A walk around NYC in spring

My husband and I went to New York City in April while visiting my grandparents. We took the bus from New Jersey and were in the thick of the city 30 minutes later.

New York City

New York defied any pre-conceived notions I had. In my mind, New York City is the American city, but stories of crime, hardship, “the American Dream,” never-ending noise and lights, poverty and luxury, all merge together and make this an intimidating place to me. I thought the streets would be dirty and the people unfriendly but New York City was such an enjoyable place.

The weather was wonderful and it truly felt like spring. After a harsh winter, the city and its inhabitants breathed a sigh of relief and contentment as Central Park grew greener and flowers bloomed along the High Line under a clear sky.

New York City

We just walked and walked – more than 8 miles that day. When we were tired, we sat and watched the people and traffic go by. The best things to see in the city were the people and the architecture; there was so much variety and color. I saw people dancing on roller blades, kids and adults running to pop bubbles, newlyweds taking photos, hundreds of kilt-wearing Scottish-Americans parading through the streets, a hot dog salesman trudging up 9th Ave with his cart and somehow making all of the lights.

New York City is a mass of vaguely ordered chaos. The streets are numbered but they’re bustling. The crosswalk signs flash red but people dash across the street anyway. Travelers corral into the correct lines at the Port Authority terminal, ready to break free and berate the tardy bus driver. It was easy to fade into the background and just watch the tide of humanity rush by.

New York City

Places:

The High Line: A fine place for a walk where you’ll see some unique people and buildings. We got off at Gansevoort Street and strolled around the cobblestone streets for a bit.

Times Square: We were tourists, so we had to. The highlight was the huge Toys ‘R’ Us store, which features an indoor Ferris wheel, an animatronic T-Rex, and several LEGO displays of famous landmarks. I didn’t realize this while we were there, but the store is actually closing and Gap will be moving into the space. Not as much fun.

Smithfield Hall: It’s hard to pick a restaurant when New York City has so many options and you’re bad at making decisions anyway. I pulled up Yelp for some help and we ate at this restaurant/bar for lunch. The burgers were good, a pint was a reasonable price, and soccer was on TV. Good choice!

Central Park: Another place we had to visit, especially since it was such a beautiful day! Find a spot to sit and watch the world go by.

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Natural beauty on Alcatraz

The weather on my  trip to Alcatraz in August was beautiful – warm, sunny and bright – somewhat of an anomaly when you think about typical San Francisco weather. It really made the flowers and scenery of this craggy island stand out against the dark interior of the former prison located there. I bet the view on a clear, sunny day made imprisonment even more unbearable.

Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz, San Francisco

…and inside:

Alcatraz, San Francisco

I hope you enjoyed these pictures! And just for kicks, here are a few more nature shots from my San Francisco trip.

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

 

 

Recently read: ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’

This is not a new book, and I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner. To begin with, it was published in 1994. I was only three years old then, so I’m letting that one slide. However, it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for at least two years now, and I wish I had enjoyed it years ago.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight is a work of nonfiction, but it reads like a novel. Set in Savannah, Georgia, it documents life in this secluded city before and after the killing of a young man at the hands of one of society’s wealthiest young bachelors. The story was compelling and I didn’t want to put the book down – I finished it in a few days.

John Berendt’s vivid portrait of Savannah and the quirky people who live there just made me want to road trip it down to Georgia (hey, it’s not even five hours away!). I want to see Savannah’s architectural gems, walk under decades-old trees strung with Spanish moss, and laze away a humid evening in a city square.

I don’t know much about Savannah, but that’s the impression I got from this book. And sometimes all you need is a good first impression to start off a great trip.

On being reluctant to travel in my own country

I’m from the United States, and I’ve lived here my whole life. Even though the country is huge, you’d think that in the past 23 years I would’ve seen a fair amount of it. Not true.

The view from Blowing Rock in the mountains of North Carolina.

The view from Blowing Rock in the mountains of North Carolina.

I’ve thought about this off and on since my first dip into international travel six years ago. It’s puzzling, for sure. Why have I been to five other countries’ capitals but not my own? It’s certainly easier and cheaper in many ways to travel within the US as an American, but when I think about “traveling,” my mind automatically jumps to foreign destinations. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that.


I think two basic mentalities contribute to my thinking:

“More of the Same”

I’ll admit, I find it much more thrilling to visit a new country than another state. There are different languages, currencies, modes of transportation to experience. Usually there’s a long flight, which to me conveys, “Hey, we’re actually going somewhere!”

