Day one in the Big Apple

The exploration commenced early the next morning. We fueled up on some coffee at a nearby cafe in Brooklyn by the name of Tar Pit. Funish Fact; the original singer of one of my favorite songs, “Sonsick” by San Fermin, actually works there! Yeah, I totally found her page on Instagram & realized she’s a barista there so I thought I’d check it out in hopes to meet her. She wasn’t working that day sadly, but I had an eggnog latte & it was delicious so I was satisfied either way. thinkcoffee

tarpit


The tricky part came next when we were figuring out the transportation methods for the week. We didn’t exactly feel like paying at least $50 for a cab every day so ultimately the $30 weekly Metro card was our go-to. Besides, it’s not the real         I❤NY experience without seeing a subway rat the size of a possum lurking throughout the dark, underground tunnels that reek of urine. Now this isn’t to speak completely ill of subways. I experienced my very own “movie moment” on one as a matter of fact… but that’s a different story.

metro

Our little golden ticket into the city

Our Airbnb was conveniently located about two blocks away from the L Train tunnel headed to 14 Street. That route took us directly into the city just a little ways away from Times Square. Of course, figuring out the routes didn’t come easy- we’re from southern California after all, where the main form of transportation is by car & using countless freeways. Plus, growing up in a generation that uses the internet as their primary source of direction thanks to the GPS -reading maps was just about as simple as understanding hieroglyphics. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it definitely was confusing to say the least. I remember our first stop well. We were coming up the stairs of a subway pit to be exposed to the city for the first time. Skyscrapers everywhere like one would expect. It wasn’t long before we saw the Empire State Building in the distance. “oh my god. I think that’s the Empire State Building??” I said to Nicolette in slight disbelief. We both laughed. I think that was the moment it actually hit us that we were in New York.

We took about 12 different subways before we ended up in our first destination of choice; Central Park.


Central Park

central park
Do you ever imagine a place for exactly as it appears to be when you finally witness it in person? Seldom do our expectations correlate with reality, but just some times they do. When we explored Central Park this is exactly what took place for me. To my surprise, the unforgiving wintery cold that is December managed to spare the green grass throughout the park. There were trees EVERYWHERE. And boulders. And lakes. And lamp poles. And statues. And just about everything else you usually see in the movies set here. The other thing that surprised me was how huge the park was. I’m talking we couldn’t even walk around the whole place with several hours of time, huge. There were several baseball fields, and ice skating rinks within the area. There was even a castle! But I’ll get to that. Nikki & I decided to split at this point in the day. She wanted to check out a near museum which I had no interest in seeing. (I swear she’ll never forgive me for not visiting the MoMA hahaha)

Flying solo
cp

I decided to explore more of the park & attempt to take some “candid” selfies via iphone camera timer. It was nice strolling the park. I saw so many people bundled in their peacoats and scarves walking throughout the trails. For a bit I just sat there & soaked up the moment. I tend to wander alone a lot. Most may find this a bit strange but to me it’s therapeutic. I love watching strangers going about their day. I love imagining what their life is like and why it is they are probably here. Especially in an unfamiliar setting like the one I was in. One of the greatest cities in the world and we were in it for reasons unknown. Maybe for some, a dream trip come true. Possibly for others, just their lunchtime getaway from the nearby office. At one point, I saw a man propose to his girlfriend there. Easily one of the most romantic settings I’d seen yet. Maybe because of this fantasy I conjured of one day being with my significant other on a wintery afternoon much like that one, & riding through the park in one of their infamous horse-drawn carriages. (A bit silly of me I confess, but what can I say? I’m a professional day dreamer.) I developed some mixed feelings about the horse-drawn carriages when I saw them in person. I was actually looking forward to riding in one but as soon as I witnessed the horses strapped up to these carts, surrounded by people & even cars when they went in the streets, I couldn’t help but imagine how miserable they probably were. There’s something about an animal’s lack of freedom in these kinds of enslaved conditions that always makes me so compelled to be against them. Especially when they are horses… animals meant to roam free. But I digress.


