Growing up in Tennessee, New York City was to me the epitome of everything frightening about Up North: crime, noise, crowds, and unfriendly people. Two stops in the Port Authority bus terminal while in college confirmed all my worse fears. I had very little desire to see more of the place.
John had several friends in college who were New York natives, plus he grew up in Baltimore, which is only five hours away, so he had been to the city several times and rightly thought I was silly. He thought taking the kids there for Fall Break last year would be a great idea–they very much wanted to go–and he was right.
Typically, I took about a million pictures, and that is what most of this post will consist of, with some travel tips and deep thoughts sprinkled throughout. 🙂
Travel tip #1: Have friends in New York who let you stay with them for free. 🙂
Mandi, Sameer, and their three kids live in this beautiful home in an historic Brooklyn neighborhood and they were the most welcoming and generous hosts ever. Mandi is John’s stepsister’s daughter which I guess makes her my step-niece by marriage, but she just says we are cousins which is a lot easier and more accurately reflects our actual relationship. We had fun spending time with them and we could not have been more comfortable.
We could have taken the subway, which was right around the corner, but we blew all the money we saved on lodging by Ubering everywhere instead because we are wimps. Our very first Uber driver spoke only Chinese and did not know how to get to the ferry for the Statue of Liberty, which we all agreed should be our first destination. We made it though!
Travel tip #2: Allow each traveler to pick a couple of must-visit attractions, since there is no way to see everything in one trip. The Statue was one we all agreed on.
Travel tip #3: City Pass. We bought these in advance and it guaranteed us tickets to all the things we most wanted to see and saved us money and time in lines.
There is a park where you wait for the ferry, and this sculpture of immigrants to to the United States is prominently displayed there, a visual reminder of the “tired and poor . . . huddled masses . . . and wretched refuse” welcomed for so long by Lady Liberty.
We were grateful for no rain as we approached the island, but sad that visibility was not that great.
Y’all, I may have gone a little crazy taking pictures of the Statue, but you know what? I don’t care. I could have stayed there with her all day. This was by far the most meaningful part of our whole vacation to me. We didn’t book early enough to get to go inside the Statue, but we listened to the audio tour, explored the gift shop, had lunch, and walked everywhere we could. I might have cried a little, thinking about what Lady Liberty stands for and how far our country seems to have strayed from those ideals. I did not want to leave.
Finally we said good-bye and boarded the ferry for our next stop, Ellis Island. If I had known there was so much to see there, I might have left the Statue sooner. There was room upon room of exhibits, full of information about the history of the Island and the people who were processed there on their journey to America.
We took one last trip on the ferry back to where we began, and got a good look at the monument below to American soldiers who died in the Atlantic during the Second World War.
It was getting late and we wanted to squeeze a few for sights in before heading back to Brooklyn, which leads to Travel Tip #4: Visit sites in the same general location on the same day. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but it requires figuring out where things are in advance if you are in an unfamiliar place. The walking directions that Siri provided were helpful in getting us quickly to our last stops of the day, one specifically requested by William and one by Lorelei.
Here is what William wanted to see, and you can tell how happy it made him!
Lorelei wanted to visit the graveyard of Trinity Church to see the grave of Alexander Hamilton, since she was (and nearly a year later remains) obsessed with the musical Hamilton. Sadly, the churchyard was locked for the evening, but we still got a decent view.
And after that we headed back to Brooklyn to rest up for the next day’s adventures!
We spent the majority of our second day at NYC at Ground Zero. And yet I did not take nearly as many pictures as I did the other days. There is something about the 9/11 Museum that demands reverence and attention. It’s a place I wanted to fully immerse myself in rather than stand outside of and evaluate. Most of the images below were probably taken within the first hour we were there, then I stopped until we were at the outside portion of the memorial.
The flowers indicate a birthday. We were especially moved that unborn children were commemorated.
