New York City - Monday

Happy Memorial Day! At least, that is what I said to Ryan a couple months ago when we woke up for our third day in NYC. We slept only four hours the night before and rushed out the door in hopes of getting tickets first thing in the morning. I don't remember in which grade I learned about Ellis Island - sometime in middle school - but ever since that history lesson, I have dreamt of the day that I would step foot on Ellis Island and see the place where 12 million immigrants came into the United States between 1892 and 1954.

When Ryan and I tried to buy our tickets online, they were completely sold out. So, we took an early train from our cozy hotel down to an area on the southern tip of Manhattan called Battery Park. We were in such a hurry, we didn't even stop for breakfast. Fortunately, we were able to purchase our tickets on site without any trouble! To take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and to Ellis Island, including the audio tour, it only cost us $20 each. What a deal!! We boarded the second ferry of the day, called Miss Liberty, and walked up to the top level. We stood by the railing and waited for the adventure to begin.

It was pretty amazing to see Staten Island, Manhattan, New Jersey, and Brooklyn all at once! My friend, Kim, had given me some advice about this tour. She said that you'll get your best pictures of Lady Liberty while you're on the ferry, so don't bother stopping there. Just go stay on the ferry until you reach Ellis Island. I am so glad we took her advice! After seeing the Statue of Liberty so many times in movies, it was fun to finally stand in her presence and snap some pictures of her magnificence!

After dropping off most of the people on our ferry at Lady Liberty, we continued the voyage out to Ellis Island. The building looked intimidating, beautiful, and mysterious all at once. I can't begin to imagine how people felt after being on a huge ship for weeks.

We walked into the building and found the area to pick out our audio tour equipment. Ok, maybe I'm way behind here, but I think audio tours are the next best things since white bread. Seriously! Remember going on field trips when you were a kid and having someone screaming and shouting information at you. Half the time you couldn't hear, and the other half you'd didn't care. The audio tour at Ellis Island lets you go at your own pace and learn as many details as you'd like. It was really awesome!

After leaving the lobby, Ryan and I went upstairs to find the Registry Room. This is where everyone lined up and the process of immigration began (before and after pictures below). It was so strange standing in that building. I know at least my father's grandfather came over from Italy through Ellis Island, and there are possibly others. I think that made the experience a little more intriguing and realistic. I learned that only people considered "Third Class" and some "Second Class" people had to come through Ellis Island. Those in "First Class" were allowed right into the country. Interesting, huh?

After leavingt the registry room, we were able to view dozens of exhibits. The one below is a diagram of the way the employees at Ellis Island would "mark" the immigrants with chalk. The "X" with a circle around it signified "definite signs of mental illness." It was definitely a bad thing to be marked in any way, and oftentimes, it would lead people to further questioning, monitoring, and many times, deportation. Good think they were monitoring the second and third class people or else the US would be filled with mentally unstable, medically frail, and contagious people. "First Class People" never have those kinds of issues... :)

We learned that many interpreteres often would say what the Ellis Island employees wanted to hear rather than what the people were actually saying, in order to given them the benefit of the doubt and to help them into the country. One of the exhibits I really enjoyed is pictured below. These are some of the early intelligence tests used by officials when questioning people. It was interesting to know that there are traces of  these tests in the current IQ tests I administer today.

After going through several other exhibits, we reached "The Stairs of Separation." After people had completed all of the necessary questioning, they came to this location. The stairs on the right were for people who needed to board a train to go further west. The stairs on the left were for those who were taking the ferry into New York. If you were one of the unfortunate people on the middle staircase, you were heading to one of the detention rooms. For many families, this could be a place where your family members were separated. Some were sent back to their homelands, while others were allowed into the country. This part of the the tour was pretty emotional for me. I just couldn't imagine what it would be like to say goodbye to your father, your grandmother, etc. and possibly never see them again, and that was the case for many people who came through Ellis Island.

We saw several other exhibits upstairs and then got back on the ferry back to Manhattan. By the time we reached Battery Park, we were starving! For those of you who know us well, Ryan and I do not do well when we are hungry. We are sure to have little patience and grace for each other when our bellies are empty! We walked through the financial district and saw Wall Street, including the New York Stock Exchange. We stumbled upon St. Paul's Chapel, where we were able to see the infamous Trinity Root (below).

In the meantime, Ryan and I were getting shorter and shorter with one another. I wanted to eat somewhere that felt like a hole-in-the-wall, not a restaurant where we could eat any time in Indiana. We passed place after place while we got more and more hungry. Finally, we came upon a place called Arome Cafe II, and I said, "Enough! We are eating here." I walked inside, and Ryan walked as far away from me as possible! :) We needed a little space from each other. Inside there was a beautiful spread of fresh fruits, salads, vegetables, chicken, fish, seafood, etc. I grabbed a HUGE plastic container and began filling it to the brim with delicious goodness. Ryan went straight to the back and grabbed two pieces of pizza. Don't ask me how he could eat more pizza after eating so much the day before!

Before lunch...

Ahh....that's better!

