Friday, May 30, 2014

Family Tree

We played tourist big time in New York City, but does it really count as being a tourist when you’re researching for family member names on the walls at Ellis Island? Or does that make it more of a research mission? I’m going with research mission, because I really dislike looking like a tourist, especially when it means I feel like the cattle in a round up, being herded through crowds of people, the pushing and shoving because they want to be one person ahead of you. The boat was tough, the mass of tourists a little harder to handle and I don’t know if it was because I have my New York hustle on already or if I really just don’t like large groups of people, I’m going with hustle, my New York hustle, this city really gets my need for speed walking, tourists, not so much.

Taking the boat to Ellis Island was one of our “must do’s” while here in NYC and a win-win because it also meant we got to throw in Lady Liberty as well while out to sea. Lack of planning on our part and not knowing that we needed to reserve crown view tickets three months in advance only allowed us access to climb the stairs to the pedestal, but still the views of the New York skyline were spectacular.

Looking out from Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty really doesn't do her justice. She looks small, it isn't until you are there, clouded by her majestic shadow that you get the true experience and ambiance of what she represents; Lady Liberty casts spirit and hope into those that set eyes upon her. She is iconic Americana and I can only imagine what she meant to those immigrating to America as she came into view from their ship decks, after months at sea. The excitement and nerves bursting at the surface and then seeing her, having Lady Liberty as their anchor, a symbol of freedom and a new beginning to life; she possess such iconic symbolism, so much greatness.

Seeing the Statue of Liberty was just the prelude to exploring Ellis Island, experiencing a fraction of elation that the immigrants must have felt before touching ground on Ellis Island, their first steps as Americans. Today, 40% of Americans can trace an ancestors back to Ellis Island, somebody that stepped foot here on this country before them, enduring the medical and legal inspections before being sent on their way to their new beginning.

Tom’s great grandfather Salvatore Compagno came over from Sicily on one of these boats with his family, including his grandfather Anthony Joseph Compagno as a young child; both of these men have their names engraved on the walls of Ellis Island and searching them out was such a thrill. I only wish I could have known these men, heard their stories and the experiences of their great journey and their new start as Americans. It is something I wish they would have written down, to read what they felt and endured to experience it through their eyes would be such a great family history to carry down for generations. If only they could have had blogs back then, sigh!

Salvatore Compagno, Tom's Great Grandfather
Anthony Joseph Compagno, Tom's Grandfather
Watching Tom search out names, taking pictures and looking out over the wall was such a treat; I loved seeing him so excited to search out these men’s names, to document them for his parents and siblings, it was so worth the cattle round up and something I would happily do again, just to see that smile of his!

Sailing, Takes Me Away...

The day began with a quick meeting in Union Square as Heather, her youngest and I met up for a day of schizophrenic weather and a much longer walk than either of us ever intended. We strolled through Greenwich and the West Village giving our umbrellas a workout as the rain couldn't make up its mind; stopping for pastries, play, potholes and lunch.  Yes, potholes, there was a garbage can size pothole in the middle of the road, so Heather being the concerned citizen that she is called 311 to report it, and they transferred her to 911. Now this pothole was a concern, but I’m not sure it warranted a transfer to 911. With all the hoops the city of New York needed in order to report a pothole, I feel as though Heather and I should have personally dressed up as street cones and directed traffic; seriously, it would have been easier than making a phone call.
Being Fancy in a Fancy Park
Once our civic duty was complete, we continued to stroll, landing upon a Mexican dive where we relaxed and enjoyed some sangria - a visit we stayed a little too long for, unaware we created mayhem for ourselves by fully enjoying lunch and visiting.  Who knew we would need to run 2.5 miles across Battery Park, Heather pushing a stroller and myself in a low cut dress and flip flops causing a lot of people to turn their heads our way and stare, we were quite the spectacle, but we had a pirate ship to catch dammit and we were going to make it, swoob and all!

Did we make it? Yes and no! The plank had been pulled, but thanks the slow boat in front of us and that adorable little guy of Heather's, the Captain had the crew set out the gangplank and let us cross. Seriously, who would tell one of the cutest two years old's ever that he couldn't go for a boat ride? And yes, we were those people, but we made it, a bit of a hot mess, but we got to go sailing nonetheless!

Heather and Grant
Sailing along the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty was amazing; watching the crew work the sails, taking in the view and cooling down with the ocean breeze after our arduous run was the perfect end to our self-inflicted chaos! Completely worth the sweat and the stress and I have the pictures to prove it! So enjoy because we sure as hell did! 