bridge

lovers in CP

Several hours passed & Nicolette & I met up at the nearest Starbucks. I needed my coffee fix & wifi. Then we explored that castle I mentioned earlier. It wasn’t much of a castle like one might imagine, but the name fit. There were several levels to its structure & we went to the way top to get a good view of the city. We weren’t there long. By this time the sun was going down & we wanted to get the experience of ice skating in New York at night, so we made our way over to one of the park’s rinks. I mentioned this earlier, Central Park is huge. So the walk was of course long & by the time we got there it was completely dark. Perfect.

castle

At the Belvedere Castle


It was my first time ice skating so I was as equally excited as I was nervous. I mean talk about go big or go home… I was about to experience ice skating for the first time in freaking NYC where I imagined one of two things happening; 1. I actually do it well. It will begin to snow. The atmosphere reaches peak “Christmas cheer” & so do I or 2. I actually am incapable of ice skating because I’m Celena & I’m prone to clumsy instances like tripping & injuring myself in front of the public. Fortunately, the latter didn’t happen. Not more than once at least.

iceskating

Dweebs on Ice

le

proof I could actually skate because sometimes I don’t even believe it happened

 

I’m a bit fuzzy on the rules of the venue but I’m pretty sure the routine was something like 45 minute intervals of skating with 15 minute breaks so that the Zamboni could repave the ice. We only stayed for one session.rainycitynight

It began to snow as we were leaving the park. The walk was too beautiful. You can probably picture how I reacted to getting to walk through an enchanting park as it was snowing. Excited is an understatement. We were on our way to see some more of The City That Never Sleeps.


 

Times Square

Fortunately, the name held true… especially for our next destination. We were about 10 minutes away from Times Square by foot & the city was ALIVE. The buildings all started to look the same after a while & the excessive honking was barely noticeable. Oh yeah, that’s not just a movie myth, New Yorkers seriously have no remorse for their horns.

Our surroundings seemed to be getting brighter & the crowds, more excessive. It wasn’t long before we started seeing the marquees & commercial big screens. The bright yellow banner for “The Lion King on Broadway” lit up on several displays. Food vendors at nearly every corner. Yup, we were approaching the most famous intersection in Midtown Manhattan alright. We were consumed by a sea of colors & lights. My eyes were hungry for the Ball that would announce the transition to a new year when suddenly, I saw the faint numbers “2016” in the distance at the tower’s peak.

ts I couldn’t believe it. I was laying eyes on one of the things millions of people would be watching from their TV screens in a few days time. I really wanted to experience the essence of Times Square that night. I didn’t plan on actually being there for New Year’s Eve to wait for the countdown. Now, call me crazy but I wasn’t exactly down for lining up at about 11AM, standing in the same spot for hours upon hours to endure the freezing cold in a crowded space while probably being hungry & needing occasional bathroom breaks just for the sake of saying I was in Times Square to watch the ball drop. I mean I was there, just not there there. And you know what, it was my favorite New Year’s Eve yet, for several reasons… but I’ll get to that. I’m not saying I’ll always have this mindset, but I wanted to make sure I enjoyed my first time in the city. Maybe one day I’ll be up to the challenge -who knows »

falafel sandwhich with a view

Our night in the city ended with falafel sandwiches at the top of this building with a super neat view of the street. It had been an eventful day for sure but there was still so much to do & see. We were exhausted though so it only seemed appropriate to take the L train back to our temporary home in Brooklyn & yup, you guessed it… we went to a bar instead of going to bed. Sleep is for the weak. I should mention, I just turned 21 so  finally legal. To my surprise that wasn’t a problem. I swear they wouldn’t have carded me anywhere. Nicolette also being an newly eager, 21 year old had encouraged me to go with her, so I did of course. I actually fell asleep in the bar that night which served as a signal that it was time to finally go home.

Day 2 was on its way.

