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  • Writer's pictureMark Lewis

When Your Birthday Falls On Christmas Day & You're Not Jesus

It was my wife Susanna’s birthday on December 25th and sometime in November I asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She answered right away and said something along the lines of "Mark, you know it’s my 40th Birthday this year, it would be nice to do something romantic and special." I was caught off guard and thought to myself "romantic and special, what does that mean?" Before asking her to elaborate I thought back to a conversation early on in our relationship that while growing up she felt like she never had a really fun birthday focused on her because it’s on Christmas and most people were celebrating Christmas. While I've always thought I'd done something nice for her in the past I got the not so subtle hint to step up my game and do something different this year.

Soliciting Feedback

Not long after that term ("romantic and special") was implanted in my brain, I explained this conundrum to a few of my mountain biking friends after one of our rides and I got a couple of noteworthy responses from going to a Turkish bathhouse in Queens NY to buying her a shiny new carbon frame full suspension mountain bike that I would use. I don’t think the latter would have gone over well but it was a tempting thought on the surface.

Making a Decision

Months ago we talked about doing a staycation in Manhattan. I gave this more thought and did some research. I know that NYC is not as crowded during most holidays and I checked some hotels. There were some deals in some quality hotels and I narrowed down my choice to the Soho Grand Hotel due to location, vibe, reviews and price. I was able to nab a room with a view of Soho for a sweet 30% discount. I booked online for that weekend. I decided to keep this a secret from Susanna and make it a surprise. I told her to keep the weekend free of plans. She had lots of questions and I didn't have complete answers but eventually she agreed.


Susanna headed up to her parents to celebrate Hanukah on Christmas Eve. She asked if I wanted to attend but I indicated I had a few things to do and that we had dinner plans that night. When she left I packed a bag for the both of us. I wasn’t sure if what I packed for her was all of the right stuff but I gave it my best shot. I took the train to Soho and sent her a text to meet me at the hotel Grand Bar and Lounge for dinner. I wanted to make it seem as if the surprise was just dinner, so I mentioned to her that we should take a cab home after we finished. Our dinner was pretty good and the wife confirmed that the overall experience fit her idea of romantic and special.

After dinner we put our coats on and exited the dining room. There were two paths; go left down the stairs and leave the hotel or head straight to the elevators to get to the hotel rooms. My wife tried to go left but I said let’s go straight. She was taken aback for a few seconds and then realized we were staying in the hotel. She was giddy with excitement and had the biggest smile on her face. That made me very happy and I said to her let’s see what NYC has to offer for the next couple of days.

Being Tourists in Our Own City on Christmas Day

I rose early the next day and snapped a few shots from the hotel room as the sun rose. It was a beautiful day and I got a great bird’s eye view of Soho.

Susanna and I talked about exploring the city today as tourists, but kept our plans flexible in terms of what we did. First thing though is that we needed breakfast. Rather than eat in the hotel Susanna navigated us to a restaurant called Bubby’s, a nice cozy place in Tribeca. After a good breakfast and a couple of Bloody Mary’s I was ready to hit the streets. The city streets were eerily quiet and we decided to walk further south down the west side bike path aka, the Hudson River Greenway

We stopped by the World Trade Center Memorial, which is always a moving experience, and then walked into the new downtown transportation hub, the Oculus. I was here once before and it was mobbed with people but not on this day as none of the stores were open and it was still relatively early in the morning.

Since we were already downtown we decided to try our luck and attempt to visit the Observatory at the top of One World Trade as neither of us had done this before. Susanna grew up in Manhattan and I’ve been living here for about 25 years; go figure. We were able to purchase tickets on the fly for a same day visit at about 11:45am. I would think this would be nearly impossible on a normal weekend sunny day. I had no idea what to expect but we were both blown away by the whole Observatory experience.

Oysters and Soup Dumplings

As the day wore on the Observatory got crowded and we decided it was time to bail and grab some lunch. We wanted some raw oysters and decided to taxi up to the John Dory Oyster Bar. We’ve been here before on my birthday a few months back and it did not disappoint. We got a selection of oysters from the east and west coast, some clam chowder, lobster and these really good rolls. We were definitely doing romantic and special but my wallet was getting lighter and lighter as the day wore on.

Satisfied but still hungry from our tapas approach we caught the subway back down and went to grab soup dumplings in Chinatown. It was dark outside by the time we were done and Chinatown is perfect for photography so out came the camera once more.

Our weekend excursion would wrap up walking back to the hotel for the night, grabbing some breakfast at Bubby’s on Monday morning and then taking the train back to Brooklyn. Susanna and I really had a lot of fun the whole weekend; it was beyond anything either of us could have expected. NYC is truly an amazing city and great to see it from the perspective of being a local posing as a tourist. I’m sure we’ll do something like this again in the future.

You can view more NYC cityscapes and street photography in the Scapes and Street Life sections of my website.


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