We had talked about a girl’s weekend to NYC  with 4 of my girlfriends for at least a year. Every time the 4 of us would meet for drinks the subject would come up; how much fun we had in the past and how we would love to do it again. Initially we had planned a trip for spring, but for multiple reasons that got pushed, so we finally settled for August. Yes August, although most people will think “avoid New York in August”  both Sally and I wanted to go in summer. Who cares about the heat, who cares about humidity and thunderstorms, NY is beautiful in the summer. Our friends Lisa and Jennifer didn’t make it in the end so it was only the 2 of us on our way to the big apple  on a sunny Thursday morning at the end of August.

With a couple of hours delay due to weather in New York (hurricane Irene was beating the Bahamas and rumored to head towards the East Coast) we got to JFK and after a quick cab ride  to our hotel on Times Square. We checked in, changed and we walked to Grand Central Station via Times Square.

Times Square

We were meeting my friend Andrea for drinks in the Campbell Apartments. The wine was good, but we decided that we didn’t like the food on the menu so we moved next door to La Fonda del Sol for more wine and tapas. I have to say that the fried cheese balls were definitely my favorite, I could have dined just on those. The calamari with bay leaf in it was a bit weird but the patatas made up for it. It was too early to go home, we were after all in the greatest city in the world, so Andrea suggested an Irish pub just up the road. It was a balmy summer night and we climbed the 4 stairs to the rooftop terrace of “The Perfect Pint”. We should have taken the hint from the name and ordered a pint instead of wine, but despite the bad wine we had a great night with Andrea, her husband Tony and their friend John.

Of course we paid the price for staying out late: we had a hard time getting up the next morning. The rumors about Irene were getting stronger. We called United and although Irene was not expected to make her presence in NY till Monday, they recommended changing our flight to Saturday night instead of Sunday. Not wanting to waste more time, we quickly got ourselves up and ready and left the hotel to start exploring the city. We did a bit of shopping on 34th street, before meeting up with an old friend from Philips who happened to be in town. He brought us over to the apartment of another ex-colleague and the rest of the afternoon we hung out in his beautiful apartment and his roof top terrace, before having dinner outside in a local Italian restaurant on 9th avenue.

Back at the hotel we found out that all flights for Saturday and Sunday were canceled, that mass transit was going to shut down at noon the next day and that people were advised to have emergency packs ready and stack up on food and water. Irene had changed her mind and was now on her way to NYC and expected sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning as a level 2 hurricane. It was 11.30 and we hurried to Duane Read and the Food Emporium. The lines were long, the shelves already pretty empty, but we didn’t worry too much, we were sure that the Westin would have enough supplies to get us through the next couple of days so we just bought some water and wine, the basics.

The next morning we woke up to cloudy skies and decided to go to Nolita for some shopping. We had only walked for about 4 blocks when the rain started to come down. We also realized that because public transit was shutting down, a lot of shops were already closed and others were closing. We finally realized that Irene was more serious than we had given her credit for. We scratched our plan for shopping in Nolita and instead went into one of the few deli’s that was still open and decided to stack up on water, snacks, sandwiches and chocolate just in case we would be holed up in our hotel for the next several days. Back in our hotel we talked to the hotel staff and checked out the emergency exits. The rain had changed to a drizzle, so we decided to put on our work-out clothes, take our umbrellas and go for a walk in Central Park.

Irene or no Irene, the naked cowboy was in his usual place in Times Square, the only compromise for Irene a life jacket. The park was eerily empty, but still beautiful.

We walked all the way passed the Met and the great lawn towards the Guggenheim museum. We had just turned around when Andrea texted. They were not far from where we were so we decided to meet for a drink.  After a drink in an Irish bar on the upper East side and a quick stop at Andrea’s and Tony’s place to pick up some books, we walked back to our hotel. We noticed that there were still a couple of bars and restaurants open and decided that we would go out for dinner instead of staying in that night. When Irene hit we could potentially be stuck in the hotel for hours if not days, so we were going out when we still could.

We ended up in a crappy bar, with crappy food and crappy wine, playing pool with some of the locals. Leaving the bar around midnight, we were glad for our umbrellas as the rain was now coming down in buckets.  Irene was getting closer, but when we woke up the next morning  and turned on the TV, we realized that Irene had come and gone already and we had not even noticed it, high and dry in our room on the 45th floor. A bit disappointed that there had not been even a little bit of drama, we decided to walk to downtown to check if there was damage there. We walked from our hotel on 43rd street all the way down 5th Avenue, past 1 Fifth Avenue (Candace Bushnell’s book), thru Washington Square Park. We walked all the way downtown past Houston and Canal street, window shopping on Broadway on our way back.

The walk took us over 3 hours  and once back in our hotel we were more than ready for something to eat  and  drink. We changed and walked again….this time uptown. Still not much open, but slowly we saw the city coming back to life. Shops were opening; a restaurant here and there. We spotted Bobby Van’s Steakhouse on 50th, between 6 and Broadway. I had heard good things so we went inside and sat at the bar. We ordered soup and a glass of wine and chatted with Adam the bartender. Several glasses of wine later, and after Adam made us taste his specialty: a pear-vodka cocktail, which was yummy, we hurried over to Mike’s place as we were expected for dinner. After a great dinner, Mike convinced us to have a nightcap at “Momma doesn’t know”, a piano bar off Times Square. Although the music could have been better, it was a nice ending of the day.

We woke up on Monday morning to blue skies and a Manhattan that was getting back to everyday life. After we tried again without luck to get a flight out, we decided we would just enjoy an extra in the city and we did what we had originally planned for Saturday: we took the train down to Chambers Street and walked to the Brooklyn Bridge.

We turned around half way as we had other things on our agenda. From the bridge, we walked to ground zero.  We walked thru the museum with tears in our eyes seeing the video of the planes crashing into the WTC and both towers crashing down, covering the city in smoke and ash.

It is hard to believe that it is almost ten years ago that 9/11 happened. So many lives taken….so much destruction…..we can never forget. NY will never be the same without the twin towers, but the new WTC and the memorial will be a reminder and a tribute to all the people who died there that September day.

We walked back towards Canal Street and tried to shake our sad mood by doing some shopping. We didn’t find much on Canal Street: all the same purses and sunglasses that we didn’t need, so we walked back towards Broadway. From there we took the train back to our hotel, packed our bags and took a taxi to JFK.

So Irene didn’t kill us, our friendly taxi driver Rodney almost did. Trying to avoid the traffic on the freeway, he took us on a sightseeing trip thru the back streets of his native Queens at a breathtaking speed. To our surprise we made it to JFK in one piece. When our plane took off from JFK later that evening, the sun was just setting over Manhattan.  Another memorable couple of days, made more memorable with Irene paying a visit and looking at the beautiful skyline, I thought, as always when leaving this great city, “I love this town.”

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