Friday, July 5, 2013

Whirlwind Adventure!

Whew!  The end of the school year really got crazy for me!  I can't believe that it is July already and I haven't written here since the end of May (really blew my goal of 3+ posts per month by skipping a month entirely!)

Sorry about that!  Know that I made it through a crazy end-of-the-year at my large elementary school with a lot of crazy-summer stuff happening as we speak in time to go back at the end of July.  I am trying to enjoy the month of "vacation" as much as possible.

Over the last day we took a whirlwind 24-hour trip to New York City.  Officially Google Maps (the authority!) says it is 252 miles from my town to Penn Station in NYC.  We took an Amtrak train to the city after Will got off work on Wednesday night.  Whew!  Here is the crazy timeline!

July 3:
9:00 - Will is done with work and we jump in the car to rush to DC's Union Station.  The NorthEast Regional Amtrak leaves at 10:10....GO GO GO!   We didn't buy tickets ahead of time because we didn't know what traffic would be like with the holiday and if we didn't make it we would be out a bunch of $$.  PLUS the only tickets we could buy for this train were the upgraded Business Class need to spend extra money there either.

9:55 - Park at Union Station and head in to buy tickets.

10:02  The counter closes at 10...and we just missed it.  So we headed to the little electronic kiosk...only to find the tickets were all gone.  Even the expensive business class ones!! BOO!  The nextr train has regular seats available and it leaves at 3:15am.   What to do?

10:05  Decide to walk around DC at night and see what is going on.  We heard music as we drove by the Capitol.  We walked to the Capitol and heard the last few numbers being rehearsed for the July 4th Concert.  We walked around to the Supreme Court and back to Union Station.

11:30 Over dinner and drinks at UNOs in Union Station (only thing open then!) we decide to wait for the 3:15 train and see what we can do...

11:30-3:00 WAITING. Union Station is weird at night.  Everything is closed and everyone is corralled into one tiny waiting area.  And the police are patrolling heavily...

July 4
3:15 - finally on our train and on the way!   It was so cold on the train (and I had my sweater on!) that I couldn't sleep.  Full on blowing air conditioning.  I shivered the whole way.  This was my first time on an Amtrak train!

6:20 We arrived at Penn Station!   This was my first visit to NYC.  We took off walking...hoping to find a coffee place but it was so early even Starbucks wasn't open (not at 6 up there, we must be hardcore here).  While we walked toward Battery Park we started making a list of the things we each wanted to do today - as much as we could fit in!   Statue of Liberty was first for both of us so that was our first stop, to avoid as many lines as possible.   Also on the list:   Ground Zero, Wallstreet, Coney Island, Times Square, Central Park, ride the Subway.  We quickly decided we needed to save time so we hailed a cab and headed to Battery Park with a quick drive around Ground Zero with an awesome (and FAST) cabbie who knew the city.

7:20 First priority - coffee!  Starbucks is right across from the entrance to the Liberty Island Ferry.   Perfect and the guys in there were all high school wrestlers so Will had great conversation with them while I waited for my drink. :)  Making friends, wherever we go!

7:30 In line for tickets at Castle Clinton.  This is one of four forts that were built in 1811-1812 to defend against a British invasion of NYC during the war of 1812.   We got in and bought tickets to the Liberty Island Ferry and to the Pedastal of the Statue of Liberty.  Then we moved into another line for the security screening.  In this line is where we found out that we were there on a very special day.   This was the first day that Clinton Castle, Liberty Island ferries and the Statue of Liberty were open since Superstorm Sandy hit in late October last year.  All three sustained major damage to the infrastructure (docks, ramps, shoreline, power systems, etc) but Lady Liberty was undamaged!  Ellis Island remains closed while repairs are in full swing.   The security was a whole new system - very much like an airport screening (except we kept our shoes on) in a large airconditioned tent.  This was the first day of operation for this screening system and crew of workers and there were some initial growing pains (like our metal detector that went off on EVERYONE including the 4 year old girl in front of me who had no metal at all).  After we went through the line was closed and the technicians were working on the detector.   (I had a wand screening and a pat down to get through.  Turns out the button and rivets on my capris and the underwire in my bra were what set off the detector)

8:31 We were on the first ferry to leave NY for Liberty Island!  The ferry was packed with a mix of tourists and reporters!

