New York City is synonymous with Broadway and for me, going to the Big Apple and skipping a show would be like going to Hawaii and bypassing the beach. "Stomp" ($78 for tickets) first premiered at The Orpheum Theater (126 Second Ave., between Seventh and Eighth Street) in New York in 1994 and after seeing it for the first time on a recent weekend trip to NYC, it's easy to see why it has lasted nearly two decades. Stiff bristle brooms, radiator hoses, Zippo lighters -everyday items become percussion instruments and by the end, you'll be stomping your feet to the beat.
If you can't afford to frequent Cartier and Gucci on Madison Avenue, that's OK. Head south, to SoHo, widely known as one of the best shopping 'hoods in the city. There are tons of stores - everything from chain retail stores like H&M to street vendors hawking silk scarves and cool, cheap jewelry from rickety tables on the sidewalk. Check out Japanese clothing store Uniqlo (546 Broadway), a three-story store chock full of stylish basics - sweaters, jackets, and jeans, all reasonably priced. The style reminded me of a cross between Gap and H&M. If you need a quick bite to eat, check out one of the food trucks usually stationed in the area or stop in the Hampton Chutney Co. (68 Prince St.) for a tasty (and enormous) South Indian dosa.
Be smarter than we were and show up before the sun falls. With visions of strolling along the one-mile elevated park at sunset, it was 5:04 p.m. when we walked up to the entrance - now gated shut -and a sign with the park's hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park is on a former section of the New York Central Railroad. The vegetation was chosen based on what wild plants colonized the abandoned railway before its official transformation. You better believe I'll be showing up before closing time on my next visit. The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street, three blocks below West 14th Street in the Meatpacking District, up to 30th Street, through Chelsea to the West Side Yard.
Don't head straight for the bar in this joint. In a carnivalesque twist, you must purchase tickets - $8 a pop - to trade for food or a giant beer, your choice of three Bitburger brews. I opted for a mug of the Licher Weisse, a nice wheat beer, while my friends got mugs of hot spiced wine. The tables are communal and on the Saturday afternoon we visited, they were packed. While the food was traditional (beware, the scowling cook was quite surly the day we visited) German fare -pretzels the size of your head (but still grossly overpriced) and decent sausages, German salads and sauerkraut - in retrospect I wish I'd saved my dollars to spend them at ....
After finding out The High Line closes at 5 p.m., a group of us scrambled to find a nearby coffee shop in which to regroup but luckily we saw a sign for Chelsea Market. In the most serendipitous decision of the trip, we stepped out of the bitter cold and into this foodie theme park. Housed inside part of the old Nabisco complex where ovens once baked Saltines and Oreos, now there's an arcade of food stores, restaurants and retailers interspersed with an artificial waterfall that reminds you of the old wishing well in "The Goonies", old signs and other odd leftovers from more than a century ago. It's a carnival trip for your senses. Try a handful of tiny just-fried doughnuts from the Doughnuttery, or nosh on a Nutella crepe from Bar Suzette. Grab a microbrew (served in a lidded mason jar) from The Filling Station to sip on while you get lost in the depths of this historic haunt. I'm not exaggerating when I say this was the highlight of the entire trip.
The Trump (www.trumphotelcollection.com/central-park, rooms from $525), located in Manhattan where Columbus Circle, Central Park West, Central Park South and Broadway all meet, is adjacent to Central Park and just three blocks from Lincoln Center. Far from being snotty, the hotel staff smile and greet you you each time you enter the 52-story building. Be sure and bring a swimming suit to check out the salt-water lap pool, sauna and steam room. The entire spa area just underwent a remodel last May to the tune of $8 million. Each room has the little extras that make it feel like home - fresh flowers, bathrobes and slippers, feather duvets, flat-screen TVs and more. There's even a "pillow menu" if you're really picky when it comes to where exactly you lie your head.
After a few days jostling for personal space on crowded city sidewalks and on the subway, a few hours walking through Central Park feels like a much-needed reprieve. I walked the park on the morning of my last day in the city; it helped that the sun was finally peeking through the clouds after being totally MIA. Overnight, the weather changed from dead-of-winter freezing to down right spring-like, complete with the smell of thawing earth in the air. I strolled through the peaceful park, watching as mothers and nannies pushed small children in strollers near the zoo. As the clock struck 11:30 a.m., a menagerie of animal statues rotated atop the Delacorte Clock; nearby, children pointed at the animals and smiled. It felt like the city was breathing a collective sigh of relief, happy that the bitter cold temps had retired, at least for a day.
From the east side of Central Park, it's a quick walk to Madison Avenue and spectacular people watching and window shopping. After wandering through the park for an hour or so, I skipped over to Madison and headed back toward The Trump. I glanced in the windows of ritzy jewelry stores and eyed the latest fashions inside boutique clothing shops. Colorful macaroons were displayed like edible jewels in the windows of pricey bakeries. At one intersection, an early 20-something woman with a bandage over her nose and fresh bruises (deviated septum, I'm sure) crossed the street in front of me. She chastised her mother, who was walking next to her, while a teacup something-or-other-dog strained at the the end of the leash she held.
Visit the Nom Wah Tea Parlor (13 Doyers St. www.nomwah.com), the oldest dim sum parlor in Chinatown. Tucked on a quiet, winding side street, this diner-style restaurant (replete with formica countertops, barstools and red leather banquettes) serves up tasty dim sum. While the waitstaff is far from congenial, the food is good - and cheap, most dishes are $3.50 or less, which might lead you to order more food than you need. Be sure and try the house special pork buns filled with a sweet and savory combination of caramelized onions and roast pork or the Shaghainese soup dumplings with the requisite steaming broth. Wash it all down with a Brooklyn Lager.
Specifically at Basil Brick Oven Pizza (28-17 Astoria Blvd., Long Island City). Even if it means swinging in on your way to the airport, the food at this charming restaurant is worth the stop. Start with the pear and goat cheese salad and then move on to one of the wood-fired pizzas or a vegetable panini (big enough to save half for later). The jovial chef/owner of this cozy Italian joint, Daniele, hails from Northern Italy, where he received the best training possible: Watching his grandmother and mother cook.