Note: This is necessarily a long post, since it will contain lots of detail about a lengthy and detailed trip.

Preface

If you’d like to see full highlights from our trip, I’ve put together a Google Photos album, which you can view here.

This vacation story begins way back in 2013, when we received a Save-the-Date from my cousin Renee, whose wedding was held on July 2, 2015. It was a long way away when we decided we would go, and between now and then there were several times it looked like we weren’t going to be able to make it. And yet, make it we did. It’s a vacation that felt much longer than it was, but was fun, eventful, and will be remembered for a long time. I’ve also included our original itinerary for each day, as some of our plans changed (as you’ll read), but we still managed to see and do nearly everything we had planned.

Day 1

Original Itinerary:
6:56 AM – Flight to Charlotte, NC
11:16 AM – Flight to Newark, NJ
1:00 PM – Pickup rental car & drive to Cooperstown, NY
6:00 PM – Check-in to hotel in Cooperstown, NY

The day started exceptionally early, as we had a 7 AM flight out of Bush Intercontinental in Houston. The itinerary called for a connecting flight in Charlotte, NC before arriving in Newark, NJ. There, we needed to pick up our rental car, and then drive about 4 hours to Cooperstown, NY (more on that in a bit). Needless to say, it was going to be a long day, but one we were excited about.

The flight to Charlotte was uneventful, and not terribly bad. As for the 2nd flight into Newark, the plane was hot, there wasn’t much to see out the window, and it felt more crowded than the earlier flight (though it actually wasn’t.) After arriving in Newark, we could see the Manhattan skyline a little bit, off in the distance. We were excited, but wouldn’t get to see that skyline up close for a few more days.

The car rental company picked us up from the airport terminal, and shuttled us over to pick up our ‘luxury’ car. The website described it as a “Jaguar, or similar”, which was accurate; we were given a BMW rental. Unfortunately, it was a 2007 BMW in which the power steering wasn’t working, the tire pressure monitor was malfunctioning, and the best way to describe the car was “very used”. We were expecting luxury, and got none of it. To be fair, the car did have keyless entry and push-button start, along with lots of other ‘luxury’ features, but it at no time felt luxurious at all. Still, it got us where we wanted to go, and back, without too much difficulty, so I supposed if that was all that went wrong with the trip, it would be alright. Now, some may ask why we didn’t simply exchange the car for another, and it’s a fair question. First, the rental company is named “Rent-a-Wreck” which I thought was a cute name for a rental car company, but was apparently quite aptly named. Second, the pickup was actually from a parking lot, where there was no actual rental company. It would have been quite difficult and much of a hassle to exchange the car for something else, if even possible.

So off we set for our next destination: Cooperstown, NY, and home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It was a few hours drive, so we thought it would be a good destination to visit while in that section of the country. After all, when would we have another chance? The drive was interesting, but felt long, as there are a lot of winding roads and mountainous terrain to navigate in up-state New York. Add to that a large portion was driving on unfamiliar toll-roads, and a road system that was rather different than that in Texas, and the drive seemed a long one.

Now, Cooperstown, NY is a small town, visited mostly by tourists during the summer months, and so has a pretty extreme lack of luxurious hotels. Most of the rooms in town are at small motels, or hotels that barely meet the requirement of the name. They were exceedingly expensive for their value, yet I found what appeared to be the only true ‘hotel’ in town, named the Otesaga Resort Hotel. At not a lot more than the rest of the ‘motels’, it appeared to offer a much better accommodation than the rest. It turns out the Otesaga is a magnificent hotel, with an unbeatable view of Lake Otsego, and was one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever visited. Both Jenny and I were heartbroken when we had to check out, but we promised each other that we’ll go back, to spend more time just relaxing, and enjoying the wonderful scenery.

We were given an excellent room overlooking the north grounds, and a partial view of the lake. The room was very nice, with a historical feel, but included all the modern amenities. Here are a few photos of the room itself:

The view from our hotel room.

The view from our hotel room.

