Sunday, January 17, 2016

Munich, Germany

Surprise Layover in Munich, Germany

Let me start by saying that I had no plans to visit Munich on this trip.  Sure, I would love to tour Germany, and I probably will someday.  On this trip, however, Mom and I had arranged to visit Budapest, Vienna, and Paris.  As we waited in Chicago at ORD to board our flight to BUD (connecting through MUC), we were informed that the plane had some sort of mechanical problem.  No big deal, tons of flights are delayed.  However, knowing that we would miss our connecting flight, I went to the desk to inquire about rebooking us on a new connection to Budapest.  The attendant at the desk apologized profusely that they couldn't get both of us on an early connecting flight.  Rather than becoming upset, I seized the opportunity to take a 10.5 hour layover to explore Munich.  Surprise!

Since the internet wasn't working well at all in ORD, I called home while I waited to board, and asked my dad to very quickly look up the main attractions in Munich.  Unfortunately, the phone reception was crazy bad that day in ORD, so I didn't get much of what he was saying.  However, as soon as I landed in Germany, I picked up a few fliers about what to do on a quick trip to Munich, and got started.  Yes, I suppose I could've paid for internet access on the plane, but as a Millenial, I have problems with the principle of paying for things like the internet.

Munich, a Quilt of Green
Landing in Munich, I pried my eyes open and peered out the window.  From a few thousand feet up, Munich reminded me of quilt with bring green squares and little holes where groups of houses peeked through the fields.  Mom and I wandered off the plane jetlagged, exhausted, overheated, and ready to hit the ground running.  When we went to ask for help at the counter, I was very surprised to hear my mom suddenly start speaking full sentences of German.  She had mentioned a few times that she studied German for a few years in high school, but never spoke much about it beyond that.  She's been my mom for 26 years, and I had no idea her German was that good.  After I got over my, "Oh, you actually speak German?" surprise, we dropped of our suitcases and jackets at an airport office, found the S-Bahn, and rode to Marienplatz, the City Center.  It's really a pleasure that getting from the airport to the center of city on public transportation is so simple in Munich.

(She still says she doesn't speak much German, but I still say I saw her communicating successfully and getting directions that she both asked for and understood.)

Lunch at Paulaner
On the train to Marienplatz, we met this Canadian guy who had moved to Munich years earlier.  He told us all about what we should do and see in the City Center on our short stay.  Since I was very, very tired, I really appreciated that he kept talking with us and kept us awake so we didn't miss our stop.  He recommended that we eat lunch in a beer garden, which he explained is a relaxing lunch out that is popular in Germany.  He emphasized the importance of high quality (for food and other items) in the Bavarian region, and told us a bit about what types of foods we should order.

Our first stop off the train was lunch.  After many hours of flying, we were both parched and hungry, so we took the Canadian guy's suggestion and got a table at Paulaner, a popular restaurant with a beer garden.  Exhausted, we plopped down in chairs and ordered a beer to split, because what else do you drink in a beer garden?  I think the server thought it was funny that we were splitting one beer between two people, but neither me nor my mom is much of a drinker.  One was plenty.

For lunch, we ordered spaetzle, salad with a mustardy dressing, and plum strudel for dessert.  Oh, the tastes!  So many yums!  In my memory, this was the best lunch of the entire trip - maybe partly because we were so hungry, and maybe mostly because the food was great.  This was my first time eating spaetzle, which I learned are like tiny little dumplings.  This was not my first time eating strudel, and certainly would not be the last time eating strudel on this trip either.  After lunch, Mom and I pepped up a bit despite the heat, and we resolved to go do some sightseeing before returning to the airport.

Spaetzle at Paulaner
Salad at Paulaner
Plum Strudel at Paulaner
Mom, looking stylish as she nimbly "zumbas" her way
up 300 steps.
Though most of Munich was closed (I guess they do the Sunday thing.), we found a church that was open, and was packed.  As soon as we wandered in the door to check out the art, we immediately understood why it was so packed: the church had air conditioning.  When it's over 100 ºF and the restaurants are hotter than hot and you're dressed in long pants and layers from the plane, any venue offering AC is the place to be.  We sat respectfully on the benches for a few minutes and gazed appreciatively at the art around the church.  This particular church had an attached bell tower, which we decided to climb so we could get a view of the whole city.  As we purchased our tickets to ascend the 300+ steps, the man selling tickets smiled and laughed that we were climbing up in this hot weather.  Wearily, we smiled and asked if the first two steps onto the platform to get to the staircase counted in the 300.  Fortunately, those steps counted, which only left 298 to go!

