Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pictures of New York

Here's some pictures from Friday...

Knockin' Heaven's Door (St. Patrick's Cathedral):

Trump Towers (riding the escalators):

FAO Schwartz:

Eating the street-vendor pretzel!

The Perks of Central Park

The two other times I've visited this great city, I had never visited Central Park.

As Lisa and I researched the spots of the Park, one site in particular caught my eye: THE CAROUSEL! You know how Elf loves Santa? That's how I love carousels.

If you have visited Central Park, you know that it is CONFUSING!!! Holy cow - Lisa and I were following all of these paths trying to get to the Carousel. I'd read somewhere that it closed at 6 - and we were closing in on 6. It would've been such a downer to find out that when we finally found that carousel that it had just closed. I'm not joking...I would've been really upset.

Finally, we saw a sign indicating the Carousel was close at hand. I was so excited that I started to speed walk. There were butterflies in my stomach just at the thought of riding this carousel - and also at the fear that we were going to get there as the last ride of the day was going. So, naturally - I started walking fast! I would've started running, but Lisa was already laughing at me.

We weren't too late! We got to ride the Carousel! It was glorious! They played a bunch of songs about New York...but I specifically remember "Downtown."

After the carousel ride, we set off to find the castle. Yes, really. A castle in Central Park! Along the way, we came upon a 'revival' - an African American preacher (think T.D. Jakes) was preaching and there was worship music. It was pretty cool. We also came upon a pond with a GIANT fountain. It was breathtaking!

Finally, we came upon the castle. You may notice our lovely parasol props. It rained every day we were in New York. We didn't take our umbrellas, we bought lovely $9.95 "parasols" from H&M.

After the castle, it was time to meet Jena. However, this meant getting OUT of Central Park! The castle was on the east-central side of the park...we wanted to get to the west side, so that we could get on the right subway. Well, we got there...but not at the "exit" we wanted. Seriously, I was following the map! But the roads aren't straight!

Anyway, the best part of the visit came at this point. While walking, I looked to my left and saw a racoon. (Remember the theme?) Along the lines of Elf, I squated down and walked toward it with my arms outstretched, "Hey buddy! Hi! Hi! How are you? Oh, do you need a hug? Looks like somebody needs a hug...." Then I had to explain the scene I'd just acted out to Lisa! Seriously, you have a couple kids and you just stop watching funny Christmas movies! However, that wasn't the best part. The best part was yet to come. Approaching us was a family of 4 from Asia - all wearing "dust" masks. Obviously, these people were concerned about their health...and probably not looking for a walk on the wild side. As they came upon us, Lisa says, "Hey! There's a racoon up there!" The father responds hesitantly (and probably in fear), "Uh, okay...thank you."

I looked at Lisa - not sure what to make of that statement. Was she trying to warn them? Because...why? I mean, the racoon was NOT interested in people - he totally turned and walked away from me during my Elf routine. So, I asked her, "Why did you just say that?" "Well, I thought maybe they would want to see it! I mean, my kids get to see racoons all the time - but I bet they don't!" they don't. And I bet that family walked on the other side of the road to avoid that racoon.

While on our journey to the edge of Central Park, Lisa looked at me and said, "You know what we didn't do? We should've ran like Phoebe!" Seizing the opportunity, I took off down the road, running like Phoebe. However, Lisa wasn't ready with her camera - so I had to do it again! ...and this time my parasol shot open while running. It was crazy spinning everywhere. A couple weeks later, Lisa's 4-year-old daughter looked at me and said, "Did you go with my mommy?" "yes." "I saw you running on the TV. Why were you running on the TV?" I thought to myself, "Oh, Madie. God only knows...God only knows...."

We did eventually make it out of Central Park and to Jena. We ate at Johnny Utah's - the oldest New York restaurant with a mechanic bull! Those city boys rode the bull holding on with both hands. They weren't real cowboys.

That night we enjoyed a 'SummerBrew Patio Party' at Jena's apartment. It...was...interesting....


(Sorry for the delay, faithful readers. We had no internet at home!)

Now, for the long awaited Saturday in New York update.

On Saturday, Lisa and I decided to trace our ancestors' steps by visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. And in continuing with our TV theme: today it's Reading Rainbow! You know, the episode about Ellis Island? Where they play Neil Diamond's "Coming to America"? Yeah! That one! Well, Lisa got to hear the chorus, "They're comin' to America! (Today!) They're comin' to America! (Today!)" quite a few times throughout the day. Lucky for me, she thinks I'm funny.