After checking in, we took the opportunity to explore a bit, taking pictures of the grounds, and the lake, etc. We drove into town (though we could have easily walked) and explored a little bit of the main street, stumbling across the Hall of Fame building. In fact, we went inside briefly, to use their restrooms. We had planned to actually visit the museum the next day, but we did our souvenir shopping then, figuring it would save us time the next day. We both got Biggio induction t-shirts, and caps–Jenny’s of the current Astros hat with the induction patch, and I got a HOF cap. After exploring a bit, we ate dinner at a tiny diner, named, appropriately, Cooperstown Diner. The service was nonexistent, but the food was amazing, and the prices were more than reasonable.

By now, we were growing tired and ready to get some rest for the next day, so we returned to the hotel and our wonderful room and prepared to call it a night on Day 1.

10,070 Steps / 5 Miles

 

Day 2

Original Itinerary:
8:30 AM – Check-out of hotel in Cooperstown, NY
9:00 AM – Visit National Baseball Hall of Fame
3:00 PM – Leave Hall of Fame and drive to Middletown, NY, then check-in to hotel
7:00 PM – Rehearsal Dinner @ SoHo Bar & Grill

Both Jenny and I hated that we had to check out of the Otesaga so soon. Our stay included a breakfast in the Hotel’s Glimmerglass restaurant, which turned out to be a fancy breakfast buffet, with omelet station, and really pretty excellent food. The service was excellent, and made us feel like very special guests. We wandered around and took some more pictures of the hotel, grounds, and the lake, before finally checking out, and heading for the car.

We parked at the Doubleday Field parking lot in downtown Cooperstown (really only a couple blocks from the hotel), and made our way to the Hall of Fame Museum. After purchasing our tickets, we were almost immediately greeted by a Craig Biggio display, which included several items from his playing career. The other upcoming inductees were also on display, but as Houstonians, we had eyes only for Biggio. We spent time looking at the plaques in the main hall, and I managed to get photos of each and every plaque, including the location where Biggio’s will go later this month. We then made our way to the 2nd floor of the museum, and spent time marveling at all the amazing artifacts that they have on display. From Babe Ruth’s uniforms, to actual lockers used by baseball’s best players, to bricks from stadiums, to some of the original rulebooks used by baseball clubs back in the very foundation of the sport, the Baseball Hall of Fame has some of everything; it’s truly remarkable. In fact, there was so much to see and read, it was a little overwhelming. We spent only a few hours there, but could easily have spent many more.

Once we finished with the museum (a little earlier than I expected), we decided to grab a bite to eat at a small restaurant directly across the street from the museum. The food wasn’t bad, but was a far cry from the excellent meal we’d had the previous evening, and the service was just so-so. Still, the weather was perfect, except for a small rain shower, and we sat outdoors and enjoyed the cool temperatures. In all, it capped off a wonderful start to the vacation, and by this point, it was almost impossible for us to believe that just the previous day we had been in Houston.

At this point, we hopped back in our ‘luxury’ rental car, and made our way to Middletown, NY where my cousin’s wedding would be held the next evening. The drive this time wasn’t as circuitous, and was a bit shorter, as Middletown is only about a 1.5 hour drive from NYC. We arrived at our hotel at about 3:30 PM and checked in, then had a chance to rest for a bit, and take a brief nap before we had to meet everyone for dinner. Fortunately, the restaurant was within walking distance of our hotel, so we didn’t have to drive anywhere.

Dinner was fun, though loud, and we got to see a few of my direct family members, as well as introduce Jenny to Renee for the first time, and we both got to meet Otto her (then future) husband, who was very nice and welcoming. Both of them seemed very happy together, and they make an excellent couple. The food was pretty good (for Tex-Mex in New York, that is), and we all had a wonderful time. Jenny and I left a little bit early (around 9 PM), as we were both very tired from having gotten up relatively early, and from driving several hours that day. We went back to the hotel, and promptly crashed. We were both happy that we could sleep in the following morning, as we had nothing planned but the wedding, which was at 6 PM the next night.

