Sunday, 26 August 2012

New York, USA, 17.-27.6.2012, Day 7.

My mum's a huge fan of Whitney Houston, and ever since we'd booked this trip and Whitney had tragically passed away, she'd been saying that she'd like to visit Whitney Houston's grave in Westfield, New Jersey. I was extremely sceptical about the whole thing - we had no idea where the grave was, and we knew there'd be security there, guarding the grave 24/7 and preventing any unwanted visitors from going there. But, my mum was persistent, and so on Saturday, we found ourselves at Port Authority, buying return tickets to Westfield (they were $18, by the way). I remained sceptical and wasn't too interested in going. I almost stayed behind in New York for the day and let my mum and Satu do this by themselves, but then I for some reason decided to go after all.

I'd expected all of Jersey to be really horrible and poor (yes, talk about prejudices), so imagine my surprise when Westfield, and all the small towns we drove through on our way there, turned out to be a really beautiful and idyllic place in the style of Wisteria Lane!

When we got off the bus, we had no idea where to go, so we went to a nearby coffee shop to ask for directions. They were all shocked when they found out we'd taken the bus there from Manhattan and that we were planning on walking to Fairview Cemetery, which is where Whitney is buried. I'm not exactly sure why - maybe public transport and walking simply aren't that popular in the US? Anyway, we got the directions and then headed to a supermarket to try and find a flower to take to Whitney's grave. My mum had been saying all along that she wanted to find a white lily, and she did - the only one in the whole store. She also bought a card saying "Great people accomplish great things", which I think was an excellent find for the occasion. Me? I was still sceptical and just bought myself a huge bag of crisps to keep me entertained for the rest of the day as I was sure we'd never find the grave anyway. How wrong I was!

So, we started our longish walk (it wasn't that long, really) to the cemetery. We were a bit unsure of the directions but eventually we found the cemetery and went in through the bushes as the coffee shop people had told us that the gates wouldn't necessarily be open (they were, as we found out later, but going through the bushes added a sense of adventure to it all so I'm glad we did that :D!).

Upon entering the cemetery, we were immediately greeted by a deer running fast past us. It stopped when it was a little further away from us, looked at us and then looked in the other direction, as if to tell us "This way, girls!". It was incredible, and we decided to follow it as we had no clue where to go anyway and the cemetery was absolutely huge. By this point, I was 100 % sure we'd never even find Whitney's grave.

We followed the deer to the gates of the cemetery where we found a couple of Mexican gardeners mowing the lawn. We decided to ask them for the way to Whitney's grave but unfortunately they didn't speak any English and couldn't understand us. They did go and get their supervisor, though, and he told us Whitney's grave was far away on the other side of the cemetery and that the security wouldn't let us through. We thanked him and were planning on walking there anyway when suddenly there was a car behind us. There was an old lady in the car and she rolled her window down, telling us to hop in, she'd take us to the grave. None of us had a clue when she'd appeared behind us, we hadn't heard her car at all and the whole thing seemed very strange. Me being the suspicious person that I am, I was sure she'd murder us, but we hopped in anyway and she indeed took us to Whitney's grave. She told us she was originally from Germany and that she was at the cemetery every day, visiting the grave of her late husband. She was a really nice lady, and she, too, was shocked when she found out we'd arrived in Westfield by bus all the way from Manhattan (heh, Manhattan's only an hour away). Apparently, no one does that. Anyway, as suspected, there was security guarding the grave. There was a car parked next to it and there were guys sitting there, making sure no one would visit the grave (and steal the jewellery Whitney was buried wearing). However, the German lady again rolled her window down and told the security we'd come all the way from Manhattan by bus, while we were screaming in the background "all the way from Finland, all the way from Finland in Europe!". She asked the security if we could visit the grave, and for some strange reason, the answer was yes, but very quickly. Incredible! So, we quickly got out of the car and went to see the grave.

Whitney is buried next to her father and her gravesite is very simple - nothing extravagant or exceptional whatsoever. She didn't even have a gravestone yet when we were there, just a simple vase in its stead. It was a very emotional moment for my mum and I'm happy she got to do this.

I can't believe they actually let us visit the grave. What a special moment! It's incredibly sad, though, that just two years prior to this, my mum saw Whitney live in concert and now we've come to this :(. It's not easy being famous if you're not happy with who you are, I guess. Or what do I know.

The old lady took us back to downtown Westfield and my mum and Satu had a little cry about what had just happened. Then we went to a tex mex place to have lunch. We also had a look around the shops in Westfield before catching our bus back to Manhattan at 4 pm.