Inside the glorious, air conditioned church.
(In my case, I found the AC, not the religion, to be the glorious part.)
Memorial Candles
From the top of the bell tower, we spotted all the buildings we had strolled around, as well as the famed Glockenspiel.  Despite the heat, we felt ok at the top of the tower because of the strong breeze up there.  From above (and at ground level), Munich turned out to be charming and picturesque.  Before visiting, I had heard many people express that they weren't interested in visiting Germany because of the Holocaust.  Of course, many of the people back then are not the same people as now, and Germany has certainly owned its war crimes and made reparations, despite the fact that no one can ever bring back the millions of lost lives.  I always knew this, but had never made up my mind on whether or not I would visit Germany.  I felt open to the idea of visiting Germany, but simply hadn't gotten to it yet.  After spending one short day in Munich, I am very pleased to report that I felt very welcome in the city and that I would like to eventually go back and see more of the country.  Everyone I encountered was friendly and helpful, and I had a very enjoyable, albeit short, stay.  Someday I intend to return to Bavaria to see the Neuschwanstein Castle, which is what the Disney castle is supposed to be based on. (Other people claim the Disney castle is based on the Alcázar in Segovia.  All three look very similar.)

Spectacular views from the top of the bell tower
Atop the bell tower
I would be particularly interested in returning to Germany and visiting one of their Holocaust memorials to get a sense of what the attitude toward WWII is in modern Germany.  I remember than when I visited Vietnam and learned about the Vietnam War, we were told that they kept the American POWs in good conditions and fed them very well.....which seemed extremely false based on the fact that the Vietnamese set all dialogue for interviews with American soldiers.  We also visited a jail in Vietnam where American POWs were kept and tortured, and saw a great deal of their anti-American propaganda footage.  I don't know a lot about what Germany's current take on WWII is, and would be interested to learn how their museums and memorials handle the topic.

Just before 5 pm, we raced back down the 300 steps of the bell tower and sweated our way over to the Marienplatz central square where the Glockenspiel stands.  The Glockenspiel is a large clock that has around 30 figurines that move on a track and dance and joust each day.  At precisely 5 pm, the 12-ish minute show began.  The figures started to spin and move.  Some of the figures even jousted!  Of course, since the clock is in Munich, the knight dressed in Bavarian colors always wins the joust.  The Glockenspiel cemented Munich as a charming city in my mind, because the old-timey clock is very sweet, and you can't help but smile when you watch its show.  The famous clock has two different scenes on two different levels.  The top scene portrays the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine.  The jousters are there to celebrate with them.  The bottom scene shows the Coopers' Dance, which became a traditional dance in German and symbolizes loyalty.

While watching the show, we noted with amusement that the Glockenspiel is built into the town hall, which is known as the Rathaus.  Pronouncing the word "rathaus" with English pronunciation sounds like "rat house," which (being from Chicago) we decided seemed appropriate for a building full of politicians.  I have no idea what politics are like in Munich, or if there's corruption there, but I know there are more than enough corrupt politicians in Chicago for both cities combined.

Keith Haring posing with his work
With a few short hours left before we had to return to the airport to fly to Budapest, we headed to the Kunstalle München, which is the Keith Haring Museum.  Keith Haring was an American artist who used his art for political activism.  He was strictly against capitalism and excess, promoted equal rights and environmentalism, and raised awareness for HIV/AIDS.  Much of his work shows cartoon figures that look like inflated stick figures in poses from ancient Egyptian art.  These figures in his work are often highly critical of society.  To the viewer, it seems that Haring's goal was often to expose and criticize what he saw as evil or unjust.  One topic he often created artworks about was the relationship between people and technology.  In one piece, Haring is shown speaking while wearing a TV on his head, obviously suggesting that he thought people were way too involved with their TVs and missing out on real life.