6,544 Steps / 3.2 Miles

Day 3

Original Itinerary:
6:00 PM – Attend wedding

At last, the wedding day had arrived. This was literally our primary reason for traveling all the way to New York, and we both were looking forward to the party. We slept until about Noon, since we had nothing else planned to do. We searched for something close by to eat, and settled on a Mac & Cheese place, which I drove to but found closed for the holidays. Since just about everything else in the vicinity was a sit-down restaurant, I instead picked up Chipotle and took it back to the hotel room for us to eat.

At 5:15 PM, we were both dressed and ready to party, so we hopped on the “school bus” that shuttled all the wedding guests to the venue–a nicely-appointed historical home–where the wedding was to take place. The weather cooperated nicely, and everything seemed to go off without a hitch. The ceremony was very nice, the location was beautiful, and everyone had a fantastic time at the reception. Otto and Renee really seem like a very happy couple, and Jenny and I couldn’t be happier for them.

Around Midnight, the buses took everyone back to the hotels, and we pretty much immediately crashed. Fortunately, we didn’t need to check out super-early the next morning, so we were able to sleep in a little bit.

Day 4 / NYC – Day 0

Original Itinerary:
11:00 AM – Check-out of hotel in Middletown, and drive to Newark, NJ
1:00 PM – Turn in rental car in Newark, NJ
3:00 PM – Check-in to hotel in NYC
4:00 PM – Walk to Washington Square Park in NYC
5:00 PM – Get a slice from Joe’s Pizza in NYC

This was the day I was very excited for, as we would finally make our way to Manhattan, and get to experience the liveliness of New York City for the first time directly. We woke up and got ready faster than I expected, so ended up checking out of the hotel a couple of hours earlier than planned. My hope was that we wouldn’t have any problems checking into our hotel early, but my worries turned out to be unfounded, as we ran into some issues navigating the mass transit system, which delayed us getting to our hotel.

Once we turned in the rental car, we were shuttled back to the Newark Airport, where we had to figure out how to catch the bus to New York, and the correct one that would take us to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There were two reasons we needed to go there, one of which was to pick up our CitySights NY tour bus passes, so we could then ride that bus to the vicinity of the hotel. We finally located where to get on the NJ Transit bus, but we weren’t exactly sure where we were supposed to transfer to the next bus that would take us in to Manhattan. The bus driver was nice, and made sure we got off at the correct stop, but then when we finally saw the bus we were supposed to take, they drove right past us, and dropped off across the street. The next bus was scheduled for 18 minutes from then, so it took us a while to finally locate the correct bus stop, but we managed to catch the next bus. It was very crowded, and we had little room to sit, let alone hold onto our luggage. It was a fairly lengthy bus ride as well, so it was really very uncomfortable.

Once we arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, it took us several minutes to locate the business where we were to pick up our tour bus passes. We had to ask directions several times, but kept getting mixed information, so went the wrong way several times. At last, we found the store-front, and got our passes. Because we had a 3-day pass, we would miss out on one day by getting them then, but we had no plans to come back to that portion of town for a couple of days. They offered us a VIP pass, which would add 2 more days to our bus pass, as well as VIP boarding, at a cost of $50. This turned out to be a mistake to purchase, as we expected to use the bus passes far more than we did. Our original plan called for taking the subway to a station near our hotel, but instead, we chose to ride the tour bus, which went near our hotel, and we would get off there.

The weather this day was quite warm, and we were both very hot and sweaty at this point. The temperature itself wasn’t all that bad, but any direct exposure to sunlight was particularly uncomfortable. Jenny was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and we spent a long time waiting for the bus to get going again at each stop. As a result, Jenny got quite sunburned on her arms, and I got a hefty dose of sunburn on my face and forehead. The bus finally arrived at its closest stop to our hotel, so we debarked, and hoofed it over the several blocks to our hotel. This was by far the worst part of the trip so far, as we had to navigate our (very) heavy suitcases across several blocks of Manhattan, the uneven concrete, crosswalks, etc. to finally arrive at our hotel. The journey that morning started at something like 9 AM, and we finally arrived at the hotel some six hours later, at nearly 4 PM.

It was heavenly to get to our room, where we had an air conditioner, bottled water, and a fantastic view.

