24-Hours in NYC

What’s a book-loving vegan to do with limited time in the city?

Now that Becky and I have been fully vaccinated for over a month and it’s safer to travel to more densely populated places, we hung up our hiking boots for the weekend and planned a quick trip to New York City. We’d both been there plenty of times before, but it’d been a while, and we wanted visit my good friend Dan who lives in Manhattan. Here’s what we got up to this past weekend in the big city!

Train to NYC

We took the train from Lancaster to New York City, which was so easy. We live about a 10-minute walk from the train station in Lancaster, so we packed up our bags and walked there. The train left around 10 AM and got to New York Penn Station around 1 PM. Not having to deal with traffic and parking was amazing. Becky did some reading for school, and I started William Gibson’s Virtual Light. Three hours on a smooth train goes by so quickly. Amtrak from Lancaster to NYC isn’t exactly cheap, but I think it was worth it. The bus—which is an option and considerably cheaper—would have gotten us home too late on Sunday, which wasn’t ideal. So went for the train!

We popped out of New York Penn Station and Dan was there waiting for us. Dan grew up down the street from me, and we’ve been friends since childhood. It was great see him, especially as a local to the area. He was able to lead us around Chelsea and the surrounding areas with ease. We made our way to Dan’s apartment, where we dropped off our bags and figured out where to get lunch. Along the way, we stopped at a small market called Foragers. They had a lot of good-looking produce and nice products, along with a hot bar full of all kinds of food. We stuck to getting some kombucha and waited for lunch.

Photo of an Evolved cashew butter chocolate bar
This Evolved cashew butter chocolate bar is delicious

It’s worth noting that the weather was exceptional for June. The highs were in the 70s with overcast skies. Excellent weather for walking around the city, especially after the 90-degree days the weekend before.

Photo of Brett and Dan in his NYC apartment
Figuring out lunch in Dan’s apartment

Dan had sent me photos of his apartment before, but seeing it in person made me realize how economical you have to be with space in NYC. You can see dan’s fold-up bed and table in the photo that Becky took. I thought it was really functional, comfortable, and impressive, especially given how much access Dan has to the city.

Lunch at Urban Vegan Kitchen

Our stomachs growling, we decided on Urban Vegan Kitchen (UVK) in West Village. Becky and Dan are both champs when it comes to entertaining my vegan diet, and checking out vegan restaurants is one of my favorite parts of travel. We sat outside and shared all of our dishes. We got mac and cheese, brussel sprouts, a big ole salad, seitan wings, and a quesadilla filled with jackfruit. It was all delicious and just what we needed.

Fueled up and ready to go, we moseyed back north, stopping in some shops along the way. We eventually met up with Dan’s girlfriend Sharon after she finished work, where we sat outside and caught up. The sun started setting, and we parted ways.

Staying at the Freehand

Becky and I took it easy in our hotel room, which was at a place called the Freehand. From the photos online, the decor wasn’t your standard bland hotel fare, which is ever so appealing to me. The room certainly had character, with simple art on the walls and some brush strokes in an abstract shape painted on the wall and ceiling. The vibe was definitely wood. But not log-cabin in the mountains wood. Sort of mid-century wood. I’m not a home decor expert, so who knows. But all the same, it was a comfortable space and fine place to spend the night.

Dinner at AbcV

We had made reservations for a place called AbcV in advance. I guess some fancy chef owns it and started it, an offshoot to its nearby sibling restaurant Abc. The menu was 90% vegan, with some dairy and honey in a couple of the dishes. It was nearby the hotel in the Flatiron/Gramercy Park area, and they had space available. We sat the chef’s counter, which was actually quite entertaining to watch the chefs work. The interior of the restaurant was white, like everything was white. It was going for fancy but felt a bit chintzy. Decor aside, it was an excellent meal. We ordered the roasted cauliflower and the yam. After we ordered, I kept thinking to myself, we’re going to have to order at least three other dishes because I’m hungry and there’s no way some cauliflower and a single yam is going to do it. I held my tongue and was patient, figuring we could always order something more if we were still hungry.

Well, a half a head of cauliflower and a half a yam later, I was satisfied. The flavors were incredible, both dishes unlike anything I’ve had out or made at home. Each dish had a sauce that really complemented the flavors of the vegetable. AbcV is definitely on the more expensive side of vegan restaurants I’ve eaten at, but it was certainly one of the most unique dining experiences I’ve had. We both enjoyed our meal and made our way out into the night.

Dessert at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream

We walked up to the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream spot not far from the hotel and each got a scoop. I appreciated how many vegan options they had, and the chocolate chip cookie dough was so good—creamy and well-balanced.