Artwork by Keith Haring
All too soon, left the museum and headed for the S-Bahn to take us to the airport.  Along the way, we enjoyed passing several chamber groups of musicians casually playing classical music around the winding streets.  We also passed an ATM, which is known there as a "geldautomat."  Pronounced in English, a "geldautomat" basically sounds like a machine that spits out gold.  Unfortunately, we just got some Euros, no gold. Anyways, we boarded our late night flight, said auf wiedersehen to Munich, and flew off to Budapest.
Heehee! :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

New York, NY

Day 1: Manhattan, Times Square area
Friday, June 26, 2015

As we all know, New York is a famous city.  Famous for the crowds, famous for the arts, famous for the bagels, and famous for lots of other stuff.  It seems odd that after visiting 20+ countries on multiple continents, I still haven't toured New York City.  Sure, I had passed through to check out
The Subway
NYU and visit people outside the city, but I had never been a real tourist there.  Ben and I chose to visit New York mainly to visit his cousins, Eve and Jason, who graciously hosted us.  While there, we had the pleasure of visiting with Ben's other cousins, Gabe and Liz, and two of my friends, Adina and Stephanie.  On a scale of 1 to 3, New York was definitely a fantastic, three-star destination for us.  First star: there are about a million things to do in New York.  Second star: we could visit family and friends.  Third star: we both have family members who immigrated to the US through Ellis Island, and we wanted to look them up and visit the island.  On our first day in New York, we chose to explore Manhattan.  Within the borough of Manhattan, we decided to check out the Times Square area and Midtown.  What better way is there to dive into New York tourism than to plant yourself right in the middle of Times Square?
Times Square
Garbage Bags on the Sidewalk
On the way to Times Square, I gathered a few first impressions of NYC.  First, NY smells weird.  Garbage bags are left on sidewalks because there are no alleys.  I assume that someone picks up all that garbage everyday?  The garbage is pretty pungent, especially in combination with the smell of urine, which is due to both homeless people who have no toilets, and dogs who can’t find any grass. 

Kiddie Pools of Grass
Speaking of dogs finding grass, I noticed that many people planted patches of grass in kiddie pools.  These pools lined doorways like a desperate attempt to bring revive nature within the city.  Also on the sidewalks, many buildings had doors coming out of the ground that were splayed open, exposing a basement with a sidewalk entrance.  A few times, I almost slipped and fell into these ground doors since I'm not used to watching out for them.

These basement doors on the sidewalk are wide open.  It would be very easy to accidentally fall in.
My second first impression of NY had more to do with the people and less to do with the ambiance.  Everyone I passed that morning on the streets was decked out in funky haircuts, edgy fabrics, and other things to mark themselves as individuals, separate and different from the other millions of people living in NY.  Looking around, it seemed that people were desperate to express themselves, partly because they were artsy, and partly to avoid blending in with the crowd.  Speaking of a crowd, the place truly is crowded.  Not like Asia though.  In Vietnam, I noticed many people in large crowds, but many were sitting around.  There was an abundance of people, and nothing for all the extras to do.  In NY, the crowd has energy and urgency.  The people are going somewhere because they have something to do, and they want to get it done efficiently and right away.

Wandering near Times Square

With our nostrils closing in attempt to reject the rancid garbage-urine aroma, and our eyes widening on overload from “people watching”, we headed over to Times Square.  Times Square is kind of like Piccadilly Circus in London, just bigger and louder, and with more screens.  Everywhere I looked, a gigantic screen advertised a product, a person, a brand, or a company.  I wonder if millennials are less overwhelmed by all the screens in Times Square than older generations.  On a typical day, I spend my afternoons juggling programs on three or four large screens.  Four is a lot less than the number in Times Square, but the point is that I am used to staring at screens all day. 

I found out that most of the buildings in Times Square are empty, though they generate $$$ in revenue per year solely from their advertisements.  One of the large screens, sponsored by Revlon, allowed guests to stand in a particular spot, have their picture taken, and then look up to see their faces on a billboard in Times Square.  After 20 minutes of touring, I was already on a giant screen in NY.  How cool is that?

Ben and I are in the center of that giant Revlon board.
After making a quick visit to M&M World and snapping a ton of pictures, Ben and I decided to visit Christie’s, the auction house located at 20 Rockefeller Plaza.  (Yes, we passed 30Rock on the way there.)  Currently, Christie’s is auctioning off the estate of deceased billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who was the heir to $200 million from the Mellon banking fortune.  Anyone can walk into Christie’s, but we felt sort of underclassed since we strolled in wearing torn jeans and t-shirts, while some other people were there negotiating prices in suits and cocktail dresses. 

