August 28, 2009 - 4:00 PM
Today, my travel buddy, Yentl, went to the airport to head back home to the Netherlands. I will be staying in New York until the 31st, however, so I had a friend of mine who I met in Greece last summer, but who lives in Long Island, come pick me up in the city to spend the remaining couple of days with her. Her family owns a diner in Long Island, so it's nice that I can spend these last couple of days relaxing and eating with her in Long Island and when she has to work, Manhattan is just an hour train ride away. I stayed out here with her cousin during one of the session breaks from camp, the one where I went to the Hamptons - Ah, the Hamptons.
Anyway, since yesterday was Yentl's last day in New York, there was a lot of shopping that she wanted to get done. I wasn't quite as in the shopping mood, so we decided to part ways for the day so that each of us could get done what we wanted and then we would meet up later for dinner. Yentl headed off early in the morning to Soho to shop and I leisurely began my day around eleven.
I love traveling alone. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy having a travel buddy sometimes too, but there is just nothing quite like the beauty of traveling alone. There is just something about the adventure of it. You are left more open to meeting new people. You have no restrictions on where you want to go or when you want to go there or how fast you feel like getting there. As I walked down the streets of the financial district with a strawberry banana smoothie in one hand, my newly purchased Calvin Klein purse hanging on the opposite shoulder, and my new Dereon sunglasses on my face declaring, "I know, I'm too fabulous," I felt completely at peace. I even got stopped and asked questions by tourists who assumed I was a local. I walked confidently with my head held high and a smile on my face. At stoplights, in true New Yorker fashion, I started inching my way out before the light even changed, because I'm too fabulous to stop. I could've walked all day not knowing where I was going, but still looking fabulous doing it and I would've been just fine with that. However, I did have a particular place in mind. Nearby to the area I was staying was the port that had ferryboats to Liberty and Ellis Islands.
So, I walked my way to the beautiful waterfront park at the bottom of Manhattan that was home to these ferryboats. I bought my ticket and got in the long line of tourists waiting to be shipped out to view the history of New York. After about a twenty-minute wait, I was ushered onto the ferryboat, Miss New York. She would carry me through the waters to my final destination. I love boat rides. There's just something calming about the wind blowing through your hair as the boat rocks back and forth, presenting never ending, perfect views of the surrounding skyline. Miss New York's first stop was Liberty Island. I stood on the top deck of the boat and gazed at the Statue of Liberty. There it was. I had seen it so many times, but I had never actually seen it until now. Eager to get to Ellis Island, I concluded that seeing Lady Liberty from the boat was good enough for me and so I stayed on until Miss New York pulled into her second stop - Ellis Island, the gateway to America.
As recommended to do by a friend who had been in New York last year, I picked up the audio tour and began my walk around the building. The audio tour explained the history of the building, its restoration, and described what it was like for one of the many immigrants who came through Ellis Island. I followed the audio tour as it took me up the same steps that one of the immigrants would have walked and into the same room where he or she would've been met by doctors and other processors. I tried to imagine the room as crowded as the audiotape described it as. I went through many rooms, learning different things about Ellis Island and the process of becoming a citizen there.
In one room, I found myself a little embarrassed as I began to tear up a bit. The room was entitled "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears." It explained how for most, Ellis Island was a place of hope. It was the beginning of a new life for tons of immigrants to America. It went on, however, to discuss the few that got sent back to where they came from. If an immigrant did not pass all of the legal and medical tests, they could be sent back. One woman spoke on the audiotape about this experience. She had come over with a huge group of her family, including her grandmother. Her grandmother was found to have some sort of small growth on her finger though and because of this, only she was sent home. I could hear the pain in the woman's voice as she explained that they never saw her again and that she still cries about it to this day.
The audio tour was very calming for me. I turned in my headphones and player back to the front desk and wandered outside. I sat and leisurely had lunch at the café while I enjoyed some quality people watching. Afterwards, I walked around the grounds outside of the building. Outside of the building, there is a long wall that lists thousands of immigrants to America who came through Ellis Island. I searched and found all of the Bishops, Pokres's, and other family names from my genealogy. Then, I stood at the railing right by the water and gazed out at the Manhattan skyline. It was a beautiful day and as I stood in this place of such history, I felt connected. I was so happy that I could experience this moment alone because it allowed me to stand there for as long as I wanted. There were no restrictions. There was no one standing there to ask me why in the world I was standing there, gazing for such a ridiculously long amount of time. So, I just stood, gazed, and took it all in. Ellis Island has a beautiful energy about it.
