Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Accidental Tourist

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am not good at geography. I enjoy looking at maps because I can at least give the impression that they mean something to me. But I have the unique gift of always turning left when I should be turning right.

So today I should quite probably buy a New York lottery ticket because it was really was my lucky day. I found everything I went looking for today and did not get lost once.

I left home early this morning to make good on my pledge to find Bethesda Terrace in Central Park, where I will be meeting my Team in Training crew on Tuesday night. I had snuck a bit of a look at a map beforehand so when I set off on the bus from home, I at least knew the general direction I'd need to go to reach my goal. I caught the super fast bus up 1st Avenue and then switched to the cross-town bus at 79th St over to Fifth Avenue. This was a bit further north than I knew I needed to be, but I wanted to walk south along the edge of Central Park.

My mum would love this time of year in New York, and in Central Park in particular. The leaves are changing colour beautifully here and when they get tired of hanging around, they're falling off the trees left and right. Everywhere I looked today, little kids - and big kids alike - were stomping through piles of dried leaves, just clowning around. We were all a bit rugged up today because despite the sun, the cool air had come in and made everything a little crisp.

I cut into Central Park at 72nd street and headed down the hill, in the direction of where I hoped I'd find Bethesda Terrace. I nearly got run down by horse-drawn carriages, joggers, cyclists, roller bladers and bicycle rickshaws but it was all good. I found myself the "walkers only" lane on the road and stuck to it. Sure enough, as I rounded a corner and came over the crest of the hill, what did I see in front of me? Yep, the beautiful fountain and staircase of Bethesda Terrace. I did a little victory dance on the inside.

You'd recognise Bethesda Terrace from a bunch of New York movies and TV shows. My favourite of course? This scene from "One Fine Day", when George Clooney carries Michelle Pfeiffer through the rain puddle. Swoon. Naturally when I went here today, the place was swarming with tourists - and Gorgeous George was nowhere in sight. Pity.

Feeling deservedly proud of myself, I set off in search of coffee and I headed back up the hill and off to the left. Around a bend or two I found the iconic Central Park Boathouse which, it has to be said, has pretty good coffee for a New York restaurant. It was still relatively early by the time I got here and the brunch crowds hadn't yet arrived. So I got myself a coffee and a brownie, and relaxed outside - right along the water - and read my new book. Before I knew it, I'd lost an hour this way and figured I might as well keep moving.

I wandered back to Bethesda Terrace and back out of the Park the way I came in, confident in the fact that on Tuesday night I'll be OK to get myself back there.

Taking the N subway in the direction of home, I noticed that the last stop on my line would be Coney Island. Never having been there, and having all the time in the world, I figured I might as well go visit. I wasn't on the express train of course, but I was too scared to get off and switch lines, in case my brand new geography skills were just a fluke. So I sat where I was and let the train s-l-o-w-l-y take me through Manhattan, across into Brooklyn, and all the way out to the seaside.

Coney Island in autumn is as dead as a dodo. And I have to say, seeing the Boardwalk all boarded up and the amusement park rides all closed down is a creepy sight. But at the same time, I quite enjoyed being there - because there were hardly any tourists, or kids, or people riding roller coasters and screaming. About 40 people were braving the cool conditions along the Boardwalk today. The water was calm and the beach sand was clean and undisturbed. The fresh air put me in the mood for fish & chips but as I bought a couple of postcards for my grandmas, I remembered that Coney Island is home to Nathan's hotdogs, somewhat of an institution since it first opened here in 1916. Sure enough, I left the Boardwalk, rounded the corner and opposite the subway station was the iconic storefront. Even though I had to line up for it (almost out the door), the hotdog and Diet Coke really hit the spot and gave me the energy I needed to get back on the train and head for home.

I was all over the map today - Central Park and then far-flung Brooklyn - but I had success both times. If I could high-5 myself I totally would. My new sneakers also held up to all the walking around too, so I feel confident they will do the same in March next year. All good.

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