Christmas in the Big Apple (December 23 – 27, 2017)

After 14 straight years of meeting for Christmas in cabins at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Eva, TN, the group decided last Christmas that we should do something different for Christmas 2017. We all agreed that Christmas in New York City sounded like fun. Jan began last winter researching places to stay. She had considered hotel rooms but felt that it would be preferable for socializing if we could all share a townhouse. She looked at many options on Airbnb.com but most were too expensive or inconvenient. Finally, Jan found a brownstone in the Upper East Side that was large enough for us and booked it nine months in advance. The brownstone had the added advantage that it was only three blocks away from Jan’s niece, Katie Schlegel. In addition to our sons, Jarrod and Jason Bain, we were joined by Jessica Mollman, Brittany Dickerson and Caleb Dickerson.

Our flight departed the Austin airport at 9:15 on Saturday, December 23rd. Although the airport was only 33 miles from our campground in Georgetown, TX, it took us nearly an hour to get there so we got up at about 4 a.m. and departed at 5 a.m. The economy parking lots at the Austin airport were packed but there were numerous flagmen directing us to open parking spaces.

Our non-stop flight to JFK airport in New York was rather turbulent but we arrived on time. We used a Via driver to take us to the brownstone. We were greeted and shown around by Ben, the brother of the owner. Jason, Jarrod and Jess had arrived shortly before us and were returning from lunch as we arrived. After taking time to check out our residence and get unpacked, we walked up the street and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Brittany and Caleb arrived shortly after we returned from lunch. Katie came to visit and, after lots of chit-chatting, we walked up a few blocks to do our grocery shopping for the next few days. Since we’d been up since 4 a.m., we decided to go to bed while the rest of the group went out on the town.

On Christmas Eve morning, we had breakfast and then headed out. The weather was in the low 30s and windy so we had to bundle up. We walked a few blocks to Central Park and strolled around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”). We spent about 1 ½ hours exploring The Met, which was only enough time to see a small portion of the exhibits. We decided to walk back to our neighborhood and, although Jarrod and Jess went off to a ramen restaurant, the rest of us went to Joy Burger Bar for lunch. Katie’s boyfriend, Sheamus, joined us there. After lunch we returned to the brownstone to warm up and spend some time visiting.

In the evening we headed out in the bitter cold via the Metro subway to Gramercy Park, a private gated park that is only open to the general public for Christmas Eve caroling. Unfortunately we arrived as the caroling was ending and the park was no longer open to the public. We then decided to walk down to the Union Square Holiday Market but, again, arrived too late and only got to see the vendors taking down their booths. We next decided to go to Rockefeller Center where we saw the huge Christmas tree and the ice skating rink. The streets were mobbed with others who were as bundled up as we were. We had to stand for over 30 minutes while the ice was resurfaced before seeing any ice skating. We then walked up Broadway near Times Square and on to Macy’s on 34th Street. We were surprised to discover that Macy’s had closed at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve so we were unable to go inside to visit Santaland. We stopped off for a late night snack at Little Italy Pizza before returning home via the subway.

On Christmas Day, we had our breakfast and then did Dirty Santa gift exchanges. In the afternoon we walked to the Lasker Ice Rink in Upper Central Park. The temperature had dropped into the 20s. Despite not having ice skated in 20 years, Phil joined the younger folk on the ice. Jan opted to take pictures from the safety of the rink’s perimeter. Although we had bundled up for our walk across Central Park, it didn’t take Phil long to work up a sweat once the ice skating began.

After skating, we walked back to the brownstone and relaxed a while before dinner. Sheamus’ mother, Georgette, joined us. We called for a couple of Via drivers to take us to Carmine’s Italian restaurant in the Upper West Side. Carmine’s is a large restaurant and was filled to capacity for Christmas dinner. The food was served family style. We started with Caesar salad and calamari, then ordered four entrees. We all ate a lot but we still had plenty of leftovers to take with us at the end of the meal. After returning home by Via, we stayed up until almost 2 a.m. playing The Game of Things and having a lot of laughs.

Group at Carmine's
Christmas dinner at Carmine’s

On December 26th we walked to MYNY Bakery Café for breakfast. We then took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked part way up the bridge. The weather was still very cold and the wind discouraged from walking any farther across the bridge. We then walked down to the Financial District and visited the new structures on the former site of the World Trade Center towers. We warmed up inside the huge Oculus shopping mall and then visited the South 9/11 memorial pool. Next we walked to the Staten Island Ferry and rode for free back and forth across the Hudson River and got a great view of the Statue of Liberty. Katie joined us when we got off the ferry.

We took the subway to the East Village and had lunch at McSorley’s Old Ale House. McSorley’s was established in 1854 and is the oldest Irish pub in NYC. The floors are covered with sawdust and no memorabilia has been removed from the walls since 1910. McSorley’s is one of the last men-only pubs in NYC, only admitting women when legally forced to in 1970. After McSorley’s, we braved the cold again and strolled through Chinatown and Little Italy. We took the subway back home and dined on leftovers from our Christmas dinner. After dinner we played a round of The Game of Things but didn’t stay up too late since Caleb and Brittany needed to leave at 5 a.m. the next morning.

On December 27th, Jarrod, Jason and Jess picked up breakfast from MYNY Bakery Café. Their driver picked them up about 9:30 a.m. and, after saying our goodbyes, we headed out to do our last sight-seeing. We took the subway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and viewed the spectacular architecture. We then walked to Grand Central Terminal and explored the huge structure. We found the opal-faced clock, valued at $20 million, above the Information Booth. We also located the world’s largest Tiffany Glass Clock, below the 48 foot, 1,500 ton, Transportation statue overlooking 42nd Street and Park Avenue. We then walked up to 33rd Street and then took the subway back to our neighborhood for another lunch at Joy Burger Bar. After retrieving our luggage at the house, we met our Via driver for a trip back to JFK airport.

We had a nice flight back to Austin, took the shuttle to our car and made the long drive back to our campground in Georgetown, TX. When we arrived at the campground at 11 p.m., we discovered that the gate closed at 10 p.m. and we were unable to drive to our site. After finding no alternatives, we parked our car outside the gate and Phil walked in the dark to our campsite and got the truck. We transferred our luggage to the truck and managed to get home and unpacked by about midnight. We retrieved our car in the morning. We were glad we had decided not to leave Georgetown until December 29th.

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