Christie’s is sort of like a museum, except that everything is for sale, and you are welcome to pick up and inspect the items and sit on the furniture.  However, the “you break it, you buy it” rule applies.  Richard Mellon Scaife had more sets of dishes than I think could even fit in my little apartment.  Sure, his dishes were beautiful, but was it really necessary to have his name engraved into every piece?  I’ve never seen so many gold serving platters before this day.  At Christie’s I learned what a billionaire does when they have too much money and are unsure of how to spend it: they purchase a solid silver lobster sculpture.  The one item I would have loved to purchase at the auction was a work of art by Alexander Calder.  If I had a spare 50k, I might have considered it.  No such luck.

R.M. Scaife's dishes at Christie's
R.M. Scaife's silverware at Christie's
After leaving Christie’s, we decided to ride the subway over to Midtown to visit MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art.  I am sort of finicky about modern and contemporary art.  My favorite modern art incorporates new techniques, pushes boundaries, and demonstrates mastery.  My least favorite type of contemporary art is when there’s so much theory behind the work that you cannot appreciate it unless you know the theory.  It bothers my when a work of visual or performance art cannot stand on its own without the assistance of a program or plaque on the wall.  MoMA has a collection that spans many art styles, organized through time, and includes both of these types of art.

Some of the artists’ works I was most excited about seeing at MoMA were: Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollack, Frida Kahlo, Roy Liechtenstein, and Andy Warhol.

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is perhaps the most popular painting in the museum, seeing as it draws crowds at every moment of every day – sort of how people crowd around Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in Paris.  To me, the most amazing part about “Starry Night” is the swirling sky, which reflects air patterns as air actually flows. 
A crowd views Van Gogh's "Starry Night"
Piet Mondrian
Not "Broadway Boogie Woogie"

Piet Mondrian’s most famous work in the museum is called “Broadway Boogie Woogie.”  I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I mistook a different painting for this one, because I forgot what it looked like.  What I appreciate about Mondrian’s work is that he uses simplicity to illustrate believable cities.  Mondrian uses black lines that constrain geometric areas, which are filled in with primary colors.  He skillfully creates a grid city that is filled with traffic, sky scrapers, and dynamic energy.

Andy Warhol.  What can I say that has not already been said about Andy Warhol?  Bizarre and genius, all in one.  MoMA is currently exhibiting all of Warhol’s soup cans and Monroe work.  Warhol is famous for making Pop Art what it is: images of recognizable items that can be used for branding and are reproduced quickly and easily.  Hence the 35-ish soup cans.  To my surprise, I learned that Warhol frequently traced and then enlarged his subjects instead of drawing free-handed.

Andy Warhol has a reputation for being an odd dude, but by far, the most unusual person whose exhibit I viewed that day was Yoko Ono.  On the top floor of MoMA, Yoko has an exhibit called “One Woman Show”.  
"One Woman Show" - Yoko Ono
The exhibit features the ladder where she met John Lennon, a piece of fabric she considers beautiful and wants people to step on, a room with everything cut in half, and a series of short poems.  Yoko sells mornings and created the Plastic Ono Band, a band which she claims is special because it never existed and could never exist.  In one room of the exhibit, her song “Why” was playing.  In this song, Yoko sounds like a yodeling sheep, which may have actually been intentional.  I left this exhibit fascinated, confused, and with many, many questions.  If the point of her art is to make viewers think, than this definitely was successful. 

Completing our visit, we hopped on the subway, met up with Eve and Jason, our hosts, and went to dinner at this super cool Vietnamese Gastro Pub.  Great first day!  

Day 2: Brooklyn
Saturday, June 27, 2015

Brooklyn Streets

Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs of New York, and it is roughly the size of the entire city of Chicago.  Brooklyn has a reputation for being described with words such as organic, hipster, and local.  One fun part about visiting Brooklyn, or any part of New York, is that no matter what you feel like eating.  There’s food from every part of the world just around the corner.  Fortunately, Eve is a food writer and foodie extraordinaire, and she knows all the best places to eat.  Her new book, A Taste of Generation Yum, is out now and available for purchase.  In stark contrast, I have the same eating habits as a five-year old.  Without Eve’s help, Ben and I certainly wouldn’t have eaten as well as we did on this trip.
Farmers' Market in Brooklyn
We began the day in Brooklyn with brunch at al di la.  While feasting on decadent French toast, we struggled to figure out what “al di la” means.  These are all Italian words, but the food isn’t Italian, and these words don’t form a meaningful phrase.  Since it was pouring rain for most of the day, we relaxed, took our time, and strolled around the giant borough.

