I’m Back…in the New York Groove. Part 3 of a Holiday Travel Tale

Apologies, dear readers, for these long absences. As Hemingway once said, “In order to write about life you must first live it,” and that is what I have been doing. As I promised, this post will regale you with the story of my first New Year’s Eve in Times Square while I’ll dedicate later posts to the subsequent drive to Montreal.

My travel companion and I arose on New Year’s Eve, once more dehydrated and blistered. We are vigorous travelers and frequently keep a pace and energy during our trips that must have some divine upkeep; for seeing cities like Paris in one day and New York in three should be impossible. We often joke about bringing along a “Subject C” to experiment with whether or not a person with lesser wanderlust could keep up.

So, fatigued but not faltering, we prepared for our frigid day in the pens. We had read online about the No Backpacks rule, and we also knew that once you were in the pen there was no access to bathrooms. Agreeing that we hadn’t come this far to be turned away from the Main Event for bringing along an impermissible item, we left our hotel for the city with empty stomachs and bladders and nothing but our cell phones, some money, and the four layers of clothing on each of our bodies.

It was only a quarter past ten o’clock by the time we reached Penn Station, and our plan was to hike up to Times Square and access the crowd. If the good pens were starting to fill up, we would jump in line. If it was still relatively empty, we would meander around the shops for awhile. We paused momentarily to snap a picture with the famous Naked Cowboy, wish him luck against frostbite, and continue with our mission. As fate would have it, there were already a number of groups beginning to fill the decent pens, so with over twelve hours to go until the ball dropped, we entered. As we assumed our superb spot just north of 44th and 7th, the realization that we were in for a long day finally hit us.

Ever the troopers, though, we ignored the biting cold and dragging time by killing two hours with a game of “I Spy.” If you’re wondering how two grown women can play “I Spy” for hours, I encourage you to play in Times Square. It is a challenge not meant for lesser individuals.

In the meantime, my stomach was singing the song of hunger.Various groups of Asians and one group of Germans had set up a small Hooverville-like structure in our pen. They came fully equipped with camping chairs, electronic entertainment devices, box after box of Dunkin Donuts, and several Thermoses full of an enticingly aromatic warm liquid. My companion and I looked on hour after freezing hour, slowly losing spirit and strength, as the visitors to our country nestled together under Space Blankets and laughed as they shared their meals.

By 6 o’clock, when the bands began their sounds check and the Revealers started passing out the free souvenirs, we were near to giving up. A near-trampeling incident when a free foam hat was passed out was nearly the breaking point.

“I can’t do this,” my companion said in a weary voice.

“We d-didn’t come all this way for nothing. It w-will be worth it,” I replied through chattering teeth.

Her retort was drown out by one of Taylor Swift’s backup singers performing “Shake It Off” for the leading lady’s sound check. Shaking from both exhaustion and hunger, we managed to join the crowd in dance. As the hours ticked down, the numbness took over and we were able to enjoy ourselves more. We made friends with two kind girls from Connecticut and another pair from Scotland. When Ryan Seacrest came by our pen to introduce a performance for Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, we even got on TV!

By 11:59:45, I no longer cared that I was cold, hungry, and the muscles of my legs were barely supporting me. My voice proudly rang out with millions of other voices in the countdown to bring in 2015. I felt so ridiculous as I choked up singing “New York, New York” as confetti rained down all around me. My friend and I embraced, feeling both entirely alive and near death at the same time. We reveled with the crowd and took in the moment for awhile before leaping the barricade and joining the surge of people headed to after parties or bed. The next day would see us on our trek upstate to Canada, so we forced on way onto the train and grinned sleepily the whole way back to Clifton, knowing we had just checked something pretty incredible of our Bucket Lists.

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I’m Back…in the New York Groove. Part 2 of a Holiday Travel Tale

`As I said in Part 1, my first taste of New York City was the hit that spiraled into an addiction. After an incredible- albeit pricey- dinner at Le Cirque, my travel buddy and I caught the train back to Clifton and crashed hard. We rose later than we intended the next morning, though it was still early enough to keep schedule with everything we had planned on our one full day in the city since the next day would be dedicated to finding and maintaining our spot in Times Square.

