Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving Instagrams

I didn't take very many pictures during Thanksgiving this year, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't wonderful! Uncle Brad and I especially enjoyed spending time with our cool niece and nephew. :)
Rachel and Clinton playing in the leaves after Thanksgiving Dinner

Aunt Mindy w/ the kids while Rachel displays her "bouquet" of red leaves.

Uncle Brad is the Tickle Monster!
We don't have very many opportunities to visit with my family, but we always enjoy spending time with them when we can, especially the youngest members. Being the favorite (ahem) aunt and uncle is hard work, but somebody's gotta do it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

NYC Day 6 - Final Day

Saturday was our last day in New York City. We finally made it up to the top of the Empire State Building, did some more fun shopping in Times Square, took a bus tour, and went to an improv musical. It was a great way to round out the trip.

We ended up nixing our original Saturday schedule in the Bronx that included the Botanical Gardens and Yankee Stadium, so we were able to fit in the visit to the to the Empire State Building that we had to postpone the day before.  While we were in line to go to the top, we weaved through a museum detailing the building process of the city's tallest sky scraper. There were a ton of photos that made my stomach drop of construction workers casually sitting on beams hoisted hundreds of feet in the air. Eek. Then we boarded the elevator and headed to the 86th floor observation deck with a few ear-pops along the way.

When we stepped outside, the view was breathtaking. It was a gorgeous day, and the bright blue sky served as a beautiful backdrop to the miles and miles of cityscape. I couldn't believe how far you could see. From this vantage point, I could totally understand why New York City is called a concrete jungle.  Also, even though we were nearly 90 stories into the air, pigeons still flew to the top of the building. I guess when you're flying that high, you need a place to rest.
It was so windy that high up in the sky that it was difficult to get a good picture. And when you're asking a stranger to take it of the two of you, you don't want to ask for a second one where your hair isn't blowing in your face. We had a little bit more luck on other side of the building.

You could see as far away as the Statue of Liberty, very small, all the way at the bottom of the island, or you could look straight down and see the giant Macy's. Visible were ice skating rinks and pools on top of roofs and Central Park could be made out behind some buildings. (I did take pictures of all of those things, but I didn't include them all in this post. I know y'all don't care about that many pictures of the view...)

When we came back down to the ground, we went to Times Square for our fourth and final time. By Saturday, we considered this active area of the city to be our old stompin' grounds. We went into the Disney store just so I could marvel at the big castle inside. It was wonderful. I walked around with my mouth hanging open and touching everything. I can only assume that the real Walt Disney World is even better than this.

We had passed the Hershey's store earlier in the week, but we decided it was time to head on in. They had more chocolate than even Willy Wonka could want, including Hershey kisses as big as my head! I wanted about one of everything, but we settled on a few of the mini Reese's peanut butter cups.

One of my favorite things about NYC wasn't a tourist attraction at all, but all of the street/subway performers. These people were so legit! Their instruments ranged from some buckets to a few horns all the way up to a full band set up underground. It was crazy. Our most favorite performers, though, were these break dancers down in the Times Square subway station. They had a boom box playing some music, and these dudes were just dancing their rythmic hearts out! Brad actually took some video of them, because we were so impressed. I was in awe and could have watched them perform for hours.

New York City has been the setting for an numerous movies and TV shows, and we wanted to see some places in person that were familiar to us through the screen. The day before, we took a tour of Central Park, and this day, we took another one that was city-wide. We rode around in a bus that would show us footage from films and shows and then drive us by the locations pointing out what was shot there. It was a convenient, foot-friendly way to see around the city, too. 
Speaking of TV shows, we had dinner at McGee's Pub, which is the bar that inspired the creators of How I Met Your Mother. But did you know that sitcom is only set in NYC and is actually filmed in Hollywood! I was mind-blown and horrified when they told us that!

The very last activity of our NYC vacation was an improv comedy musical, and it was hilarious! It was made up of  4 performers and a band. They took suggestions from the audience, and ended up doing a two hour show centering around Desperate Housewives of Colonial Times. I'm telling you, we laughed so hard. They would accidentally make a mistake or say the wrong word and then everybody else would have to run with it and keep it up through the whole show. And sometimes they would start to go a direction different than the band, and have to try to work the correction into the piece, and it was hilarious. It may sound kind of lame, but it was awesome. (I couldn't take any pictures of the show, but we did take one in the lobby in front of a few past posters.) 

