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The only available day to visit the recent historical landmark of the African Memorial Exhibition, happened to be today, on the last day in NY. After missing the entrance a couple of times (it’s in the back of a Federal building), it was finally found and the appropriate security checkpoints navigated through. Envisioning a small plaque and maybe a couple of leaflets, it was really good to see a visual history of Africans in New York and the origins of the burial ground. The bodies have been re-buried now, but there is a wonderful monument outside. If you’re interested in history and the early life of modern America (Specifically New York), this is so worth the time spent. The ranger on hand was informative enough, if not a little campy and I almost expected him to burst into prayer, with the growing emphasis on words (you know-ah, what ah meeeeean-ah). Another assumed minor monument, that’s surpassed expectations.

Last planned stop of the day and vacation, was Madison Square Garden. I couldn’t leave without a glimpse of the arena, that’s synonimous with some of the most memorable fights I can remember. Despite it being just an arena (officially the self proclaimed ‘World’s greatest’), I developed that exciting chill that one gets from being in such places. The tour was actually fairly thorough, considering there really isn’t much to see in an arena and well presented, due mostly to the professionalism of the guide. Unfortunately due to a Knicks game being played that day, their locker-room wasn’t available for entering, but we did get to go inside the Rangers locker room; those places are far smaller than I anticipated. We covered from the seats just above the floor level, to the private booths at the very top (apparently costing over 20 G’s a time, if you want to rent one). One last stop, for the tour group to shoot a hoop in the dining area and the tour was done. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t see any fight memorabilia but, I’m inspired to come back to view a live fight some time.

The Garden is over Penn Station, which is supposed to be the busiest passenger transportation facility in the US. Heading into the station for a few shots, it was fairly absent of people unless they were hiding in the walls or something. I’m pretty sure this is the first place I’ve entered that had some hype in New York, that I had to do a double-take to see if I was in the right place. Considering all the other delights, one over-emphasis is not bad going.

After heading back to the hotel and picking up my backpack, I realised that I had more time than allocated, so was left with a choice of navigating multiple transports to get to a bakery I had an interest in, or doing something else. I took the latter option and jumped on the subway for Coney Island, noting that there’s a subway system from there to the AirTrain and back to JFK airport.

Coney Island attractions, for those not in the know, are closed up in winter. There’s a very good reason for this, as it’s bone-chilling cold. I know some people would disagree about the weather but 38F and an icy wind off the sea, is not my idea of ‘cool’ – it’s bloody freezing. Luckily I had layers and a wooly hat on, so was not left completely to the elements. I took a nice gentle stroll along the boardwalk and watched the clean sands blowing in the breeze, as the Sun bled into the horizon.

On paper, the walk from the D subway stop at Coney Island, to the B stop at Ocean Parkway is straight and simple; never try to judge distances on a subway map. After passing through Ocean Parkway, I decided to head Northwest a couple of blocks to keep in line with the visible subway track, and eventually found the stop I needed even further up the road. Timing couldn’t have been any better, as dark had replaced the Sunset and the time was catching up with me. Just next to the subway station at street level (the subway is raised above the street here, instead of the underground type), I noticed an old Russian woman knitting, while sitting next to her table of food on sale. I must remember to come back to this location, as it seems ripe for some of the more diverse culture that is so elegantly imprinting on the mind.

Working out the best route to catch the A train to the JFK AirTrain, I emerged at 7th & 53rd, got my bearings fairly quick and headed off to the stop at Clinton & Washington. A little dismayed arriving there, I soon discovered that the only stop in the area was a bus stop. Thinking that the map must be showing this bus stop instead of the actual subway stop, I thought the only way to work out where to go, was to orient myself on the road and direction the A/C line heads in and walk until I found an entrance. This proved to be a wise option, when a few blocks later, I saw one. Unfortunately, this was only heading back to Manhattan and I wanted the other direction, so looking at the multiple entrances within the block radius, I found a sign telling me the street, for the entrance to the JFK bound train.

One more navigation issue was still to come though, which resulted in me waiting on the platform of the A/C line, while C trains stopped and the needed A train went flying through the center line. Deciphering a couple of thick accents from shouting employees behind reinforced glass (note to MTA – it’s a good soundproofing, and customers can’t hear you), I found out I had to take the A train at this time of day, to Utica Ave. and then hop on the C train at that junction.

Finally I got to the airport, with 45 minutes left until take-off. This quickly filtered down, as the automated check-in appeared to not be working for most people, so I had to stand in line for a real person. Explaining to the attendent that my plane was leaving soon, she told me I’d have to stand in line with the rest of them – this is the only failure of common sense I’ve seen from JetBlue and really, it’s a stupid thing to do. Maybe it was just the woman with the fixed smile and not common of the rest of the staff. Flying through security and just catching the transit to the gate, I made it with 10 minutes left and the boarding still in progress – just enough time to straighten up in the bathroom and relieve my poor full bladder. Sitting on the plane for a good 20 minutes, we were informed that the plane was being held for three passengers, transferring off a late landing. Under those circumstances I didn’t mind and thought it nice of them, although I wish I’d known that I didn’t need to rush earlier.

The wait for the three passengers, ended up with the plane having to take a new place in line, and taxi for almost two hours. I finally got in to Seatac at midnight (only an hour late) and with the bus and walk, finally hauled my ass into my flat at just after 1am.

Despite a memorable vacation and a ton of visual and mental delights, I can’t help but still feel in stasis somehow. I’m sure the winter weather does this to me but already, I’m looking forward to the travel adventures that 2008 has in store for me, and can’t wait to get back on the road.

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