When I travel, a little part of me is always afraid everything will go perfectly and I will have nothing to write about. This is admittedly a ridiculous fear. It’s sort of like the fear I have of clear shower curtains. But that’s a story for a different post. Suffice to say, I shouldn’t worry about nothing entertaining happening. Something always does.
I recently spent a weekend in New York City. The trip was a present given to seniors graduating a small academic program at UK in which I am involved. It is a reward for finishing and defending your thesis. The donor clearly knew a thing or two about motivation. Promise me travel, and I’ll write you a book. Maybe two.
The next week I went to Nashville, Tn. I was visiting Vanderbilt and also a good friend from Semester at Sea. The last thing I feel like I have the right to do after last semester is complain, but it has been hard being in one place for the last several months after experiencing constant motion in the fall. It felt wonderful to be speeding off to another place.
It is amazing what you can fit into four days. Especially when those days are filled with New York minutes. And let’s be real: Everything is fun in the South. Nashville is awesome. I’ll give you some travel lessons learned from the Big Apple of the North and the Athens of the South.
1. Don’t wear high heels in New York City.
This involves some caveats. I dearly love heels, and I’m a big fan of wearing them in the big city. Just not when you are in one of those dresses that only lets you take itty bitty steps. And not when you are late for a Broadway show. And not when you’ve overshot the aforesaid Broadway show by two blocks on your way there. Enough caveats. I’m just going to come out with it: I got stuck in a grate. Really badly. As in I was wearing 4 inch heels, and two inches of one of them was underneath New York City. I didn’t know what had happened at first. I just knew I was no longer moving forward and toward Phantom of the Opera. Lauren was going to the play with me and gave me a panicked face. She doesn’t really wear heels often, so she was being pretty sporting to have them on in the first place. When she saw me horribly wedged and unable to move my legs to help myself in my oh so cute but utterly debilitating dress, I’m sure she took it as a cautionary tale. I eventually mustered enough torso momentum to convince my leg to join me in the quest forward, but only after an absurd number of people walking by had seen me in my sad predicament. If you do anything stupid in New York City, there will be an audience.
2. Visit Starbucks in NYC
Typically this is the last travel advice I would ever give. People who visit Starbucks while they are traveling astonish me. Go somewhere new, darnit! But New York is an exception to my anti-Starbucks while traveling rule. I like to visit a coffee shop when I am traveling and look out the window or sit outside while I am sipping on my coffee or tea (recently I’ve been on a matte latte kick, 80 percent because I like saying it). In New York, I found myself facing into the Starbucks. It was so fascinating to watch people come in and efficiently order their usual on the way to work. The fashions…the demographics…the body language…it was all just so interesting. When it was my turn to order, the friendly young barista sang for me while he was fixing my coffee and gave me the biggest smile when he handed it off. Singing baristas? New York City, I’m sold. To make up for my patronage of the massive international chain, I also had tea and a scone at a wonderful Alice and Wonderland themed tea shop. Perfect way to start the day.
When I was an editor at the Kentucky Kernel, I knew that I would always stay in touch with my boss, Matt, and the lead designer, Andy. I didn’t know that Matt would become an NBC page, then get a job at NBC…or that Andy would land a big city job as a designer. I had a hunch, though. The sweet things dedicated an entire evening to showing me the city. I met them at 30 Rock and got a tour of the NBC building. I got to meet Matt’s awesome girlfriend, got photographed for a special access pass, and then went up into the famous building. I got to walk around the empty Jimmy Fallon and Dr. Oz studios, and then went to a Saturday Night Live rehearsal. That was all super exciting. But you know what was the most fun? Passing a football with Andy in the hallways of NBC, just like we had done in the basement of the Grehan building waiting for basketball games to end so we could finish the paper. The only difference is that a head NBC official walked by minutes later instead of a UK professor.
Our group visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney in New York City. It felt good to be back in art museum mode after this summer. Nineteenth Century art remains my favorite. I like a good contemporary piece like the next girl…and I’ll go to a modern museum in a heartbeat, but I’ll spend hours looking at nineteenth century art any time.