Finally, when I could feel that I was ready to go, I left. When my ferryboat reached land again, I walked back to my hotel and met with Yentl for our final dinner together. Now I am on my own until I go home. I'm looking forward to these next couple of days where I can enjoy some more of the solo travel magic.
August 26, 2009 - 9:00 PM
Today will go down in history as one of the most epic days of my life. Today was another day that was jam packed with excitement and events. We crammed a lot into today, but I might be getting ahead of myself a little. Let's go back to yesterday.
When we arrived back at Penn Station from Boston yesterday, we couldn't help but notice an incredibly enormous poster declaring that the one and only Britney Spears would be performing her Circus tour at Madison Square Gardens on August 26. Now, I happen to be a big fan of Britney. I've had her back through it all - umbrella vs. car, head shaving, K-Fed, etc. Therefore, the opportunity to see her was exciting enough, but at Madison Square Gardens?! Dream come true! Yentl and I quickly went online to see if there were any more tickets available and we ended up scoring two floor seats. Therefore, all of today's events were heightened with the excitement and adrenaline of knowing that at 8:00pm, we would be seeing the amazing Ms. Spears in person. So, now, back to the pre-show.
Since returning from Boston, we have been staying at a different hotel. This hotel is located down in the Financial District near Wall Street. It is a really interesting change from where we were before. When we were staying in the Murray Hill area, we were relatively close to Times Square and many other happening places. Therefore, it was always alive with people no matter what hour of the day it was. At our hotel near Wall Street, it is very different. This part of Manhattan is definitely the commuter area. It becomes busy during the day as people hustle and bustle their way to and from work and fill the delis for their twenty-minute lunch breaks. At night, it becomes very quiet with few people on the streets and those who are still in the area congregate at fancy, high-end restaurants and bars.
Since we were so close to it already, we started today by walking over to Wall Street, the home of the New York Stock Exchange. The streets of this area were lined with American flags, quite cool actually. It was endearing to see so much pride and love for country. Men in business suits and ties and women in the most beautiful skirts and blazers I have ever seen walked in and out of office buildings. We stopped at Tiffany's just to see the glitter. So many diamonds. Oh my. Walking along further in a different direction, we ran into the stock exchange's big bull statue. Tourists flocked around it to get their picture taken. I joined them. The next stop I definitely had to take a pause from the hurried streets for.
Ground Zero. It was such a trip to be standing right there where the events of September 11 had taken place. Right in front of me was a huge city block of nothing, surrounded by fences. It was a space where construction workers stay around the clock, all day and all night, trying to rebuild what was and what will be. I tried to imagine being there the day that it happened. To have something that huge falling all around me. I thought of the lives that were left in that space. I thought of all of the emergency workers who risked their own lives to help. All around this place of such intense devastation, life went on. People walked the surrounding sidewalks, moving on with their lives, despite the gaping hole of a reminder right beside them. This happened in my lifetime. I took it in, feeling the space, and unsure of really how to feel.
After some intense reflection, my day, like those of the New Yorkers walking around Ground Zero, went on. Yentl and I headed to the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a fairly short walk from where we were staying. I was very excited for this part of the trip. I thought it would be so nice to finally just walk with no real place to go. We would just be walking for the plain enjoyment of walking in a beautiful space. And beautiful it was. The scenery was amazing. I loved watching locals zip by on their bikes and people from around the world stopping for a picture. Artists shared their work on the bridge and entrepreneurs sold cold bottled water and small tubes of sunscreen. Once in Brooklyn, we walked the park along the water and had some lunch before returning to our hotel to prepare for Britney. We had walked A LOT, but I did not feel tired, only reenergized. I had to be. Britney was still to come!
After changing, we jumped onto the subway and headed to Madison Square Gardens. Madison Square Gardens is big. Since we had floor seats, we had to enter through an entirely different door and then walked through a maze and up and down many flights of stairs and then - there it was. We were standing on the floor of Madison Square Gardens, looking up at all of its seats and looking at the stage that was directly in front of us. We were jumping with joy and excitedly taking pictures and smiling about everything. The crowd began to fill in as the opening acts started. The crowd was a mix of tweens with their moms, first generation Britney fans (us), clusters of gay men and women, and oddly placed middle-aged men. Kristina DeBarge, One Call, and Jordin Sparks all performed before a big screen appeared with a twenty-minute countdown until the "circus" would begin.