Shuffleboard for Young People

After brunch, we decided to visit this establishment where they host shuffle board games, but for young people.  This is one of the most alternative places I may have ever seen.  Typically, shuffleboard is an old persons’ game.  Here, young professionals in their mid 20s to mid 30s gathered and put their names on a five-hour waiting list for a spot to play shuffleboard.  Of course there are teams, and your name goes on the wall if you win.  This place is great for people watching because the hipsters are out in full force here.  I’m guessing all of them played shuffleboard before it was cool for young people to be shuffleboard aficionados.

Bicycle on the Streets of Brooklyn

Around Brooklyn, we noticed a special emphasis placed on locally grown foods, organic produce, farmers’ markets, and anything else the could bring a bit of nature and a small town feel into the big city.  Maybe the residents like to support small businesses?  Maybe they are nostalgic for home?  We stopped for some snacks, strolled around a bit more, and then made our way to dinner at Taco Santo with Eve and Jason.  Dinner at Taco Santo was the first time I’ve ever eaten a fish taco.  I usually opt for chicken or ground beef, and am honestly not sure what inspired me to go with fish.  In any case, the fish taco was so tasty that I probably could’ve eaten about four of them.

Farmers' Market in Brooklyn
Day 3: Downtown and the New York Harbor
Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Statue of Liberty

Without a doubt, one of the activities I most looked forward to on my trip to NY was visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Somewhere between 1928 and 1930, my Great-Grandma Pearl and my Grandma journeyed from Poland on a ship and arrived at Ellis Island to begin a new life in the United States.  I wanted desperately to look up their names in the records at Ellis Island.  As I dug through the records, I realized that I wasn't sure how their last name was spelled, or what exactly their original last name was.  I also didn't know what city they had sailed from, or if Drohiczyn was actually in Poland at the time.  The city is near a boarder that was Russian back then.  As I searched, I realized I did not even have a definite first name to look up because my Grandma's name was changed from Leah to Lillian.  Fortunately, it is possible to look up the Ellis Island records online from home, so I can keep searching later.  Anyways, they came here, saw the Statue of Liberty on the way in, and settled in Chicago.  Coincidentally, they lived in Hyde Park right near The University of Chicago's campus - where I'm now working on my Ph.D. in neurobiology.  I walk past the apartment where my Great-Grandma Pearl used to live almost every day.
Liberty Island
On the day Ben and I went to visit the Statue of Liberty, it was misty and drizzling.  As it turns out, this is the best weather to visit Lady Liberty.  As the ferry approached Liberty Island, Lady Liberty suddenly emerged from the fog, with her torch raised as if to guide us into the harbor.  As her giant face boldly and calmly looked out over the water, she signaled freedom, power, and arrival.  Maybe it's her majestic gaze, or maybe it's all those years in history classes, that brought classic American ideals like freedom to mind when I looked up at her.  For many immigrants, the Statue of Liberty was their first view of America after months on the ocean.  Sighting the Statue of Liberty meant that they had finally arrived in America, what they hoped would be a place for their dreams to thrive.  Even for me, already a US citizen, seeing the Statue of Liberty was both an enthralling and reverent experience.  Studying her face, tablet, crown, and torch, I wondered what my ancestors thought when they saw The Statue of Liberty part the mist and welcome them to their new home.
The Statue of Liberty
My forearm is about the length of
Lady Liberty's largest toenail.
From the ground to the tip of her torch, the Statue of Liberty stands over 300 feet tall.  Her head is approximately 10 feet wide, and she boasts a 35-foot waist.  Before visiting the statue, I didn't realize that she's hollow.  Though her design incorporates about 62,000 pounds of copper, the thickness of her copper sheeting is only the width of two pennies.  As many people know, The Statue of Liberty is a gift from France to the United States.  Remembering this, I smiled in amusement when I walked inside the statue and noted that the steel frame holding her up bears striking similarity to the frame of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Digital record of ship manifest.
I think my Great-Grandpa Hy might be listed here.
Tearing my eyes away from the Statue of Liberty, I boarded the ferry and took off for Ellis Island.  As I understand it, immigrants on ships passed Liberty Island and viewed the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island, which was their actual first stop.  Today at Ellis Island, visitors can check out the National Museum of Immigration which educates guests about immigrants and immigration during all parts of US history.  While I was very interested in learning about other groups of people coming to America in search of the American Dream, I really just wanted to look up my family members.  As I mentioned though, searching for people and their records isn't that straightforward when you only have a first name and aren't quite sure about the other details.  That day, I might have found the ship manifests with my family members listed, but I'll need to look more carefully in order to confirm that.
Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
Advertisement to come to America
In the National Museum of Immigration, visitors can actually walk around the great hall that was where immigrants lined up to be inspected upon arrival.  Inspectors "Americanized" immigrants' names, checked their health, noted if they spoke English, and recorded how much money they possessed upon entering the United States.  As far as I understand, everyone tried to answer correctly, look healthy and alert, and sound like they had a definite place to go so that they wouldn't get send back to their original countries.  The process was stressful, especially after sitting on a ship for months, likely getting sick, and not understanding the language around you.  After settling in Chicago, my great-grandma learned English by attending elementary school classes with my grandma.  I believe they spoke Yiddish back in Poland.

