It had long since been decided that New York should be the last stop of our year-long adventure. For Nick we had to literally circumnavigate the globe in order to say we had been around the world. It wasn’t the easiest or indeed cheapest way back to the UK from New Zealand but the little matter of a 36 hour aeroplane journey wasn’t going to stop the Johnsons.
New York, New York. The Big Apple. So good they named it twice. Concrete jungle where dreams are made. New York’s reputation certainly precedes her and my expectations were huge. We got a taxi from the airport, yellow, naturally, and made our way towards Manhattan through the rush hour traffic. The oh so familiar skyline silhouetted against a fabulous sunset. I was buzzing with excitement. But after our epic flight and crossing the international date line our exploration of New York would have to wait.
The next morning we woke up in the city that never sleeps. We’ll have to take their word for it though as we all enjoyed a solid 12 hours kip. We consumed our first cliché of the day by breakfasting on bagels and coffee before heading out to see the sights. Our hotel was just off Fifth Avenue and our aim was to make the obligatory pilgrimage to the American Museum of Natural History to check out the dinosaurs. New York had other ideas.
Although this was my first time there, as the back drop to thousands of movies and TV series, New York was immediately familiar. I walked along her Avenues in awe, making frequent stops to ogle her architecture, with a pervasive sense of deja vu and a suitable soundtrack running through my head. New York is such a ubiquitous part of popular culture that I spent the duration of our stay feeling like I was in a movie.
We eventually made it to Central Park and sat on a bench eating a hot dog we’d bought from a vendor with a striped umbrella. I had to pinch myself with the surrealness of it. We soaked up the atmosphere, watched street performers and fell in love with the vibrant fall colours while the boys clamboured on the famed rocks. We were so waylaid that the afternoon had run away and our trip to the museum would have to wait. Much to George’s chagrin. That evening we ate pizza at a quaint little Italian restaurant in Greenwich village with checked table cloths and a brash waitress. And I pinched myself again.
The next day was Halloween and after a morning with the dinosaurs we went in search of some costumes. We were invited to Trick or Treat with a New York family we’d met in Japan and needed to get into the spirit of things. Macy’s. Bloomingdales. JC Penny. Nothing. We ended up with two very happy boys Star Wars-ed up to the nines thanks to the Disney Store. And a couple of zombie parents thanks to some fake blood and make-up at our friends’ house. The enthusiasm with which Brooklyn celebrated Halloween was infectious. Everyone in costume, decorated houses, a suitably spooky spectacle put on a stage outside someone’s house. Even the local dentist was giving out candy (well, thats one way to drum up business). Later we took the subway home along with a human Watermelon, a Goat-man and all of the Ghostbusters. That evening will remain one of the highlights of our entire trip.
Over the next couple of days we whistled through our Big Apple hit list. We took a walk over Brooklyn Bridge and rode the Subway back again. We thought about taking a helicopter ride to see the Statue of Liberty for about 30 seconds before the fear of the credit card bill got the better of us and we opted to take the (free) Statten Island Ferry instead. We walked through Battery Park and had a go on the Sea Glass Carousel. We stood in quiet contemplation at the 9/11 Memorial and tried to convey what it meant to the children. We rode in a horse-drawn carriage around Central Park. We saw a show on Broadway and Nick ate a mac n cheese burger that was bigger than his head. We strolled the high-line with a dear old friend who now calls New York home. We stood inside Grand Central Station and I was moved to tears.
On our last night in New York as I looked down on the dizzy heights of NYC from the Empire State Building I thought of everywhere we had been and all the things we had done. All the people we had met and all of the places we’d slept in the past year. 24 hours later we would be back in our house in Brighton but it felt good to know that as long as the four of us were together, anywhere in the world, we would always be home.