The view from our hotel room.

The view from our hotel room.

At this point, we wanted to get out of the hotel, and make the most of our time in the city. We were committed to wasting as little time as possible, so we could experience as much of New York as possible in our limited timeframe. We had only 3 full days to see a lot of tourist sites, so time was of the essence.

By now, we hadn’t eaten in several hours, and I was famished, so our first itinerary change occurred. Instead of going to Washington Square park first, we instead went to Joe’s Pizza, and had a couple of slices. On the way there, we were greeted by an active ‘scene’ with police and a roped-off road. 6th Avenue was closed, and we later learned that it was due to a tour bus hitting and dragging a pedestrian several feet. The pedestrian was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, as a result. When we had arrived, there was a shoe in the street, blood on the pavement, and many police. At the time we weren’t aware of the specifics, but the people around weren’t acting as if it was all that unusual. In fact, our first thought when seeing all of this was that there was some type of filming going on. Still, we proceeded on with our plans. We made our way to Washington Square Park, where we saw the chess boards, and those wanting to play, were subjected to some ‘art project’ where people were in their underwear moaning and writhing on the ground while soaking wet, and just kind of took in the New York atmosphere.

Not quite ready to call it a night yet, we decided to check out Magnolia Bakery, where we got a few cookies, and Jenny got a cupcake (which she didn’t care for when she finally ate it a couple of days later); the cookies were very good though. At this point, we’d walked over a mile, and were ready to get back to the hotel and relax. We had a somewhat early morning, and wanted to be as refreshed as possible before hitting NYC in earnest the next day.

 

Day 5 / NYC – Day 1

Original Itinerary:
9:00 AM – 9/11 Memorial
11:00 AM – Eat lunch at Shake Shack
12:20 PM – Catch CitySights NY ferry to Battery Park
5:00 PM – Walk across Brooklyn Bridge and see Brooklyn Bridge Park
8:00 PM – Watch Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks from Brooklyn Heights Promenade

It was with great excitement that we got up and prepared for our first full day in New York City. This was actually supposed to be our ‘relaxed’ day in NYC, as we had just a few minor plans, but were filled with expectation. We searched for, and eventually found, the subway station indicated by Google Maps on my cellphone, and rode to within just a block or so of the 9/11 Memorial. This was our first subway experience, and it was immediately obvious that it would be the way we got around for the remainder of the trip. It was so fast and convenient to get to where we wanted to go, it seems hard to believe people would use just about anything else to get around. Taxis were fairly expensive, and even a five-minute wait for a Uber felt exceedingly inconvenient, especially after seeing how long it takes to get anywhere in NYC traffic.

We made our way to the Museum, and entered to see the exhibit and memorial. This was also our introduction to the enhanced security in NYC since the 9/11 attacks nearly 15 years ago. We had to go through metal detectors, and it was much like an airport security screening: shoes off; belts off; pockets emptied; bags through an x-ray machine; etc. Once through security, we then had to leaves our bags in a bag-check area, before we could enter the museum proper. And what a museum it was. It was an immediately sobering experience as they displayed photos of the Twin Towers before the attack, and then you enter the subterranian section of the memorial. The original slurry wall of the North tower is visible, along with the ‘final column’ and even the original foundation and support columns of the tower. The no-photography portion of the exhibit displays countless artifacts from the 9/11 disaster, but also tells the stories of many of the victims, and more-so the heroes of that tragic day; both those who sacrificed their lives, and those who survived to help others. It was highly emotional, very respectful, and one of the most hard-hitting museum experiences I’ve ever been through. The fact that we were there on July 4th was not lost on us either, especially as we stood not far away from the new World Trade Center building, standing a proud 1,776 feet tall.

Once finished with the museum, we ascended to street level to see the memorial’s dual reflecting pools. There were Memorial members handing out small American flags to be placed into victim’s names around the reflecting pools, so Jenny placed them for both of us. It was a really poignant moment, and put both of us in somewhat of a melancholy mood for most of the rest of the day.