9:04  We were on Liberty Island and walking around the Statue of Liberty.  Her size is just enormous.  She is beautiful and the craftsmanship is extraordinary!   We were interviewed by a reporter for the NYTimes and she thought our story of taking the train in the middle of the night was pretty awesome.  :) We took lots of pictures and headed into a security line to enter the Pedestal.  Another airport like security line....but the waiting for this one was in a hot, stinky, stuffy (no AC) tent.

9:58  But it was worth it for views like this....First is just inside - they have the original torch.   We climbed the steps up to the first level of balconies...then up to the second level.  Just incredible.

10:29 Boarding the ferry to return to Battery Park.
After we got back on land, we went BACK to the Starbucks from this morning to get some water.  There was this RIDICULOUS line but the guys remembered Will from this morning and got us water without us having to wait in line.  Hehe...talking to people is good stuff!

11:03 We walked past the NY Stock Exchange

11:12 We got to Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial.  Unfortunately the passes were gone for the day.  We did visit the Visitor's Center and will be sure to reserve passes online for our next visit (we are already planning for when we come back!)

11:20 - ok, so then the craziness of the subway navigation began.  I don't really understand the system of tunnels and trains and stations.  We got directions from a transit cop and found a station, but nowhere to buy tickets.  You had to swipe your metro card to enter the station....but you couldn't buy it there.  Finally we went to the Wall Street station, bought our fare cards and headed off.  The plan was to take the 4 train to Atlantic Ave Station then transfer to the Q to ride out to Coney Island.  GO!  The stations are funny - some (in Manhattan) are gorgeous, with really cool tile work designs.  Others (like near Penn Station) are gross and smell like pee and are filthy!   The best thing was that all train rides cost the same amount so no crazy math like on the DC subway!

12:30 We made it to Coney Island in time for the Hotdog Eating Contest!  WOW!   40,000 people there, crammed in the streets.  It was broadcast on big screen TVs on big trucks because the crowds wrapped around the corners.  We had a hotdog from Nathans and then a Lobster roll too!  Will and I both ate them without the bread and enjoyed every bite.  Will wanted to ride one of the coasters at Coney Island but there was some emergency construction and lots of things/areas were closed.  One of the big rides had a major malfunction and they were dismantling it on the 4th of July!!

1:15 Back on the Subway to head to Times Square - just to walk around in the chaos.  :) It was big and bright in the day time.  I can only imagine how fabulous it lights up at night.We had some veggies and some water in an air conditioned restaurant close to where we came out of the subway.  It's crazy how much my body was craving veggies.  The hotdog and lobster just didn't do it for me!! We had been sweating all day and hadn't had enough water since every time we went through security we had to get rid of any bottles.

We took another cab to Penn Station to see if we could get on an earlier train home to make it out of DC before the fireworks....starting to get super tired (wonder why).   We had a little while till the train boarded so we went back to street level and walked around some of the shops and street vendors looking for a long sleeve shirt or hoodie to wear on the train home in case it was as cold as it was going!

3:37 We saw the Empire State building from afar. The height of the buildings is staggering.

4:00 A little waiting room time at Penn Station....and there were pigeons, basically batting this piece of bread around like a hockey puck, until it got stuck on the back of one of them.  INSIDE THE WAITING ROOM!  He kept spinning in circles trying to find the bread....weirdo!

4:42 Back on the Amtrak train on the way home!  We both slept on the train as much as we could, waking up at each stop along the way but snoozing like we deserved it!

8:30 back to DC's Union Station and out of DC before the fireworks craziness started.  WHEW!

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