How do you mix cycling and shopping in one getaway? Easy … go to the Big Apple on the first weekend in May, and join 30,000 friends cycling through all five boros on a leisurely 60 km tour. It’s not a race, and anyone who is used to the saddle can finish it without too much effort. In fact, my feet were sore from the shopping, not the cycling!

We arrived in NYC about 5 p.m. on Friday. I had a goal to get in some Friday night shopping. So after unloading the car and checking in, we set off heading west to Broadway. First stop was Daffy’s, where my other half bought a couple of shirts and an umbrella, and I got a top. Then we went to Syms. Wow, is all I can say. They have a colour-coded sizing system so that you can glance down an aisle and immediately know if there’s anything there for you. They also indicate (at least on ladies’ dresses) when the price will drop. I found a 2-piece set (dress and jacket) for $25 no tax! The only issue is the communal change rooms. But it was Friday night and I’m not that shy. But I didn’t take off my pants because I didn’t feel like undoing the laces on my hikers. Meant I had to waddle around to seek comments on the dress.

Then we went to Century 21. That place is huge too. My other half lucked out with shoes and another shirt. I couldn’t find anything there. Too big and too many people. For supper, we went to Ryan MacGuires and had a grilled chicken baguette sandwich and fish and chips. Both were tasty and good value.

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Saturday’s shopping was a bit more scattered, with lots of walking and a bit of sightseeing thrown in.  Sometimes the best bargains are found when you’re least expecting it, like the Union Square Shoemania in the basement. From there we went upstairs to Filenes Basement , where  I bought some socks there to go with the new shoes I had slipped into at Shoemania. We also went over to Loehmann’s, which is really best saved for a girl’s weekend, not one with a husband who has tired of shopping. You could spend a couple of hours there mining through all the racks, and I just didn’t have it in me. The last destination was Bolton’s, but if you’re a price-sensitive clothes shopper, give it a pass.  There are many more bargains to be found.

The highlight of the day was the free walking tour around Union Square. It was a tough decision: free walking tour at Union Square or free walking tour of the Financial District. Union Square won out because it was close to one of the stores on my list. As it turns out, the Square is also known as a discount shopping mecca. The tour answered questions about why it’s called Union Square. Some people in our group of about 20 thought it was because it was the site of the first Labor Day march. Others thought it linked back to Abraham Lincoln and the Confederates vs. the Union. But we soon learned that, even though it has been the site of many demonstrations, it is so named for the union of Broadway and Bowery Streets. Bowery is the Dutch word for farm and links back to New York’s Dutch history. The park at this intersection was one of many private ones built at that time. Mansions were originally built around the park, in the hopes that that wealthy would move up. Unfortunately for the park’s creator, the wealthy kept moving north because New York (or New Amsterdam as it was originally known) kept expanding. Other interesting bits of information included that the bottom and probably a lot of the perimeter of Manhattan was actually expanded with earth because space was at a premium.

The metronome and clock at the south end of the Square were part of an art project. The hand at the top of the metronome is the same hand as the one on the George Washington statue at the south end of the park. The clock beside the metronome has a bunch of random numbers. The left four numbers are the time in military time, and the right four numbers is the time until midnight. Everything else in the middle is random numbers signifying how you just can’t keep track of time, at least not when you’re in New York with so many choices and distractions. On the northeast corner of the square, where the W Hotel is now, was the Germania Insurance company which changed its name to Guardian Insurance company because of WWI. The tour included much local history and we walked away realizing the importance of the Dutch and Germans in the fabric of the city.

Our Sunday morning goal was to arrive at the starting line before 7:00, and we did it! We were at Duane and Church, within sight and sound of the start line of the Five Boro Bike Tour. It was a bit cool and misty, but not the cold wind of last year. We were able to start pedaling within 5 minutes of the starting horn going, which was great. And even though the forecast had called for rain, we were dry for the whole ride.

But there was an accident, a bad one on the Williamsburg Bridge. They had to stop bicycle and vehicular traffic for some time, while they put the injured person on a backboard and then drove emergency vehicles up the cycling side of the bridge. We stopped at the rest stop just before the Staten Island bridge. It was great, no line ups, lots of free food, including bananas, cheese crackers with peanut butter , bananas, oranges and energy drinks. At the finish line, volunteers handed out free canvas carrying bags/backpacks and wrist sweatbands with zips in them while cyclists bought souvenirs, satiated their hunger or had muscle cramps massaged away. Your ride isn’t over until the free ferry ride back to Manhattan. On the way to the ferry, we saw our first spectators in costume.  Maybe they were from Montreal getting ready for the Tour de l’ile.

Once back at the hotel, we stored the bicycles and showered ready for another brief shopping stint, this time near Orchard Street in search of Fine and Klein. I’d saved it for the Sunday because it’s in the Lower East Side and like lots of Jewish businesses it’s not open on Saturday. Seems it’s not open on Sundays either. or Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Nothing was in the store front at all. We did find some merchants with tables in the street, and bought a few odds and ends.  It was an interesting walk from Chinatown to the Jewish part of the Lower East side. Orchard Street from Delancey to E. Houston is a pedestrian zone, designed for price hagglers. You could hear people negotiating in many languages and almost understand them from their hand and arms gestures.

We hadn’t eaten at the cycling festival, and were waiting to have a bite at Katz’s Deli. On our last trip we walked for what seemed like hours only to see a “closed for private function” sign in the window. This time we were in luck.  Here are the things you need to know about eating at Katz. You walk in and are given a ticket. You don’t know what to do next so you watch everybody else. The trays are past the long counter where guys are busily slicing and shaving meat making sandwiches. After a while you finally spot the sign high up on the wall that says “Get in the shortest line for service”. A sandwich will set you back about $15. That doesn’t include fries, but does include pickles. Drinks are another $2. It’s not cheap but you do get more food than one person can eat even after cyclings 65 km and walking from the Financial District. And here’s the other thing you need to know. If you pick up your own food, it’s cheaper, but you can only sit in the middle of the room, not around the perimeter. That’s where people who want service sit. We were so stuffed we walked back, even though the original plan was to tak e the subway back. We followed the water back downtown, stopping at the Heartland Brewery for a couple of pints before returning to the hotel to pack up our shopping.

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Note to self: when using GPS in big cities. Don’t set off until you have satellite confirmation. We couldn’t figure out our route until we pulled off the FDR and stopped for gas. Then finally we got a signal and it told us where to go. Didn’t agree with some of the directions through the Park so we went our usual route.

Here are a couple of pics from the weekend, in no particular order.

**** NEW ****  pics taken for the tour (just to prove we did actually do it!)

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