Satu found something at Victoria's Secret :)!

Back on the bus, when I was still feeling good. They drive like lunatics here! I was ready to puke at one point!
I really liked Westfield and could definitely live there as opposed to Manhattan, which is a fun place to visit but not to live in as it's so busy and crowded. Westfield is really close to the buzz of the big city but you get to live your life stressfree there.

When we arrived in Manhattan again, we went to an Irish pub called Blarney Rock close to Madison Square Garden and spent the rest of the evening there, listening to music by for example Whitney, Jackson 5, Madonna, Blondie and Ramones on the jukebox and just talking about the day, which was definitely one of the best days on this trip. I'm so glad I decided to go despite my initial thoughts of nothing working out! It was so worth taking the risk!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

New York, USA, 17.-27.6.2012, Day 6.

On our sixth day, we had three things we wanted to do: the NBC Studio Tour we'd already booked on my birthday, the 9/11 Memorial, and the original CBGBs. So, after breakfast, we started our walk to Rockefeller Center, popping into a few shops and other places along the way. We got ourselves Yankees shirts, for example, yay!

The New York Public Library on 5th Avenue.

Outside the library...

...and outside Rockefeller Center.

Kenneth the page!

The pages' costume :D!

Getting ready for the tour.

Outside the store after buying a lot of stuff on 30 Rock :D.
Unfortunately, you weren't allowed to take pictures during the tour. In a nutshell, though, first you watched a video on NBC and its history, and then you were taken upstairs to see several different studios - those for Saturday Night Live and Dr. Oz, for example. It was fun and interesting, but the tour was way too short. I mean seriously, there weren't that many studios that they took us to so I was a bit disappointed with that. What we saw, though, was great stuff!

After I'd got myself a What the what? magnet, an I'm Lizzing tee and a 30 Rock mug, we were off to the WTC site. The weather was just fine when we went down to the subway but when we got up at the WTC site, it started raining like mad, there was thunder and lightning, and the weather was absolutely dreadful. I'm definitely not a fan of thunder storms so there was no way I wanted to be outside for that. So, instead, we went to a nearby Burger King to wait it out.

The WTC Memorial site is still not completely finished, and maybe that's why you don't have to pay anything to visit it, either. Or maybe they won't make you pay even after everything there, including the museum, is finished? Who knows. Anyway, the way it worked now was that you had to go to the Preview Site on Vesey Street to get free tickets for the Memorial. You could make a donation, though, and we all did as it definitely seemed like the right thing to do. There were lots of things to look at and read at the Preview Site already - it's like a mini museum dedicated to what happened on 9/11.

Then we went to St. Paul's Chapel, which survived the crash of the Twin Towers and served as a place of refuge for those dealing with the aftermath and the debris of the day. In addition to being an old church, St. Paul's Chapel is home to many 9/11 related exhibits and it's definitely worth visiting. To me, it was the one place to pay my respects to the victims of the attacks.

Outside the chapel.

This is how close the church is to the WTC site.

Notes for the victims.

A People's Memorial.


Our visiting time for the Memorial was 4 pm, so after St. Paul's Chapel, we walked to the entrance and started queueing. The only things that were open for the public this summer were the two memorial pools that are located where the two towers used to be. The pools are engraved with names of the victims, and the water falls into a huge, black void in the middle of the pools.

The South Pool.

This is the Tree of Life, or the Survivor Tree, that was nearly destroyed in the 9/11 attacks but was brought back to life and re-planted in the Memorial site.

In my opinion the Memorial site is a good and peaceful one, and the pools are very impressive, reminding us of the magnitude of what took place in 2001.

We had one more thing to visit that day, namely the old and original CBGB's at 315 Bowery. For those of you unfamiliar with the place, it was the club to be in the era of new wave and NY punk in the 1970s, and for quite some time after that, too. Some of my very favourite artists have started their careers there - Blondie, Ramones, and Madonna, of course, to name but a few. A legendary place that now has been turned into a John Varvatos clothing shop. However, the old walls, posters, graffiti and stage are still there and it's definitely worth a visit for anyone wanting to indulge in that old atmosphere of the place. This was my second visit and I'll continue to go there whenever I'm in New York.

From the other side of the street :D.
And then we spent some time across the road from CBGB at Think Coffee, witnessed another crazy thunder storm, took the subway back to our part of town, shopped for souvenirs, got some food and went to our room to watch baseball on TV :D.

I finally got that donut from Dunkin' Donuts! Madonna has worked there, HEH, so I needed to experience it :D.


And look, it's the Empire State Building in Pride colours!

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