We were on the ferry leaving Dubrovnik, heading north to Split, Croatia, when I recognized we were making our way back home. Dubrovnik is the furthest point of travel on this trip and we have been retracing our steps with still some days left until we get home. It’s clearly too early to start thinking that this trip has ended, but I have been reflecting on the trip in anticipation of that end. I find myself considering the entirety of this “vacation” as if it is already complete. It is too early to reminisce, but in anticipation of the time it will be appropriate to reminiscence, I will engage in some pre-reminiscence, that I will refer to as my preminiscences.
Let’s go back in time to the hazily remote past when Paula and I decided to undertake an international venture. For quite a while I had been reluctant to consider leaving the country, particularly for Europe. Initially I was deterred by the COVID travel restrictions since I wanted neither to enroll in the global medical experiment designed by mad scientists, nor allow strangers to stick swabs up my nose, into my brain, before boarding a plane back home. But those restrictions have been paused. That reticence was replaced by a concern that we really didn’t know how bad the situation would get in Europe due to the economic and political fallout from NATO’s war with Russia. (BTW we still don’t know and since we are leaving for Germany tomorrow, I have some concerns still.
It was Paula’s idea, I must admit, that we should put aside any misgivings and hit the airways rejecting cowardice and just accepting the uncertainty. Why let concerns like potential food and fuel shortages, runaway inflation and social unrest stop us. She was right, of course. Any belief that we are not in a period of uncertainty at any given time is merely a superstition. Existence is uncertain, and though we cannot determine whether the British Pound or the Euro will collapse as a medium of exchange in the next few months, we can also not be assured that we are safe from asteroids crashing into the house next door. “Crappy Diem,” I said,” Let’s make a plan.”
We decided on a modified version the long adventure we had planned for April 2020. I still haven’t forgiven the world for forcing us to forgo that plan. We got most of our money back from the deposits and non-refundable payments we had made, but that is faint recompense from missing the celebration of my 70th birthday (a few days late) on the summer solstice at a pagan stone circle in the Orkney Islands. That experience was to be the culmination of a three-month trip starting in Italy and including a tour of Central Europe by train before trekking through Scotland.
This trip we would take the train tour of central Europe, but not as a one-way journey from south to north, but as a loop, starting at one end and ending at the other (if you are unsettled by the notion that a loop has ends, please refer to Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov). We settled on a detailed itinerary: start and end in Berlin with many stops in between. That’s the degree of specificity we had when we made our flight arrangements.
We prefer to take the fewest flights to any destination, and in this case we made the journey to Berlin in two flights: a red eye from Albuquerque to New York City (JFK) and a second overnight flight from JFK to Berlin. That plan gave us an eighteen-hour layover at JFK. “Well,” we thought, “we’re still young and there is no reason we can’t do two all-nighters in a row with a full day of activity in between.” After all we could do that with ease fifty years ago, so what has changed?
A recently bygone prophet announced that “first we’ll take Manhattan, then we’ll take Berlin.” (yes, I know who said it: it was the same guy who is referenced implicitly in another reference later on.) That was our theme as we headed on to the wild of New York City. Taking Manhattan is not such a big deal, provided you were born there or had spent enough time to understand the city. We did not fare quite so badly as some other noteworthy out of towners (another cultural inference, if I may be blunt) we actually did sort of okay once we figured out how to get out of the airport and into the MTA.
NYC does not come with instructions. It seems there should be some type of information system at the airport, with giant arrows in blinking lights, instructing newcomers where to get the instruction manual for New York before trying to operate in it. I did not find that kiosk, but did see a big sign saying “Welcome to New York: Deal With It.”
I’ll forego most of my complaints, but will just say that the expression “if you don’t know where you are going you will probably get there” should have a New York City corollary: you must already know how to get there before you can know how to get there. Enough said. For now anyway.
We arrived at JFK at a few minutes before 6AM, and given this, that and the other thing got to the subway about 8 having achieved lifetime satiation for Dunkin Donuts coffee. We started out heading to the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park, but sidetracked ourselves thinking a walk on the High Line would be a better strategy to stay awake than strolling at museum speed and lolling in the park for a few hours. After about 10 minutes on the High Line we decided coffee and breakfast would be a better idea, so we departed the High Line, heading towards the Flatiron building hoping to find a good place to satisfy out cravings.
What we found, unintentionally, was the Chelsea Hotel, which started me thinking about unmade beds and limousines waiting in the street.
After a couple minutes debating whether we could ask for a room with hourly rates we decided to head on to see the sights. The hotel has outlived its Bohemian past and such a request would probably be misunderstood. We headed on to the Flatiron Building where we made a few observations.
One: you can see the Empire State Building from there.
Two: there are a lot of street food outlets in the parks adjacent to the building
Three: It appears to be not so unusual to order beer with breakfast in NYC.
Seeing the Empire State Building from our breakfast table, we headed that direction but decided not to stop, passing the building and walking on to the New York Library where we went for a tour. The Library is an interesting place to visit for the architecture and for the exhibit. It is a museum of the history of recorded thought, including exhibitions on the evolution of written languages, the development of printing technologies, up to the current period where pluses and aughts record our thoughts. This is one of my favorite images of a self-organized exhibit situated serendipitously below a painting of Guttenberg making a demonstration of his press.
The Library holds an impressive array of artifacts: a Guttenberg Bible, a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, the handwritten notes of George Washington’s farewell address, and an original hand written copy of the first twelve amendments to the US constitution, ten of which were adopted as the “bill of rights” and one of which was finally adopted in 1976 as the 26th amendment. Here are a few images highlighting our visit to the Library.
After leaving the library we noted that St. Patrick’s cathedral was a mere few blocks away and
On the way we passed by Rockefeller Center.
What better way to preview a trip to Europe than to visit a cathedral, since there are so few of them to be seen over there. Well I was impressed. A few photos.
Of course no trip to New York can be complete without a trip to Grand Central Station, where we headed for dinner. Unfortunately the restaurant we were heading for appears to no longer exist, so we took the obligatory photograph, grabbed a bite in a different restaurant and headed back to the airport.
I’m not satisfied with this post, but I’ve been toying with it for two weeks so I’ll post it now.
Nice post, Charlie. I find it satisfying
I thought it wa wonderful, and thoroughly enjoyed it!