In A New York Minute, Everything Can Change
Spending the festive season in NYC gave me a greater appreciation for family…
I spent the first seven years of my life growing up in California before my parents, sister and I moved permanently to Ireland. We departed from New York on the cruise ship, Queen Elizabeth II, so I have vague memories of staying in the Big Apple. I have two younger sisters and the baby of the family has been living with her husband, daughter and their golden retriever, Dexter in Pleasanton, California for the past two and a half years. The last time we were all together as a family was May 2018 when they visited Ireland for their daughter’s First Holy Communion.
I often dreamed of returning to NYC one day to spend Christmas holidays soaking up the festive delights that the City that Never Sleeps has to offer. Top of my bucket list of things to do in NYC was skating at the famous Rockefeller Center. Sure, I hadn’t skated in over ten years but once I hit the ice, I was sure my skating feet wouldn’t let me down!
The time for a festive family reunion had finally come. My family, including eighty year old mother, middle sister, niece, nephew and I flew out to Newark from Dublin to spend a week enjoying the sights of NYC. My sister, brother-in-law and niece flew out from San Francisco so we could all celebrate Christmas together. It’d be the trip of a lifetime and we’d make it one to remember!
We rented a seven bedroom brownstone in Hoboken, New Jersey via Airbnb. The house, built in the 1840s, reminded me of the one featured in Home Alone II. It had creaky floorboards, missing light fittings & a leaky roof. My mother was very dismayed to discover that there was no kettle to boil water for her tea. It was the first thing she said to my brother-in-law on his arrival to the house, “You know what, there’s no kettle!” The American owners obviously didn’t anticipate a group of Irish tea drinkers staying at their property!
Our first morning in the house was overwhelming & emotional. My excited nine year old niece ran into the kitchen to give her two aunties big, bear hugs. I hadn’t seen her in over a year and a half so it was a very special moment. It was heartwarming seeing the three cousins happily playing together again.
Later that day, we all took a stroll down Hudson Street in our quiet neighborhood towards the Hoboken Pier. It’s the perfect vantage point affording spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. For the avid photographer in me, it was the highlight of the day.
Bright Lights, Big City
Since this was my first time in NYC since the age of seven, I was ecstatic about visiting all the major tourist attractions. First stop on the Sunday was the iconic Empire State building on West 34th street. Completed in 1931, it’s a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan. With my mother, middle sister and two nieces in tow, we headed up to the 86th floor to admire the spectacular views of NYC. My niece and I had a cool photo op with fake King Kong as he reached in through the window & held us in tightly in his grasp!
How many sights can you see in a New York minute? I decided the best way to explore downtown Manhattan was to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. Starting at West 34th street and meandering down Broadway, it was exciting to see so many iconic buildings for the first time. We passed the Flatiron, Wall Street, One World Trade Center, Madison Square Garden, Wyndham theatre and the New York Times. We stopped at Battery Park where I caught my first glimpse of Lady Liberty. I decided to disembark at Times Square to stroll around & take in the buzz of flashing neon lights, gigantic screens and constant human traffic. It was exhilarating to finally experience it all in the flesh so I marked the occasion with the obligatory selfie!
Christmas Day Feast
Following a very joyful mass at Saints Peter & Paul Church on Hudson St, we were all looking forward to our sumptuous Christmas feast. We decided to go non-traditional this year as my sister had booked Chart House restaurant in Weehawken, NJ. It’s a classy 5-star seafood & steakhouse restaurant along the Hudson River at Lincoln Harbor where diners can enjoy gorgeous panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline.
The selection of cuisine was absolutely exquisite. I dined on mouthwatering coconut shrimp and prime rib steak accompanied by my favorite Tanqueray gin cocktail. The first class service made us all feel very pampered, like VIP guests. Christmas dinner wasn’ just a meal, it was an unforgettable festive family experience with the best waterfront views of NYC!
Central Park Carriage Ride
“I pulled my coat around my shoulders. And took a walk down through the park. The leaves were falling around me. The groaning city in the gathering dark. On some solitary rock”
In A New York Minute, lyrics by Don Henley
Have you ever wondered which apartment building Lady Gaga or Robert De Niro live in? Have you danced in the famous Friends fountain at Cherry Hill? One of the highlights of our trip was being driven in a horse drawn carriage around Central Park while getting the low down on all the celebrity & movie trivia from the driver.
It was quite a chilly afternoon so we bundled up cozily in the carriage with a blanket over our knees. The driver stopped at landmark movie locations. such as the Pine Bank Arch bridge where the snowball fight scene from Elf was filmed. We also passed the iconic Gapstow Bridge where scenes from Home Alone 2 were filmed.
When I did my own research on the fountain used in the Friends series, I discovered something interesting. The fountain used in the TV series is actually located in the back lot of a studio known as the Warner Bros. ranch in Burbank, CA. https://www.centralparktoursnyc.com/friends-fountain/
Most people naturally assume that the fountain is located in NYC since the show was filmed there when in actual fact, it’s just modeled on the real one in Central Park. It goes to show you can’t believe everything the carriage drivers tell you!
The Rockefeller Center
“New York like a Christmas tree, tonight this city belongs to me.”
Angel of Harlem, lyrics by U2
Nothing prepares you for the sense of joy and excitement you feel while queuing to skate at the Rockefeller ice rink. I hadn’t skated in over a decade and feared that once on the rink I would fall, end up flat on my face and that someone would end up skating over my hand! Luckily that didn’t happen.
Once I got out onto the ice, I forced myself to lean forward rather than backwards in order to stay upright. I tentatively skated from corner to corner while my siblings, brother-in-law and niece were power skating around the rink in a full circle. I challenged myself to do the same and it wasn’t long before I was gliding fearlessly around the rink. Enduring the discomfort of super tight skates as well as overcoming my fear of falling on the ice was completely worth it in the end!
9/11 Memorial Museum
A trip to NYC wouldn’t be complete without visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I wanted a deeper understanding of the continuing impact of 9/11 and terrorism on the United States and the world. I felt obligated to pay my respects to the victims, their families and the survivors. I needed to hear their stories.
Once inside the museum, I downloaded the audio tour app and listened to Robert De Niro describe New Yorkers going about their day just before the first plane crashed into the North Tower. As I walked around and listened, I felt an overwhelming sense of grief and loss despite not having lost anyone in the terrorist attacks that day. I empathized with the families of the victims as well as the first responders who tragically died that day trying to save others. It was an incredibly moving experience.
The most memorable part of the tour was seeing a miniature Statue of Liberty covered with photos, flags and badges dedicated to members of the NYPD and the FDNY who lost their lives. It was a very touching tribute from their families and colleagues to show that they’ll carry their loved ones around in their hearts forever.
The trip to NYC changed me for the better. It made me appreciate the importance of spending quality time with family and telling them that you love them. It was so difficult saying goodbye to my youngest sister, brother-in-law and niece. I was going to miss them so much but I knew that they’d be visiting us in Ireland very soon.
“Being a family means you are part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.”
How those words ring true!