5. Catch some live music in Nashville
I love live music. I could sit and listen at a restaurant or coffee shop for a long time. I especially like listening to bands do covers. When you are in Nashville, this means that you will be listening to a lot of country covers. My friend from SAS, Brian, and I went out on the town for the evening and stopped at a place with live country. I was getting sick, feeling feverish and sniffling. My throat felt like I had been swallowing knives–or maybe boot spurs since I was in Nashville. Woah… scary thought. What would that really feel like? I mean, seriously. Think about it. Swallowing knives is just not an ideal vocation. ANYWAY, my sore throat meant I couldn’t really talk much, which meant we could concentrate our focus on the inebriated older woman dancing in front of us. She was the only drunk person in the restaurant, making things awkward. Especially when she started removing her shirt for our benefit. Our faces must have told her we weren’t the right clientele, because she mercifully stopped. Apparently her daughter had just gotten married. If that’s what family is like post-wedding, don’t let me out of the house on June 3.
This was one of my top 5 most embarrassing moments–in my life. But I might as well give my version since I’ll never live it down. Day two in Vandy my sniffles and throat issues had evolved into a full-blown cold. My head felt a little like there was a campfire inside–complete with marshmallows, smoke, and singing scouts. Brian and I both had appointments at Vandy, and I was rather stressed. I proudly pulled into the parking garage near Vandy that I had located with no massive issues–yeah, team Martha! Oh wait. That sign says spaces 42-130. We are supposed to park in those spaces. Veer right. Hmmm…little hill…better hit gas…THUMP. SCRAPE. WHAT IS THAT NOISE? Oh mercy. That was not a hill. Yes. Stuck on a median, curb, divider or whatever you want to call it. It was big, cement, and under my car. I was seriously marooned on this hideous monstrosity of concrete. Brian literally had to get out and lift the end of the car for me to even get free. By then my pride was gone with any paint on the underside of my car. I don’t know if it was the cold medicine or the singing scouts in my head that made me laugh hysterically through most of this ordeal. In any case, it was just that–an ordeal–we should probably forget about it. Too bad the bottom of my car never will.
7. McDonalds=cheapest hotel ever
Travel isn’t always glamorous. I don’t tend to sleep very much while I’m gone, sometimes fruit and vegetables are so stinking expensive that I think I’m going to get scurvy, you never pack the right clothes, 90 percent of the time you will break out, and it usually takes a long time to get to where you are going. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it in style. While driving back from Nashville, my eyes began to droop. My book on tape on British Naval Captain Cochrane couldn’t keep me awake, and neither could Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, or for that matter Lady Macbeth if she had decided to come back from the dead and copilot. I pulled off at a McDonalds, picked out a sunny spot behind the drivethru, put on my sunglasses and took a nap. Fifteen minutes and an iced coffee later I was on my way. And it only cost me 2 dollars.
I was lucky enough to get to see a performance of Manon at the Metropolitan Opera House. I’ll never forget it. The whole experience was dazzling. Riding in a taxi to the Lincoln Center, a place I idolized as a child and kept a picture of on my dresser for three years. It was magical at night. Inside, the chandelier literally made me gape. Yes, I was that Kentucky girl looking up and almost knocking into people. And these were the wrong people to knock into. The socialites chatted fluently in the romance languages while sipping on 8 dollar cups of coffee and from fancy flutes of wine and champagne. It was like stepping back in time–and into a place I would very much like to be. When the opera began, I took forever to figure out how to turn on my subtitles. This meant that I could not tell you much more than a few words of the first act. Hey. French sounds completely different when it’s being sung opera-style. After that, however, I tracked along. For three hours. Yes, operas are long.
On another night, I went to see Phantom of the Opera. Seeing a Broadway play was a huge life list item . I enjoyed the whole experience. Even waiting in the TKTS half-price ticket line. Normally waiting in an hour-long line stinks. But if I have to wait in a line, Times Square is a pretty good place to do it.We chose Phantom of the Opera, because I have always heard it is the consummate Broadway show. It was awesome. It was also a little terrifying. They fire guns, blow smoke, and there is a freaking terrifying scene where a man in a white mask comes through a person-sized mirror into a dressing room and abducts a girl. Now…when you happen to have an identical life-size mirror in your hotel room and you happen to have a slightly overactive imagination…
It was good to be on the road again. I’m so happy when I’m traveling. It’s also fun to come home, though—even when there are finals, committees and papers waiting on you. I could give you a lot of tips about visiting New York—like don’t wear a Red Sox shirt to the airport, and don’t walk in front of a limousine that has body guards and a mob of people next to it—or about Nashville—like do try the barbecue and do pick up a free New York Times from the Vanderbilt student center—but my main advice is just to go.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
Robert Louis Stevenson