This is the hall where immigrants underwent health inspections upon arrival.  According to the exhibit, inspectors even looked under immigrants' eyelids.  How would you like to arrive in a new country and then wait in a long line to have someone look under your eyelids? 
Later that day, back in Manhattan, we went to experience the 9/11 memorial, which commemorates and honors the victims and first responders from the September 11th terrorist attacks.  The memorial is an outline of where the World Trade Center buildings once stood.  The square frame names all of the victims who died, and a waterfall pours into the center of the square.  The middle of the square descends deeper so that viewers can't see the bottom.  Visitors placed miniature American flags and flowers near some of the names.  The photos below are of WTC 1 (left) and the 9/11 Memorial (right).

The 9/11 Memorial Museum is what remains of one of the towers.  The museum houses huge steel rods that fell from the upper floors of the building and pierced their way through the lower floors, landing in a crumpled pile at ground zero.  In one part of the museum, curators tell the story of a brave team of firefighters, led by FDNY Captain Patrick John Brown, who began running up 99 flights of stairs to try and save people trapped up there.  Devastatingly, the firefighters became trapped and died when the building collapsed.  The ruins of the firetruck they used, along with Captain Brown's helmet, are on exhibit.  The exhibits walk visitors through the timeline of the destructive events.

9/11 Memorial
9/11 Memorial Museum
Going through the museum is a very heavy emotional experience, and it reminded me of my visit to Auschwitz in Poland back in 2012.  It's impossible for me to understand such hatred.  For me, it's important to support museums like this one in order to keep them open, so that people never forget and repeat these tragedies.  At the 9/11 Memorial Museum, it was very disturbing to see the events of that fateful day chronicled partly because they're terrible and partly because I was in 7th grade in 2001, and I actually remember that day.  I was in my English class, and my teacher told us that something bad had happened, but that we shouldn't watch the news when we got home from school.  My mom also called me when I got home and asked me not to watch the news until she could be there to watch it with me.  So obviously, I immediately grabbed the remote and tuned into ABC 7, because I wanted to know what had happened.  Watching the towers collapse over and over again on the news was hard to comprehend.  It seemed like something that only happens in movies, and it seemed impossible to me that people were really inside those buildings.  It seemed so unreal that I initially didn't know to be scared or angry.  I just didn't get it.  Over the next few days, weeks, and months, I came to understand the full horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Captain Brown's firetruck - 9/11 Memorial Museum
At the 9/11 Memorial Museum, one of the things that disturbed me most, aside from the chronicled events, was that all the mementos and artifacts they collected and displayed were things I could relate to.  Since 2001 was only 14 years ago, during my lifetime, the artifacts were things like phones, watches, and clothes that were out of style, but that I remember seeing people wear.  The reminder that that terrorist attacks happen in my lifetime, and that I can relate to the victims, is really chilling and unsettling.
One World Trade Center, The Freedom Tower
It's never easy to figure out what to do after visiting such an emotionally draining museum, but vacation time is precious, so I set out to see more of New York.

Day 4: Soho and The Village
Monday, June 29, 2015

Right away, it was clear that the area around Greenwich Village has some serious personality.  Everywhere I looked, there were vibrant murals on walls, people with funky hair trying to express their inner something, incense aromas wafting, and so many fabulous stores and boutiques.  All kinds of people from all over the place scurried around everywhere.  I did a little shopping here, a little people watching there, and some snacking.

