Trip Start Feb 11, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , New York
Saturday, January 3, 2009

Yellow cabs, greasy fry-ups in corner diners, celeb-spotting in Central Park, snow, squirrel-related injuries...yes, New York had it all.

Hey everyone,

We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed some time off over the New Year. As you know, we spent ours in New York City being thoroughly spoiled by Chris' parents after living it pretty rough in South America for the previous seven weeks.

We were greeted by freezing temperatures and a snow-covered city when we touched down on our overnight flight from Peru on the morning of December 21 - definitely a shock to the system.

It took us three hours to clear customs, but eventually we were on our way - after a quick change out of our thongs and shorts into jackets, scarves, gloves and beanies.

That afternoon we were to meet Chris' parents, John and Joyce, and his sister Laura who were all flying in from the UK, but with a few hours to kill and a Liverpool match about to start, we headed straight to a pub on the upper east side of Manhattan.

Unfortunately, New York bars aren't allowed to serve alcohol until noon ("No, sir, not even Bloody Marys"), so we had to settle for orange juices until we could upgrade to something stronger at half time.

By 1pm, the match was over (victory to Liverpool!) and with several hours until the reunion (and not much enticing us to go outside in the cold), we spent the next four hours "researching" the local beers and trying to make sense of America Football (which, if it all possible, seems like an even more stupid sport than rugby - Caroline).

Later that day, we headed to the apartment Chris' parents had generously rented for our two-week stay. Set in a beautiful building on East 80th Street, just one block down from a Narnia-esque Central Park, we wondered if we had the wrong address. And, as we sat there on our dirty packs in the foyer, being closely monitored by the smartly dressed concierge and waiting for hours for the others to show up, we began to suspect we had indeed gotten our wires crossed.

As it turns out, their plane was delayed in England and with no way to contact us, we were left to fear the worst. But, by 7pm we were all together, Chris' parents seeing us for the first time in 11 months (and not altogether impressed with Chris' wild hair and overgrown beard).

Before we arrived, we had assumed that with most New York apartments resembling an ant's shoebox, our stay would be a rather cramped one with five of us (which wouldn't have been a problem at all considering the many, many, crowded hostels we have stayed in over the past 11 months).

You can imagine our shock, then, to discover the luxury that awaited us when we entered our temporary new home that night. A massive space, huge lounge and dining, separate kitchen, two enormous bedrooms (one with ensuite), sperate bathroom (with a bath - a bath!) and cable TV in every room.

We were in heaven.

With all of us together in New York, we certainly had something to celebrate. And celebrate we did, with beers and Chinese.

For the next few days leading up to Christmas (and with Chris once again resembling a member of the human, rather than ape, race), we explored the city, rugging up in layers and slipping and sliding on the icy footpath as we hurried from shop to shop to bar to shop.

We quickly learned to navigate NYC's complex underground system (though we did briefly lose Chris on day when he simply "forgot" to disembark with the rest of us).

In minus temperatures, we inspected Grand Central Station and wandered through the Christmas Markets in Bryant Park.

We went to Radio City to check out a show by the high-kicking Rockettes - an all-singing, all-dancing, Christmas spectacular (in 3D!).

We stopped by the neon-jungle that is Times Square and gazed up at the familiar giant moving billboards and glowing skyscrapers.

We checked out Ground Zero and the chasm left by the Twin Towers after September 11.

There's still much construction going on, but there are grand plans for a huge memorial dedicated to the victims.

We also waited in line for three hours to ascend to the top of the Empire State Building. But it was definitely worth the wait.

The view from the top was magnificient and we were just in time to catch the last rays of a glorious sunset that sunk below the horizon as the lights of the sprawling city began to flicker on.

Of course, we also made the ultimate New York tourist pilgrimage, taking the free Staten Island Ferry across the harbour for a close-up view of the Statue of Liberty and the expanse of the Manhattan city skyline.

Afterwards we strolled through the finiancial district where we inspected the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street.

And we shopped, Boy did we shop. From the stores in trendy Greenwich, SoHo and the Meatpacking District to the big name outlets at Woodbury Common, to the consumer chaos at Century 21, our credit cards definitely got a workout.

Christmas Day was a grand affair, with a table booked at the ritzy Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park. We woke early, unwrapped the presents engulfing the tiny tree Chris' parents had bought from Australia and scoffed chocolates until it was time to don our finery and head across the snow-covered park.

Seated in the shadow of a giant Christmas tree, lunch was amazing - crab cakes and seafood cocktails for entrée, roast turkey and lobster for mains and a selection of naughty treats for dessert.

Afterwards, while waiting to claim our checked coats, we had our first celebrity sighting.

"Check out that John Lennon try-hard behind us in line," Caroline whispered to Chris indicating a man with round-rimmed glassed standing behind.
"Um, yeah, that's actually Liam Gallagher," replied Chris.

Suddenly we were all in a flurry (Liam is the lead singer of the band Oasis for anyone who doesn't know). We waited until we were outside and then we pounced. Liam was unfazed, concerned more with finding a McDonalds to have a "proper feed". Apparently lobster isn't good enough for this rock god.

