Celebrating in NYC

When my friend Maria let it slip that she was talking to her daughters about going to New York with me for my birthday, I was touched and beside myself with excitement. Since moving to Jersey I had been wanting to go to the city. After not making it there to celebrate Christmas, I resolved to spend my birthday there even if I had to do it alone.
My initial plans were to ride the train and sightsee, but those plans changed when my friend joined the celebratory adventure, which also included another one of my good friends, Paula. I met both of these women in the writing group that meets at the Hamilton Library and they’ve become near and dear to my heart.

Once again I was unsure of what to wear. I’m still adjusting to dressing for East Coast weather. I’ve learned that layering is the best option.  How many layers do I wear so that my insides don’t shake without feeling like I’m in a personal sauna once the day starts to warm up?

Once I settled on four light layers on top and two layers on bottom, I left the house before sunrise. Once I met up with my friends, which also included Maria’s daughter Diana, we headed to the train station in Hamilton.

While I’ve ridden trains in Europe, I had never travelled on one domestically, so I was excited that we were taking the train. I even started jumping up and down like I do when I get excited about seeing or doing something new. Can’t help myself. Much to my delight, Maria told me that her birthday gift to me was that I could jump up and down as much as I wanted and she wouldn’t get embarrassed.
Best gift ever!

Our first destination after arriving at Penn Station was the TKTS booth in Times Square to purchase discounted tickets for a Broadway show. I had hoped to see my all-time favorite musical “Phantom of the Opera,” but I was the only one that wanted to see it, so I decided to save that for another time. We narrowed it down to the top three that we could all decide on and from that list I chose “Kinky Boots.”

Being in Times Square, we (I) had to take some pictures before we ventured out into the city. After snapping a few photos, we stopped at Starbucks to get a quick caffeine boost.

Maria picked out a coffee cup with NYC skyline on it for my birthday while we waited in line. It was the longest line I’ve ever stood in at a Starbucks, but it was in Times Square.

Once we ordered I realized I no longer had my debit card, so Paula graciously bought both of our green tea lattes.

I searched through my bag and pockets to no avail. I jokingly told Diana that maybe we should have gotten tickets for “The Play That Goes Wrong” instead since it seemed things were already going wrong. After a quick laugh, I cancelled the card and we returned to Starbucks.

I realized it was going to be too noisy to Facetime with my sister and nephews, so we ducked into the M&M store. My nephews were far more impressed with the massive amount of M&M’s that they could choose from than they were of the view of the city that I showed them from the second floor.

With an hour and half before needing to be at the show, Maria, Paula and I jumped into a cab so we could go see the 9/11 Memorial site and the “Fearless Girl” statue. It was the perfect place to Facetime my parents and nieces.

I didn’t see the 9/11 Memorial Site, “Reflecting Absence” the last time I had been in NYC for my 39th birthday with my sister. It was absolutely surreal. Water continuously flowed into what seemed like an abyss. It was evocative of senseless and endless loss and grief. We paid our respects and headed to see “Fearless Girl.”

Along the way we stumbled upon a studio full of sculptures! It was the Carole Feuerman Sculpture Studio. Such a pleasant surprise since we weren’t going to have to go to a museum. Her work was centered around swimmers in various poses. Some of it was in the form of larger than life sculptures, while other pieces were pop artesque images. Needless to say, I loved it!

After our detour to appreciate art, we found the “Fearless Girl” statue and “Charging Bull”. There was quite a crowd there posing and taking photos. We jumped in and did the same.

Our ride back to Times Square via taxi was far more scenic. Even saw the Brooklyn Bridge as we rushed back to see “Kinky Boots.”

I was so excited to be seeing my first Broadway show AND on my birthday! While it wasn’t my first choice, I loved it! We laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a long time and teared up at some poignant moments. It was funny, but touched the heart in an unexpected way. And the boots were absolutely fabulous!

As the day was winding down, we still needed to eat. Of course I was craving Mexican food like I always am. We found one place in Hell’s Kitchen, but it wasn’t open yet. While we waited, we stopped at Mickey Spillane’s to get a margarita and snacked on chips and guacamole.

It was worth the wait to get into Ponche Taqueria. We all ordered something different. I had their chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce with the Coronas that Paula and I were sharing.

The last destination I had planned for the day was to go to Serendipity to have cheesecake like my sister and I had done during our trip. Given the time and delays on the subway, we decided we should hop back on the train to Hamilton.