Once finished with the Memorial, we made our way the few blocks to the next item on our agenda: Shake Shack. By now we were both hungry, and were curious to try what we’d heard was a great burger joint. We both ordered burgers, fries, and shakes, and were NOT disappointed. The burgers were some of the best I’ve ever had. The shakes were thick, and very flavorful, and I practically needed a spoon to eat mine. The fries were both crispy and tasty, and overall it was an excellent meal–a little pricey, but not overly so.

After lunch, we got turned around briefly, and circled the building before making our way in the correct direction to hop on our ferry, and head for Battery Park. This was where our first major change to itinerary occurred. We were both a little bit tired, and needed to rest our feet, so we decided to ride the ferry for a while. We stayed on it for a couple of hours, experiencing all kinds of weather, including hot sun, windy rain, cold winds, and then very nice weather toward the end of our ride. We did however, get some excellent views of Manhattan, many of the sites, and some fantastic pictures of the Lady herself, the Statue of Liberty. Our original plan called for us to get off at the southern tip of Manhattan and walk to Battery Park, then all the way across Brooklyn Bridge and to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Instead, we got off at the DUMBO pier, and went immediately up onto the bridge. Rather than walk all the way across, we made it to the first big tower, and got some great pictures from there. There were a LOT of people on the bridge with us, so it was often difficult just to walk around, but we still had a good time.

We were both tired and cranky by now, so we decided to get something to eat. If there’s one thing I learned about NYC is that there are a LOT of places to eat. Trying to find something good isn’t difficult, but you have to know almost exactly what you want in order to find the right place. We settled on Grimaldi’s, a pizzeria practically underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. We had to wait outside in line for quite a while before finally getting a table, but then we got to sit for a while, waiting for our food to be ready. It was very crowded inside, and our table felt uncomfortably claustrophobic, so we didn’t stay long after eating. The food was good, of course, but nothing revelatory, since we’ve had Grimaldi’s here in Houston before, and the food is pretty much the same. Being tucked back in a corner with no views to the outside kind of ruined the ambiance of eating in Brooklyn though.

Jane’s Carousel was one of the attractions that I was looking forward to seeing in Brooklyn Bridge Park, so we made our way there, only to find it closed early due to the holiday. Brooklyn Bridge Park was supposed to be one of the best places to watch the 4th of July Fireworks from, so we elected to find a place to sit down, and wait for the fireworks. This was shortly after 5 PM, and the fireworks weren’t scheduled to start until about 9 PM. So we prepared ourselves to wait several hours. Knowing that things would get crowded, we figured we had a great location to watch from. The majority of the fireworks were to go off further up the East River (to our right) and another set from just south of the Brooklyn Bridge (to our left). 9 PM came and went without any fireworks, and we were both growing antsy, and ready to see some awesome fireworks.

Finally, about 9:30 they started, and it was immediately obvious that we picked the wrong place to watch them from. The huge tower of the Brooklyn Bridge blocked most of the view of those south of us, and the fireworks further up the East River were mostly occluded by the buildings in the way. We could see the top half of them, but not much more. Those that were closer weren’t all that impressive, and hundreds of thousands of people were all on the move, trying to get a better view. Once we realized we weren’t going to get a good view of them, we decided to beat the crowds (or so we thought) and get back to the subway and get out of there. The crowds were like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and reminded me of what Mardi Gras in New Orleans must be like. It was kind of like one of those disaster movies, with everyone milling around, and trying to make your way through them while explosions go off behind you. Really, it was not an experience I would like to go through again. As we made our way to the subway station, we made the determination that we probably would have had a better view of the fireworks from our hotel room. Live and learn, I suppose.

We did finally make it back to the hotel, were able to catch a replay of the fireworks on television, where I was again disappointed–they weren’t really that great, and the music was TERRIBLE. We ordered some delivery from a deli, and went to bed, having felt like we wasted four-and-a-half hours in NYC. Still, it was interesting to see so many New Yorkers gathered for the fireworks, even if we did all pick the wrong spot.

