortunate domino effect.

So… after 2.1 miles and 87 pictures, we had a splendid time… and then the next night, I took my dad on a similar, but slightly abbreviated walking tour.  Sort of “The Best of…” where we hit FAO Schwarz, the Rockefeller tree, and of course those glorious BG windows.

And how many dollars did all of this festive frivolity cost?  Zero.

(Well, almost.  My dad was somehow suckered into buying a pound of candy at FAO Schweetz, but I did not encourage said endeavor.  But I didn’t exactly discourage it either :)  Yum.)

Here’s to hoping you all have similarly frugal holiday adventures!  Feel free to share them with me, regardless of what city you live in!

:)

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