We started by being one of the first people in line to go up to the observation deck on the Empire State Building. If you like the city from the ground, it will make you fall in love from above. Elevated 86 stories from the cacophony of sounds below, you get an incredible panorama of the city in its entirety as well as a dazzling glimpse of the Atlantic. These visions were all that much sweeter because it was sunrise.

Now I did something illegal up there, but at least I got to cross it off my bucket list. I threw a penny off the ESB when the plainclothes guards (who were easily spotted) weren’t looking. It’s not something I suggest everyone go about doing, but I had dreamed of it since I was little so I went for it.

After the ear-popping elevator ride back down to ground-level, we hiked our way up to Central Park. I’d read about it, and of course, it is everywhere in television and movies. Yet nothing quite prepares you for the simple beauty of the park. The sprawling green snuggled amidst the grey skyscrapers sort of takes your breath away. So, loaded down with shawarma, we strolled through the park, climbing boulders, exploring trails and Belvedere Castle. As an avid Beatles fan, I made a point to pay respects at Strawberry Fields before indulging our literary spirits at the Alice in Wonderland statue.

By the time we walked from the South end of the park to the North end, we had seen a lot but not all that the park had to offer. We left enough unexplored for future visits because we were on a mission that day, after all. My companion Uber-ed us a ride, and before we could really rest our aching legs, we were let out at Yankee Stadium.

Yes, that’s right. Yankee Stadium! My personal baseball Mecca. I got my first glimpse as we pulled off the Major Deegan Expressway and nearly cried. Unfortunately, tour tickets were sold out for the day, but just standing on Babe Ruth Plaza was enough. There really aren’t words to describe what it feels like to finally stand in front of a place you had dreamed about your whole life. My friend indulged me a little extra time than we had originally allotted there because I think she could sense my elation and was maybe even caught up in it a little herself.

Finally, I agreed to bid adieu to Yankee Stadium so that we could make one of the last ferries out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Again, due to the holiday season and our last minute planning, we found out in the Uber ride to Battery Park that the ferries were sold out as well. Quick rebounders that we are, we chalked it up to one more thing that would bring us back to NYC and directed our driver to take us to Chinatown instead.

Chinatown and Little Italy were a blast. It was like stepping out of America for a brief time. As soon as we left the car, we were greeted by unique smells, foreign languages, and a million different sounds. We piddled around a little, bargained with the hockers, and snacked on some fried Chinese donuts before finding a little, local-recommended hole-in-the-wall joint with ducks hanging in the front window in which to eat dinner. Despite my worries about what food poisoning would be like if it struck the next day while we were pinned in Times Square, I scarfed down my delicious seafood soup.

Keep in mind that we had now been walking around and exploring the city in the cold for seven hours at that point. Sure, we were a little sore, but the food and temporary shelter from the wind re-energized us. We went on to explore a Buddhist temple and a bunch of little shops before starting the roughly 25 block trek to our last stop of the day: Ground Zero.

I can’t really say how I felt about the World Trade Center Memorial in any way that would fully encapsulate the event. It’s something everyone should experience for himself/herself. My travel buddy and I were about ten years old when the 9/11 attacks happened, so their history and the resulting impact has shaped our lives in more ways then we probably recognize. To stand where it happened-especially at sunset- robbed us both of words. By some unspoken understanding, we separately took in the memorial and silently ran our hands across the names of the fallen. The rest of the trip could be shared. That moment was for us each to individually experience and process. We choose not to go through the museum, to save it for another visit, but I think we both knew the real reason was that neither of us wanted to cry in front of the other and the museum would have certainly reduced us to tears.

Before we left Ground Zero, we each drew a deep, life-affirming breath and shifted back into our shared existence. It was dark and late, by the time the Uptown N deposited us at Penn Station. Exhausted from a full, mercilessly paced day, we rode back to Clifton in a blissful stupor.

Part 3 will discuss Times Square on New Year’s Eve and our drive through the Hudson River Valley!

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I’m Back…in the New York Groove. Part 1 of a Holiday Travel Tale

My apologies for allowing myself to get swept up into the holidays. Then again, I’m not really sorry because if I had stayed put pecking away at my keyboard I would have missed out on some incredible life experiences. One of these experiences was a major part of my Bucket List. I’m unashamed to admit that I fit into the cliche of aspiring creative spirit who dreams of living in New York. Ever since I was a kid, I can remember watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve and thinking, “Someday. Someday I’ll be there.”

