Sunday, September 24, 2017

I Traveled To New York! (Part 1)

At the beginning of June, about one week after my husband and I returned from California and Arizona, I turned right back around and went to the airport where I flew to New York.  As much as a few members of my family hated this, I traveled alone to the Big Apple.  Maybe I should have been more afraid to go to this big city on my own that I had never visited before, but I wasn't.  My last time traveling alone was two years ago when I was studying abroad in the Netherlands.  I traveled to completely different countries where I didn't know anyone on my own and I loved the freedom of it.  I loved being able to wake up in the morning and figuring out where I wanted to go instead of having to push for what I wanted.  I wanted that experience with travel again.  And so, with the excuse that I was going to Book Con (I really did, I didn't lie to anyone), I flew to New York!

The flight there was easy.  Getting through JFK airport though was all sorts of crazy.  There weren't a lot of places marked, so it took a while to figure out where I needed to go and what exactly I needed to do in order to get the heck out of this airport and get to my AirBnB.  This was my first introduction to, at least what I consider to be, rude New York behavior.  I think it felt rude to me because a lot of the people I spoke to trying to figure things out were very curt, seemingly on a schedule, and if you stopped that, it felt like an inconvenience to them.  From January to May, I worked as a substitute teacher, so this wasn't the first time (nor the last time) I've dealt with incorrigible behavior and rude humans, so I had a surprising amount of patience built up and largely wasn't phased by this.  In some ways, I adapted and was as direct as possible in my interactions with people.  That being said, I'm not used to being short with people, so even a little bit of friendliness seemed to go a long way and was greatly appreciated.  It's no fun to be awful to other people even if it gets you what you want quicker.

Anyway, I took the subway from the airport to upper Manhattan in the Harlem area.  New York has this weird way of feeling really big and really small at the same time.  So this journey took about an hour to achieve.  Once I got into my AirBnB and put my stuff down, I went right back to the subway station and was off to meet someone.  My Nani runs a daycare and at one point, she looked after a little girl whose mother works in the fashion industry.  They moved to New Jersey because the mother got a job in New York City and have been there ever since.  It was really nice to have her as a connection and just someone to check in with.

She works in the Garment district, which is really close to Time Square, so she was really kind to take me to lunch and then walk me to Time Square in the hope of finding a ticket for a Broadway show.

Time Square is quite an overwhelming place.  Aside from my Airbnb, this was the first place I took the subway.  I was already getting used to using this way of getting around, but nothing could prepare me for the onslaught of light, color, and sound when I left the grimy depths of the subway and emerged into Time Square.  There were so many places to look and yet I didn't have enough senses to take in everything that I wanted to.  But I did manage to work through that and snag a ticket to see Chicago that night.  Suddenly, I had a limited number of hours to explore and that time wasn't long enough to consider going back to upper Manhattan to where I was staying.  The lady I had lunch with who was helping me out suggested I try a hop-on/hop-off bus just to see a lot of the city and get to know my surroundings, especially since my trip was so short.  So that's just what I did.

To me, it was a little sketchy going up to someone with the hop-on/hop-off bus logo on their shirt and buying a ticket that way.  Especially because they didn't have the bus right there necessarily.  But it ended up really being worth it.  I bought my ticket and holy cow, the sheer number of coupons that the guy I bought my ticket from generated for me... I almost could have ridden the tourist bus all weekend long.  But I didn't want to.

Riding a hop-on/hop-off bus is not something I usually do when I travel to a big city like New York.  I prefer to explore on foot/subway and just see what I see.  But I was actually really glad that I did this.  It was a nice way to figure out where I needed to go for things I already planned to do and then see things, however briefly, that I knew I wouldn't get a chance to see on this particular trip.

After spending a few hours riding around the city on the hop-on/hop-off bus on my first day in New York, I headed back to Time Square and started walking to the theater where Chicago was being performed.  In the months leading up to my arrival in New York, I had been looking for Broadway tickets, but they were just so expensive... we're talking over $100 for one ticket to a show... and not necessarily a very popular show like Phantom of the Opera and Wicked (both of which I had seen in Minneapolis, so I didn't really want to see them again, even on Broadway).  But when I had the opportunity to buy them in person, I had taken on a "when in Rome" attitude and so this was definitely my splurge of the trip.