We called it a night and dreamt of ways to make the most of our remaining few hours in the morning.

Gramercy Bagels for Breakfast

We woke up around 7 AM, got ready, and got out the door. The weather was about the same as the day before, once again ideal for walking around the city. We got bagels with vegan cream cheese at Gramercy Bagels. I had the Whole Wheat Everything bagel with the plain tofu cream cheese. Becky had the Onion bagel with the tofu veggie cream cheese. Good stuff! Growing up in New Jersey, we’d get bagels every Saturday morning from the shop down the street, so I’ve got a special spot in my heart for bagels. Same thing for pizza every Friday night, but more on pizza soon…

We got our bagels to go and ate at Union Square Park. As we left the park to get some coffee at Blue Bottle, a woman and man were walking their dog. The dog bit a pigeon, and the woman shrieked as if she had dropped a fifty-pound weight on her foot and ran off. The dog let go of the pigeon, the woman calmed down, and life went on. Her shock and awe at her dog biting the bird really stuck with me.

We sat outside and drank our beverages while we waited for Strand bookstore to open at 10 AM. It was such a calm morning. The city was just waking up. The runners were jogging by, getting in their miles. I found myself wondering what it’s like running in such a big city. Maybe next time we go we’ll bring our sneakers and clothes and explore that way.

Strand Bookstore

Aside from walking around and exploring, my two favorite things to do in cities are go to museums and check out bookshops. I guess farmers markets and co-ops are on the list too. But I absolutely love going to bookshops. Strand is an excellent bookshop, maybe the best one I’ve been to. It’s large, but it’s not as overwhelming as Powell’s in Portland. It’s got such great variety and impeccable selection. Some vintage paperbacks, some used books, and some new books. I found a few books I’ve been looking for for a while and some that I hadn’t been. I love finding a book in a shop even though it’s easy enough to just order them online. There’s a real joy in discovery and finding the needle in the (albeit alphabetical) haystack. We spent about ninety minutes at Strand on Sunday, and it was so enjoyable. The store wasn’t crowded, and my backpack was much heavier on the way out than it was on the way.

Photo of books on a shelf
A look at the books we got in NYC, plus some of our other recent arrivals

Blow-Up by Julio Cortazar was in the recommended fiction section, and it’s a collection of short stories. I’ve heard of the movie with the same title, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been reading George Saunders’s A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which is a collection of classic Russian stories with each followed by an essay by Saunders analyzing the story and the form itself. I’ve been enjoying the stories and want to read more, so this collection seemed perfect. Becky’s enjoyed Dave Eggers in the past and picked up How We are Hungry. Hard to be a God has been described as an underrated masterpiece of sci-fi, so I can’t wait to read that. I got Idoru by Gibson, which is the follow up to Virtual Light, which, as I mentioned, I’m currently reading and enjoying. Becky found Invisible Monsters at a different shop, I think, along with those vintage sci-fi novels. Lizard is a collection of short stories by Banana Yoshimoto. I’ve never seen it before, so I was glad to come across it. I love her book Kitchen, it’s one of my favorites, so I’m looking forward to reading more of her short stories.

I’ve been drawn to short story collections lately, probably because I’m thinking a lot about them with the Saunders book and it’s the form I’ve been writing in mostly for the past few years. I’d like to get into the habit of reading a short story a day or something along those lines, so I’ve got plenty to dig into.

Chelsea High Line Walk

Dan recommended that was walk along the Chelsea High Line, which is this raised train track that’s been converted into a walking path. I’m so glad we did it because the views were spectacular, and it was (basically) on the way to Penn Station from where we were.

Lunch at NY Pizza Suprema

We exited the Chelsea High Line walkway and found a pizza spot with vegan slices near Penn Station. It’s called NY Pizza Suprema, and it’s quintessential greasy pizza with huge slices. They had four different vegan slices (regular, margherita, white sauce, and another alfredo-y one), which was a pleasant surprise. We got one of each, and they all hit the spot. It was definitely the perfect way to the end trip.

Train Ride Home

We boarded the train and read in the quiet car the entire way home. Lancaster felt sleepy and deserted by comparison when we got home with so few people walking around and significantly less traffic than NYC.

That’s it! We were home by 4 PM with plenty of time to take it easy and get ourselves ready for the upcoming week. It was a dense 24-hours, but it by no means felt stressful. We did everything we wanted to and enjoyed all of it. I think that if we went back it’d be nice to visit some museums and see what’s going on in Brooklyn, plus there are seemingly dozens of vegan restaurants to check out too. A fun trip for sure. We’re both ready to get back outdoors soon after being city folks for the weekend.

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: adventurer, video maker, writer

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