New York, New York

Y’all, I am officially and irrevocably in love with New York City.

I didn’t expect to be. I hate crowds, I get claustrophobic, and NYC has twice the population of New Zealand crammed into it. I was fully expecting to grit my teeth and bear it for the sake of ticking a city off my bucket list.

But… I loved it. Absolutely loved it. We stayed at an AirBNB in Brooklyn because it was about 5 million times cheaper, so we got to navigate the subway system. What we didn’t quite think through was that we wanted to be in central Manhattan by 8:30am&mash;so we were in the middle of Monday morning commuter traffic. But, we survived, and we made it to Gray Line to start our two days of bus tours! We started with the Downtown loop, which we broke into two parts when we had to switch buses. Then we stopped for lunch before jumping on the first part of the Uptown tour. Then we jumped onto the Bronx tour, before returning to where we started for the remainder of the Uptown tour. Jumping between buses was fascinating because all the tour guides had different interests and different areas of focus—one told us where all the celebrity houses were, another told us where to get local/non-tourist-trap food, another talked a lot about history.

By this time it was about 4:30pm and we didn’t want to do the night tour until it was close to dark. So we stopped off in Starbucks for a while for coffee, non-coffee for me (who is allergic to coffee), as well as a NYC Starbucks mug (which I collect in every city). We nursed these for a while until it was a reasonable time for dinner, when we decided to try that cultural US staple, TGI Friday’s.

A few drinks and appetizers later, it was time for the night tour! This tour guide knew so much about all the buildings and the periods they came from, it was absolutely fascinating. Plus, seeing New York City lit up at night was absolutely breathtaking beyond belief. Once the tour was finished, we took the subway back to Brooklyn at around 11pm. That was… fun.

On Tuesday, we got the ferry from Brooklyn, past the Statue of Liberty, and on to One World Trade Center. That was a stunning trip and we got some amazing views of Liberty Island! Seeing the crowds lined up at her base, though, I think we made the right call not going right to the island.

Once we got off the ferry we headed to the One World Observatory for views of the entire city. And oh, boy, were they some views. The observatory is over 100 floors up, so you can see all of Manhattan, the Bronx, and a fair chunk of New Jersey from up there.

Then it was time for lunch, so we decided on that high cuisine, Burger King. Y’all. Y’all. They had table service and served beer. I am so confused.

After lunch, we visited St. Paul’s Chapel. Unfortunately the chapel itself was closed for renovations, but we could walk around the grounds. This chapel has a fascinating history—George Washington attended service here after taking his oath of office, it’s survived multiple fires with barely a scratch, and despite being just one block from the World Trade Center it didn’t sustain a single bit of damage on 9/11. It’s part of the parish of Trinity Wall Street, where Alexander Hamilton is buried.

Then we jumped on another bus tour, this time of Brooklyn. The tour guide was a Brooklyn native, and very biased towards his hometown—which was actually great because he knew everything. A very cool way to see the city!

After this it was time to head to Broadway, because we had tickets to Hamilton. It was my first Broadway experience, and it was a cracker. I’m still somewhat incoherent with joy and am struggling to fully articulate my joy at seeing this show live. Suffice to say, Javier Muñoz (the new Alexander Hamilton) has a fucking incredible voice, and everything about this show was pretty much perfect. It was an experience beyond all belief.

Universal Studios and Whose Live Anyway?

On Thursday, I had finally recovered enough from my stupid bug/cold/whatever to hit Universal Studios. We had a relaxed start to the day, leaving home around 7:45 to arrive at Universal a little after 9am. I decided to shell out for front gate parking, figuring that there’d be enough walking around without a hike before we even got to the gate!

Because I am a giant nerd, we decided to start in Hogsmeade. Y’all, Hogsmeade is real shops. It was the greatest thing ever. Our first ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which was an incredible 3D dark ride—I absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s going, Harry Potter fan or not. After this, we did Flight of the Hippogriff which I didn’t really like. After wandering through the Hogsmeade shops for a while longer, it was on to the Revenge of the Mummy ride, which I loved! After this was Transformers 3D, which broke down… twice.

It was getting pretty hot by this stage, so we jumped on Jurassic Park, which is a water ride. That well and truly cooled us down! By now it was lunchtime, so we grabbed some lunch in Moe’s Tavern before getting on the Studio Tour.

Y’all, the Studio Tour was so, so great. It was an hour long, took us all around the studio, and we got to see some incredible special effects—including a simulated flash flood!

Once the tour was over, we had just enough time to rush to the next WaterWorld show, which… wow. It was performed by people whose main careers are stunt doubles, and it made for a visually incredible spectacle—people backflipping off 20-foot platforms into the water, setting things on fire… absolutely mind-blowing.

Once this was over we were pretty much done for the day. We picked up a couple of Harry Potter souvenirs (of course), including Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans for my cousins which made us very popular when we got home!

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On Friday, we went to Whose Live Anyway? in Thousand Oaks. I am a massive drama/improv/comedy nerd (Josh and I met when I was doing a standup comedy gig!) from way back and have been watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? since long before it was appropriate for me. So a chance to see Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, and Jeff Davis (as well as Joel Murray, who’s not a WLIIA alum), with the inimitable Bob Derkach on piano, perform live? Hell to the yes!

I got balcony seats, far enough away to avoid being picked on. This was a very wise move. The show ran for ninety minutes and it was absolutely hysterical. Lots of singing games (to be expected with Jeff Davis in the lineup) and lots of lots of Trump jokes. Ryan Stiles had twisted his ankle so was hobbling around the stage like an old man the whole night, which also led to a few jokes. All in all, an incredible experience—I’m so glad we went along!

Big Bear Lake, part deux

This is fast becoming an annual pilgrimage… and I’m okay with that!

Because I was still feeling a bit grotty on Friday, we stayed at home on Friday night and made s’mores. Y’all, s’mores are STICKY. And they get everywhere. And they’re amazing.

Saturday morning we hit the road, arriving in Big Bear just in time for lunch at El Jacalito in the same booth we sat in last time we went. Once we were stuffed full of proper Mexican food, we quickly unloaded the car at the cabin before heading down to the boat.

The Americans kept telling us it was too cold to go tubing. It was approximately 5 billion degrees with a slight breeze. So, naturally, Josh decided to jump on the tube as we zoomed around the lake. He lasted quite a while before finally wiping out, actually! The lake is beautiful, although I’d probably appreciate it more if I wasn’t in the throes of a low-key panic attack the entire time (I am terrified of water).

Sunday we went up the mountain to 8,200 feet in the Scenic Sky Chair. The views were breathtaking and the food was pretty spectacular too. Although, Josh and I did get pretty horrifically sunburned while we were up there… oops.

Midday Monday was time for home and a relaxing jacuzzi. All in all, it was a beautiful peaceful break and I’m so glad I managed to get well enough to enjoy it!