New York City: Central Park
For someone who likes to travel, living in the Washington, DC area might be one of the best places in the country. There’s tons of stuff to see and do in and around the District, and New York City only a three hour train ride away (well, 2.5, if you’re willing to spend the extra cash to take the Acela). I go up to New York quite a lot on the train and I look forward to the train trip itself each time. Compare that to flying, with TSA checks and the hassle of being stuffed into increasingly smaller seats and leg room. There is no 3 oz rule on the train. You can bring a 500 oz tube of toothpaste on the train and no one would care.
While the train is a lot more expensive than taking the bus, it is well worth the money spent. As long as you book early enough, the chances are that you will get an OK price. Even with the prices as high as they are, the trains are still packed almost every time I travel on this route. That bodes well for the train industry–now if only Amtrak could make those investments in its infrastructure to bring down the travel time even more.
I’ll take you through my latest journey from DC to NYC on Amtrak. I arrived at Union Station, DC, one of the most beautiful train stations in the United States, if not the Western Hemisphere. Not only is the station gorgeous, it is full of good retail shops and food places for grabbing takeout before your train ride.
Arriving at Penn Station, I emerged from the dark train platform into the fluorescent glow of a crowded waiting room buzzing with the voices and footsteps of hundreds of others rushing by. Penn Station is perhaps the most grungy and sad excuse for a train station in the entire United States. I suspect that I was not alone in immediately wanting to exit the underground station and find daylight. There’s the 7th Avenue exit up ahead. I was out on the street and in the daylight of a nice Saturday afternoon.
My next stop was Central Park, my favorite part of Manhattan. Every time I visit it, I discover some new part, or new vantage point for admiring Olmstead’s vision. The variation the four seasons have on the park landscape makes the park a perfect place for photo opportunities year round.
I did a walking tour of the the southern half of Central Park, using Central Park Mall to get my bearings. The Mall is a 1/4 mile long walkway lined with stately elm trees that have grown so large since the early 20th century that they provide a 100 foot high canopy overhead. The mall terminates at Bethesda Terrace, part of Olmstead’s plan and certainly one of the park’s most recognizable areas–think of the movie Ransom. I took tons of pictures here and shared a few below. I also especially like the whimsical carvings in the staircase walls, one of which is a witch riding a broomstick.
There is so much to see in Central Park, I don’t have the time to write it all down here. But I do recommend visiting Central Park in October during peak fall foliage season for the best photo opps. Other highlights of Central Park include the Pond, in the southeastern corner of the park, and the views across The Lake looking west towards the hundred-year old buildings overlooking Central Park West, such as the Dakota and the San Remo apartments.
There’s a lot more to explore in Central Park but I’ll save that for next time. We were up in NYC for a wedding so my time to explore was a little short. The next morning, I walked over to Park Avenue and snapped a shot looking south towards the Helmsley Building. This view is one of my favorites in all of New York.
During a slow Sunday morning, I found a breakfast place on Yelp called Viand Cafe Shop. I thought it was a bit expensive for what I got, but the food was pretty good. I should have realized that anything around this section of Madison Avenue would likely be expensive.
- Book your Amtrak tickets early or be prepared to pay dearly
- Consider taking one of the many bus companies like Boltbus, Megabus, etc. It’ll save you a ton of money
Upper East Side: Viand Cafe Shop: Great bacon egg and cheese sandwiches, excellent coffee for a diner-type place, and great service. A bit on the expensive side but hey, it’s NYC.