So we set off from Chicago on Wednesday night, and didn't sleep well - we thought the train was going to derail at several points! On Thursday we had another day of scenery watching, although sadly the scenery was not quite as exciting as the previous two train journeys. We had passed by the Great Lakes overnight, although we did see some smaller lakes and rivers, many with large chunks of ice in, as well as hills with snow on top and piles of snow by the tracks. For the last part of the journey we travelled alongside the Hudson River, then over the Harlem River and into Manhattan. I got my camera out ready for some skyscraper pictures... and then the train went underground and stayed there until we reached Penn Station at 6.30pm! We had to wait a while at the station to collect our luggage, and then as it was still light and relatively warm and dry, we walked the 15 minutes to our hotel rather than getting a taxi as planned. After checking in we had dinner at the Italian restaurant next door, then collapsed for an early night.
On Friday morning we got up early, had breakfast at the hotel, and walked to the Metro station where we bought our Metrocards for the next couple of days. We got a train downtown which was going well until the train in front of us broke down, so we got out and walked the last ten minutes to Battery Park where we collected our pre-booked tickets for the Statue of Liberty trip. We rushed through security and boarded our ferry with a few minutes to spare then looked out to see the statue... to discover it was so foggy we couldn't see Liberty Island at all! As the ferry pulled out I took one quick photo of the Manhattan skyline before that also disappeared into the fog! Luckily the statue itself was worth the trip - we had bought tickets to the crown, so embarked upon the 300+ stairs to the top - the first part via a normal staircase, and the last part within the bowels of the statue, a dark narrow spiral staircase which was more than a little freaky! We got to the top and peeked out of the windows around her crown, saw the mouldings on the inside of her face, and talked to the ranger in attendance who told us that it gets up to 120 degrees up there in the summer - SO glad it was only April! We then made our way back down via a (different, thankfully) spiral staircase, then enjoyed the (foggy) views round the pedestal and finally looked round the fascinating museum about the history of the statue.
The ferry then took us to Ellis Island, site of the historical immigration centre. We did an audio tour here which taught us lots about how the process used to work - it sounded terrifying! We then caught another ferry back to Battery Park. I grabbed a bit to eat and then we went to explore the Museum of the American Indian, which has lots of interesting displays about the life and culture of many different Native American tribes from different parts of the continent.
We then walked up Broadway, past Trinity Church, to Saint Paul's Chapel, which has a very moving exhibition about the time when it was used as a support centre during the 9/11 tragedy. From here we went to the newly built 9/11 memorial and saw the new enormous World Trade Centre One which has been built, and the start of the next tower. We then got a bus northbound up to Bryant Park, where JL was very excited to see that they had a pétanque piste! After chatting to the attendants there for a while, and taking some pictures of the park and the New York Library next door and the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings nearby, we walked down the street to Grand Central Station. We admired the beautiful ceiling, and then headed to JL's most anticipated destination - the Oyster Bar! He stuffed himself with seafood while I ate some potatoes and bread, and then we walked to Times Square, which was packed with people! We pushed our way through the crowds and found the Disney Store (of course!), looked round a few other shops, and then settled down for a cup of tea while we waited for the main event of the evening - seeing Disney's Aladdin show on Broadway! I was very excited by this!! Both the theatre and the show were incredible - there were a few new songs and a very funny genie. And super souvenirs to buy! :-) We got the metro back to the hotel and collapsed again!
On Saturday morning we got up, packed everything up to be flight ready, checked out, stored our bags at the hotel and got the metro to Central Park. We walked through the park for about an hour, seeing Strawberry Fields with its John Lennon memorial, and then to the Boat House restaurant where we were having brunch. We had a table in the long conservatory area, near where they sit in When Harry Met Sally (and numerous other films). The food was amazing - I had some scrummy French toast with Grand Marnier and banana compote and fresh fruits (including strawberries!) and JL had some eggs Benedict and smoked salmon which he loved. From there we took a walk past the Hans Christian Anderson statue (where we met a tour group whose guide was leading them in a singalong of Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid!), then Alice in Wonderland (where same tour guide recited the Jabberwocky poem!), and then finally to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We bought our tickets and then went to find the Derain painting Boats in Collioure so JL could see the original after seeing so many reproductions in France (and in our living room!). We looked round a few more sections, and then got the bus to The Cloisters which our ticket also granted us entry to. The bus ride was LONG! But at least we got to see a bit more of New York out of the window! We then spent an hour or so looking round the exhibitions and artefacts there, including many from the South of France, and the beautiful unicorn tapestries. We decided to get the metro back rather than the bus, and in a fraction of the time we were back in Central Park. This time we walked around the very southern part of the park, which was full of New Yorkers and tourists enjoying the sunshine (yesterday's fog had well and truly disappeared). Eventually we made our way back to the hotel, collected our bags, and got the metro and then the AirTrain (very quick and easy) to JFK airport to await our flight.
I had wondered throughout the trip how I would feel at the very end of it and now I know - super excited to be going home and seeing my lovely family and friends very very soon!!!! We have had an absolute dream of an adventure, and I have loved every minute of it, but it's true what Dorothy said - "There's no place like home!" See you all soon! :-)