Afterwards we walked through Central Park to have a look at the "Imagine" plaque in Strawberry Fields commemorating the untimely demise of John Lennon.

Across the road is the Dakota building where John lived with Yoko. The Beatle was shot in the entrance of the building  by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980.

In between Christmas and New Year's Eve, we covered more ground, waiting in line for three-hours to scale the Empire State Building and watched ice-skaters glide on the rink in front of the huge tree at Rockerfeller Center.

And we ate and drank.

Boy, did we eat and drink.

We did the dodgy tourist thing - stopping by the Friends apartment...

...and of course, Carries's apartment from Sex and the City.

We had another brush with fame, running into comedian Dave Chappelle in Greenwich (he refused our photo request) and one near-brush, just missing Katie Holmes in Starbucks.

A couple of days before New Year's Eve, Chris, Caroline and Laura took a helicopter flight over New York City (a Christmas gift from John and Joyce).

Departing from the lower west side, on the edge of the Hudson River, we had a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline as we hovered over the Statue of Liberty and cut across Central Park.

New Year's Eve in New York City was definitely one to be remembered. Our plan was to take a leisurely walk through Central Park followed by an afternoon of culture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the "Met") and the Guggenheim Museum, before "Happy Hour" officially began at 6pm back at the apartment.

However about five minutes into our stroll, there was an...er...incident.

The Squirrel Incident:

Caroline, an animal lover from way back, decided to feed a squirrel in the park a piece of pecan pie (on this trip she had fed many squirrels, patted stray dogs and cats and stroked an alligator on the nose, so she wasn't too concerned for her personal safety).

The squirrel, feasted eagerly - perhaps too eagerly, as at one point it actually nibbled straight through her finger. In all fairness to the squirrel, it was an accident, with Caroline's index finger looking very much like one of the pecans adorning the top of the pie. Blood was drawn and everyone was in a bit of a flutter about what should happen next. Can you get rabies from a squirrel? No one seemed to know so it was decided that Caroline should visit the emergency ward to find out.

So, while everyone else headed off to the Guggenheim, Caroline took a cab to the Upper East Side to Sinai Hospital via the apartment where she quickly Googled "squirrel" and "rabies". Her fears were confirmed. Squirrels could indeed transmit the fatal disease.

Thankfully, the waiting room was near-empty, though in a strange twist of fate, the one person sitting next to her turned out to be the former Head of Wildlife of Central Park.

"What! You were bitten by a squirrel?"
He laughed for at least a minute. Then he became serious.
"Oh yeah, those squirrels are dangerous critters. We used to trap them and tag them and at least one in every ten was rabid."

Caroline suddenly felt a searing pain shoot through her head and thought that surely this must be the onset of rabies. Fortunately, it was time to be seen and, after having her temperature and pulse taken, a young doctor sat her down in an examination room.

"So, I hear you've been playing with our squirrels?" he laughed.
Caroline was horrified. The pain in her head was throbbing now. Couldn't he see the froth forming at the edges of her mouth? Any second now she might actually howl and try to bite him on the neck. And he was actually laughing.
"So what do you think we should do?" he continued.

What did she think he should do? What did she think he should do? Um, wasn't he the doctor?

"Um, I Googled "squirrel" and rabies" and it said that squirrels do carry rabies so I thought, um, that I might need, um, a rabies shot." Caroline explained.
"Well, we better go and find out," said the doctor and walked out chuckling. Caroline heard him tell the other doctors that there was a "young Australian lady in the examination room who has been bitten by a squirrel." More laughter.

Caroline couldn't believe it. Should could be dying, she thought, and her life was in the hands of these clowns. But her thoughts were interrupted by two giggling nurses at the door.
"Excuse me," said one of them, "but we just wanted to see you for ourselves. Are you the Australian who was bitten by a squirrel?"
They left and their giggling trailed down the hallway.

Meanwhile Doctor Dumbo was on the phone to a colleague.
"...yes, a squirrel. Do you know if that requires a rabies shot? She Googled it and it said she did...right...right....ok. Well I'll call them."

He dialled Infectious Diseases.
"...yes, a squirrel. Do you know if that requires a rabies shot? She Googled it and it said she did..."

Caroline couldn't believe it. This was New York. The hospital was right on Central Park - surely she wasn't the very first person in the history of the world to be bitten by a squirrel? Finally Doctor Dumbo reappeared. His face was grim.
"I'm afraid we still don't know. We're just waiting on a fax from Infectious Diseases to see what to do."

It was an agonising ten minutes as Caroline waited in the examination room starting down at the hospital band on her wrist while Doctor Dumbo regaled the story of the "Australian who was bitten by a squirrel" to anyone who would listen. Much laughter.

Eventually Infectious Diseases replied. Yes, squirrels carry rabies but no, there hadn't been a reported case of a squirrel to human infection. Caroline was in the clear. Celebration all round.

Doctor Dumbo put a band-aid on the wound and patted her on the hand. "No more playing with our squirrels, eh." Laughter. So, after all that, all Caroline got was a bandaid, a crushed ego and a huge bill making it's way to Australia as we speak.