Traveling domestically is the opposite of that. The people speak the same language, there’s no currency exchange, and you’ll see the same chain restaurants and stores (mostly). It can seem like a new location is way too similar to wherever you started out from, and that’s just not as exciting.

I travel internationally to experience new things and get out of my comfort zone, and sometimes a trip across the state border seems like it can’t deliver that.

A unique take on the Mona Lisa at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

A unique take on the Mona Lisa at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

“Family Vacation Blues”

Growing up, most of our trips were family vacations, either going to visit relatives or the four of us heading out on our own. We also traveled a lot for sporting events, like me and my brothers’ swim meets. The sports left me too tired or busy to do any exploring, usually, and I don’t really count those as trips.

Family vacations to visit relatives in New Jersey or Florida were spent hanging around the house, preparing meals for the group or maybe going to the mall. Occasionally we went to amusement parks, the zoo or the beach, but I don’t remember exploring the cities or visiting many tourist attractions that had any “cultural” value.

Sightseeing was not the main focus of these family vacations, which is fine – I feel very fortunate to see my extended family fairly often – but I think that contributed to this notion I have that domestic travel is somehow sub-par to international travel.


I’ve been trying to dispel that notion. Now that I’m older, with a car and a (meager) income, I can head out on my own for some fun. My husband and I are fans of weekend getaways – we love Living Social for that. Our recent trip to San Francisco was the first trip in a while my family took to a new destination just for fun – no extended family to visit.

Inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

Inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I’m making a personal resolution (starting now – who needs New Year’s?) to begin thinking like a traveler even when I’m at home in my own city and country. It’s certainly easier to travel at home. No passport, no customs, no language barrier, and usually airfare is much cheaper. Maybe I’ll visit the state Capitol Building, which I haven’t been to since a field trip in the second grade, or I’ll plan a getaway and explore a side of my own country I’ve never seen before.

I’ll be putting this vow into play with an upcoming belated birthday trip to Asheville, a city in my own state I’ve never been to, which is renowned for its natural beauty, fun-loving atmosphere and artistic scene. And beer.

Recently read: ‘Burnt Shadows’

Yesterday I finished reading Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. I actually bought this book in Oxford, England about 3 years ago, and forgot about that until I noticed the price on the back was in pounds.

I enjoyed the book, which explores the relationships between a Japanese woman who survived the bombing of Nagasaki, a bright, young Indian man with dreams of becoming a lawyer, an upper-class British family experiencing the collapse of an empire and a marriage, and their children. These relationships endure despite conflict between nations – Japan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States – in pivotal points in history. It was quite fitting that I finished the book on Sept. 11, as the novel progresses through the aftermath of 9/11.Burnt Shadows, Kamila ShamsieIt was an educational book for me as well; aside from the United States, I don’t know much about the other countries that are central to the plot of the book.

Shamsie writes beautifully, I think. Within her writing there is wonderful imagery, and I would definitely read more of her novels.

Overheard in San Francisco

Everyone knows San Francisco is the quirky city by the bay, but I heard some strange things while I was there.


Dang raccoons

[Possible homeless woman approaches me, my husband and my mom as we walk on the sidewalk.]

Woman: Have you seen any raccoons? (This is particularly funny because my husband hates raccoons for some reason.)

Husband: No, not today.

Woman: But you have seen them?

Husband: No, sorry.

Woman: Okay, thanks!

That was one of the best sidewalk interactions we had in San Francisco.

The Presidio, San Francisco


Oh, children…

[Kid, about 7 years old, riding the 5L bus with his mom and younger sister toward Golden Gate Park.]

“Mom, make up a joke to send to Dad. Here’s one: Why did the bus go through the red light? Because there was no red light!”

Reminds me of a Louis CK joke about a joke his daughter made up.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco


Sing it, Elton

[A man walked by us on Pier 39, where a tour boat called Rocket Boat was docked, singing to the tune of “Rocket Man.”]

“Rocket booooaaattt…cruising on the bay like every day…”

And that was the best thing that happened on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Telegraph Hill, San Francisco


Decisions, decisions

[A couple walked by us at the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market debating one of life’s important questions.]

“Should we get a little thing of potatoes or a thing of little potatoes?”

I would have gone with little potatoes.

Ferry Building, San Francisco

I’m not a big talker; I can easily go all day without speaking a word to another human being. I much prefer listening, and I’m so glad I caught these gems during my trip.