After lunch we went to Ground Zero, and I hate to say this, but I was a little disappointed. There just wasn't much to see. The good news is that there is a lot of construction now!

When we felt like we'd had enough of downtown NYC, we took the train to Chinatown. I had initially been very excited to visit this area of town. I dreamt of delicious food, interesting people, and a special mysteriousness. I don't know if I was just exhausted from the morning and lack of sleep, but I was not as impressed as I had hoped to be. It seemed like the area was pretty small, and I did not feel as safe in this part of town. We walked by several shops all selling the same types of things - clothes, purses, wallets, bags, etc. I really just wanted to buy Evelyn (Noah's BFF) a little gift for being such a good buddy to him all year. We found the perfect little outfit for her (see below). We gave it to her after we returned from our trip.

Once we had the cute little pink outfit, we hopped on another train over to Greenwich Village. I was SO excited to see this area of town, but again, we were exhausted. There is just so much to see and so much to do in New York City - it was pretty overwhelming! I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible, but I know already that next time we go, we will spend MUCH more time in this area of town. We went to a bookstore for awhile and just rested out feet. It was GLORIOUS! While walking around the Village, we found a cute little store called The Nut Box. My dad and Danette love crunchy snacks, and they have gotten into more organic/free trade products. This store provided so many fun options, and so as a thank you for watching Noah during our trip, we got them a cute wooden crate filled with different nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, and coffee. I love getting people unique gifts they wouldn't otherwise get for themselves. It was fun! We stopped by Washington Square Park for a bit and just sat on the bench. It was so nice to just relax and take in the scenary. Because so many movies are filmed there, it felt a little surreal, sitting on the bench watching musicians performing for everyone.

Next up, we walked over to Max Brenner's Chocolate by the Bald Man. I am SO thankful that my friend, Kim, told me about this restaurant because it truly had the most incredible dessert that I have ever eaten in my entire life. We shared the Tutti Frutti Waffles, and I would order it again in a heartbeat. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Just when you think thre is no way we could squeeze in another activity, we did. We had been dying to get into FAO Schwartz since we arrived, and we couldn't wait to pick out a special toy for Noah. I remember my parents bringing me back souveniers after a trip, and I wanted to recreate that for Noah.

After touring the ENTIRE store and watching people perform on the "BIG" piano - which retails at $250,000 - we made up our minds. Ryan picked out a special truck for Noah, and I wanted to design a Muppet for him. See the wall filled with ideas below?

Here I am filling out the paperwork, customizing our special little gift!

Now I can't believe this, but we do NOT even have a picture of the real Muppet we made, but below you will see a picture of the design, as well as the lady putting together our final product. Isn't he so cute?? I told Ryan that now we're going to have to do that for all of our kids. I can just see the puppet show now!

After our trip to FAO Schwartz, we were exhausted. But, since it was our last night in New York City, we wanted to have a special dinner together. We chose La Masseria, a quaint little Italian place in Times Square. Our food was delicious, and the service was some of the best we've ever had.

We walked back to our hotel that evening, knowing this would be the last time we would see the beautiful New York City lights - until next time at least. It had been a very long day, and the nice romantic dinner for two was exactly what we needed to rest, relax, and enjoy each other's company - the perfect ending to our last full day in NYC.


New York City - Sunday

We woke up on Sunday (May 30th) bright and early! After getting ready at the hotel, we began walking east on 54th until we reached the infamous 5th Avenue. Some of the most known stores are located up and down this street: Fendi, Juicy Couture, Versace, Tiffany & Co., etc. Did I go shopping in any of those stores? Not a chance! I am an "experience" girl - not a material girl. I'd much rather do something fun than own something fun. We walked right on by those stores!

During our walk, we came upon St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was absolutely beautiful! Can you believe these bronze doors weigh 20,000 lbs.?

We kept walking down 5th Avenue and cut acoss on 42nd Street in order to reach Grand Central Station. We had been looking for a little place to grab some quick bagels, and just inside the doors at GCS, we found the perfect little hole-in-the-wall place. We walked over to the main concourse and immediately felt like we were in a movie. I wonder how many movies have shot scenes in that concourse. We sat on some steps, watched the hustle and bustle of the morning, and enjoyed our bagels. I am convinced that I had the best pumpernickel bagel in the entire world that morning!

We left Grand Central Station after buying our $20 Metro Passes, which ended up being just enough to ride the subway during the duration of our trip. My phone has a great application that we used nonstop during our time in NYC. The GPS would identify our location, and then I would put in a landmark or address for where we were trying to go. The app would then tell us how to get there in detail, giving us the exact subway lines to take and the estimated times for everything. It was awesome!! Anyway, we were trying to get to Union Square in order to meet up with the people from Slice of Pizza Brooklyn Tour. Well, the subway station was closed for some reason, and we were already running a little behind. Ryan hailed a taxi (our only taxi ride during the trip), and we quickly reached Union Square.

