So, part of Penny’s “probation” came with the promise that if she behaved herself, I would take her to NYC at the end of her stay. I had originally been planning to take her at the beginning of June but figured she wouldn’t have much incentive to “be good” afterwards, so I decided I would take her at the end. I consulted with my friend, Melissa, who is my back up momma for Leah and she was finishing school as a first grade teacher this past week and would be happy to mind Leah for us while we went to NYC. So we decided to go on Thursday, June 23rd. Due to a bunch of financial considerations, we decided to cut the trip down to 1 full day instead of two, and when checking Amtrak for cheap tickets, the cheapest I could get were to leave at either 3 or 4 AM and get back to DC at 1AM. I chose leaving at 4AM, only as it would provide a LITTLE bit of extra sleep, and booked our tickets. Penny had two goals in mind: Statue of Liberty and Chinatown. Beyond that, she was leaving it up to me.
I went to college in NYC, and so it was a tough choice as to which of the ten million things people want to see when they think of NY that I could squeeze into just one day. And also bearing in mind Penny’s interests and being sensitive to her desire to stay out of the sun. I made an ambitious plan that basically involved us starting south and heading north from the Statue of Liberty to Ground Zero to Chinatown, and then heading north to 72nd Street to see Strawberry Fields and Gray’s Papaya, then walking south to Lincoln Center, Central Park, 5th Avenue, Times Square, and finally the Empire State Building. It was not to be, but I did things I hadn’t planned on and only missed the stops at 72nd Street, so I feel pretty good about what we accomplished!
We dropped Leah off at Melissa’s on Wednesday night and then headed up to my sister’s house to bunk down on the floor for a few hours. My sister lives only about 20 minutes from DC’s Union Station, so it was the smart thing to do—getting up at 3AM instead of 2:00 here at home and driving up. The alarm went off at 3, just as Penny was having a nightmare, so that scared her a bit, but we were ready and out the door at 3:15 and made it to the train station in no time. We managed to snag a nice face-to-face section of 4 seats in a quiet car, where my toddler is typically not allowed, and stretched out to try and get a bit more sleep. Penny was too excited to sleep, and I had a new Janet Evanovich book to read, so neither of us slept much, although she did sleep some, and I managed to doze. The train got stuck in Secaucus for about 40 minutes, so we got to NY at 8:00 instead of 7:15, and so rather than dilly-dallying to get breakfast somewhere, I ushered us along to the subway to South Ferry.
Initially Penny said she only wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, she didn’t really care if we actually took the boat over to Liberty Island. However, New York and fate had other plans for us—it was an absolutely MISERABLE day, hot and wet and foggy, and when we go to South Ferry, we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces, much less the statue! So I went up to the ticket booth and inquired if they had pedestal tickets, as the Statue’s website indicates you need to reserve your tickets to the pedestal a couple of weeks in advance and I didn’t really want to pay to go over to Liberty Island if we weren’t going to go inside the statue. There were tickets available, however, and because it was such a miserable day and we couldn’t see anything, we decided to put forth the money and go over to Liberty Island.
Due to the weather, the boat ride over was absolutely miserable. The boat rocked and bucked us around a great deal and people were pushing and shoving to get up on the top deck of the boat for what there was of a view. It was hot, I was already sweating, and I was feeling seasick. As we rolled past Ellis Island, it gave me a new appreciation for immigrants like my great-grandparents who endured similar journeys to get to our shores and made me think about Penny’s upcoming two day airplane journey back to Thailand and all she went through to get to us in the first place! Finally we got close enough to the Statue that we could see her and some people on the right side of the boat were kind enough to let us have their spots so we could grab pictures.
Once on the island, I issued Penny a stern warning about disappearing where I couldn’t see her, and she promptly took off without me, me screaming at her to get back to where I was. I then remembered my own 18-year-old self, fresh out of the mountains and let loose in NYC and considered my parents pretty darned brave to let their kid go live in the city by herself because my kid was going nowhere without me. I corralled Penny over to the line for the pedestal and after checking my backpack and clearing security, we were inside the museum, where we saw the original torch and took pictures with some replicas.
We got on line to go up, and Penny was extremely impatient. I kept telling her to breathe and relax, that we would be up there in no time, but she was really, really antsy. Finally we got to the top of the pedestal, just under the feet, and made our way outside, and she began screaming her head off and shaking that we were so high up in the air and she was terrified and wanted to get down. KIDS! Sheesh! So here she is, hugging the wall and refusing to go anywhere that she wasn’t pressed directly against it. I tried the old, “You’re young! You have the rest of your life to be scared!” thing, but it was clear she was having none of it, so we started back down the stairs and went to the next level down.
Yup. You can faintly see some buildings in there somewhere, but it was pretty much a bust. So we went down to the base of the statue, reclaimed our bags and walked around the bottom to get some pictures.