Finally, it started and I will never forget the first time I saw Britney. I was so excited! She put on quite the show. I can't say that she's the most talented musician, as she did lip sync the entire show (very well though, I must add). Also, they don't let her talk much. If she hadn't have stopped for the two minutes she did to say, "What's up, New York?!" I would've kept wondering if perhaps this was just a Britney-looking robot. However, she is an incredible performer. The dancing and the skits and the costumes and the lights were all amazing. It was so flashy! Her final song (before the encore, of course) was "...Baby On More Time." I could not have been more pleased. I was wondering if she would sing some of her old school songs, so I screamed like a little tween when this song started. It brought me back to fifth grade. After her encore performance of "Womanizer," sparks flew and confetti flooded the stadium as Britney finally left the stage. Completely content, Yentl and I followed the crowds out of the stadium and over to the Tick Tock Diner next to Penn Station for dessert. I enjoyed an extravagant root beer float before we headed back to our hotel.
I will go to sleep tonight with so many amazing images from today dancing through my dreams.
August 25, 2009 - 7:00 PM
In the past few days, I have stood in front of Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night" at the Museum of Modern Art. I have also had my name written on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art (there was an exhibit that consisted of a white wall and a person with a black Sharpie who would write your name and the date you visited at wherever your height was on the wall). I have relished in the glory of Georgia O'Keefe's timeless paintings and Andy Warhol's majestic soup cans at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have also explored Ancient Rome and various cultures of the Oceania region at the Met. In the past couple of days, I have seen how and where Saturday Night Live is filmed at the NBC Studios. And, last night, I saw one of the best baseball teams play at one of the most epic stadiums.
Yesterday, we caught the MegaBus from Penn Station to Boston with one purpose in mind - to see the Boston Red Sox play the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park. It was nice to get out of the city for the day and to see something different. Boston is very cute. It is a total college town and its brick buildings and park-like layout make it a cozy place to explore.
Fenway was just, well, awesome. I wore the one dark blue shirt I had and then bought a baseball cap once I got there. I am a firm believer in letting your colors show. The stadium was very intimate. The seats that we thought would be nosebleeds ended up being not that far away at all. We had a clear view of all the action (or lack there of - sorry baseball fans). We enjoyed all of the extras of the game as well. I had a foot long hot dog and later had some soft serve ice cream that was swirled into a little plastic baseball cap. We watched a drunken fight occur and got up and stretched while singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the seventh inning. I enjoyed the Boston accents, as food service workers walked up and down the stairs yelling, "Watah, watah heyr! Sports bahs! Two dollahs!" This is what I love about travel. I love the small details that create the space. I always find myself in times of silence during travel and it is during these times that I am just trying to take in all of the details. I sit and soak up the culture of the space I am in. Often, I find myself writing lines about it in my mind, trying to find the perfect words to capture its essence. Being at Fenway Park got me very excited for the upcoming season of Duck football at Autzen Stadium.
The Red Sox won. There really was no competition.
After walking around downtown Boston for a bit, we are now back on the MegaBus, headed to New York City. It's funny because now it feels as though we're going home.
August 21, 2009 - 7:00 PM
So, it's the first official day off the job. This entire day is mine. Well, mine and Yentl's. Yentl was the photography teacher at Camp ABC. She is from the Netherlands and is going to be my travel buddy until August 28. Sweet freedom in the greatest city on Earth. So, what should we do? How about the Empire State Building, Macy's on 34th Street, and, let's say, a Broadway play?
There is never a dull moment in New York. It is a city full of so much opportunity and excitement. I want to see it all.
After having a bagel at the deli next to our hotel, Yentl and I set off to the Empire State Building. It was only about a ten or fifteen minute walk from our hotel. It was so exciting to see it. I felt, looking around me, as though nothing I was seeing could be real. I felt like I was in a movie set. I was seeing things that I have seen hundreds of times in movies and photos, but here it was, right in front of me. I loved the sensation.
Outside of the Empire State Building, there were tons of people in red coats, holding posters and trying to get us to buy some big package deal to see all of New York. Now, I want to see all of New York, but I am a firm believer in what I call, "getting off the bus." To really take in a place, I think one must get off the tour bus and go on an adventure. Get lost a little. Try a restaurant that no one knows about. I kindly said no thank you to all of the tour guides and headed into the building. There were so many tourists here to experience the same thing that I wanted to, that I must have been hearing about five different languages being spoken. I followed the lines, went up eighty floors with the express elevator, walked six flights of stairs, and then, I opened the door.
Wind rushed through my hair and people moved about all around me. My gaze was fixed. There I stood with a 360-degree view of New York City. I thought of Meg Ryan racing up to find Tom Hanks. They got lucky that day - no crowd. The view was romantic. Yellow taxicabs crawled like ants below and bridges connected different expanses of land. I walked around, taking it all in, breathing. I was finally here.