What a day y’all! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate my birthday than to spend the day in NYC with my friends!




Exploring Philadelphia: Love at First Sight

My first glimpse of Philadelphia was from an airplane as I flew into the airport this past April. Flying in to spend the weekend in Jersey. I was in awe of the massive sports complexes clustered together, the skyline, the naval shipyard… It was all pretty much a blur since I was seeing it so late at night and while in a moving vehicle. An unfamiliar place with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.

Unfortunately that weekend didn’t include any excursions to Philly, except for returning to the airport.  Little did I know then, Philadelphia would become a destination I would explore repeatedly and seemingly on a regular basis. While Philly is entrenched in American history, I’m also irresistibly drawn to its artistic side.

My 1st day excursion into Philly was a spur of the moment trip this summer. I had three objectives: see the Liberty Bell, the LOVE sculpture and eat a Philly Cheesesteak. Seeing the Liberty Bell was something I wanted to do for historical purposes and on a lighter, playful note, because Barney and Ted made a trip to lick the Liberty Bell in “How I Met Your Mother”, which is a series I loved watching.
And the LOVE sculpture, aside from being an iconic artistic piece for the City of Brotherly Love, it’s a piece that my baby sister and I have admired for years. During our trip to NYC for my 39th birthday, one of our stops was to see and pose with the LOVE sculpture there.
Of course there does not need to be a compelling reason for eating a Philly Cheesesteak. Tasting local food is all part of the experience.
Needless to say I didn’t accomplish anything that day other than what I considered a tourist hit and run. I had completely forgotten the DNC was being held in Philadelphia. Traffic and parking were more than I wanted to contend with. My exploration would have to wait for another day, which I would plan in advance. I settled for appreciating the city once again from a moving vehicle.
When I returned to Philly, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, since admission was free on Sunday (and every first Sunday of the month). I spent most of afternoon there soaking in all of the art. It was such a thrill to find pieces by my favorite artists like Picasso, Dali and Van Gogh that I’d never seen in person before. It’s such a visceral experience that permeates my soul and floods my being with an inexplicable joy when I see certain pieces of art.

I felt intoxicated from the art when I finally stumbled outdoors. The cherry on the top of my artistic experience at the museum was seeing the AMOR sculpture by Robert Indiana outside in front of the fountain. While it wasn’t his LOVE sculpture, I was still smitten.

Running the Rocky Steps at the entrance was more than a rite of passage and another thing to cross off of my bucket list. It helped reorient me back to reality considering the physical exertion involved in running what seemed like a never-ending supply of concrete steps. Midway through I started thinking that it was not nearly as fun as I thought it was going to be to run the steps. I did not feel empowered or accomplished, that is, until I completed the last step. Then, I did throw my arms up in the air. I had to.

After devouring a Balboa burger I purchased from the food truck at the top of the steps, I made my way to the Rodin Museum. Even before I stepped foot on the grounds, I was anticipating what it would be like to see the replicas of the sculptures that I had read about so many years ago and continued to appreciate over the years. “The Kiss” and the “The Thinker” were foremost on my mind. I’m in awe of how much emotion can be captured and evoked by a single work of art, much less a large body of work. The collection was breathtaking. Everything I expected and more.

Since that first trip this summer, I’ve made several trips back at least once a month. The list of sights to see and experiences continues to grow every time I’m there. I finally made it to Love Park and posed with the LOVE sculpture. Twice. Once this summer and then again during Christmas.

I’ve also tasted my first Philly cheesesteak from one of the most famous vendors, Pat’s King of Steaks.  Although it seemed like a no-brainer that a cheesesteak would come with cheese, that is not the case.  When ordering, you have to specify “wit wiz” or “wiz witout,” which threw me for a loop at first.  Wouldn’t that just make it a steak sandwich without the cheese?  So I waited in the typically long line and ordered my sandwich and fries “wiz wit, along with a birch beer.

According to locals I still need to try the cheesesteak from the rival across the street, Geno’s Steaks, so that I can make a fully informed decision about who makes the best one.  As far I’m concerned, anything “wiz wit” is going to be good!

It was also during Christmas when I had the opportunity to see the Liberty Bell, which I did not try to lick. But I did think about it. I wanted to taste freedom like Barney did. Because it would be. Wait for it. Legendary y’all!

