Naturally, I awoke that first morning in NYC wondering (worrying) about what was going on back home. After all, what kind of mother would I be if I did not check in with Sissy Jo throughout the week to check on our three little Japanese Chin and to find out how Daisy was managing with her new fawns? I also wanted to be sure Sissy was doing well and had everything she needed. I was surprised, and mostly relieved, to know that everyone was doing just fine. In fact, Daisy was eating cherry tomatoes from Jo’s hands, and the three chin were behaving exceptionally well. Even antisocial Mr. T seemed to have become lovey-dovey all of a sudden, vying to sit right next to Sissy just like Bear and Zoe were!
I was also relieved when, later that first day, Jules and her family arrived in NYC safely and on schedule too. Oh, they had a few humorous events during their travel from Omaha, Nebraska to Midtown NYC, but it would all make for great storytelling. It seemed, all of a sudden, that after the “worry” part of my journey was put behind me, I began to relax and get on with “my week”. FD had been calling this trip my birthday week so, by golly, I was going with it!
Our morning activities usually began anywhere from 6:00 to 7:00 with all of us meeting on the first floor of the hotel, in the dining area. Jule’s family really enjoyed the buffet-style breakfasts but, for FD and me and our Paleo diet, the choices were fairly limited. Generally, the scrambled eggs and whatever meat was offered was the only heated items we could partake in. Thankfully, there was always fresh fruit offered on the buffet, and we took advantage of that each morning. Additionally, hotel staff provided a large bowl of apples in the lobby that they kept full all day long, so FD and would take a couple for a snack each day. Jule’s bunch enjoyed the fruit too, but also enjoyed the option of having fresh cookies that were available at the front desk for only a very short time each afternoon. For what ever reason, it seemed those cookies held more appeal for folks than the apples did, as the cookies were snatched up within a few minutes after they were put out!
By 8:30 we were all full with breakfast and ready to head out for the day’s adventure. FD did most of the route planning. Frankly, I got lost just about every time I walked out the hotel door. I blamed this loss of my inner compass on all the skyscrapers that block any view of a horizon. I also lose my sense of direction in the mountains and in heavily forested areas. Most every time we set out as a group, FD was at the lead, and we all simply followed like a bunch of little ducklings waddling along behind their mother. If anyone became sidetracked with gawking at something, FD was a good shepherd, yelling out that person’s name and jolting them to attention to rejoin the pack. Our nephew Sid’s name was yelled many times that week. It seemed very easy for a 13 year-old, small-town boy from Nebraska to stray off course, take too long a gander at some cowgirls, or simply slow down the pace. Also, niece Emily was with us the first three days, as she did not have to join the Honors Performance group until late Wednesday afternoon. Emily was drawn to the stores and was always looking for souvenirs and gifts for friends back home. I am pretty sure FD called her name a time or two as well…
The first day out, after Jule’s family arrived and we had a bite to eat at the House of Brews, conveniently located just around the corner from our hotel, we checked out Carnegie Hall where Emily would be performing on Saturday night. Then, walking a bit further to the east, we stopped by The Roosevelt Hotel, where Emily would spend Wednesday night through Sunday morning. By the look of things inside the Roosevelt’s lobby, it was obvious Emily would be living the fine life at a much fancier hotel than ours. Next, we moved on to Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, and finally stopped at John’s Pizzeria for dinner. The food at John’s was scrumptious! FD and I had the Chicken Marsala and it was the best I believe I have ever had! Jule’s family raved about their entrees as well.
It was getting dark by the time we finished our dinner, so we moseyed on over to the Empire State Building, hoping to catch the nighttime scenery when tourist numbers were low. As we hoped, our trip through security was fairly quick and we were soon enjoying the spectacular viewing of the city’s night lights from our perch atop the grand building. Emily was enthralled with all of the helicopter traffic high above us. I know she would have loved to have taken the HeliNY tour but, at $150 for a 13 to 15 minute flight, it was not in the budget. After spending about an hour taking photos and taking in the views from the observation deck, and another browsing the gift shop and making our way back down the various stairways and elevators of the Empire State Building, we decided to walk back to our hotel – which was quite a jaunt. I think all of us were a bit worried about taking the train (subway) at night.
Tuesday morning, we were up early. On our schedule for the day, was a trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Fortunately, we had followed advice to purchase tickets on Statue Cruises in advance and have printed receipts so we could assure passage on the ferry at a specific time. To get to Battery Park where we would board the ferry, we would need to ride the train from a stop near our hotel. This was our first time riding the NYC subway system, and Sid soon discovered he loved people watching on the train. I liked the speed and timely manner of travel. It’s amazing to think a system that has been in operation for 110 years is still regarded as one of the most efficient mass transit systems in North America. And though many of the MTA ticketing agents were not very informative or friendly, usually a local person was willing to help with directions and route information. Properly swiping MetroCards at the turnstiles also took a bit of a knack, which was frustrating. However, seeing many other tourists struggle with those flimsy cards made us feel a bit more at ease about our own ineptness.
