9/11 Memorial

NYC Day 2 – Afternoon

I walked out of the lovely Met with my 9/11 memorial ticket in hand. It was time, after a lovely morning at the art museum, to do something I’d been putting off for a decade: visit Ground Zero. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001 and the memories and emotions attached to them came flooding to the forefront of my mind.

Luckily, my cab driver distracted me and tried to give me all the life advice I needed in the 20 minutes it took to drive all the way downtown. Thanks cabby, what would I do without your advice?

He dropped me off at a crowded corner where hundreds of people were funneling into a long switchback of lines to enter the memorial. I was actually an hour early for my entrance time, but the security guard at the front said it didn’t matter.

I stood alone between groups of tourists, shuffling along, trying to ignore the little girl behind me with no personal space that kept bumping into my butt. I looked at her father and he tried to hold her back, but she was a tailgater and there was nothing he could do about it.

The line enters a building where they scan your bags and send you through a metal detector. Along the walls are pictures of how cities all over the world reacted on that day. My tear ducts start to warm up as I look at the thousands of people all over the world in mourning.

As you exit this building and get in line again, you walk by a NYPD precint entrance and it reminds you of the first responders lost on that day. I put on my sunglasses at this point to cover my eyes that are starting to tear up.

I turn another corner and I’m walking towards the beautiful square fountains that mark the bases of the fallen twin towers. I get flashbacks from high school, when I stood in this exact area, twirling in circles between the two towers staring up towards the sky getting dizzy and laughing. I remember the wind that used to whistle between the two towers and I observe the wind is replaced by the rushing water of the fountains.

It’s crowded around the fountain so I walk towards a quieter side of the fountain and begin to read the names of the victims engraved in the wall surrounding the fountain. The names are organized by building, flight, or first reponders. I read in my brochure that the family and friends of the victims provided information about the relationships of the fallen, so the memorial designers could place victims that were friends and colleagues next to each other in the long list of names scattered around the two square fountains.

I read the names and wonder about their friendships and what they were doing before the event occurred. At this point, I’m sniffling and crying. I look around at the crowd and wish I could just be alone with this place for one moment. But this is New York City, where you are never alone and I accept that as fact and move on.

I look up at the new shiny World Trade Center tower being built and take a deep breath. I decide that maybe I can find some peace in that church I remember on Wall Street. So I work my way out of the memorial and grab a bottle of water at Starbuck’s on my way to Wall Street, to rehydrate my tear ducts.

The streets around wall street are very narrow and the buildings are extremely tall. I zig this way, zag that way, and come upon a huge crowd of people walking outside the church I was looking for, that’s just one block over from the New York Stock Exchange. I stare at the two police officers in their blue uniforms standing outside the church giving directions to tourists passing by. I get that warm teary feeling again, but I walk past them and enter the church.

I remember this church as a peaceful place to find solitude, but I run into a clog of tourists in the back of the church taking pictures. There are some in the pews praying, but there are tourists sitting in the pews talking and laughing. I roll my eyes and walk down the left aisle towards the front trying to find a quieter section. I kneel and cross myself with the trinity, like I used to do when I was a kid and enter a pew.

I haven’t been to church since a friend’s wedding a few years ago. But I kneel down on the prayer cushion and pray in the memory of all those names I just saw at the memorial. I think of my Irish Catholic grandmother that used to take me to church and I imagined her looking down on me and smiling.

Finally, I took a deep breath, lifted myself up and walked back out into the crowded streets of financial district tourists. I walk down to the front of the New York Stock Exchange building and take a few pictures of myself and the huge American flag strung across it’s columns. I get tired quickly of the crowds again and walk down the street to see the Charging Bull where there are even more people crowded around.

That iconic bronze bull is the center of attention for over a hundred tourists waiting to get pictures next to it’s head… and another hundred waiting to take pictures next to his behind. I scoff at the tourists rubbing the bull’s balls and walk away slightly traumatized that women the same age as my mother would pose next to bull testicles for a picture.