Friday, May 23, 2014

All Things Met

New York City and the Metropolitan Museum of Art go hand in hand; you can’t visit this great metropolis without seeing The Met, in fact I think it is some unspoken tourist code to grab a cup of coffee, pop a squat on those famous stairs, and contemplate the wonders of life and art. We downed our energy juice, trust me, we needed it in order to support our hours-long stroll through the vast halls; then a perfect end to an already great day, we basked in awe and wonder from the rooftop garden, glass of wine in hand, relaxed, and took in the serenity of Central Park from above and marveled at the city’s amazing skyline!

The MET holds art ranging from modern to ancient, from Egypt to China, and Renaissance to the Medieval, basically you name it and they have it; Tom and I easily spent half a day roaming the halls and we barely scratched the surface of what this place has to offer. While we roamed the halls, studying the Rembrandt's I had an epiphany that these portraits are simply old school selfies; I know it sounds horrible and the art community is going to hate me, but think about it, it’s totally true!

The Adorable Ms. Heather and the best New York City Tour Guide
An extension of the Met is The Cloisters and I was privileged enough to take to the outskirts of the city with our beautiful friend Heather, to bask in the beauty of this medieval working monastery. We browsed the unicorn tapestries, the genealogy of Jesus and the exquisite gardens The Cloisters boasts. I am not a religious person and maybe we were blasphemous by pondering the thought of Jesus's "being" instead of just “believing”, but the genealogy of Jesus kind of threw me for a loop; don’t they teach Immaculate Conception? So there is no genealogy, unless he was half human or full human? Now you can all be as confused as Heather and I and to see the genealogy only confirmed my beliefs he was as human as Buddha, Gandhi and Muhammad. I know now I have struck a chord with the Christians as well as the art community; I am two for two today. 

Post Cloisters, and in deep thought about weird unicorn tapestry depictions of marriage confinement and fertility, Heather and I popped over to the New Leaf for a little wine and deep thought - okay, that is a lie, lots of giddy conversations. We were even more giddy as we learned the value of a great napkin origami hat by all the seniors in the restaurant.  Apparently the tent top and cloud cover weren't nearly enough sun protection. In all reality I shouldn't laugh at this still, because in truth, I'm pretty sure this is exactly what my future holds.  

I feel I should give Heather some introduction, since her and her family will be a large aspect of my posts in regards to New York. Heather is a sorority sister from ZTA, from the good ole' SUU days, she worked with Tom at Matrix - and her husband, Willy, was none other than Tom's boss. So we all go way back, in fact I am pretty sure Heather is my kindred spirit and we have a ton of wonderful memories from back in the day. Also, do me all a huge favor, and next time you see Tom, ask him about the time he came to New York for the Rolonda Show! I promise, you'll want to hear all about this, its a story you'll want to know! 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Home Sweet New York

Street View of Our Apartment
Damn, the Big Apple made our move here really tough; pouring rain, no place to park near our building and a car loaded to the brim of stuff to unload and carry up a flight of stairs, but I still thought  we are in "The City," the city where dreams come true and all I would immediately become all nostalgic, so yeah it was hard, but so worth it! Tom was truly a white knight through the whole scenario, grabbing as much as he could, trekking across the street and up the road in the crazy rain, then climbing up the flight of stairs to the apartment, all while I kept watch out over the car, our belongings and hoped to sweet Baby Jesus a cop would not issue us a ticket for parking in front of a fire hydrant. Luggage was unloaded quickly, especially considering the circumstances, a legitimate parking space found, a change into some dry clothes, a bottle of wine opened and all was well with the world once again!

This is our fifth rental from Airbnb and so far this one has proved to be the most difficult and complicated one yet; in fact up until we arrived we weren't sure if we were actually going to be staying here or in a hotel. A few days prior to arriving they had sent us a lease agreement separate from Airbnb and after reading it and the information they wanted from us, well we wouldn't sign it; seriously it's a holiday rental, why would they need my social security number? Or wanting us to sign off on a property inspection before we actually even saw the property? But we do have to give Airbnb some serious props here because they handled the situation like a boss, calling the landlord and letting them know they were violating the terms of Airbnb and we didn't have to sign it and promising to find us a place to stay if this one didn't work; the way they handled everything and their follow through totally put us at ease, which we both really needed, I can't speak for Tom, but I was in mild panic mode for a bit.

This Upper East Side, walk-up apartment is small; seriously if you blink and you will miss it and it has plenty of little quirks; my least favorite place so far and the most expensive, but hey, that's New York, right? We've been pretty spoiled, especially after the DC place, so when there wasn't an iron, paper towels, garbage bags or even a coffee maker I was disappointed to say the least. Oh and the funniest part, you have to unplug the fridge to plug in the microwave; this didn't fly with us, so by day two the table from the living room had been moved to the kitchen and the microwave moved to the other wall; I don't like to think I am high maintenance but I really do like the simple things of life to work smoothly and with little effort. Plus side, there is a coffee shop right around the corner and that held us over for a couple of days until I could find a non-glass french press (non glass so it won't break during the travels); thank God I had the sense to tow along our tea pot with us for the past five months, seriously, functioning without coffee is not an option for this family.