“Someday” for me finally happened. My original plans for New Year’s Eve included a stay at my friend’s lake house on Tablerock in Missouri with a secret adventure up to London, Ontario on New Year’s Day. However, my best friend suggested that if we were going to go all the way up to Canada, we might as well see New York. It snowballed from there with my addition that if we were going to see New York, we might as well be there on New Year’s Eve. So, without telling anyone, she and I planned a week-long visit to New York City, Montreal, and Niagara Falls in one evening.

The next day we loaded down my ’06 Cobalt (affectionately nicknamed The Flying Dutchman) and embarked on our 20+ hour drive, shaking and even a little nauseous from excitement and nerves. We powered through grogginess and road grime until we reached the Howard Johnson in Clifton, New Jersey which was to be our home for the next three days. After stretching and showering, we set out for our first adventure into the Big Apple only to find that The Dutchman’s lights had been left on while we unpacked and she was dead. Panicking only slightly, we secured a jump and were back on our way to the train station in under 20 minutes.

I can’t even begin to describe to you what it felt like to be in New York City during the holidays. What it felt like to be in New York City period. I had finally made the pilgrimage to my own personal Mecca. Time finally moved at an appropriate speed instead of being stuck in slow motion like I felt it was in the Midwest. I could walk wherever I needed or public transit was readily available. It was both an introduction and a homecoming. I knew my adventures in NYC were limited to three days, but a gut feeling told me that soon enough I’d be back for good.

Part 2 (includes Times Square on New Year’s Eve shenanigans) coming soon!

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Holyrood Palace

Last March, my best friend and I took our dream trip across Western Europe. We were lucky enough to spend St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, three days exploring London, a thrilling night in Amsterdam, and a hustled but thorough stint in Paris. The memories made in all of these cities were incredible and have helped shape the person I have grown into during the past year. However, all those memories pale in comparison to our adventures in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It was two days filled with driving on the wrong side of the road without GPS or map guidance, first hostel stays, and braving the underground vaults of the city. We tasted excellent whiskey and went back in time in the halls of the Edinburgh Castle, but our last morning there is a memory I hope I never lose.

After a late night of politely explaining to several Chinese girls we had befriended in the hostel that “Honey Boo Boo” and “Jersey Shore” were not how America really was, my friend and I arose groggily and devoured a breakfast of tea and lemon preserve on toast. Drawing deep breaths, we strapped ourselves into the potential death machine that was our foreign car and headed for Arthur’s Seat. Being fans of folklore, we wanted to see the mythological center of King Arthur’s Camelot. It was a cheerily sunny day but the wind was screaming in off the bay. After several missteps and one lost hat, we decided that climbing all the way to the top was probably not going to happen. Besides, we still wanted to drive by Holyrood Palace before heading south for London.

Climbing back into the Vauxhall windblown but with a little more confidence, we navigated our way to the Queen’s Scotland residence. At the gate, several guards were consulting with the car in front of us, so we waited patiently and snapped pictures. When the leading car drove through, we followed. I maneuvered the Luton-built beauty to a stop just in front of the Queen’s lovely fountain that craftily framed her gilded front doors. I waited with an excited smile for my friend to snap pictures of the Palace. This is where the Queen resided when she was here after all!

BOOM BOOM BOOM! Both my companion and I jumped at the sound of a guard banging on the trunk to signal his approach. I rolled my window down, allowing the chilled gusts entrance into our warm cocoon of travel bliss.

“What’s your business here?” the man asked in his rolling lowlander accent.

After exchanging a glance worthy of “The Office,” we managed to stutter, “To see the Palace….?”

He took a minute to visibly collect his patience with the ignorant young travelers before shaking his head and pointing us back to the gate.

“No, you need to leave. Now! This is private property.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Sorry, sir!”

Rolling up the window, I gave a directive to my friend to snap a few up close (albeit blurry) photos of our accidental trespassing shenanigans. The best part of the experience was that when we were exiting the palace grounds, a group of Asian tourists frantically began taking pictures of us as if they thought we were some kind of royalty leaving our home. Sure, it was a bit startling to realize that you trespassed on ancient property of the Royal Family, but was it worth it? Without a doubt.

Waiting in line to drive in.

Waiting in line to drive in.

One of the better pictures.

One of the better pictures.