Standard

Eye bags and suitcases

layers

Actual image of me being cheap

 

Ah the not so enchanting part of travel. Behind the scenes of all the glamorous photos featuring world renowned landmarks and smiling  faces, there is a struggle that brought you there. ‘A journey of endeavors,’ if you will. It involves security checks, layovers that can last hours, adjusting to foreign time zones, & if you’re cheap like me, -layering. Lots & lots of layering. I’m talking sweaters & jackets. When your free carry-on just can’t quite fit all of your heavy wear, you gotta improvise. Which is what I did… about 7 layers worth of improvising. I’m just gonna say now, that this isn’t the most brilliant of ideas. In fact it’s probably never necessary unless you’re going to Russia for 3+ months. In my case of a brief week-long trip to one of the warmest winters in NYC, it was only a strenuous hassle. If you research packing methods (like I should have) you’ll find a common tip to pack only 2 jackets, because let’s be real here, when have we ever used absolutely EVERY one of our outfits that we packed for trips? It’s a helpful piece of advice to keep in mind, & one that I’m definitely going to use for future travels. I guess that’s the beauty in trial & error. The hardships of today will always come to our advantage later. But anyhow, long story short; just don’t do what I did unless you are in fact going to Russia or are willing to lug around a suitcase, half asleep, security check to security check, subway to subway – all while maintaining the trek of a cranky penguin.


Upon arriving

cab ride

Nicolette in our $50 taxi

It was about 7:00 a.m local time when our plane landed. I didn’t get much sleep on the flight there, seeing as to how I mistakenly drank a non decaf latte prior to our flight the night before, combined with the fact that I am absolutely terrified of flying. Ironic, I know. The sleepiness & discomfort of hauling around our suitcases & of course eagerness to see New York just prompted us to want to leave the airport as quickly as possible so we could check into our Airbnb. Even if it meant taking a cab that was 50 + dollars. But I mean, when in New York… *shrugs*

Besides, not taking a cab at least once when in the big city is like not hitting the slots when in Vegas, or refusing to eat a baguette when in France. You just gotta do it bc culture, duh. Jokes.

brooklynBrooklyn was our destination. We booked an Airbnb for a decent price in the neighboring city because everything else was either way out of budget in the New York, New York or already reserved because it was right around New Year’s Eve. It was a building over 100 years old with the most problematic lock I had ever encountered. The instructions on how to get in were inside of the envelope, along with a copy of the key to the apartment & a list of local shops & cafes to check out for our convenience. I remember the envelope being discreetly placed inside of the mailbox on the side of the entrance with our names printed on it. We hadn’t even stepped foot inside of the apartment yet & already I was consumed by excitement because of how the scavenger hunt-like process for arriving had been.


airbnb

Our amenities; multiple teas. Fresh towels. Candy canes. And the sweetest directions from our host.

I don’t know if it was because we finally figured out how to unlock the doors, or if it was because we were inside away from the unfamiliar 40 degree weather or perhaps because we made it in one piece & were greeted with a puppy at the door but I was feeling cheery as soon as we were in our room. Our host prepared a super cozy place for us with hospitable amenities which included some tea & fresh towels. Such a simple gesture yet so comforting. There is something I just adore about Airbnbs. When you can get past the uneasiness about staying in a complete stranger’s home, & are some how able to connect, there is a sense of warmness about the whole thing. To be able to stay in a place that represents the said location first hand – I don’t think you can get in deeper when traveling than that. You are exposed to so much more in an Airbnb versus staying in some fancy hotel. But that’s just my perspective. After  unpacking & checking my messages to reassure my mom that I made it across the country without dying, we decided to nap. Jet lag got the best of us til about 3 p.m. when we awoke recharged. It was time to get some coffee & plan out our long week ahead.

ye

Nicolette, researching for our game plan that week

cafe

The first coffee shop we went to in Brooklyn

 

 

 

Standard

I’ve always been a firm believer in spontaneity. A wanderer at heart, with the hugest appetite for adventure -I find that most of my impromptu decisions result in me wanting more afterwards, with no regrets. Growing up under the strict rules of an over-protective parent, you can imagine how suffocating it felt for me to not always be able to express that side of my nature at my leisure. Fast-forward a year after high school graduation & one full-time summer job later, I was ready to start making some exciting plans.


reocoffeePlanning for the city

 When my best friend, Nicolette & I went for coffee one day in summer 2015, (we do that a lot – it’s kind of our thing) something not-so-typical happened. We were looking at airfare deals to New York for that upcoming December. (FINALLY -a friend who’s down to adventure with me!) She & I are both December babies so it was the perfect way for us to celebrate our birthdays PLUS who wouldn’t want to spend New Year’s Eve in NYC? We were really eager to find tickets at a reasonable price – as most broke college students would be. Most fares were in the $800+ range which was slightly discouraging but then we came across a deal for $500 round trip! [I should mention, we’re in the southern California area] We both looked at each other, talked about it for like two minutes, came to the conclusion that we probably wouldn’t come across a better deal for those dates & booked the tickets. I remember having exactly $500 in my savings so it seemed kind of perfect at the time. That was that.