Day 6 / NYC – Day 2

Original Itinerary:
10:00 AM – Central Park and Central Park Zoo
3:00 PM – FAO Schwartz
3:30 PM – Apple Store
4:00 PM – Discovery Times Square
5:30 PM – New York Skyride
6:00 PM – Empire State Building 86th-floor observation deck

This day our trip really went off the rails. We decided to shuffle our plans a bit for the day early. After dealing with large crowds the night before, neither Jenny or I were in a rush to repeat the experience. We decided to visit the Empire State Building first thing, to beat the lines (or so we hoped).

I woke up about 6 AM in pretty extreme pain, to the point I was doubled-over, and felt like vomiting. The pain eventually passed, and I felt fine, but it returned a few minutes later with a vengeance, making me vomit twice. Jenny nearly broke her leg trying to get out of the shower while I was folded over the toilet evacuating a very empty stomach. A couple of weeks before, I had something similar happen, though it wasn’t nearly as bad, and I determined I likely had a kidney stone affecting me. Unfortunately, it had chosen NYC to make a reappearance. I finally felt well enough to get out of the hotel, so we headed for the Empire State Building.

We beat most of the lines, and made our way to the 86th floor observatory, where it was very crowded, but had a pretty magnificent view. The only bad thing about the day was the view was pretty faded, due to dust or dirt in the air. Still, we could see for miles and miles around, and I got what I felt were some pretty excellent pictures. As we got ready to leave, I was in pain again, and went to the restroom, where I noticed blood in my urine. I tried struggling through, but by the time we got to the New York Skyride (a movie-theater ride) and the seat bounced me around an induced pretty bad motion sickness (in me, not Jenny), it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be able to go much further that day. Jenny insisted that we go see a doctor, so we tried an urgent care clinic, but they told me to go to the ER for a CAT scan. By now, I was mostly feeling better, but we walked several more blocks to the NYU Hospital emergency room, where they took me back almost immediately, and hooked me up to an IV, and worked on getting me what I needed. I gave a urine sample (clearly blood in it), and they performed a CAT scan. The doctor eventually came back and let me know that I had two kidney stones (a 5mm and a 4mm) and the larger one was the one currently affecting me. They prescribed me Flomax to help the stone pass, and Percocet for the pain. By the time we left the ER, I was mostly feeling fine again, and we were both very hungry. In all, we spent about 3 hours in the ER, but those were hours in NYC that I’ll never get back.

NYU Langone Hospital Emergency Room

NYU Langone Hospital Emergency Room

Before resuming our sightseeing in NYC, we decided to eat at a bar we had passed on the way to the hospital, called Joshua Tree Bar. Mainly, this was due to its having our nephew’s name Joshua in it, but also, because it looked intriguing. We were the only patrons in the bar, so got to talk to our barkeep/waitress for a while. She told us that NYC was pretty dead, because of the holiday. We had thought it was crowded (and compared to Houston, it was) but not so, according to the locals.

After eating, and feeling much better, we decided it was time to see Times Square (during the day). Though not at crowded as the fireworks area the night before, this was by far the most crowded area we’d yet seen in NYC. Times Square had been described to me as “not worth it”, which I would say isn’t far from the truth, and yet it’s still one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. There were lots of shops, and countless other things to do there. We went to the Discovery Times Square, where we wandered through the Hunger Game Exhibition. It was pretty cool, though not as interesting as I would have hoped. Still, it was indoors, not very crowded, and air-conditioned. After the exhibition, we went to the Hershey’s store, then M&M’s World, both in Times Square. I was determined to get a street-vendor hot dog while in NYC, so did that in Times Square; it was really pretty good, and I told myself I should have gotten two of them. By now, our feet were just about ready to give out, and we didn’t have much more in the gas tank. We decided we’d go to see the Apple Store and FAO Schwartz, before heading back to the hotel. Most of the things we wanted to see the next day were very close-together, so we figured we could squeeze Central Park into the day fairly easily.

The Apple Store didn’t disappoint; it’s an amazing piece of architecture, or at least the gas alone is. We didn’t shop, and barely looked around, I really just wanted to say that I’d been there, and get a few pictures. We then went to FAO Schwartz to see that it had already closed for the evening. Jenny was disappointed, but I promised her we’d go back the next day. After all, the store closes for good on July 15th, so it was urgent that we see it.