Something that fabulous could only be followed by the biggest store in the world. It was a store I had seen on TV ever since I was little and would wake up early on Thanksgiving to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Macy's, if you ask me, is indeed its own "miracle on 34th street." The moment I walked in, I knew I was home. The store is HUGE! The first floor was packed with fabulous purses, jewelry, accessories, make-up, and more. The floors above held the glory of the shoes. Two or three hours later (who really knows?) Yentl and I left the store with many bags. In fact, I believe I had three. I'm just trying to help the economy though, you know?
We dropped our stuff off back at the hotel and prepared for one of those life experiences you always hope to have, but never really expect to - Broadway. I won't lie here. The reason I chose to go see Mama Mia over any of the other plays was because it takes place in Greece and I figured if I couldn't make it back to Greece this summer, I might as well go see Mama Mia. I'm happy I did.
I wore a fabulous dress with fabulous heels and accessories. I felt like I belonged in New York. A well-dressed, big city girl. We walked into the theater after having a nice dinner and sat down to enjoy. The theater was actually smaller than I had imagined it would be. Although our seats were near the back, we still had a perfect view. The music of ABBA and the fantastic movements of the actors soon took over my senses. At the intermission, Yentl and I each grabbed a drink from the concessions. I, of course, had to get a cosmopolitan. It was all so fabulously classy.
After the play, we stopped at a few places to grab some drinks. At one of them, we were quickly informed that Jerry Springer had just left. He had been sitting at the table right next to the one we were now at. It began to pour as we walked back to our hotel. I loved the rain on my skin as I stepped off the curb and waved down a taxi.
I fell asleep with the bright lights of Broadway still flashing in my mind.
August 20, 2009 - 7:00 PM
Today was the last day of camp. And by the last day of camp, I do mean the end, a.k.a. it's over. Done. Today when I boarded the bus at the Fresh Air Fund's Sharpe Reservation in the great town of Fishkill, New York, it was the last time. I wouldn't be coming back.
I waited and waited for this moment to come. This summer has been absolutely incredible and I have cherished every moment I have spent at camp. I have rejoiced in the smiles of over 900 children, knowing that I've done something positive for them this summer. I've cherished every talent show where I've heard Rihanna's latest songs sang forty times in a row and have watched nine-year-olds shake it to hip hop music I've never even heard before. I embraced the overnight hikes, the ones where I would return covered in mosquito bites, no matter how much bug spray I put on. Deep down, I really did love camp. I loved everyone I met there (even when I didn't). I loved the place (even when I felt cut off from the entire world). I loved camp and I couldn't have been happier that I made the decision to go and work there this summer. However, I was ready to leave. I had waited for this moment to come and when I saw the bus that was going to take me home (or to NYC, at least) I was ecstatic.
The last few days of camp were packed with doing inventory for my art supplies, cleaning the art building, getting the kids packed and cleaned, packing myself, and trying to hug everyone I could while I still had the time. By the time our final banquet dinner came fourth session, many of us were so tired from the end of the summer tasks that we didn't even really dress up for this one. I wore the t-shirt I had made at camp, some jeans, and some white heels and white earrings (to give the appearance as if I dressed up).
Banquet night was also my 21st birthday. How many people can say that they spent their 21st birthday surrounded by nine-year-olds, off in the wilderness, wearing a pink crown made out of foam and black Sharpie? It was pretty special hearing 300 people sing me happy birthday at dinner. This banquet night was special in general though. The energy was real. Session three banquet has a vibe in the air of, "Yeah, we've done this twice already, can we just get on with the show, please?" Session four was, "I don't even care about table manners! I'm going to get out of my seat and dance and hug people and take pictures and sing and shout because I love everyone and it's almost over!" It was so much fun.
The next morning (today) we had to drag our suitcases up to the road and wait until it was our turn to board the bus. I was smiling like crazy. I couldn't wait to just get out of there. It wasn't until I had actually boarded the bus, actually hugged some people goodbye for the last time, and turned to look out the window as our bus slowly pulled out of the campgrounds that I became reflective.
I thought about who I was when I got to camp and who I was leaving as. I felt stronger, more confident. I remembered so many priceless moments from the summer, all the adventures, all the amazing people. I looked at the stillness of the lake, no longer alive with splashing children. I could feel my eyes start to water up, as people still passed notes and phone numbers to each other throughout the bus. But as my eyes began to water, there was also a smile on my face. I had changed lives this summer, and one of them had been my own.
Now I sit in my New York City hotel on the lower east side and await the next episode.