Exploring Jersey: Grounds For Sculpture 

I had driven by the signs on 295 showing where to exit for this place called Grounds For Sculpture.But what really caught my eye was the 2 massive bronze heads (1 blue and the other red) off to the right side of the of 295 that look almost like something Picasso would’ve done.

I used google to find out what this place was. And learned that it was a 42-acre sculpture park! First thing I thought was, wow, that’s a lot of walking so I better wear some tennis shoes.
Of course the day I decided to go, because I had the time, I wore sandals. They were super cute, but not comfortable. Nevertheless I decided I’d suck it up and deal with it. It’s art AND and it’s outdoors! How perfect is that!

After I exited 295, I was immediately captivated by all the huge, larger than life sculpture that seem to be strewn about alongside the road as I made my way to the park. The 1st one was a giant tooth that looked like it was the size of a small house. (Seemed like it would make a fun playhouse for kids or dentist’s offices).

Thought my mind might be playing tricks on me. For some reason, I started blinking my eyes trying to refocus and process what I was seeing. But there were more. Didn’t matter how many times I blinked, looked away and looked back, they were all still there. There were so many of these sculptures that I can’t even remember them individually (except for the tooth), but I do remember that some were exaggeratedly large (I felt Buddy the Elf and wanted to exclaim these things are ginormous!  But I didn’t.  Loudly that is.), while others were true to scale. The life size ones were typically posed in some way that made them look uncannily real, while others were posed and facing the sculptures admiring them.

The lines between reality and fantasy were starting to blur. I started to feel like I was Alice I was going down the rabbit hole. (I’m sure I’m not the 1st person to feel like this, nor will I be the last.)

I followed the signs to the welcome center and paid the $18 for admission (for the whole day), although it did give me pause since I’m on a tight budget, but this was already turning in to an extraordinary experience that I didn’t want to miss!

I toured the indoor exhibits 1st, which are all creations of the artist, visionary Seward Johnson, who is the founder of this place (and also an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune).
This part included the most moving 2 pieces there, which was the 9/11 tribute. I was brought to tears just viewing it, and then reading the back story and watching some video clips next to it, I was brought to tears (and wished I had a tissue with me).

Seeing those 2 pieces brought me back to reality real quick, but that didn’t last for long.
I enjoyed seeing the popular Forever Marilyn statue (of her famous pose where she’s trying to hold down her dress). I used to be a huge Marilyn fan back in my 20’s (and still have a large print of her iconic pose)so that was kind of neat to see.

But what took my breath away was “Welcome Home”, which was Johnson’s 3D interpretation of Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom” that was vibrant and whimsical. Even the brush strokes are 3D and there is an actual chair, table and bed for you to touch and sit on! It’s literally a bedroom! I could totally take a nap in that bed if they’d let me! I did sit on it through, because that is ok to do (next time I’ll have to ask someone to take a pic for me).

Once I stepped outside to begin exploring, I started to feel like Alice did in Alice in Wonderland, that is if she were real (but reality is a matter of loose interpretation at this place so I think that’s an irrelevant point).

There were so many sculptures scattered about the 42-acres and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see them all in one day, so I picked something on the map that seemed the most interesting, which was Monet’s Bridge, and started taking the path (as much as I could tell) and head in that direction. Kind of felt like it was a treasure map and I was going on a quest.

I wandered for a bit, because I got lost (no surprise there) and enjoyed all of the lush greenery and flowers that fill this park with an enormity of fragrant, natural beauty. In stark contrast to all of this softness and delicacy are the hard, bronze statues that are scattered about. Some are colorful. Some are not. Some are true to life, while others aren’t.

One of my favorite discoveries was a 3D version of Edward Munch’s “Scream” that covered an outside wall on this one exhibit.
At some point I stopped for a snack. I couldn’t help but think that I might grow big like Alice did when I took my first bite of popcorn. But I did not.

Eventually I did find the area surrounding Monet’s Bridge and was blown away by how beautiful it was. By this time I was hot and tired and ready to head back.

After getting lost a few times, I returned to the indoor exhibit to take a break and just soak in those exhibits one more time, so I sat down on a couch. I must have been really still because I look up and this couple is staring at me. They jump a little and gasp when I look up and say, “Oh, you’re real!” We all laughed. They looked back a few more times, so I got up and took that as my cue to leave!