Two months ago, I finally made it happen. I visited the city that has been on my bucket list for over a decade. New York, you were everything I thought you would be, and even more!
Six days, sixty one miles, iconic views, and lots of laughter with my fellow traveller…I’m not even sure where to start! I’d packed my notebook ready to start writing my blog on the plane but, after dealing with a broken monitor, multiple meals (I’d eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner by the time the plane landed and it was only lunchtime in New York) and finding out that The Greatest Showman was one of the inflight movies, there was no chance of me doing anything apart from enjoying some escapism (I’m now totally addicted to the song, “This is Me”…if Beyond the C Zone had an anthem then this would definitely be it!).
Looking out of the plane window, I felt the calmness of being above the clouds…disconnected from the realities of everyday life and on the way to connecting with my New York experience. An experience that started as soon as we landed at JFK airport and we joined a sea of people all wanting to enter the USA. We were separated immediately as I wasn’t a newcomer, having visited the sunshine state of Florida just over a year ago. Once through immigration, I spent two hours people watching as I waited for my fellow traveller to navigate the sea of people and officially enter the Big Apple. People’s stories occupied my time…people on business that wished they had travelled the night before, people who had brought their own tea bags and were regaling their travelling companions of the delights of Marks & Spencer Empress Grey Tea. The story that I didn’t need to be reminded of two hours and forty five minutes after being in New York was that of the film, Taken. Taxi-gate as it will be forever known and the first mistake that took me beyond the C Zone was the taxi journey to the hotel. To sum it up in six statements: inexperienced tourists, multi-storey car park, back streets of god knows where, a “no thanks” to the offer of a sweet (it could have been anything!), an escape planned if required and an attempt at daylight robbery when we finally made it to the hotel. The taxi-gate experience put a bit of a dampener on the initial New York experience and I could feel myself retreating into my comfort zone as we did a bit of exploring. The final straw was being accosted for photos by people dressed up in grubby Disney costumes in Times Square. We quickly retreated to the safety of the hotel, grabbing a quick cocktail and slice of pizza (it was New York after all) before heading to bed.
The mantra for day one was “Carpe Diem” as we went about erasing our initial encounter with New York in order to get back out of our comfort zone. There were two challenges on the cards today, finding WiFi and the subway. Grand Central Station enabled us to achieve both and it was here that I started to see a side to New York that I really liked (and appreciated)…kindness. After deciding to brave the subway and working out which line we would be travelling on we encountered our first hurdle – purchasing our metro card! Thankfully we were assisted by somebody buying their ticket to get to college. He immediately offered to help us and made sure that we both managed to get a metro card that would at least get us to our planned destination, Brooklyn Bridge. We continued to see kindness like this for the next five days. Whenever we looked confused and were struggling with our map reading (this was probably daily), somebody would always stop and ask us if we needed any help. At first I wondered how people even noticed us but I soon began to see a big difference in the people walking the streets of New York, they had their heads up and gave eye contact. This is very different to my experience of other cities where people are looking down, rushing to their destinations or looking at their phones. It’s a bit of New York I’ve tried to bring back with me…you never know what’s going on for people and eye contact, a smile, even a few words of acknowledgement can make someone’s day. I’m still waiting to see someone struggling with a map so I can offer some assistance but I’m not sure they’d welcome my poor sense of direction!
New York showed me a city of resilience, hope, growth and survival. Nothing demonstrated this more to me than Ground Zero. The memorial and museum triggered intense emotions as you were presented with the impact of 9/11 and the stories of loss, compassion and recovery. I reflected on how important it is to make every second of life count as we really don’t know what’s around the corner…”Carpe Diem”, the day’s mantra seemed even more fitting. As we left the museum I experienced real life pathetic fallacy as the sky had changed colour to an eerie shade of grey, the breeze was intensifying causing debris to blow around the streets and people were running to their destinations in anticipation of a storm. When we returned to Grand Central Station we were immediately faced with the effects of the storm. There were people everywhere and you could barely move through crowds of stranded passengers. The force of the storm meant that there were no trains running in or out of the station. Fortunately for us, the hotel was just a sprint away.
From this point on, rain became a daily feature of the New York experience. One of the wettest days was when we took a boat cruise to see the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom. It’s a sight I’ve seen so many times in films and books but nothing could prepare me for seeing the torch bearing copper figure of the Roman Goddess of Liberty in the flesh. The greyness of the skyline seemed to make Lady Liberty even more noticeable. It was a profound experience as I considered the number of people that have sailed past the iconic figure in search of a new life. It got me thinking about my experience of seeking a new path in life following my struggle with infertility and the freedom I’ve felt since I found my voice and owned my story (https://beyondtheczone.wordpress.com/2018/04/08/bring-on-spring/), the freedom to live as I choose and go where I want…and this week it was New York.
The sixty one miles spent on my feet, which included a run in Central Park, and reaching the dizzy heights of the City’s famous landmarks (Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Bar 65) definitely wasn’t easy physically and it tested my map reading skills despite the supposedly simple New York grid system – I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a place where, whenever we resorted to Google Maps, the destination was always 20 minutes away?! Despite this, the overall experience reinforced to me one of my favourite quotes (whether it was 20 minutes away or not):
Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations – Zig Ziglar
I admit that Sex and the City had a significant influence on my desire to go to New York and one of my highlights of the trip has to be visiting the outside of Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment. I’ve even started to watch the show again to get my New York fix and I was watching an episode earlier this week when Carrie described New York as, “the gateway to hope, opportunity and happiness.” When I heard this, something dawned on me. New York definitely gave me new experiences and happy memories that I will never forget, and I certainly got some challenges ticked off the list, which encourages me in my quest to achieve 40 challenges this year. However, I also realised that Beyond the C Zone is proving to be my gateway…my gateway to hope, opportunity, happiness, growth and freedom from the things that have been holding me back. And, from this, I have no doubt that I will reach my own “beautiful destination”.
I couldn’t end this blog post without saying a HUGE thank you to my fellow traveller – for sticking to the pact we made 4 years ago, for helping to get some challenges ticked off the list, and for the memories we made.