Arriving at Battery park, we followed the shouts of instructions from the cruise people directing tourists where to go and what lines to form to get to the ferry station. I was sure glad we had purchased tickets beforehand, as we were able to bypass the very long lines at the ticket station. Once on the ferry, we enjoyed a leisurely cruise to our first stop, the Statue of Liberty. Well, at least I thought it was leisurely. Jule’s told me later that Sid was not feeling very well the entire ride. Apparently Sid does not have sea legs!
Prior to our trip, I did not expect to be bowled over by Lady Liberty… but I was. She was absolutely stunning! Her robes draped in perfection and she looked ever so confident and proud standing there on her platform. My, I thought, she even wore sandals! Who knew? She paid little attention to the oooh’s and aaah’s of the crowd below her, standing staunchly with that majestic crown atop her head, as if she had a job to do by gosh, and displayed a very impressive image holding the flaming torch that welcomed so many immigrants who arrived from abroad in our country’s early years. I was a bit envious of the lucky people who were on her platform and a few who had made the climb into her crown. We discovered one had to make reservations about three months in advance to climb to the crown, and book at least two weeks in advance for access to the platform. As we walked all around Lady Liberty, I had a new appreciation for this very gracious gift from the people of France and the artist, engineers, and sculptors who had created her. I thought of the work that went into hand hammering the folds of her robe and every little detail from the torch she held to the sandals on her feet… she was utterly magnificent.
Back on the ferry after spending time with Lady Liberty, we were off to Ellis Island next. Upon arriving, we first grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe just outside the immigration station, which is now the museum. It was a pricey lunch and nothing to brag about, but it filled our bellies for the afternoon. Just outside the cafe’s seating area, we noticed a huge circular wall with names on both sides. So, for the next hour, we all intently searched for our Danish Grandfather’s name, but he was nowhere to be found. This was quite disappointing and perplexing until my bro-in-law, Chris, discovered, and laughingly exclaimed, that was the “donor” wall – people who had kept Ellis Island alive with renovations and improvements over the years since it closed down. Did we ever feel silly!
Not wanting to waste any more time, we headed inside to tour the museum. Jules and FD took off for the records department in search of more information on Grandpa while the rest of us checked out various rooms, where we learned about the history of Ellis Island. My favorite room was the photo gallery. Viewing the historic photos really put the experience of so many immigrants into perspective for me. Jules and FD found Grandpa’s records, but also discovered a discrepancy between what they found and the information we understood from hearing relative’s stories over the years, and even from Grandpa himself. It ended up being a mystery… and not one we will ever be able to solve I’m afraid.
By late afternoon, we had taken in all that Ellis Island had to offer and were ready to get back to the hotel and find a place to have supper. It had been a long day, and the trip back on the ferry to Manhattan seemed to drag on and on. The ferry was crowded and hot, and I am sure for Sid the ride on the choppy water was an eternity. And unfortunately, the return trip on the train was more crowded since it was the beginning of rush hour. By the time we arrived back at our hotel, we were quite hungry and tired.
Jule’s bunch were interested in trying some New York hot dogs, and went their own way to find dinner, while FD and I opted to dine at a French restaurant just across the street from the House of Brews and around the corner from our hotel. Tout Va Bien proved to be some of the most delicious French cuisine we have ever tasted! We took a little walk after dinner, and stopped at nearby Xai Xai, a South African wine bar. Here, we finished the evening watching people walk by while sipping a lovely Cabernet at a sidewalk table.
Wednesday was Em’s last day with us before she had to check in at the Roosevelt Hotel later that afternoon so we elected to let her decide where she wanted to go for the day, and she chose Central Park. I was a bit surprised at her decision, but then I probably should not have been. Emily has always been a bit like me in the sense that she loves animals and nature. And, after a very taxing day on Tuesday, we were all ready for a more leisurely pace this day. Central Park sounded like it would provide for a slower pace but, by the end of the day, it had not been leisurely at all, as the day was hot and sweltering, with high humidity.