As anyone could probably guess, I was thrilled. Broke, but thrilled. I feel like there are landmarks of achievement everyone new to the “adulting” world goes through. Some get their driver’s licenses. Others may lease a new apartment or car. Perhaps when one files their taxes – who knows. Buying this ticket & planning for this trip was my landmark. As cheesy as that is. Now, I’ve always been into traveling. I was easily inspired by documentaries I’d watch of places you always hear about & see in movies. However, the most experience I ever really got was from family road trips I’d occasionally go on, growing up or visiting Mexico with relatives from there. At one point, I lived on the east coast & would take frequent trips back & forth to California (once even by train -probably what ignited my fondness for them) Going to New York at 19 though, without my parents’ supervision… now this was new. This was exciting. The closest thing I experienced to it was a trip to Hawaii for my birthday the year before -paid for by my kooler, younger sister, Rebecca. This time, I was able to say that I did it all by myself… A peace of mind for an independent soul & aspiring traveler.


 

The countdown

A few months went by & at this point, I know I’m excited because suddenly I’m not counting down the days until Christmas -I’m counting down the days until our flight to JFK leaves (& the end of finals week of course). As time promises, the day was appplaneviewroaching & all I needed to worry about was my credit card arriving in time (I wanted to ball in New York instead of bawl in New York) & getting the week I requested off, approved from my work. Funny enough, my credit card arrived the day of my flight -at my old address which I had to drive two hours to & then back, to retrieve in time -A great example of life working out the way it typically does in the Classic Tales of Celena™ I wish I could say that that was the most significant event to have taken place that day for me but it wasn’t. Several days before that, I spoke to my boss to confirm that she gave me the days off. We would always work opposite schedules so communication wasn’t ever easy, especially when it’s the holidays & you’re going to school full-time. Anyway, I assumed that since I had already mentioned my trip months prior during my interview, requested the days off weeks in advance, WORKED CHRISTMAS & well, she didn’t tell me otherwise, that I would most likely get the days off… I mean, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong. When I asked her about it she was so indifferent with telling me that I wouldn’t get the week off because technically it was still the holidays. Ouch. About $500 down the drain worth of ouch. Or was it? I decided to put a smile on my face, attempted to sound understanding & worked the rest of my shifts for that week to get as many hours in as possible since it was very likely that I would no longer be employed  after job abandonment. My logic; this ticket was nonrefundable, I’m hungry for travel & entry level jobs are always going to be available -opportunity won’t be. Long story short, you know that lyric in Riptide that goes “…this guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City” well, that’s basically what happened. (Vance Joy gets me)


sleepy nikki pt 2

Nikki taking a cat-nap in an LAX gate chair

 

 

It was the day of my flight & I had to finish packing properly, pick up a credit card, drive to my friend’s who was taking us to the airport & oh yeah, quit my freaking job. All last minute because I’m a procrastinator at heart even when it comes down to things like job resignation -classy. The scenario went as one might expect; awkward & unpleasant but necessary. After that was finished, I headed over to Nikki’s where our friend then took us to LAX. We got the red eye so we left at about 7PM to beat any traffic & make it in time to check through security. Nikki had some ID issues at the time, (that’s another story LOL) so we wanted to get there early just in case there were complications. We managed to get to our gate with two hours to spare & if there was one thing I had previously learned about flying, it was that you want to make sure your belly is full & your electronic devices are fully charged. Those 5+ hour flights can be killer. So we filled up our tummies with mediocre airport food, charged our phones & before I knew it, it was time to board. We were to arrive at JFK the next morning at approximately 6:30AM local time where we’d take a cab to our Airbnb in Brooklyn. It was all figured out & happening finally. The adventure was just a plane ride away…

 

New York was waiting for us & we were ready.

It started in New York

Aside