Soon after we arrived, our tour bus pulled up to the sidewalk. Out walked Paula (below), our 20-something tour guide! I know what you're thinking - of course her name was Paula - it's a tour of Brooklyn! This tour was recommended by my friend, Kim, and I'm so glad we went. Throughout the tour, we got to see movie clips, and then Paula would show us the exact place where that part of the movie was filmed. It was pretty neat!

The tour lasted 4 1/2 hours, and we were able to see so many different areas of Brooklyn. We started out in an area called Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass (DUMBO). Paula told us that she tried to get a one bedroom apartment in DUMBO - nothing fancy - and it cost $800,000. Can you even imagine?? We got to walk around the Brooklyn Bridge Park. It had such a beautiful view of Manhattan!

After we left DUMBO, we drove to an area to eat pizza at Grimaldi's. One of the reasons this pizza is so delicious and special is that they use coal ovens to make it! I know, coal isn't good for the environment, but you know what, you forget all of that when you have a bite of their delicious pizza! A line begins to form in front of Grimaldi's a hour and a half before it opens. That is how good their pizza tastes! Because we got the hook-up on our tour, we got to walk past all of the dozens upon dozens of people standing in line and walk right in. Yeah, that pretty much rocked! Grimaldi's is just a little tiny pizzeria, so our tour group took up half of the tables in the restaurant. After we ordered our cream sodas, we waited patiently for our Margarita Pizza. I'm sorry that I didn't take pictures of the beautiful splendor that was Grimaldi's pizza, but we ate 4 pieces so quickly that I didn't snap one in time. This thin, NY-style pizza was AH-mazing with fresh mozzarella and basil. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Next we drove to an area to see some of Brooklyn's multi-million dollar homes and some other neighborhoods. After driving for awhile, we reached L&B Spumoni Gardens where they make Sicilian-style pizza. We sat at long tables and before we knew it, they were bringing out these HUGE pies - and by pie I mean thick crust, square cut, delicious goodness! The trademark for Sicilian pizza is that they bake the crust with mozzarella cheese directly on top and then add the sauce on top of the cheese. You pour parmasean cheese on top, and you've got one freaking delicious pie! FUHGGEDDABOUTIT!!! Once again I forgot to take a picture of the pizza before I ate it, but this is what was left of my second slice. I really wanted to shove the rest of it in my mouth, but I just couldn't do it. I had already eaten 3 1/2 pieces of pizza, and I thought I was going to explode! Oh wait - after finishing our pies we sampled some spumoni. It was delightful!

Next we drove through some different neighborhoods until we reached Coney Island. I have always wanted to visit Coney Island, so I was really excited when we pulled up. It was opening weekend, so the place was PACKED!!! It was like Times Square all over again. We walked around Coney Island, seeing the historic landmarks, restaurants, and people sunbathing. Again, I felt like we were in a movie!

At this point of the tour, we got back on the bus and started our drive back to Manhattan. Ryan and I were EXHAUSTED, but we really wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It's one of the only free activities in NYC; plus, it's just beautiful, so we wanted to take advantage. We We enjoyed our stroll across the bridge, taking pictures along the way while trying to steer clear of the people cycling. We really enjoyed our walk, and by the time we reached Manhattan, we were ready for a nap.

We jumped on the first subway (below) headed back north to head to Central Park. It was probably close to 5:30 p.m. by the time we got there, so unfortunately, a lot of the attractions were closed. We ended up sitting down in the grass at The Dairy, too exhausted to walk anymore. Ultimately, we decided to leave Central Park to try to catch another Broadway show.

After making a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up and change clothes, we walked to Times Square to visit the TKTS booth again. Unfortunately, because it was Memorial Day weekend, many of the theatres had let the actors have the night off. BUMMER! We had so much fun the night before at Rock of Ages that we were really hoping to see one more show. Oh well - maybe next time!

We decided to go see Sex in the City II at a theatre in Times Square instead. I'm not sure there is a better place to see anything Sex in the City related other than NYC.  :) We enjoyed being able to sit down in air conditioning and just relax during the movie! Afterward, we jumped on the subway to go have a very late dinner at Serendipity (from the movie). While waiting for the train to arrive, this huge, belligerant man starting yelling and cussing out a group of people. He was either intoxicated, mentally ill, or both - I don't know. All I know is that I was edge for the rest of the evening. So far our time in NYC had been very casual, laid back, and relaxing, and being near someone so impulsive made me nervous!

Once we reached Serendipity, we waited about 30 minutes outside for our table. The decor inside was really cute, and we've heard it's even cuter during Christmas. We both enjoyed our meals but our favorite was the Frozen Hot Chocolate!!! It was so good, I ended up buying myself some of the mix to bring home, which has been perfect during this especially hot summer. We walked from Serendipity back to our hotel, which was probably not the smartest idea. It was a much further walk than we realized, and it was almost 1 a.m. Regardless, we did make it back safe and sound! When we were back in our hotel room, we were beyond tired. BUT, we hadn't fully planned out our Memorial Day activities! We stayed up until at least 2:30 a.m. before falling asleep.

Four short hours later, the alarm woke us up. Our third day in NYC began...
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