And with that, the week was over. As we were packing things up to go the next morning, we listened to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" and Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" as a final closing to the best week of our lives. (No joke.) Then we sadly hopped on the train to New Jersey where we picked up our car from Brad's coworker's house who had been keeping it for the week, and began the long, depressing drive back home.

Overall, our vacation was amazing. Collectively, it truly was the best time Bradley and I have ever had. We got to see and do so many wonderful things. We came into the week with a hefty schedule, and we accomplished everything that we wanted to and were at peace with the few tasks we removed from the list. Luckily, the hubs and I travel the same, and we both want to focus on the same stuff (big land marks) and ignore the same things (shopping). I'm so grateful that we had enough time to do all of the things that both of us wanted. Now that we got the major tourist attractions out of the way, our next trips can focus on lower key events, Broadway plays, and Shake Shack burgers. I already can't wait. :)
See what we did the rest of the week:
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5

NYC Day 5

Our Friday in the Big Apple was a pretty low key one. Our initial plans to go into the Empire State Building got postponed until the next day because of the long wait, so we had some time to just walk around the city before we went to Central Park or visited Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

By this time in the week, we were pretty much Mass Transit Pros. Brad was the master at navigating the different subway lines and stops. During our whole time there, we only got lost once. (We hopped on the Eastbound train instead of the Westbound, and ended up confused in Queens.) Not too bad for some small town, Southern, first-timers!

We didn't intend to walk past Macy's on Black Friday, but it was on our path from the subway stop to the Empire State Building, which was still our original plan that morning. There were literally thousands of people on the street waiting to get into the World's Largest Store. It was the only time during our visit that I clung to Brad's hand so we wouldn't get separated in the crowd. Black Friday shoppers are crazy!
When we finally made our way through the sea of people to our destination, we immediately realized that the wait was going to be too long to enjoy the truly experience before we had to leave and be at our next scheduled stop. So instead, we decided to wait until tomorrow for that and just did some sight seeing. It was cool to see Seventh Avenue (aka Fashion Avenue) in person. And the NYC Post office is seriously huge! It reminded me of the Parthenon replica we have her in Nashville. We walked by Madison Square Garden, and even though Taylor Swift was performing there that night (and the next), we didn't get to go to the concert. Bummer. (But we did see many girls in obvious TSwift concert attire on the subways!)

Right outside of Central Park, which was our next stop, is The Plaza. As in "Eloise at The Plaza," or as I better know it, the place that Kevin McCallister stays in "Home Alone 2: Lost In New York." It is grand, for sure. We walked past the valet and bellhops into the lobby to take look around. It is so fancy and beautiful. I can definitely see why it has been the setting for some movies.

We were right on time to participate in our walking tour of Central Park that focused on TV and movie locations. The tour guide told our group where specific scenes had been filmed, as well as a lot about the history and details of the massive park in general. It was so pretty there, especially in the fall as the leaves were changing colors. Of course we had to take a picture kissing in front of "the kissing bridge." Apparently, this bridge is the most proposed location in the whole city. How romantic.

The most personally exciting places that we got to see the spot were where Kevin first meets the Pigeon Lady in "Home Alone," the fountain that Giselle dances in front of in "Enchanted," and walk the Promenade, which is not only the solitary straight pathway in the whole park, but it's also the most filmed area in Central Park with scenes in "When Harry Met Sally," "Serendipity," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and "Big Daddy," among others. 

Our tour took a little break to allow us to ride the park's historical carousel. It was so old fashioned that the music was even created by the circular motion of the horses, and you could see the antique instruments working in the center of the circle. Back in the way old days, the carousel was powered by mules underneath that would walk in laps at a speed determined by the number of knocks the conductor would do on the floor: one for a gallop, two for a trot, three to slow down, and four to stop and so on. It has since been motorized, thank goodness.

After a few hours of touring (just a small portion of) Central Park, Bradley and I enjoyed The.Best.Burger.Ever. Like ever. Shake Shack is compared to the In-N-Out Burger of the West, or the Whataburger or Five Guys of the South. But let me tell you, this place blows all of those other regions' burger joints out of the greasy kitchen! Hands down, this was the best burger and fries combo I have ever experienced. On more than one occasion, Brad and I have considered flying to NYC just to eat here. It's that good.
The line was out the door and down the street, and once you finally arrived in the building, you were herded through a winding amusement park style line before you could place your order. It was pretty much standing room early, and believe me, people were standing and eating. Luckily, I spotted two empty seats near the window for the hubs and me. All we had to do was share the table with an Asian family of three. Hey, you've gotta do what you've gotta do! And the meal was more than worth it.