Actually, during the course of that morning, I had about five cups of iced tea since I kept meeting up with friends in coffee shops.

Me and Adina :)
Iced tea #1: First, I met up with my ballet buddy Adina from Ruth Page.  We actually met up in Times Square, and it was wonderful to catch up over her lunch break.  I first met Adina in the summer of 2003 when I danced at the Ruth Page summer intensive.  We wandered around Chicago's Gold Coast on our lunch breaks and danced our hearts out in the best pointe classes ever.

Iced tea #2: Next, Ben and I hopped back onto the subway and zoomed away to Greenwich Village for lunch with his cousin Gabe, at one of his favorite nearby cafes.  Gabe reminds me of San Francisco and Greenwich Village all-in-one.  He's multi-talented, deep-thinking, totally out-of-the-box, and super fun to be around.
Me and Steph Noodle :)
Iced tea #3: Ok, by this point I didn't need anymore tea, but I was super excited to meet up with my lifelong friend, Stephanie.  We went to preschool together, our moms have been BFFs since forever, and we're basically the definition of lifelong friends.  As anyone who knows us will attest, Stephanie and I have pretty different personalities.  I'm calculating and deliberate, and she's a creative, free spirit.  It was so great seeing Steph and learning about her awesome life in New York and all the cool things she's working on.  It's always heartwarming to see that your friends are leading successful, fulfilling lives.

Stephanie walked with us to Washington Square Park, where we chatted and did some great people watching.  Seriously, the people watching game here is totally on point.  I think people say "on fleek" now.  Anyways, we spotted a guy walking back and forth just holding a rubber chicken.  A bit farther away, another guy sat on a bench with a deck of oversized cards.  For about 45 minutes, this guy stared at three of the cards, rearranged them, looked them over, put them in a different order, turned them over, examined them, checked out the corners, and just sort of continued on in this fashion.  Graffiti was scrawled everywhere on everything, groups of musicians demoed their latest tunes, and people displayed their funky fashions.

Day 5: Upper West Side & Central Park
Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ben and I are certainly city people, but even city people need a bit of a break after four days of tourism in New York.  All at once, it's enthralling, exhilarating, exhausting, etc.  In the morning, we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan (great views of the city!).  As soon as we arrived in Manhattan, we went straight to Central Park.

As it turns out, Central Park seems to be New York's answer to needing some nature in the middle of a giant city.  While peacefully strolling around the trees, I was surprised by how quiet and isolated everything felt in Central Park.  It was as if the city had actually melted away.  The park is so large that it totally blocks out the city, leaving park dwellers with free their minds and relax.
Central Park
Strawberry Fields, Central Park
Ben is a huge Beatles fan, so we went to see Strawberry Fields, which is a memorial for John Lennon that Yoko Ono designed.  The memorial is surrounded by people playing Beatles songs about peace, people leaving flowers, and messages about peaceful things.  I heard Yoko lives in the Dakota, which is right near Central Park, and I was sort of hoping to run into her so I could ask her some of those questions I had after hearing her music.

In the middle of the day, I went back to MOMA.  On the first visit, I had so much fun, that I went back.
Well hello there, Ms. Marilyn.
These prints are part of what inspires my new Purkinje cell art, so I had to go back and see them.
Lincoln Center
I mentioned that I was most looking forward to seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Definitely should have added seeing ABT perform at Lincoln Center to that list.  Today, for the first time ever, I got to see ABT perform live!!  I regularly watch them dance on Youtube, but it doesn't really compare to the really deal.  I selected 6/30/15 because I wanted to see Gillian Murphy perform as Cinderella in Ashton's Cinderella.  I'm pretty sure this was Ben's first time going to a ballet (other than UBallet), so I tried to select a fun show for him.  Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty seemed a little long and heavy for a first ballet, but Cinderella is filled with styled choreography, a well-known plot, and funny twists with the evil stepsisters.  Gillian Murphy is even more amazing in person than on Youtube.  And Alexandre Hammoudi was so prince-ly as the Prince!  Such an amazing experience to finally see ABT perform!  And Gillian Murphy!!
Gillian Murphy and Alexandre Hammoudi as Cinderella and the Prince, ABT
¡Hasta la próxima, New York!

P.S. Love the NY ads on the subway!