We made our way back to the hotel, and to a restful evening. I took my medication, and almost immediately passed out.

19,252 Steps / 9.5 Miles

 

Day 7 / NYC – Day 3

Original Itinerary:
8:30 AM – St. Patrick’s Cathedral
11:00 AM – Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center
1:00 PM – New York Public Library
2:00 PM – Grand Central Terminal

Our final full day in NYC, and boy were we already exhausted. Our updated plan for the day was to start at Rockefeller Center, and the Top of the Rock observation deck, followed by some time in Central Park. Just the thought of all that walking was overwhelming, but I just couldn’t go to New York City without visiting Central Park.

We also got to see NYC as it usually is. We hit the streets around 9 AM, which is apparently the start of the workday for most, and it was immediately clear that foot traffic was up considerably. It was also much clearer who were locals, and who were the tourists, as those working were dressed appropriately, while tourists like Jenny and I were dressed in tourist clothes, lugging around cameras, and stopping to snap photos of things that New Yorkers had likely seen a billion times before.

We made our way to Rockefeller Plaza, and up to the 67th floor and the Top of the Rock. This was composed of 3 levels, one of which was indoors and air-conditioned. Jenny chose to stay on this level, while I explored the upper decks. The views from here were far better than those at the Empire State Building (or so I believed), and I got some amazing panoramas of the New York skylines. Central Park was much more visible from this vantage point, and all of Manhattan was spread out before me. It was a little nerve-wracking on the top-most level, as there weren’t as many guardrails, etc., but it was a really neat experience, and one that I’d easily do again, if we went back. It would be fun to go up there at nighttime, when the city is all lit up. In fact, I’ve heard that’s the best time to go.

After Top of the Rock, we hopped across the street and wandered around St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a little bit. It was a gorgeous church, marred only by the ongoing renovations. Still, the stained glass windows were incredible, and the architecture was world-class. Then it was back across the street, and to Rockefeller Plaza, where we stumbled upon the LEGO store there. We browsed around, but strangely, their prices were elevated above MSRP, so we didn’t buy much. We did get a small Statue of Liberty LEGO set (which is apparently nearly impossible to come by.)

At this point, we made our way to FAO Schwartz, which turned out to be an amazing toy store, but with very little selection. It was pretty clear that their impending closing had affected their inventory. The shelves weren’t exactly bare, but they didn’t have a whole lot to choose from. We got to see the giant keyboard from the movie “Big”, but there was a line to play on it, so we passed.

After the toy store, and before we wandered into Central Park, I got a pretzel from a street-vendor, and it was actually really good. We elected to forego the Central Park Zoo, mainly because we couldn’t handle any more walking, but we did see a little corner of the park. It was immediately obvious why the Park is so popular, and I could easily see spending a lot of time there. There’s so much to see and do in Central Park that if/when we ever go back, it’s going to be my primary target, and one that I plan to spend at least a full day or two exploring. We considered taking the horse-drawn carriage ride, but they were pretty outrageously priced, so we passed.

By now, both of us could barely walk without limping, and the thought of much more walking was far too daunting to contemplate. But we had two big items left on our agenda: Grand Central Terminal, and the New York Public Library. Both of them were quite close to each other, but were a short subway ride from where we were. We made it to the Grand Central Terminal, where Jenny’s energy finally gave out. We found a table to sit at in the Dining Concourse, and I went and got her some Shake Shack (so good, she had to have it again) and I got some food from Tri Tip (just okay, nothing amazing). She elected to wait there while I hoofed it over to the NY Public Library that was just a couple blocks away. The outside was amazing, and people were all over the steps, lots of photos being taken, etc. I was there for a couple very specific photos, but the main reading room was temporarily closed. It turns out we missed being able to see it by just a few days, and it won’t re-open until early 2017. It was a big disappointment, but I still got to see some amazing architecture, and the elaborate decorations that a public library in New York can provide.

I made my way back to Grand Central Terminal, and Jenny and I decided it was time to call it a night, and head back to the hotel. We had seen nearly everything we had set out to see in New York on this trip, and we just didn’t have any energy to do anything else.