When we were all filled up (and wanting more but not willing to wait in line a second time), we made our way back to Times Square for the third occasion that week. This time, we were visiting Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Of all the many things we did during our visit, I think we probably had the most fun here.

There were life size, life-like wax figures of hundreds of celebrities, musicians, politicians, and a number of any historical figures mingling around the place just waiting for you to approach. Brad was able to flirt with Bette Midler and prove that he's just as smoldering hot as Edward Cullen and Johnny Depp. And I was able to show off my JLo booty and finally get my hands on Justin Timberlake. (Humina, humina.)

I listened to Woody Allen talk about the city and helped Lucy bake dinner while Brad chilled with Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali and tried out to be one of the Rockettes. (He didn't get in.)
As if the entire museum wasn't one big photo op, they had a few places set up specifically for picture posing. We could finally stand on the bridge that was merely in the background of our Central Park picture, and Brad had the opportunity to fully "embrace" the Oval Office. Yikes. There's a reason we aren't into politics!

We rocked out with some legends with the likes of Elton John, Tina Turner, and Bono, and I performed some height comparisons along the line. I was just barely taller than horse jockey Willie Shoemaker, but I couldn't even touch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's head on my tip toes! 

We couldn't resist some 90's boy band / girl band photo bombing, and I got a second opportunity to fawn all over JT. Also, that bottom right image is of a random wax woman taking a picture. She's not real, people. There's no need to very patiently wait behind her to snap the picture she's trying to get. She's not a real person taking a real picture. You can just walk on past her. Because she's not real. Just fyi...

Within Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, there was a special 4-D showing of "The Polar Express"!! Eee!! That's my very favorite Christmas movie! And since Santa waved at me at the end of the parade the day before(!!!), it was officially Christmastime! The showed an abbreviated version of the film that lasted about 45 minutes but still adequately captured all of the magic.
And if you're wondering, the fourth dimension catered to our other non-visual senses. Snow fell from the ceiling when the boy walked outside in his pj's; wind gushed over our faces when the train came to a stop in front of his house; something poked us in the back when they were falling into Santa's big gift bag; and it literally smelled like Christmas in the theater when they were gathered around the tree at the end! It was awesome!!

As soon as the film was over, we came to the Main Event. I finally got to meet Wax Figure Taylor Swift!! It was magical! They even had her sparkly guitar in a case nearby. My was museum goals were officially complete. Success.
I'm not exactly sure why we had so much fun at that silly museum full of wax figures, but Brad and I truly enjoyed our evening goofing around with fake famous people. That combined with our amazing time at the beautiful Central Park and the best meal in all the land made our penultimate day in the city pretty great.
If you're interested in how the rest of the week went, you can check out Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 6.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NYC Day 4 - Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in New York City is the best Thanksgiving ever, ever! And Day 4 was (in my opinion) the pinnacle of our week there. I had been waiting for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade all year long, and it was finally here!

Random picture we took in front of a pretty wall in Rockefeller Center
Even though we were exhausted from our late Broadway show the night before, Brad and I woke up at 5:00 in the morning (brrr!!) and made our way to Midtown in an effort to secure a great spot along the parade route. And boy did we ever! Somehow we stumbled upon the best location in the whole city! We sat on top of some scaffolding outside of the back of Carnegie Hall on the corner of 57th and 7th. It was perfect because the scaffolding allowed us to sit down instead of stand the whole time; I was raised high enough to see above the people in front of me; and we were only a couple blocks down from Central Park, so we got to watch the parade turn the corner. It was always a surprise to see what was next, but we still had a couple blocks' worth of viewing/picture/enjoyment time before they passed us! Like I said, it was the best location in the city.
When we procured our spot, with a boost from my hubs to make it on top of the platform, it was still dark and relatively vacant. But as the sun rose as the parade time drew nearer, the people crowded in. Every hour that went by, I was more grateful for our pristine spot that was reasonably excluded from the masses.
Kicking off the parade was Macy's Great American Marching Band. With the sound of those drums, my heart about beat right out of my chest with excitement!
I knew the balloons would be big from watching them on tv all those years. And I knew they would be even larger than I expected after witnessing some being inflated the day before. But I had no idea how ginormous they would really be floating down the street overhead, between the skyscrapers. As they approached where we were, I literally could not fit them in their entirety within my camera view! It was awesome.
By the way, little fun fact, NYC has prepared for hosting this annual parade by installing rotating stoplight posts that pivot on the spot allowing them to stand parallel to the sidewalks of the secondary streets, thereby removing them from interfering with the parade route. I never thought about how all of those strings attached to the balloons that people walk down the road would get caught on street lights. Very clever, NYC.