While on the ferry, it was amazing to look at Manhattan Island and see all of the skyscrapers located in the Financial District...and remember when the World Trade Centers were there. Twenty years ago, I saw them standing tall and blue, glinting in the sun. There is a gaping hole there - and you can see it by finding the cranes. Lisa said, "You would think that if they really wanted to strike a symbol of America, and a symbol of freedom, they would've hit the Statue of Liberty - not some skyscrapers." I responded, "But, they weren't trying to hit a symbol - they were starting a war. Because hitting the Statue of Liberty would've been upsetting - but it wouldn't be terrorism. It wouldn't warrant a retaliation. It wouldn't justify a war. But killing innocent citizens would. ...and it did."

Here are some pictures of us and Lady Liberty...and a few people who wanted to resemble our fave lady!

From there, we headed to Ellis Island. It was fascinating. My great-grandpa, Wilhelm Rohrig, came through Ellis Island in 1902. A year later, my great-grandmother, Katherine, and my great-aunt (who was then 2) came through. I think that they were detained for a few days because they were sick - but I'm not certain on that.

People only spent one day on Ellis. While there, they went through medical inspections (including getting a needle in the eye!). An immigrant needed about $25 (or more) to be admitted - and shouldn't have a job - but should have good prospects of getting a job. You see, America didn't want migrant workers - they wanted people who were going to stay and become an American citizen.

We watched the 45-minute video about the history. It really amazes me to think about what people endured to come here. Even more mind-blowing is to think about where they came from - most from countries where they couldn't trust the government or police - to America, where the people admitting them were truly concerned for their welfare - offering them meals, beds, and even medical care. Only 2% of the people who came to Ellis were not allowed to enter - due to medical concerns or legal issues.
I think my favorite part was the 3rd floor museum. There were artifacts of first-generation Americans - wedding dresses, shoes, quilts, traditional dress, Bibles, hymnals, lace, dishes. I loved finding pieces from Ireland, Denmark, Germany and the Ukraine and imagining that my relatives owned and used similar items. ...I love history. I love tradition. I love family.
Here's some pictures - of 1) Ellis Island; 2) the main hall where people waited in line for hours; 3) some immigrants waiting for admission to America.

Once back on Manhattan, we hit up Wall Street - well, technically Bowling Green. We just wanted to find the "Wall Street Bull." There were so many people waiting to get their picture taken with his head...and not as many with his hindquarters. So, guess where we headed?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Friday in New York

On Thursday, Lisa asked me what the theme for this trip will be since last year's trek to Colorado Springs took on an "Oregon Trail" theme. My first response was...a little to complicated...the reverse of our ancestors trek to America. Today our trip proved that the theme would be "Favorite TV shows" - as we re-enacted or encountered some of the favorite things of NYC TV.

Our day started bright and early outside of the Today show. The Friday concert series was featuring "Black Eyed Peas." The front area is reserved for special guests of the show and artists - not us. And, I wanted to sleep in (you know, till 6!) - so we didn't get "super close" - but we were right outside of Dean & Deluca's...which was recommended as the spot to watch according to my travel guide. It was a fun show and we had a great time with the ladies right in front of us! We had a great view of the back of the stage - the keyboardist, drummer, dancers.... If you check out Lisa's facebook, you can see a video of me dancing.

After that, Jena went to work for the day and we started our day on 5th Ave. We checked out St. Patrick's Cathedral, Nine West (where I got an amazing pair of heels for an even more amazing price!), Tiffany's (looking for Lisa's birthday present) - as we entered we renacted the scene from Sweet Home Alabama, one of the many Trump Towers - where I realized that TWENTY years ago I was in the same place - and where we also rode all the escalators trying to take pictures of ourselves in the many mirrors (cheap fun, okay? money is time!)...and then we hit FAO Schwartz. It was AMAZING! Multiple levels of fun!

It was after noon at this point, and I was feeling a little famished. So, we took my cousin Dave's advice and hit up a street vendor for a pretzel. Good advice about the mustard, Dave! Without it, it would've been really dry. At that point, we realized we were on the edge of Central Park and in front of the Plaza Hotel. But, Central Park wasn't on our list that day, so we headed back down 5th Ave. to Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building and the NY Public Library.

When I say "headed down," I don't mean that GCS was near FAO...we walked about a mile to get to FAO and at least another mile back to get to GCS. Remember: money is time! :) And we weren't gonna waste any of our money, so we had to spend our time (and energy!)