By this time, there was a boat docked and there wouldn’t be another one for 30 minutes, so we decided to get on that boat and head off. We got to Ellis Island and I explained what it was and asked her if she would like to see it, but she’s not much of a museum type, so it didn’t appeal to her at all. (one of the advantages of going to college in NYC is that going to Ellis Island was actually a homework assignment for me my freshman year. I found the place fascinating and could have spent the day there, but it’s not my trip, so we did not disembark!)
Our next stop was going to be Ground Zero. Penny wasn’t entirely clear on what had happened there, given that she was not quite 9 when it happened, but she had heard about it and I had shown her pictures of the old skyline and some pictures of what happened and she thought it would be a good thing to see. I had last been there a few years ago when I led a group of conference participants to Ground Zero when I was attending a conference at Helen Keller National Center on Long Island. So I was interested to see how it was changing and what was new. Also, due to the fact we had yet to eat anything and it was nearly 11:00, I wanted to find some pizza! Unfortunately, I got busy talking to Penny while we were on the train, so I missed our stop and we had to get out and walk to Ground Zero from a bit further away. But eventually we found a subway station nearby and decided to hop back on and ride to the stop we needed. (In retrospect, even though it was only 1 stop, I am SO glad we did it! We walked SO HARD and SO FAR Thursday, I was sore for a couple of days!)
The rain started by then, and I snapped a quick picture of Penny from the sidewalk. You can see there is a lot of construction going on around there now, and sadly to me at least, there are a lot of hawkers down there trying to get you to buy books and pins and hats and crap about 9/11. I politely pushed two of them away and then put on my NYC game face and we were left alone. We looked around a bit and then as I had walking directions to Chinatown from Ground Zero, we decided to start walking.
About halfway there, I was thinking we were seriously lost. We’d gone a good number of blocks and not found Canal Street and we were hot, wet, and tired already. Thankfully, out of the blue like a beacon shone Star Pizza, and we stopped in for Penny’s first NY pizza experience. I taught her how to fold it before you eat it, and we guzzled down beverages as if we hadn’t had a drink in months. Thus refreshed, we headed to Chinatown, which took us another 20 minutes or so worth of walking before we finally found it (FIE ON YOU, Chinatown website that made it sound like a quick and easy stroll!)
Penny asked me what I wanted to do there and I answered honestly that I had never been and just brought her because she wanted to see it and to walk around and look at whatever she wanted to do. She wanted to eat something, and was a bit disappointed that most of the stores were jewelry and souvenir stores. Eventually we happened upon a restaurant with ducks hanging in the window, which seemed to indicate some authenticity in everyone’s minds and so we went into Sun Sai Gai restaurant and were immediately screamed at by any number of old Chinese men who were moving briskly and efficiently around the place, filling empty seats, taking order, throwing tea, and slinging food that was coming up the dumbwaiter. Penny knows Chinese and was laughing at whatever they were yelling, but I have no idea what was going on. Eventually we ordered—she got duck soup and I got some kind of Cantonese noodles—and we dug in almost immediately.
Penny was in heaven, assuring me that everything was absolutely authentic and truly it was unlike any Chinese food I have eaten in the US, so I am inclined to believe her! :) It was absolutely delicious, we shared each other’s dishes and I’m so glad I tried her soup, even if it was way too hot for soup! By the time we finished lunch, it was POURING down rain, so I decided to modify the route. There was an N train right outside and we hopped on and headed for Times Square to go to Madame Tussaud’s, one of the few indoor activities I had planned for us.
I could not have chosen an activity that was a bigger hit with Penny. From the moment we got to the first room, she was squealing, running around, camera and umbrella flying, “Take me a picture!” issuing from her mouth every 3.2 seconds. She didn’t even know who half the “people” were who were displayed, she was just embraced in the sheer joy and excitement of the thing and wanted it all captured. Her favorite figures were Capt. Jack Sparrow and Rob Pattinson, but she LOVED all of the figures. We spent over 2 hours in the museum, and she never went past a single figure that I didn’t snap her picture. We participated in the 4D movie experience that was included, and it was cute, and at least a chance to sit for a few minutes, as I knew we were about to do some serious amounts of walking.
When we got back outside, we found that the rain had stopped, so we rolled on back to Times Square and I grabbed a couple of pictures of her up there. There wasn’t a whole lot going on, although we were accosted by some guys from a Beatles tribute band. It was a pretty miserable day, so the lights were shining pretty well, which was good since we didn’t wind up going back at night, which I know was a bit disappointing, but still we were just exhausted by that point.
Anyway, we walked and walked and cut over towards Fifth Avenue, since I wanted Penny to see Radio City Music Hall and the NBC studios before we got to Rockefeller Center. We hit both those stops pretty quickly, since we didn’t have a tour of the studios lined up and just walked past Radio City en route.
