I've finally figured out how to travel. I don't mean travel for work; I have no idea how those folks manage not to lose their minds with all that planning and packing (the two worst parts of travel). No, I've finally figured out what to do once I've arrived at the place I've been daydreaming about.
I can't be the only one who gets to point X and says "Now what?" Some of you may, quite reasonably be saying, well if you planned ahead, you'd know what what to do; I disagree. Planning is for figuring out the best times to go to must-see spots so you stand in the smallest line possible. Planning is for figuring out what tickets and transportation it will take to get you to said must-see spots. Planning does not help you feel like you know a place, that you've really seen it and experienced it.
In my twenties when my friends and I travelled, we planned out our must-sees and then figured we'd wing the rest. That winging usually became shopping. Not because we loved to shop, but because we wanted to get out, to explore and we needed a destination. This was not particularly satisfying. In my early thirties we tried the go-somewhere-and-relax vacation. We'd see some sights and then have time for leisurely naps, reading on park benches or beach chairs. This too was not particularly satisfying. Not that I'm against naps and reading, but I can't see any reason to travel to do either. It seems a waste to go so far and do what I could most comfortably do in my own home.
Recently I tried something different. My partner Z and I took a little weekend trip to NYC the weekend before Thanksgiving. No reason. Just to see some sights, visit friends and break with routine. Z adores sleeping in. A vacation is not a vacation for him if it involved alarm clocks. I on the other hand feel a little gross, like I've eaten a whole chocolate cake on my own, if I sleep past 8. So I decided while he slept, I would walk. No, "walk" is too prosaic a word. I would explore.
Saturday morning: Chai in hand, I headed for Central Park. We were staying in the upper east side, a place I only knew from TV shows, so I figured the park would make an easy landmark to start from. I considered trying to look like I belonged, not gawking at buildings and not taking a million photos, but soon decided with my mismatched knit wear and down coat, no one was going to mistake me for a local. This was driven home to me when I saw a local. He wore an impeccably tailored suit, gleaming black shoes, perfectly gelled curls, and a bright red leather man-bag. Oh and he was flossing his teeth while waving down a cab! My first thought was, yeah, I don't look like I'm from around here. My second thought was, wouldn't he rather spend a couple less minutes on his hair than be caught flossing in public? Guess not.
I wish I'd got a picture of him, or the woman I saw wearing fun from head to toe while walking a dog the same color as her fur (yikes), but I'm just not that brazen with my camera. I couldn't do it without being obvious, and that felt rude. Here's what I did get pictures of.
Love those doors
This old firehouse was now someone's home. Are those water towers still functional?
I'm a sucker for lion statues
The city was getting ready for the holiday
It was freezing, 25 degrees, yet he was washing away the previous day's grime
As I approached the park the stands were still shuttered and locked up. The homeless could be seen packing up their meager belongings. There were no horse drawn carriages waiting for tourists, but there was a group of friends walking their dogs. As soon as they stepped inside the gate they let them free. Is that legal? Weren't they afraid the dogs would run into traffic? Nope. The dogs jumped and sniffed and raced ahead to a clearing where more unleashed dogs were having a great time.
For a moment I thought this was the entrance featured in
Mo Willem's Knuffle Bunny Too, but sadly I wasn't. I never did find that one.
The friendliness of city birds and squirrels was not a surprise,
but seeing a heron was.
This walk was not a workout. I stopped to read the bench inscriptions.
I may or may not have squealed when I saw Sting's name,
but this one is the best by far.
As I walked through the park, I felt surprisingly at home. I've only been to Central Park once or twice in my life, and I knew I hadn't been to this section. I looked at this bridge and had my answer.
It looks quite a bit like this one
and this one - in Boston.
Both Central Park and the Emerald Necklace chain of parks in Boston were designed by Frederik Law Olmsted, who believed strongly in the importance of urban people having access to the serenity of nature.
“We want a ground to which people may easily go when the day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them…”
(Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870)
Even though the city is never far from you, it is easy to feel apart from it in Olmsted's creation.
To be continued...