Grand Central Station was really cool. It has amazing architecture. It's really hard to take in the beauty of Chrysler Building when you're underneath it - so, not so impressive. We did shop more, though - hitting up an Ann Taylor Loft and this little handbag shop where Lisa got a heckuva deal.

The New York Library was just 2 blocks from GCS on 5th Ave. I'm gonna say this folks: ignore the "25 things to see" book and just look from the outside. It is a beautiful building; it is also "home" to a lot of homeless during the day. We had quite the encounter with one gentleman in the video room.

By now, the day was getting pretty long. Our NBC tour with Jena kept getting pushed back, so we just kept pushing on. We were hoping for comfy couches at the library and instead got a sockless homeless guy. So, we kept walking and came to an Ann Taylor - where I found a great dress - again, for an even better price!

Finally, we got our NBC Studio tour - and it was worth the wait! We got to see the NBC Nightly News as it was being filmed (from the outside - they don't have a live studio audience); Jimmy Fallon was, like 30 feet, from us because they'd just finished filming his show (so we didn't get to see the studio - but we got to see him!); AND - my highlight - the SNL studio & dressing room. Again, we didn't get to be on the set because they were having a leadership symposium. It was so cool! They had pictures up from skits past lining one hallway and the opposite had pictures from this year's skits. Even better, though, were 3 costumes on display: Jane Curtain's Conehead, Dana Carvey's Church Lady, and Molly Shannon's Mary Katherine Gallagher.

By day's end, we were shot. The TV shows/movies covered today: What Not to Wear (the shopping spree part), BIG (FAO Schwartz), Sweet Home Alabama (Tiffany's), the Today Show and CBS Early Show (which films on the plaza outside FAO).

Here's us with Matt Lauer (I guess he really is this tall in person):

New York, New York

I've been informed that I need to update my blog. Touche.

So, I decided to start with the New York trip - I know it was like 3 weeks ago that Lisa and I were hanging out in the Milwaukee airport. But, as they say - better late than never!

Thursday, June 11

Destination: NYC

We left DSM about noon. Dan drove me to the airport. (Insert "Aww" here.) (After we got to the hotel, Jena asked if Dan drove me to the airport. I said yes and smiled. ...and promptly got made fun of!!)

Lisa and I flew Midwest Airlines. The main reason? Cheap prices, yes - but FRESH CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES! (I know, I'm a sucker for a good deal.)

Our flight to New York was delayed just over an hour. However, when we landed we were informed it'd be a 2 hour delay; later on, it was almost 3 hrs. Then, about 4:55 as Lisa and I were going to grab some dinner, I checked the departure time. It was leaving in 25 minutes! And we had to go back through security!

We made it to the gate with no problems and enjoyed TWO cookies on this flight. Which totally tided us over since we didn't get dinner.

We landed at LaGuardia about 8:20pm. It really reminded me of landing in a foreign country. There were people everywhere (and most didn't look like us), it was warm & humid, and the bathroom signs reminded me of Heathrow.

We actually booked a Midwest Vacation - packaging airfare, hotel and a shuttle to the hotel. Handy, yes. Cheap, yes. Ridiculously long wait to actually get to the hotel? Yes.
But, you get what you pay for. And, time is money - which proved to be the theme of our trip. Maybe if we had more, we would've spent less time getting (waiting) around. :)

We finally got to the hotel at 10:30pm, after a ridiculously long phone conversation with the front desk, seeing a lot of the city (we checked off the United Nations, the New York City post office, Times Square - though, we'd be back, and a lot of other non-descript hotels and apartments), and a lot of laughter. (Jena had been waiting for us around an hour. )

We set off for food - and found a cute little deli/grocer a quick jaunt from the hotel. As old friends do, we spent the next two hours catching up, talking, laughing and munching on puppy chow. :)

All in all, we turned in after 1 am...and Lisa set the alarm for 6!

Our hotel (formerly known as "World Trade Center Marriott") was about a block from the site of the Twin Towers. As we drove by, I thought we were driving through a construction zone. As I looked to my left, I realized that, no - we were driving through a de-struction zone. Three years ago, our program brought students to NYC. We saw the site then, which was just five years since 9/11. Now, it has been eight - and NOTHING has been done. There is still a giant hole in the ground, cranes, rubble. The buidings surrounding the site have been repaired - but, still, no memorial. This blows my mind. The Pentagon has had their memorial prior to 2004. But the site of the most destruction? Nothing. Maybe New York City still feels like it's an open wound, but I think it's time for healing. I think it's time to remove the rubble - the shrapnel, if you will - and allow some green space to cover the gaping hole. Let it be green, and rolling - a place of peace and honor.