The first thing Penny noticed at Rockefeller Center was the flags of all nations and we were immediately on a quest to find the Thai flag. Thankfully she spotted it in pretty short order and was more impressed by that than she was by the statue and the center itself!
Across the street from Rockefeller Center is the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and I wanted to show her that. It had the added advantage of being indoors and out of the weather and she was fully impressed by the beauty and peace of the place, as I had expected her to be.
After I felt compelled to say a prayer and did so, we both decided we were having bathroom emergencies, so we hightailed it up 5th Ave. until we came to a Forever 21, Penny’s favorite store. There were 4 bathrooms listed on the store directory, and every single one of them was out of order. We browsed for a while, and then made an unintended stop over at Trump Tower, hoping to find a public restroom in there. Nope, nada! But I got a fun picture of Penny on the escalator and she was impressed to be in Trump’s building, since she had heard of him!
(See those bags under Penny’s eyes? We were feeling the strain!)
Upon not finding a bathroom at Trump’s place, we kept walking and finally got to FAO Schwartz, where I knew for a fact there were restrooms. I directed her through traffic to the restrooms, and once satisfied, we had a look around. We were both really disappointed at how little Hello Kitty stuff was there, and by and large, I was really disappointed in how much the place had changed and how it had just turned into a giant toy store instead of the wonderland it used to be. So we left with nothing to show for it except for a packet of Asian grape candies and a cool picture we snapped outside as we were leaving—probably one of my two favorites I took of Penny in New York (the other will be the last photo on this post!).
We crossed the street to see the Ai WeiWei sculptures outside the Plaza Hotel. There are 12 animal heads representing the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac. Little did I know, Mr. Ai is being detained by the Chinese government, so as cool as the sculptures are, I felt like a bit of a bad ass taking my good girl Thai student to see the art of someone the Chinese consider a dissident.
From there, we headed for a stroll in Central Park, and our feet were killing us. Penny’s knees were starting to give in and we no sooner hit the park when she needed another bathroom break, so we pressed forward until we found one near a playground in the park. I sat outside while she went in and then we decided to take stock of our situation. It was about 6:00 at that point, and we were both hot, smelly, tired, and kind of over it! I asked Penny what more she wanted to, explained the two stops we hadn’t yet made on my itinerary, and we agreed to catch the 59th street subway to Lincoln Center and then head back to 34th Street.
We literally got off the train, took the picture, and got back on the train. While we were heading back south, Penny asked me if I knew where we could get famous NY black and white cookies, so we decided that would be our new quest. I asked her about going to the top of the Empire State Building, which is something that in my “old age” I really would like to do, but upon discussing it, and based on how freaked out she was at the Statue of Liberty, we decided against it. Still, she wanted to see it, so we got down there and started walking in that direction. Looking up at the building, I knew we made the right decision, since the top of it was encased in fog. We wouldn’t have seen much of anything at all.
And so we went inside and took a picture of Penny in the lobby and decided to go find better pizza than we had already eaten. This time, we stumbled upon Little Italy pizza, definitely a step up from Star Pizza, but definitely not the best pizza I’ve eaten in NY. Penny was thrilled to see everyone else folding their pizza in half to eat it, and I think she felt a bit like a NYer that day while she emulated everyone else’s style.
We wandered to a few places looking for cookies—Starbucks, Manhattan Mall—but nothing jumped out at us, so we decided to try our luck at the many eateries in Penn Station and in the very first one we went to, we had success!!!! I bought us each a cookie and me a bottle of water, and we found the Amtrak waiting area and parked our butts. It was 7:30, and we were officially exhausted. Our train wasn’t leaving till 10:00, but we sat there and played games on my iPod until our train was called. We got back in the quiet car and then Penny fell asleep. I wasn’t able to sleep much, unfortunately, and was awake most of the trip, dozing fitfully here and there while waiting to get home to DC. Thankfully the train ran on time and we got back to DC right at about 1:15AM, and were in the car and ready to roll by 1:30.
Unfortunately, VDOT decided to do overnight roadwork and 95 South was down to 1 lane, so we were stuck in traffic! I was so upset, overtired, I just started cursing a blue streak. Penny woke up long enough to ask, “What’s going on?” and then pass back out. By the time we got home at 3AM, I could barely make it up the steps, and Penny and I stood on the front walk, giggling, while I seriously debated crawling. I made it up the steps and up to the second floor of the house, bid Penny good night, and passed out cold until 9AM when my neighbor decided to mow his lawn. AUGH! I felt cursed! I laid in bed, chatting to my husband on the phone for about an hour, relaying our adventures, and then got ready to face Friday.
It really was an amazing trip, I’m so glad I took Penny and we got to see so much stuff and do so many things. I hope she’ll never forget it, since I know I never will!