I realize my feet are starting to hurt at this point. After all, I had walked 30 blocks up 5th Avenue this morning and all through the Met and then a walking tour of Ground Zero and the Financial District. The closest subway is by the water where you catch the Staten Island Ferry. As I’m walking towards the subway entrance, I turn at the last minute to enter the ferry station. The ferry was on my list of free things to do and I figured I might as well give it a go, as long as I’m right next to it.

I walk into the station and wait by the doors for the boat to pull up. As the minutes pass by, people filter in and surround me. I must have just missed the ferry when I walked in. The large room is beginning to fill up and there’s no sign of the ferry. A fellow tourist asked me if I’ve done the ferry before and I explain that I hadn’t and talk to her for a while.

Eventually, I decide that my feet have reach their limit and turn to catch the subway. Of course, as I’m exiting the terminal, I look back and see the ferry pulling up. But at that point, I didn’t care anymore. I caught the correct subway train back to Chelsea and headed to my room to take a nap.

I knew I had a long evening ahead of me. I had plans to meet up with a friend for dinner and clubbing later. I had to rest up!

New York City – Day 2, Morning

I woke up a bit groggy from my big bottle of Belgian beer the night before.  I got dressed and wandered down to the courtyard for my complimentary breakfast.  It consisted of: Bagel, 1 butter, 1 jelly, 1 Apple, and unlimited coffee.

I sat down at an empty picnic table and began to spread my jam on my bagel when a girl came up and asked if anyone was sitting next to me.  I shook my head and she sat down directly next to me on the bench of the empty picnic.

I snickered to myself because I thought it was odd behavior to not spread out, but we began to talk and I decided she wasn’t so much of a weirdo after all.  She was from Germany and had been to America before.  She had lived in Texas for a year on an exchange program.  So she had just finished revisiting them and was stopping in NYC for a week on her way back home.

She had done what I was planning to do this day already.  So I picked her brain about the 9/11 memorial and the Met.  She told me about a Tenement Museum downtown that sounded very interesting as well.  However, this museum is still on my to-do list.  She was headed to MoMa, so I bid her farewell and headed out to the subway to get to the Met.

I was given directions by the Subway lady to what I thought was the Met, but as I walked up the stairway from the station I realized she had sent me to MoMa.  I guess all the art museums are the same to the subway lady.  So I walked 30 blocks north along Fifth Avenue, taking pictures the whole way.

I walked by the Plaza Hotel and the Central Park Zoo before I finally arrived at my final destination.  The Met.  I had never been before, but I knew what was here.  The biggest and best collection of my favorite classic artists: Monet, Manet, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Matisse, etc.  I walked past the voluntary contribution line and headed straight to the Monet section on the 2nd floor.  I walked around taking cell phone pictures of myself with all the greats!

I had a blast and then I decided I was hungry and it was lunch time.  So I went down to the wine bar restaurant in the Met and had myself a fancy salad and fancy glass of wine.  As I was eatting my lunch, I remembered that my friend had recently been to an event on rooftop of the Met, so I looked on the map and saw where it showed an elevator to the rooftop terrace.

After my delicious meal, I hopped on the elevator to the roof and discovered a beautiful mirrored sculpture with stairs cutting through, so you could walk around like in an Escher picture.  I got another glass of wine at the rooftop bar and strolled around the veranda gazing across the park at the Manhattan skyline.

As I looked across the treetops and glanced around at the people my age here with friends, and I began to imagine myself becoming a New Yorker myself…  It’s not that far-fetched; I am having my 30 year crisis.  🙂

New York City – Day 1

Saturday August 11, 2012 12:45AM

New York City

I arrived in NYC with excitement, anticipating a jungle of activity and was immediatley underwhelmed.  Well the city that never sleeps can look kind of sleepy if you’re not on the right block or in the correct bar.  So I just walked to my hostel in Chelsea and checked in.