The Ambassador Theater wasn't as big as I pictured it might be for a Broadway venue.  I think I had very grandiose ideas of what Broadway was like.  Nevertheless, I was happy to be in this place.  I was very excited to see one of my favorite musicals performed live and it was a show I hadn't seen before (other than the movie of course).  I thought most of the performers were wonderful-- great stage presence, powerful voices, and they easily drew me in with their storytelling... what was a little disappointing was that I didn't get quite this same experience with the lead actors.  The women playing Roxy and Velma were much quieter than the rest.  I don't know if the actors were miked up or not.
The show ended around 10pm and I walked out of the theater.  It's weird because even though I knew the sun had long gone down and I knew it was late if I didn't know these things, I would have thought it was the middle of the day.  There were still so many people out and about and the lights of Times Square made nighttime nonexistent.  I didn't need to worry about heading home after the show so late.  It was basically broad daylight when I left.

The next day, I was off to Battery park because I was due to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  It was the first time I tried to use the subway as a commute where I had to be at a certain place at a certain time.  Let's just say it's a good thing I wasn't actually headed to work or somewhere where people were counting on my presence.  There was some maintenance or a train broke down or something where a train didn't come to my subway station for about 20 minutes or so (when usually they arrive every 5 minutes and sometimes even sooner).  Correction, about four trains passed by but they flew right past my station anyway.  Once a train did stop though, I was genuinely surprised by just how many people could cram themselves onto a single subway car.  We would make stops and the door would open and I'd think, "Surely they'll see how full the car is and just wait for the next one."  Oh no.  If there was even an inch of breathing room, you could apparently fit about 2-3 more people onto that car.  I didn't really have to hang on to a railing in order to stay up while in the train.

Once that fresh hell had passed, I ran around Battery Park in search of where I was supposed to catch the ferry.  I did eventually find it and, miracle of miracles, I got there just in time.  

When you get a ticket to the Statue of Liberty, the price of your ticket also includes admission to Ellis Island.  So I was on my way to both.  But the first stop is the Statue of Liberty, so I got off there and started roaming the island, finding my way to the base of Lady Liberty.

Here's the other thing I learned this day: one of the themes of my trip was to be metal detectors and being searched before entering almost anything.  This might be a post-9/11 New York thing, but I can't tell you the number of times I have had to remove my belt, go through a metal detector, and get my stuff scanned before I could visit a national monument or a museum.  I just thought this was interesting.  The security guards were nice enough and I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, so I didn't mind the minor inconvenience.  It's just something that I noticed was very ubiquitous on this trip.

My visit to the Statue of Liberty was a special one.  In the winter, I bought my ticket to the Statue of Liberty and I had the option of just going to the island to stand and behold Lady Liberty, or to do that but also go up to the crown.  I figured I didn't know when I would be back in New York again, so I decided to splurge and go up to the crown (and really, I was surprised by how inexpensive this option was).

After yet another metal detector scan and after leaving my bag locked in a locker in the gift shop tent, I began my assent.  I climbed up to the pedestal using normal stairs.  Being up on the pedestal was pretty sweet.  It was definitely a different perspective than how I've traditionally seen Lady Liberty.  But I still had higher to climb.

This was the moment I realized why they said I could not bring a bag with all of my things.  From the pedestal to the crown is one big spiral staircase tube.  There are some places you can pull off to the side and rest, but those spaces are quite small.  The staircase itself is steep and narrow and carrying your bag with you is just another burden to take with you that also takes up quite a bit of space.

I expected my assent to be a long one.  When I travel, I have a history of climbing up tall things just to say I've been up that tall thing.  So I've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower (via the stairs), I've been up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, I've been to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, and to the top of a sinking church in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands... I like to see a greater view of the places I visit.  Each of these climbs was quite lengthy, in my opinion, so when I reached the top, I was surprised that it didn't take me too long to reach the top!

Reaching the top meant seeing the Statue of Liberty completely differently than I had before.  In the exhibit area, there was a huge emphasis on how she was constructed.  Each part had to be molded and pounded out to hold its shape and put back together.  She had to be well-supported from the inside with a series of struts and beams.  It was the weirdest thing to see her face but from the inside.   I spent a little time at the top and after being scolded for reading my camera out one of the windows of the crown (sorry, my bad, the window was open and I had a firm grasp on my camera strap), I began my descent.  There were still more adventures to be had.