As soon as I spotted Snoopy being inflated the day before, I knew that  he was the one that I wanted a picture taken with. We anxiously awaited his arrival the whole parade, and when we saw him soar around the corner, I made sure that Brad had a good shot of us with him. Success.
Also, here you can see our feet dangling over the ledge of our little wall with all of the confetti decorating the ground. (And if you're wondering, yes, Brad frequently reminded me to move my legs to keep the circulation going while they hung there. And if you're also wondering whether or not that worked / I adhered his advice, no. When I finally got down for the first time in 5 1/2 hours, I about collapsed, and my legs tingled the whole shaky way back to the subway.)


The only person I anticipated coming my way more than Snoopy was Santa himself. I had been waiting for months to see Mr. and Mrs. Claus and their eight reindeer fly by me. With the sound of his "Ho, Ho, Ho!!" ringing in my ears, I couldn't do anything but cry. And smile like an idiot. It was so surreal, and I was so overcome with happiness. Then, once he moved on to other people down the street, marking  the official end of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (and the beginning of Christmas Season), I cried anew because it was all over! But I didn't have time to wallow in my misery. Brad kissed my face and reminded me that we had a massive crowd to beat to the subway! (On wobbly legs.) But I was absolutely looking forward to going back to our hotel and crashing for a couple of hours, so I tried to keep pace.

The Parade was 100% worth travelling for Thanksgiving. 100%. But it was still a little sad to be away from our families as we celebrated the holiday with a special dinner. We didn't just want to have random diner food for our big meal, so we took part in a Thanksgiving Dinner Cruise. It wasn't our traditional menu, and you could tell they were accommodating a variety of cultures, but it was still special and fun.

We had the perfect backdrop to our holiday meal as we floated underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and watched the sun set over the New York City skyline. I think this nearly made up for the lack of green bean casserole.

Between the main and dessert courses, Brad and I headed to the exterior of the boat. It was perfect timing, because we had reached our destination. As we approached and then floated stationary near the Statue of Liberty for a while, the majority of the dinner guests came to the top and enjoyed the magnificent scenery while a variety of patriotic music was playing in the background. It was romantic, and sweet, and moving, and patriotic, and a moment I'll never forget. We had much to give thanks for, indeed.

Following our dinner cruise, we went to Rockefeller Center. It was absolutely beautiful. I was super disappointed that the giant Christmas tree wasn't lit up yet, but they don't do that until the week following Thanksgiving. (Boo.) It was still cool to see its enormity there with scaffolding assembled to provide the capabilities of decorating. Bradley and I had every intention of ice skating in Rockefeller Center's iconic rink, but when it finally came our turn in line, we realized they were asking over $30 per person to skate. Yikes! It is the one and only event throughout the whole week that we removed from our schedule strictly because of the high price. We're not that cheap, but we're too cheap to spend over $60 to ice skate! Regardless, it was completely awesome to be there and see it in real life. We actually purchased a puzzle of this scene for our Christmas puzzle of the year.

So instead of ice skating, we journeyed to the Top of the Rock(effeler), which is the second largest building in the city. We chose to do this one in the evening, so we could capture the Empire State Building in our night view of the city. It was breathtaking.

That was technically the final event on our schedule for Thanksgiving Day, but the hubs and I were still all jazzed from the events of the day (and our lengthy afternoon nap), so we headed back to our favorite place in the city, Times Square. We seriously love that place. We climbed to the top of the Red Steps and marvelled at the best view of Times Square possible.

Once we had soaked in enough of the buzz just looking at Times Square gives you, we just walked around and checked out all of the nearby stores, especially the chocolate ones!  We couldn't help but go on into the M&M store. The walls were lined with the chocolate candies in dispensers as high as the ceiling. Talk about Mmmm...  

So that was our Thanksgiving of 2011. I still can't believe I got to be at the Macy's Parade and see Santa in person! Or gaze upon the Statue of Liberty amidst our holiday dinner. What an amazing experience it all was. (I'm not sure I'll ever go without traditional food again, though. Jussayin.)

Here are recaps of our other days in the city: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 5, and Day 6.
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