A Taste of the Big Apple


Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of one day visiting New York City. I’m sure it’s a dream shared by many small-town kids – looking up at ginormous skyscrapers, seeing all the yellow cabs, and hearing the bustle of people heading to work or enjoying the city. This dream of mine became a reality when I attended the International Conference on Urban Affairs from April 24-27, right in Times Square. I had the pleasure of enjoying this experience with my wonderful friend and colleague, Janine Dodge! 

Janine and I will be publishing a conference report (coming soon!) that will outline the official conference events we attended. However, we wanted to take the time to highlight some of our favourite moments in New York City as tourists. Please enjoy as we reflect on our memories in the city that never sleeps! 

When I arrived in Manhattan, I was on a mission to find a terrace with a great view of the Empire State Building. Many of my friends had recommended I go to an observation deck. However, after doing some research, I realized it would make more sense to sit on a rooftop terrace at a restaurant, where I could eat and drink for the same price as an observation deck ticket. I headed over to the Monarch Rooftop, a bar on the 18th floor directly across from the Empire State Building. The view from the terrace was incredible. As I enjoyed my prosecco and teriyaki boneless chicken bites, I began chatting with a nearby group of diners, who offered to take pictures of me with the stunning scenery. They were incredibly pleasant, and half of them were French – a foreshadowing of my experience speaking with lovely people, and hearing many others speaking la langue de Molière, throughout my stay in NYC. 

The next day, I ate the best potatoes I’ve ever eaten in my life. Junior’s, a diner known for their cheesecakes, had an item on the menu called the “Loaded Potato Pancake”. It resembled a very thick hashbrown, topped with bacon, green onions, cheese, and sour cream. I originally stumbled upon Junior’s when the restaurant I wanted to try had a very long wait time (the joys of tourist areas!). After that first fantastic experience, I went back a second time with Janine, where we indulged in some incredibly tasty potato pancakes and a slice of cheesecake bigger than the size of my hand. 

Speaking of diners, while I didn’t attend a musical during my trip, I still got to have a Broadway experience at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. At Stardust, all the servers are singers. In fact, many former servers have performed on Broadway. After waiting over half an hour in line after dark, I was seated and serenaded by covers of Céline Dion, Édith Piaf, ABBA, and many others while drinking a delicious milkshake. 

I had an amazing time discovering Manhattan on my own. I visited Central Park, Grand Central Station, and even enjoyed some ice cream and truffles at the Milk Bar Flagship location. However, some of my favourite memories were made visiting the city with Janine. One evening, after enjoying a burger and a pastrami sandwich (I clearly enjoyed the food in NYC!), we made our way to Hudson Yards, and walked the High Line. The High Line is a walking path built on a historic, elevated rail line, and is full of art installations. After a half-hour walk, we made it to the end of the High Line and enjoyed the waterfront overlooking New Jersey. While I enjoyed the busyness of Times Square, it felt so refreshing to wander away from the bright lights for a while with a dear friend. 


I don’t think a trip to NYC can be anything but exciting! I love going with a light plan of lunches or dinners with people whom I want to hug in person, and then allowing the city, people and experiences to arise. Inevitably, a stay in New York is filled with discoveries, surprises, emotional moments and lots and lots of new memories. It’s always a treat for all the senses, and this visit was no different…  

I was thrilled to make this trip with my husband, who coincidently ended up having work to do in the city the week after the conference. The timing was so perfect that it also coincided with the end of my eldest son’s university exams, so he came to join us as well.  

We arrived on a beautiful day and to a first great surprise: an awesome view from our apartment over midtown and towards the Hudson River. 

On the first evening in Manhattan, my husband and I shared a delicious dinner with an old friend at a French cafe, La Bonne Soupe. A NYC locals’ spot tucked down a few steps on 55th, it was the perfect spot for a leisurely dinner and great conversation.    

My conference day breaks and an evening were filled having the best time with my amazing friend and inspiration, Rachel Barber. Imagine multiplying ten-fold the joy and excitement in the pictures she shared above and you can get a smidgen of a feel for what we experienced. So much FUN!!! 

My husband and I marked the end of the conference by embarking on the UAA programmed dinner cruise around Manhattan. Experiencing the city lights from the water was beautiful, and I felt filled with gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy as we passed iconic, shining Lady Liberty. 

At the beginning of the year, in anticipation of our trip, my husband and I decided we’d make the famous Brooklyn Half Marathon our first run of that distance. Unfortunately, he got injured and couldn’t run, but on Sunday morning, my son and I took the “train” (NYC subway) to Brooklyn bright and early. It was an absolutely perfect morning for a run! The crowd of more than 20,000 participants, filled with novice and experienced runners alike, buzzed with excitement and happiness. The route was lined with people cheering, many holding hilarious handmade posters designed to bring a smile to your face and urge you on. What an incredible feeling to cross the finish line at Prospect Park and meet up with my son to celebrate our achievement! Thank you, Brooklyn!!! 

To cap off a quintessentially marvelous Big Apple day, my husband, son and I spent the evening at the Eugene O’Neill Theater watching the musical The Book of Mormon. We laughed until our sides hurt!! What a treat!! 

On Monday and Tuesday, I met up with three different girlfriends – now each a New Yorker – that I hadn’t seen in ages! I enjoyed dinner with one on the Upper West side at Parla Pizza Bar, and with another in the West Village at Port Said. On Tuesday afternoon, I walked through Central Park to meet another at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. I love semiotics and wanted to see an exhibit called “Give me a sign: the language of symbols”. Filled with the joy of time spent with wonderful women, I was moved to take a picture of this fabric panel called “Girls”.  

Designed by Alexander Girard in 1972, this “Environmental Enrichment Panel” was intended to help “personalize and humanize” offices, and, importantly, “create a more playful and cheerful workspace”. More than fifty years later, I feel incredibly privileged and honoured to be studying play and playfulness, aiming to make the world a more playful and cheerful place for our older people. 

Thank you NYC, and thank you Maxx, Rachel and all my colleagues at the Pop Place Lab for enabling this unforgettable experience!