The new World Trade Center building, Freedom Tower, is impressive:
We didn’t go up to the observatory, though–we had different skyscraper plans, as you will see. We ended day two with dinner in a neighborhood Italian place in Brooklyn.
Bright and early the next morning we got up, ate, and went outside to wait for our Uber. We had a long day ahead of us.
The Natural History Museum was our first stop. We spent several hours there. It wore me out. I don’t know why but as much as I enjoy them I find museums exhausting.
I am just going to dump a lot of pictures below as I believe they will speak for themselves.
As you can see, we spent most of our time with the dinosaurs. I have just a few more pictures of some other things we saw:
We walked to our next stop, which was less than a mile away. We didn’t have time to walk through Central Park but at least we caught a glimpse:
Here’s another famous landmark we happened to pass and were excited to see, which I will admit we all recognized because of Moonstruck, my favorite movie of all time:
Our actual destination was the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle. This is the Mother Church for the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, otherwise known as the Paulist Fathers, the priests who have staffed my parish church since I was a very little girl. Our former pastor, Father Joe Ciccone, who baptized Lorelei, was the pastor at Saint Paul at the time, although we had slight hopes of seeing him given that it was after five when we arrived.
We took some time to wander around and pray inside the church. Travel Tip #5, for Catholics anyway, if there’s a cathedral or other notable church where you are vacationing, spend some time there. It will be beautiful and it’s free!
While the kids and I were wandering around, John made a call and discovered that the office was still open so we decided to go around the corner and see if Father Joe was still around.
He was! We had a short visit with him–the reason he was still there was that he had a dinner engagement nearby–and then we proceeded to our next BIG event!
I won’t lie–the crowd was big and the lines were long, although our City Pass helped. But it was worth it!
Wow, that was a long day. We got home late and exhausted, but we still pressed forward the next morning with more big adventures in store.
Our first stop on our last full day in New York was by William’s request. William has favorites of many things, and that includes a favorite building, the Chrysler Building. For many years he has talked about what a beautiful building it is, and we had promised we would make sure to include it in our trip. The evening before he had already seen it all lighted up from afar as we stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, but he wanted to see it up close.
Just see how happy he is!
Unfortunately you can no longer go upstairs in the building unless you have legitimate business there, so we had to content ourselves with spending time in the lobby.
We thought we were humoring William, but the truth is that we were grateful for his obsession because it truly is a beautiful building and we were all glad we got to see it.
After a final good-bye to the Chrysler Building, we headed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
You know a person could spend days in here, right? So we knew we would have to choose where to concentrate our efforts deliberately.
William wanted to see the Egyptian displays, and they were close at hand, so we started there.
Lorelei and I wanted to see paintings. William did not want to leave Egypt. So we left him there with John and headed upstairs.
Lorelei was especially interested in seeing the Van Gogh collection.
I cannot express what it is like to be absolutely surrounded by fabulous and famous works of art. In every direction were works that were very familiar to us.
We were especially excited to see the painting below, a replica of which hangs on our family room wall!
At one point, Lorelei and I sat down in a random room just to rest and when we got up to leave we realized we had been sitting in a room full of priceless Picasso paintings without even noticing!
Having accomplished our main goal, we headed back downstairs to reunite with John and William, get a snack in the museum restaurant, and view some of the medieval collection.
Most of this collection had religious significance of course and we were mesmerized both by that and by the age of some of the pieces which were over 1000 years old.
Then it was sadly time to go back to Brooklyn and pack up to leave the next morning.
John had one final surprise for me. We made a detour to Queens as we left the next morning and stopped to take a picture of this:
This is the Castorini home in the movie Moonstruck which as I have already mentioned is my favorite film of all time and which also holds special memories for us as we saw it on our first “dating anniversary” in February 1988.
We drove home by way of Baltimore. John and the kids spent time with his mother while I was fortunate enough to attend a Catholic blogging conference nearby. It was a magnificent trip and I cannot believe it was already a year ago!