And that was the Squirrel Incident of New Year's Eve 2008.

It was snowing heavily when Caroline joined the rest of the family (who had already been to the Guggenheim) at the Met. They inspected her bandaid, laughed at the Doctor Dumbo story and gave her the nickname "Squirrel Girl". It has stuck ever since.

With Happy Hour fast approaching, we breezed through the Met then hurried home to prepare for our New Year's Eve celebrations. The boys drank beer while the girls sipped frozen Cosmos while they did their hair. All the while, snow fell down outside, silently coating the streets in a blanket of white.

We had been torn about whether or not to join the cast of millions that would be descending on Times Square on New Year's Eve. We'd heard it was hell - no toilets, no booze and lots of waiting in the freezing cold for hours on end just to see a ball drop. Then again, how often were we going to be in New York on New Year's Eve?

We compromised and decided to go and check it out and then head to a bar on the Lower West Side.

Times Square is on 42nd Street and by the time we finally arrived at about 7pm, the closest we could get was 58th. There was a sea of heads as far as the eye could see - and we could only just make out the ball in the distance - but the energy was amazing. So. Many. People.

We took some snaps then caught a train to Greenwich where our first stop was a cosy bar called The Slaughtered Lamb. Yes, it does sound a little bit Goth, but it was actually quite nice with wood fires and fairy lights and helium balloons sprawled across the ceiling. We drank there until 11pm then headed down the road to another bar called Oliver's, where we rang in the New Year by watching the ball drop on TV, singing Auld Lang Syne and wearing silly hats we'd picked up for everyone in Peru.

Many drinks later and it was time to go home. We'd heard it would be impossible to get a cab, but we went outside to wait anyway and BY GOD it was cold. Like, the coldest cold we have ever felt in all our lives. The wind ripped through our coats, chilling our bones to the very core. Fortunately we only had to wait about 15 minutes but had one not have stopped when it did, there was a very good chance we'd have died of hypothermia. We found out the next day it was 0 degrees Fahrenheit. That's -17 Celsius.

The next day was spent in typical Boxing Day style, sleeping in, eating and going to the movies - a double header of The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

On January 3, it was time for Chris' parents and Laura to go home and for us to farewell the luxury of the apartment and return to hostel life. We bid our farewells and left in separate cabs - the others to the airport and us to Harlem.

It was certainly a different neighbourhood than we'd grown accustomed to over the past two weeks but with New York's over-inflated accommodation rates, it's all we could afford.

We spent our remaining two days in Manhattan crossing the final items off our sightseeing list.

First up was Tom's Restaurant - the diner made famous by the TV show Seinfeld. We called in for supersize breakfasts, followed by a final walk through Central Park.

We checked out the Alice in Wonderland Statue, the Observatory overlooking the frozen lake, the sea lions at the Zoo and, of course, squirrels (though this time from a safe distance).

We peered through the window of Tiffany & Co., a-la Holly Golightly, and hoped to catch a glimpse of an Apprentice reject or Donald and his much-celebrated comb-over at Trump Tower door.

And Caroline enjoyed a private moment of pure caloric bliss with a famous frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity Café. Heaven.

And then it was time to leave. We'd had such a magic time in New York - being completely spoiled - and it was going to be hard to return to the life of dirty backpacker's once more.

We were due to cross the continent and fly to Seattle on January 5, but there was another, er, "incident" with the oh-so-friendly staff at American Airlines and we were denied boarding.

We flew out - after a last-minute decision to skip Seattle and go straight to San Francisco - the next morning. That and the story of our journey through California and our roadtrip to Vegas (baby, yeah!) up next.

Until then,
Chris and Squirrel Girl xx

Dad/John and Mum/Joyce: We can't even begin to explain how grateful we are for everything you did for us while we were in New York. It was the experience of a lifetime and one that we would never have had if you hadn't been there. It was so great to share such a magical Christmas with you both and Laura. A much needed "holiday from our holiday". We can never repay you, but from the bottom of our hearts, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Jen and Shane: Congratulations on your happy news!

Andrew Simpson and Dave Turner: Happy Birthday guys - we hope you celebrated in style.

Colleen and Steve: We hope you have an amazing time destroying your livers in Mexico. Sorry our schedules didn't coincide - but we can't wait for hot-tubbing in Canada in April.

Soph: Thanks again for all your New York tips!

Hovering over the Manhattan skyline in a helicopter, feasting on lobster in snow-covered Central Park on Christmas Day, watching the sun set and the lights of the city begin to flicker from the Empire State Building, seeing a show at Radio City, shopping in SoHo, ringing in the New Year in Greenwich sucking back helium from balloons, eating, drinking and being merry with family...it was all amazing.

New Yorkers fit into one of two categories - Extremely Rude or Terrifyingly Helpful. There is no middle ground. And don't expect a "please" or a "thank you". Ever.

If hot dog making is an art form, New Yorkers are the masters.

Christmas is the absolute best time to be in New York. Magic.

Americans really do wear earmuffs when it's cold.

There's no such thing as too many Cosmos.

Don't feed squirrels.

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