I had to remind myself one I reached ground level again and as I looked back at the State of Liberty, that this was the first thing that newcomers would see upon their arrival in New York.  People who had been traveling for maybe weeks who just wanted to get to this new place they intended to call home.  Maybe they were the first of their family to arrive in the U.S. and they had the pressure of paving the way for the rest of their family to arrive in the next few months or years.  But seeing this statue might remind them that even though there were difficult times ahead that they would have to rise to meet, this was the reason they were coming here.  Not because they wanted to take "our" jobs or cause us harm, but so they could build a better life for themselves and their families.  Because they wanted better than what they could get in their home countries.  That was the hope, anyway.

 I climbed back down a short flight of stairs and once again I had basically free range of Liberty Island.  I grabbed a soft pretzel for lunch and then waited once more for the ferry so I could head out to Ellis Island.

Ellis Island was one of the places I was most excited to see on this trip.  It's a place I have been hearing about for years, all through school and I had kind of built it up in my mind as a sort of prison or place of horrors.  So this was good for me to see it with my own eyes and readjust this vision of this place I had built up in my mind.

I think it's neat that the only way to get to Ellis Island is if you take a ferry.  I think this is a good way to experience something close to what our ancestors might have experienced when they first arrived at Ellis Island.

The focus of Ellis Island is the number of inspections that every person had to go through before setting foot in New York.  When you enter the building, you enter the hall where you leave your luggage.  Upstairs, you enter the arrivals hall where your quick inspections occur.  Usually, inspectors spent no more than 6 seconds on a health inspection, unless of course something was obviously wrong with someone.  Then your inspection became longer and you saw a much more qualified doctor.  You'd have a mental health exam, a legal exam, and one or two other examinations before you were allowed to get on another ferry and head to New York.  If all had gone well, you might spend a few hours at Ellis Island and then be on your way.

The other main part of the museum was talking about the past and present of immigration in the United States.  Given who we have elected as POTUS and how he has attacked immigration since before he was elected President, I thought it was especially important that I was able to see this.  Now that DACA is in the process of being repealed, it's even more important than ever that we understand how immigration works and why people choose to come here (or really, anywhere).  People were coming here from other countries because they weren't finding the prosperity they hoped to find back home.  They came because they had family here.  They came because they were being oppressed in their home countries and were seeking amnesty.  They came from all corners of the world and in a variety of ways.  It was a very humbling experience that I get to live in this country and I don't have to experience the traumas that brought others here and I don't have to live in fear of being discovered like so many others do, and the only thing that's different between me and so many others is that I was born here and they were born somewhere else.

 The two things that really helped drive home this part of the exhibit for me were the area where you could look up family members and a booth where you could take a truncated citizenship test to see if you would be able to become an American citizen if you weren't a citizen already.  I found out that I would be able to become a citizen because I got 8/10 on the quiz.  I think the minimum was 6 or 7 out of 10.  So I just barely made the cut.

I made a call to my Nani and sent a message off to my mom for names I could look up.  I couldn't find one family member, but I might have found one family member from my mom's Irish side.  It was really cool, because once you found someone in your family, you could see where they departed from, what ship they were on, and then if they passed inspection, where they were headed and who they were headed to once they passed through Ellis Island.  I thought that was just the coolest thing.

 This was an amazing experience, but both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are things that can take the majority of the day.  It's not a strenuous trip by any means, but it's a lot to take in all at once.  I'd say if you were going to do this (and you absolutely should!), make sure you give yourself the day.  These places take time to get through your brain, so allow yourself that time.  You'll be glad you did.

Upon my arrival back in Battery Park, I decided just to enjoy the day a little bit longer before heading home.  I ran into this interesting carousel and was just watching young children and their parents spinning around on the great plastic fish.  It was wonderful to watch from the outside.  When I saw two women who were older than me were heading into the carousel after buying tickets to ride, I decided to take a spin as well.  Riding the carousel myself was even more magical than simply watching someone else enjoy it.  It was colorful, the music was peaceful and not too loud... it was a glorious experience.

I will leave this blog post here.  I've only covered two days of this short trip, but they were two packed days.  I'll write part 2 as soon as I am able.

Thanks for Reading!


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