On the way back to the hotel, Jenny noticed a flyer on a doorway that said “Mr. Robot”, which is the name of a new TV show that I’m very interested in. It turns out they would be filming for Mr. Robot the very next day, starting at 8 AM in the area. This was literally one block from our hotel. I hoped maybe I could be inserted as an extra, or a background character, but we were scheduled to leave New York the next day around Noon. Still, it was pretty neat to run into such a coincidence, especially in a city as large as New York.

Once back at the hotel, we ordered Chinese delivery to our room (which was REALLY good), and once again passed out with little difficulty.

19,921 Steps / 9.8 Miles

 

Day 8

Original Itinerary:
12:00 PM – Check out of hotel in NYC, then take Subway and Bus back to Newark, NJ
3:35 PM – Flight to Atlanta, GA
6:35 PM – Flight to Houston, TX
8:50 PM – Flight arrives in Houston, TX

At last, and sadly, Going Home Day arrived. After having been to Cooperstown, Middletown, and then New York City, the vacation had felt like we’d been gone for weeks, not days. And yet, the idea of getting home to familiar surroundings was exciting. We got everything packed up, and while Jenny got ready, I went to a corner market to get her some breakfast, and picked up some donuts from a street vendor (surprisingly good). I checked out the film trucks and crew down the street from the hotel, as they worked on getting things prepared for filming that day. Most of the natives walked past it like they had seen it all before, as they apparently have. Filming in NYC is pretty common, from what I’ve heard from other New Yorkers. We got everything packed up, ready for the trip back to Houston, and eventually made our way to the Hotel lobby.

After our rough experience getting to the hotel, I had booked a shuttle van from the hotel back to the airport. The driver was very friendly, though a little hard to understand. It took a couple of hours getting to the airport (there were a couple other people to be picked up first), but once there, we grabbed a bite to eat, and got ready for our plane. Originally scheduled for 3:35 PM, it was delayed until 4:14 PM, and didn’t take off until nearly 5:15 PM. Fortunately, our connecting flight in Atlanta had a fairly lengthy layover, so we landed with about a half-hour to spare. We were given the chance to upgrade our flight to First-Class for a reasonable fee when booking, so we were excited about flying in “luxury”. The seats were nice and wide and I had lots of legroom, which made the flight much more comfortable than any other I’ve flown before. We got our drinks in real glass cups, and they kept asking us questions by name. “Mr. and Mrs. Brown, would you care for anything before we take off?”. I almost partook in the free alcohol, but decided not to. Considering my kidney stones were mostly behaving since the hospital, I didn’t want to take any chances.

We landed in Atlanta, got off the plane, and almost immediately figured out that we had to get right back on the same plane to go home. The next flight crew wasn’t nearly as nice as the first, but we still had our excellent seats, and it was nice to stretch out a bit on the flight. It’s going to be very difficult to fly anything other than first-class again, but it was an experience worth having, and made the flight home actually pleasurable, for once.

Once we landed, Jenny’s mother Martha picked us up, and we partook in our travel ritual: the Chick-fil-a drive-through on the way home. We picked up our dogs, drove home (which felt strange after not driving for several days), and got back to our comfy Home Sweet Home.

So ended our trip to New York, and I have to admit that I almost immediately missed it. I could easily see living in New York City, but I’m not sure our feet (or the dogs) would be up to it. The most surprising things I learned in New York City though: it’s surprisingly dog-friendly (lots of parks, and the only places dogs aren’t really allowed were restaurants), and the subway is an amazingly easy way to get around the city (once you figure out how to use it). If Houston had a subway system like New York, it would make daily commuting SOOO much easier.

Still, it was an amazing trip, and one that I’m extremely glad we made, and can’t wait to go back another time. Jenny and I promised each other that we’re going to go back just to the Otesaga Hotel to relax for a few days. There’s no other place I’d rather go to just spend a few days lounging around, reading a book, and maybe getting out on the lake in a boat. I can’t wait to go back there.

7,508 Steps / 3.7 Miles