FD, our tour leader, initially guided us by observing signs and various diagrams posted along the way, but finally had to purchase a park map because the trails were so extensive – meandering and crisscrossing in every direction! A person could easily get lost wandering around this huge park without a map! But fortunately, Central Park was not terribly crowded, and the stroll along almost every trail we took was simply beautiful. There was stunning architecture and sculpture, lush lawns, and beautiful landscaping. For the most part, we spent the day walking and climbing, taking photographs, and stopping to simply observe the beauty surrounding us. I did a little bird watching as well, hoping to see signs of the famous Red-Tailed Hawks that nest on tall buildings just across from the park on 5th Avenue, but I did not see a hawk at all that day.
While maneuvering through the park, we occasionally sat on benches to rest a bit and take the opportunity to listen to the various street performers who hoped to make a few dollars playing their music. I guess because she seems so approachable and friendly, many of our stops in the park frequently included Jule’s being asked to take photographs of various tourists and visitors. At every turn in Central Park, there was something of interest or beauty. I could not imagine the work involved to keep such an expansive place groomed and manicured. I found myself feeling very much at home here.
Having finally put about six miles on our feet and getting very close to the upper end of the park, we opted to take the train back at 103rd Street on the Upper West Side. As we stepped out of the almost magical beauty and seeming innocence of Central Park, things looked quite different (and somewhat unpleasant) just across the street at the MTA entrance where we would get on the train. The buildings were shabby and the streets held an eerie quiet to them. I tried to look confident as we walked to the MTA station, hoping I looked like one of the locals. But inside I felt fearful. My instinct was telling me we had gone too far north in our venture. Let me tell you, that train could not get back to our home base fast enough!
But then something happened on the train that completely made me forget the ill feeling in my gut. At the next stop, a flurry of pink suddenly bounded into the train. A rather gangly looking “lady” sighed as she tossed her hair and flopped into the seat just across and down from Sid. Her dress was a flimsy pink frock, and she carried a little purse. Settling into her seat a bit more, she crossed very long pale legs, with feet adorned by some strange, black Converse tennis shoes that had been spray painted with silver glitter. I was just thinking how odd those shoes looked with that flimsy pink dress when the “lady” turned her head towards us – and that is when I realized that she was a HE with quite a bit of beard and mustache stubble. Oh dear… and poor Sid could not wash the grin off of his face to save his own life! The gentleman across from Sid got tickled watching him watching the “lady” and, before long, several of us near this lady were struggling to compose ourselves. Interestingly, the “lady” seemed to enjoy the attention she/he was getting. And I was immediately thankful for this humorous diversion that kept me from fear and panic and made the trip back to the station near our hotel seem like it took no time at all. I smiled pleasantly at the lady in the pink dress as we exited the train, but she just looked down demurely, as if shy. As we were all walking back to the hotel, we realized FD had not noticed our “lady” at all! He had been sitting right next to Sid, but had missed the whole show, too busy wondering why the scruffy-looking man directly across from him kept smiling so strangely at Sid!
Back at the hotel, Emily grabbed her bags and we all walked the distance to the Roosevelt Hotel together to get her checked in to what would be her home for the next three days. In the registration area, we met Em’s chaperon and one of her four roommates. Then, we helped them both settle into their room, and said our goodbyes to Em. I thought about what an adventure this must be for Emily, and was not so sure that, at the age of fourteen, I would not be scared out of my mind. But, this would also be an exciting venture for Em, and I hoped that, as she looked back on the trip one day, it would be a bright diamond in her life’s experiences.
When we finally left Em at the Roosevelt, it was only becoming late afternoon and there was still plenty of daylight left to take in a bit more sightseeing. We headed to Bryant Park, which was small, but a beautiful gathering place for many. I was surprised to see both young and old quietly playing chess or checkers, while others laid on blankets, having a rest in the sun. After strolling through Bryant Park and on to Rockefeller Center and Madison Square Garden, we observed many fire engines making their way through traffic, even going the wrong way down a one way street in order to get to their emergency call. I thought about the chaos NYC service people must deal with on a daily basis.
Toward dark, we stopped for dinner at 5 Napkin Burger, where the noise was deafening. This famous burger joint was listed on a friend’s recommended places to eat, so we endured the noise and waited patiently for a table. As it turned out, the burgers were very good, and the service was excellent. But after finally taking a little time to sit, relax, and fill our bellies with good burgers and beer, that walk back to the hotel seemed like an eternity! Again, we did not take the subway. Instead, we walked back through Times Square, which was enormously crowded even at this time of night. It seemed that, no matter what time we traversed through Times Square, it was always quite noisy and congested with people. Now, I was truly beginning to understand why NYC is known as “The City That Never Sleeps”!
© 2014 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…
Note: For those of you interested in my sister Jule’s documentation of the NYC trip, her blog is Groovy Love, Scrubs & Chimichangas.