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Made quick friends with a girl from Argentina.  She used the word “wicked” and I asked her if she’d been up to Boston.  Haha, she had been living in Maine and was on her way home after a 2 month stay.  She was very tired from a difficult journey just getting from Portland to New York, we discussed grabbing a drink, but she really just wanted water and bed so she could continue her journey to the southern hemisphere the next day.  Poor thing…

I sprawled out in my private room, blasted the AC and relaxed for a bit trying to dry out from the humidity.  Ugh!  I finally got up and headed out for a night cap.  I tried to walk in one bar but they had just decided to close, so I walked around the long block and saw gay clubs and a busy irish dive bar, but kept going.  I was way too sober to catch up with these crowds.  It was midnight on a friday and these New Yorkers were blasted…

So I found a corner market and bought myself a bottle of Delerium Tremens for super cheap and I now plan on drinking it before I go hang out with the guys hanging out on the hostel stoop. 

The Time I Went Spelunking

I had been in caves at summer camp, but it had been a while.  When my friends suggested we go to West Virginia for a “wild” cave tour, I was on board!  How hard could it be? I’ve done it before…

Well, I hadn’t had to wear equipment before and I know now that I underestimated what I was getting into.  “Wild” cave means we were going where there were no railings, sidewalks, steps, or spotlights to light up the stalactites.

We headed out from the DC area and arrived in Hico, WV after dark.  It was very hard to find our cabin, because GPS navigators really don’t get you anywhere in West Virginia.  We had to pull over at a landmark and have the cabin owner give us turn by turn directions, which involved no streets signs, just landmarks…

But we finally made it to our wonderful party cabin.  There was a hot tub in the screened porch and a great big living room with a big stone fireplace.  It looked great!  So we started out with some drinking and some cards, ended up in the hot tub and all of us eventually passed out in anticipation of our caving adventure the next day.

We arrived at the Lost World Caverns entry house when it opened.  We were welcomed by several friendly dogs wondering around the yard and headed into the preparation room, where you get to put on all the lovely gear.  The knee pads were uncomfortable, but necessary.  The helmet was cool cause it has a light on it and the gloves were good too in anticipation of the rocks we’d be hugging.  After our guide Steve instructed us about things to look out for in the cave (bats, salamanders, etc) and gave us some safety tips, we headed in.

You start out walking down the commercial part of the cave, with steps and railings.  You walk through the lit up giant room of formations and what not, then when you get to the back, you jump the fence.  Climb down some rocks and then up some rocks to a hole in the wall that you can’t really see from the main path.  Once you get through this hole your in the wild part of the cave, no lights, no stairs.

In the wild part of the cave, there is a lot more dirt and mud than I expected.  Also, there are loose rocks stuck in the mud, so you can’t depend on them.  But according to our guide, Steve, there’s never been a serious injury and that was true for our group as well.  So Steve took us all the way to the back of the cave, which I think was like 2 miles.  He took us on steep muddy sloppy parts and small crawl spaces.  We faced all sorts of challenges that brought out different fears in the members of our group.  We had one claustrophobic person and one with a fear of heights (me).  Steve helped us out in tight spots and when our fears kicked in.  He couldn’t have been more helpful!  and patient!

We stopped for a break in The Long Crawl, which is a very very long crawl space, where you have to crawl with your belly on the dirt, or in some parts, you can roll sideways, which is much easier.  In the spot where we took a break, there were mud carvings and messages all over the walls from previous adventurers.  Some mud creations were very artistic and some silly.  I saw smiley faces and initials and thought about the people who came before me as I rested on my stomach in the 2 foot crawlspace.

On our next break, Steve gave us candy and water, which was much needed.  When we got to the very back of the cave, there was a stream, that we sat by and chilled for a minute.  Then when we turned around (exhausted) and began to crawl out, I came face to face with a red salamander!  I screamed, which echoed loudly, and everyone came quickly.  So we took some pictures with the little guy and moved on.

The trip back to the entrance of the cave went by more quickly, but was more painful.  We began to realize our age with our sore muscles and joints on the climb out. MJ, the claustrophobic one, was the first one out of the cave.  He was highly motivated to get out of there!  MJ was followed closely by Juan.  However, the girls were lagging behind due to exhaustion!

When we got back to the supply room, we took turns taking showers and got back into our clean clothes.  This was a slow process, because we were all moving sluggishly.  But we had so much fun in the cave!  And we recommend everyone try it at least once.  It’s physically challenging, but anyone can do it if I can!  🙂

For information: http://www.lostworldcaverns.com