I am becoming an expert at hand washing dishes at this point, that's right, we are back to no dishwasher! Oh the crime! This is also our first place without a washer/dryer unit in the home, so I have to go to the laundromat; I know most New Yorkers send their laundry out, but I air dry so many pieces and I am a little freaked out by a stranger handling my delicates, so I make the trek a couple of blocks and Ethel and I hang out and read, well I read, she chills on my lap while we wait for clean clothes. While others call it laundry we refer to it as quality mom and fur daughter time.

We are located on the Upper East Side, sandwiched right between Central Park and Carl Schurz Park which makes up for the myriad of flaws the apartment holds; knowing that within a ten minute walk I can be at the Met or strolling along the East River, the location is absolutely perfect. Plus, Ethel has a doggie daycare on the corner, so it makes picking her up and dropping her off quick and easy while we are out touring the less dog friendly aspects of the city. My favorite feature of the location and Tom's worst nightmare, we are right off of 5th Avenue; I promise I am going to try like hell to not break the bank while we are here!

Which speaking of breaking the bank, parking tickets! We didn't even make it 24 hours before we received our first one for parking too close to a fire hydrant. Plus the whole moving the car four times a week for street cleaning, let alone finding a place to park to begin with was kind of freaking me out. In fact I had a minor meltdown when I went out to the car to grab a few items we had left in the night before, found the ticket, hopped in the car with the hopes of finding a a new, non-ticket spot to park and had to drive in this crazy mayhem; I hit my breaking point. Poor Tom receives this sobbing call from me as I am scouring the neighborhood in search of anywhere to park and as I pull up to switch and give him the driver seat, a spot right in front of the building opened up. Yay Universe for throwing me a bone right when I needed it! Needless to say, having a car in the city was way too much for either of us to handle and the amazing Anne and Aaron offered up their driveway in New Jersey and we were elated! Seriously, our lives became so much easier without having to stress about making sure the car was moved and in the constant search of a parking space; Aaron and Anne have kept me sane and for that I am so grateful! Thank you to both of you!!
View From The Fire Escape
We've been here almost a week now and we have settled in nicely; adjusting to city life, the hustle and bustle and really enjoying catching up with friends. I promise lots of exciting adventures this month and I can't wait to share them with you all, so stay tuned for all our Big Apple adventures!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Interim Home

We had a few days in between Washington DC and New York that we didn't have a place to land, so we opted to use some free hotel nights at the Bedford Springs Omni for a nice little stop over, plus a slower pace in between city stops sounded delightful.  When we drove up to the hotel it was like taking a step back in time, a step onto the set of Dirty Dancing, circa 1963 when families would spend summers at hotel resorts which offered up daily activities; I seriously could not wait to book my ballroom dance class and basket weaving lessons. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but they did offer a bunch of other activities ranging from Yoga, history tours of the grounds, hiking, biking and Segway tours and evening s'mores around the campfire; what more could the Compagno's ask for!

The history of this hotel is amazing and I have to share a little of it so you can grasp the incredible factor of it. Bedford Springs was built in 1796 and has had the pleasure to host ten United States Presidents, seven of them during their Presidential reigns; we literally walked the same halls these great men once walked. The hotel was built around eight natural springs that have been used for their healing powers, in fact the springs actually are used to fill the indoor pool today and they provide their own bottled water from the springs on the resort to their guests. Bedford Springs also boasts one of the countries first and oldest golf courses, which unfortunately due to crazy weather we didn't have the pleasure to play a round.

While we were there I convinced Tom to partake of the charm of the area and go on a covered bridge tour; I thought it was awesome and he totally appeased me. Our self guided tour took about two hours to drive through the Pennsylvania countryside, past vineyards and farms; the area was absolutely stunning and well worth the time. The entire loop includes fourteen bridges in all, but we did a quick speed through of the ones we were interested in and saw five of them, we/I wanted to see a few more of them but we missed some do to a lack of persistence and ability to follow instructions; regardless we were pretty satisfied with what we did see and I am pretty sure Tom secretly thought it was too.



Our stop over was a nice in between although the Omni wasn't up to its normal level of service, which was a surprise to us because as a hotel chain they generally offer up some pretty great service regardless to the location; I don't know if they were slammed while we were there, but we had to call down to the front desk everyday for fresh towels because housekeeping skipped our room both days we were there. Plus all the extra perks with Tom' Black Level we are accustomed to upon check in weren't up to appropriate standard; I have come to appreciate the chilled bottle of wine upon check in or the little doggy treats they leave for Ethel. So we were all a little disappointed, but to have a bed to land on and one surrounded by such beautiful scenery made the lackluster service sort of fade away. Oh and the pool, the pool helped!